Preview: Bengals at Browns
Zac Jackson, Staff Writer
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For the Browns, it's a chance to bounce back. For the Bengals, it's a chance to continue a hot start and take a step closer to a second AFC North Division title in three years.
Trying to erase any lingering memories of last week's 34-7 loss to the Steelers, the Browns will play Sunday with a new starting quarterback, Derek Anderson, following the trade of Charlie Frye. They'll try to start anew against a Bengals team that's won five straight in the series and is coming off a key Week One victory.
The Bengals outlasted the Ravens, 27-20, in a sometimes choppy, sometimes sloppy but mostly entertaining Monday night game that wasn't decided until former Brown Michael Myers recorded an endzone interception in the final 90 seconds.
The Bengals made the most of six Ravens turnovers, including a 34-yard Landon Johnson fumble return touchdown in the third quarter. They got the winning points on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the fourth quarter.
Palmer didn't have his usual eye-popping numbers -- he completed 20-of-32 passes for 194 yards and 2 scores -- but he did hit Chad Johnson on an early, 39-yard touchdown that kept the Ravens honest.
Rudi Johnson was held to 50 rushing yards on 18 carries last week, but he got more than 200 and scored 3 times in two games against the Browns last season. In 2005 he ran for 295 yards and 2 scores against the Browns.
The Browns will look to slow Johnson, Johnson, Palmer and Company while establishing some offense of their own. Jamal Lewis got just 35 yards on 11 carries last week, and the Browns' lone scoring drive came after the Steelers had the game in hand.
They'll have to do it against an aggressive Bengals defense that gave the Ravens fits with its quickness and blitzing. To offset the pressure the Browns need to get Lewis going and get Kellen Winslow involved early to keep the Bengals' linebackers and safeties from cheating up to the line of scrimmage. Winslow led the Browns with 4 catches for 83 yards last week.
Ball security will be key -- the Steelers' 17 first-quarter points all came off turnovers.
The Browns' defense hopes it can do a better job of slowing Rudi Johnson than it has in the past and force Palmer into must-pass situations. The Bengals have battled offensive line injuries and subsequent shuffling since the preseason, something Kamerion Wimbley and Antwan Peek hope to take advantage of.
Peek, though, missed the Browns' first two practices this week with a strained foot. The Browns hope to get punter Dave Zastudil back as well after a muscle strain kept him out of last week's game.
A week after it gave up 4 touchdown passes to Ben Roethlisberger, Palmer will keep the Browns' secondary on alert. Chad Johnson is one of the game's most talented and dangerous wide receivers, and Houshmandzadeh is coming off his first 1,000-yard receiving season after narrowly missing the mark in each of the previous two seasons.
Chad Johnson needs 82 yards to pass Isaac Curtis as the Bengals' all-time leading receiver. He got 95 yards on 5 catches, all in the first half, last week.
The Browns looked to the Bengals for two key offseason acquisitions. Eric Steinbach established himself as one of the game's top guards during his four years in Cincinnati, and the Browns liked his work well enough to sign him to a long-term deal on the first day of this year's free agency period.
Another more low-key but still important signing came two weeks later when the Bengals didn't match the Browns' offer sheet for restricted free agent defensive lineman Shaun Smith. A backup for most of the three seasons he spent in Cincinnati, Smith provides the Browns depth at defensive end and nose tackle and plays defensive tackle in the Browns' primary nickel defensive alignment.
"It's a big game to me. I want to win," Smith said. "There are some things I have to prove, like why they should've kept me. But in this league you realize it's a business so you can't get upset about it.
"I said if I ever got the chance to play against them I'm going to hit them in the mouth."
NOTES AND NUMBERS
The Bengals lead the all-time series by one game, 34-33, and have won five in a row dating back to Nov. 2004.
The Browns are 20-13 against the Bengals in Cleveland, with the last win coming in Oct. 2004. The Bengals have won four of seven in Cleveland Browns Stadium.
With more than 500 rushing yards over the last two seasons, Rudi Johnson has had more success against the Browns than he's had against any other team. Johnson averages 5.3 yards per carry and has 7 touchdowns in his last five games against the Browns.
While with the Ravens, Jamal Lewis had at least one 100-yard rushing game against the Bengals in five of the last six seasons.
Last year's 30-0 win was the Bengals' first shutout since 1989, when they beat the Browns 21-0 in Cleveland.