(Three points of interest in today’s game)
NOT-SO-GREEN WITH ENVY
Receiver Josh Gordon doesn’t think his 10-catch, 146-yard performance last week is an aberration. He’s not predicting such an outburst every week, but expects big things out of himself and doesn’t shy away from comparisons to the game’s greats, including Cincinnati Pro Bowler A.J. Green, who’s considered the class of the AFC North.
“I want to reach that goal of being one of the household names, the kind of NFL athletes that you could refer to when you think of wide receiver, you know, big-play kind of guy like those kind of guys are,” he said. “I work on it every week and going out there doing it during the game is the biggest time to prove it.”
Gordon’s impact on the offense was obvious in his return from suspension. When motivated – by missing two games and trade rumors – he’s almost impossible to stop. He’s big and strong (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) with breakaway speed. Green has similar size (6-4, 207) and is at his toughest when he’s jumping over a defensive back. They might take turns making big plays today.
“There aren’t too many J.G.s,” said Browns cornerback Joe Haden, who will be matched up with Green. “You see when he’s in there, he’s more like an A.J. — fast, big, strong, can catch the ball through the middle and when you throw it up there, if you see his speed he can just separate from people. That’s just something him and A.J. are similar with — separation and speed.”
STAY ON, GET OFF
After a pair of terrible weeks, the Browns were better on third down against Minnesota. It wasn’t nearly good enough.
We’ll start on offense. It has gone 1-for-14, 4-for-15 and 6-for-15 on the game’s most critical down for an unacceptable 11-for-44 (25 percent). An ineffective run game on first and second down have left too many third-and-longs, but coach Rob Chudzinski pinned much of the blame on the protection that has too often failed the quarterback when he needs time to look deep. Chudzinski said it’s getting better, but the Bengals stout front four will be a huge challenge. The Bengals have allowed 13 conversions in 39 third downs.
The defensive side is nearly as concerning. The rest of the numbers for coordinator Ray Horton’s group are solid, but they don’t matter if the opponent keeps the ball. The Browns have allowed eight third-down conversions each game in 16, 16 and 17 chances. The Bengals offense is 18-for-39 (46.2).
“Concerning, alarming, not good enough,” Horton said. “And that goes on me. But I’m calling a different game than I normal do till we get comfortable. Is it alarming? It’s shocking to me. That’s the one glaring thing that we’ve got to fix. And when we do fix it, watch how the numbers change.”
ON HIS SHOULDERS
The Bengals are a popular pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. They’ve had the defense for years and have continued to add playmakers on offense, including rookie tight end Tyler Eifert and rookie running back Giovani Bernard. None of it matters if Andy Dalton doesn’t play like a Super Bowl quarterback.
Dalton has taken the Bengals to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons and they’re 2-1 after an impressive win over the Packers. But until he wins a playoff game, he will be doubted. In two playoff losses, he’s thrown zero touchdowns and four interceptions.
But Dalton has displayed characteristics of a champion. He’s fourth in the NFL with a 116.8 fourth-quarter passer rating this year, and his 93.2 overall rating ranks 11th. He has completed 67 percent for 797 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Browns know how effective the redhead can be. He’s completed 70 percent in four games for 1,050 yards, eight touchdowns, four interceptions and a stellar 104.0 rating.
For the Bengals, today’s game – and the season – will come down to how Dalton plays in the biggest moments.
Straight starts by left tackle Joe Thomas to open his career, if he opens today. He hasn’t missed a snap, playing all 6,054 in his six-plus years.
Sacks by the Browns in three games, which is tied for third in the NFL. End Desmond Bryant leads with 3.5, and eight players have at least one.
Yards per catch against the Browns by Bengals Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green. In four games, he has 18 catches for 344 yards and four touchdowns.
THE PREDICTION: Browns come close to consecutive wins, but fall to more talented team. Bengals 20, Browns 17.