BEREA, Ohio – An 0-5 Cleveland Browns team figures to be a very dangerous Cleveland Browns team Sunday, when the Bengals come to Cleveland for what both teams regard as a must-have.
The vibe from Bengals coach Marvin Lewis on a conference call Wednesday was one of anything but overconfidence. In response to a question about the Bengals possibly looking past the Browns, Lewis offered a blunt assessment of his team.
“An easy win? Not in the National Football League,” Lewis said. “We don’t have any easy wins. We need to play better. We haven’t played very good football to date in any phase.
“We played a team last week we were supposedly better than, and they beat our tails.”
A 17-13 home loss to the Dolphins stopped the Bengals’ three-game winning streak and dropped them to 3-2.
STATE OF THE STATE: In assessing the Browns and their rough start, Lewis speaks from experience. The Bengals started 0-8 in 2008.
The Browns are playing for their own survival and mental state. New owner Jimmy Haslam will be officially approved next week at the NFL owners meetings, and no one knows what will happen from there.
The Bengals want to return to the playoffs, and with a schedule that gets considerably tougher in the second half of the season they can’t afford many more slips. They play three straight at home after this weekend’s game.
The Bengals’ schedule includes Pittsburgh (in a Sunday-night game) next week, then a bye week, then visits from the Broncos and Giants. A win this Sunday makes the Bengals 4-2 and gives them momentum. A loss changes the whole outlook.
The Bengals are going for their second straight sweep of the season series with the Browns and their third in four years. The Bengals have won seven of the last nine meetings and now lead the all-time series, 42-36. The Browns have won three of the last four Browns-Bengals games played in Cleveland.
MARQUEE MATCHUP: The return of Browns cornerback Joe Haden from a four-game suspension Sunday should provide the Browns a boost and should make for a very interesting matchup. Haden is likely to spend most of the day on A.J. Green, his friend and rival from their days at Florida and Georgia, respectively.
“Joe is a great player,” Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said. “We figure he’s going to be matched up with A.J. the whole day. We don’t feel like their scheme will change too much, but we know Joe coming back helps them.”
Dalton threw for 318 yards and three touchdown passes to three different receivers in the first meeting, a 31-24 win that was the first game of Haden’s suspension. Dmitri Patterson, down this week with a foot injury, did a decent job on Green, holding him to seven catches for 59 yards. Dalton attacked Buster Skrine and the rest of the secondary and threw touchdown passes to Brandon Tate and Andrew Hawkins.
The Bengals always want to feed Green, and that’s a plan that usually works. He already has 36 catches for 493 yards and four touchdowns on the season. But the Bengals are at their best when Dalton is able to spread it around, and the film shows some opportunities against the Browns secondary.
“If people want to roll too much double coverage on A.J., our other guys have to win,” Lewis said.
LAST WORD: Dalton, on why the Bengals never really got in a flow against the Dolphins last week.
“We didn’t execute well enough,” he said. “We couldn’t convert on third down, couldn’t keep drives alive. After watching the game it felt like we gave that one away, especially at home.”