By Shawn Lealos
The Cincinnati Bengals have opened the season on fire, one of only four undefeated teams still standing in the NFL. They have beaten teams like the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers and sit three games up in the normally tough AFC North. On this week’s Thursday Night Football game, the Bengals bring their undefeated record into a divisional match-up with the Cleveland Browns, who sit at 2-6, but are showing that they are an improved team that just needs a couple of breaks to contend once again.
The Undefeated Bengals
Cincinnati has started their 2015 season off with seven consecutive wins, the first time they have gone 7-0 to start a season. The seventh win this past weekend over the Steelers was a good reason why the Bengals are playing so well. Head coach Marvin Lewis has his team believing that they can win, and the win was the third fourth quarter comeback for Andy Dalton and the Bengals this season. The biggest problem for Cincinnati is that three of the other undefeated teams are all in the AFC as well, so the Super Bowl looks more promising than ever, but the road there is still tough.
Bengals Running Game Showing Life
Two years ago, Giovanni Bernard looked like he was the Bengals running back of the future. In 2014, Jeremy Hill outplayed Bernard and stole his job and it looked like he was the man. This season, Bernard roared back, and in the last two weeks, Hill rebounded from a tough start as well. Now, with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green still the focus of this offense, the Bengals suddenly have a legitimate two-headed rushing attack. Bernard has 439 rushing yards through seven games, with two touchdowns, while Hill has 292 yards with five touchdowns. With this kind of production in the running game, Dalton’s job has gotten easier.
The Trade Deadline
In the next two days, this game could look completely different. The NFL trade deadline is on Tuesday, and there are numerous rumors that the Cleveland Browns are looking to make some big moves. Some names looking to head out of town are left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack. This could really effect the Browns, as they are having a lot of trouble running the ball and protecting their quarterback, Josh McCown. In Sunday’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals, McCown led the team in rushing with 18 yards. He is also two weeks removed from a shoulder injury. The Browns have to get better production from their line, and trading any of their stars will make them worse.
Duke Johnson Jr.
When the Cleveland Browns drafted Duke Johnson Jr., it was expected that he could push for the starting running back role. That never materialized as Isaiah Crowell held onto the job, but has only run for 295 yards through eight games. Despite that, it is Johnson who is making the biggest splash. While he only has 179 rushing yards on 56 carries, Johnson ranks third on the team with 33 receptions for 331 yards. Johnson is providing a huge presence in the passing game and it’s just a matter of time before he gets more carries as well.
The Defensive Battle
While the Cleveland Browns’ offense has not done enough to win games this season, their defense is playing strong. It was a week for the Browns defense, who did everything they could to win, but came away with the loss. Against the St. Louis Rams two weeks ago, the offense had four turnovers and lost the game, 24-6, which is something most fans would expect. This week, it was the Browns defense that started rolling. They intercepted Carson Palmer once and recovered three fumbles. They lost. The biggest complaint against Andy Dalton is that he is often prone to making mistakes. This season he has thrown four interceptions and fumbled twice, but the Bengals have won anyway. With the way the Browns are playing, he could suffer more turnovers and it might not matter much in the end.
Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos.