Reporting Daryl Ruiter
CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) - The Cincinnati Bengals travel to Cleveland Sunday not in the best of moods after losing last week to the Miami Dolphins at home 17-13.
They look to learn their lesson and not overlook another inferior opponent this week.
These days, the Browns are a bye week for the Bengals and the rest of the division.
Cleveland has lost the last 12 games within the AFC North and could set a franchise record with a 12th consecutive overall loss Sunday afternoon.
Cincinnati looks to sweep the season series for a second straight year. They’ve won 4 straight, 7 of 8 and 13 of 16 against their in-state rivals.
But that’s not how they are approaching it.
“An easy win? Not in the National Football League,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “We don’t have any easy wins. We’re a team that needs to play better than what we’ve played and we haven’t played very good football to date.
“We know we’re going to be in for a battle.”
Lewis is warning his team this week about another letdown – especially coming off of a disappointing effort against the Dolphins, who entered last week’s game at 1-3 before leaving town with their second win of the season.
“They’re a football team that hasn’t won yet but we played one last week that we were supposedly better than and they beat our tail,” Lewis said. “We have to go play better football.”
A major area for concern for Lewis and the Bengals is 3rd down efficiency.
In the last two games, the Bengals are only 4 of 25 on 3rd down. Last week, quarterback Andy Dalton was only 2 of 11 for 17 yards on 3rd down throws. 6 times, they failed to convert on 3rd and 5 or shorter.
“We just didn’t execute well enough, that’s what it comes down to,” Dalton said. “We had chances and couldn’t convert on 3rd down and couldn’t keep drives alive and it came back to hurt us.
“We felt like we gave that one away, especially at home.”
The Bengals hung on for a 34-27 win over the Browns in week 2 at Cincinnati. It was their first look at rookies Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson.
Weeden threw for a Browns rookie record 322 yards and 2 TDs while Richardson ran for 109 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown. He also caught 4 passes for 36 yards, including a 23-yard TD.
“We have a little better feel for what the Browns, with their new quarterback, with their new running back, their young wideouts, just where they are headed offensively,” Lewis said. “The first time we played them there were a lot more unknowns. You can see what they are trying to do with their young quarterback.”
A major difference for Dalton and receiver A.J. Green this time around will be the presence of Browns corner Joe Haden, who returns from a 4-game suspension.
“Joe’s a really good player and we figure that he’s going to be matched up with A.J. all day,” Dalton said. “We’re still going to take our chances on him. We don’t feel like their scheme is going to change too much but we have to understand what kind of player that he is.”
Green has 36 receptions, second most in the AFC and has a knack for making big plays against Browns. He had 5 catches for 78 yards and TD in Cincy’s win over the Browns last month.
Dalton has also discovered another target – Andrew Hawkins.
Hawkins is third on the team in catches (20), second in yards (294) and tied for second with a pair of TDs – including a 50-yarder against the Browns in week 2.
“He’s definitely changed things a little bit,” Dalton said. “He’s a speed guy who is really good with the ball in his hands when he’s got some space. It’s just finding ways to get him the ball and I think we’ve done a good job of that so far and we have to keep doing it.
“He definitely adds a new element to our offense.”
The Bengals also hope to exploit the Browns’ coverage teams again. Adam “Pacman” Jones is second in the league with 17.6 average per punt return.
He burned the Browns with an 81-yard punt return for TD when the teams last met.
Defensively, the Bengals bring the heat. They are tied for the NFL lead with 18 sacks. Pro Bowl DT Geno Atkins has 6 of them.
The Browns’ last win within the AFC North came at Cincinnati’s expense on Oct. 3, 2010 and on any given Sunday in the NFL, anything is possible.
A lesson that Lewis and the Bengals hope they learned last week against Miami.