Saturday, September 27, 2003

Bengals' keys to victory


Stop the running game, then contain wideouts

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Last year, in the second Bengals-Browns game, the Browns limped into Cincinnati with a 4-5 record and no running game.

The Browns won 27-20 behind a breakout-effort 96 rushing yards by rookie William Green, who came in with just 161 in nine games.

The Browns went 5-2 down the stretch to make the playoffs. The Bengals won two games all year.

The Bengals need to stop Green and the Cleveland running game Sunday if they want to pull the upset. The Browns come into the game ranked 27th in rushing offense at 69.7 yards a game. Green has just 187 yards, and coach Butch Davis has to know this is his team's chance to get well.

The Bengals have not done well stopping the run. They rank 28th at 152 yards a game. Teams simply have not had to pass to move the ball. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said his defense has to do better.

Asked earlier in the week about what difference it would make whether Tim Couch or Kelly Holcomb started at quarterback, Lewis said: "You attack the offense. You attack the protection. You attack the running game, and let the other things take care of themselves."

Couch is starting for the injured Holcomb. Stopping Green and the running game would force a rusty Couch to win in the air.

Fleet feet

When and if the Bengals stop the Browns' ground game, they also will have to contain Cleveland's gifted wide receivers.

Though the Browns are ranked 27th in pass offense at 165.7 yards a game and are 30th in points scored (10.7), their receivers are among the league's most talented.

Third receiver Andre Davis had two touchdown receptions last week in the 13-12 upset at San Francisco. Kevin Johnson had a career-high 11 catches against the 49ers and has four career 100-yard games against the Bengals. Quincy Morgan is a big receiver who can keep drives going with third-down receptions.

Lewis is aware of the talented group. "I liken them much to Chad (Johnson)," Lewis said. "They have vertical speed. Their guys can run underneath. They run well with the football. They make tough catches."

A spark

Bengals special teams are improved and improving each week, and in Game 3 against the Steelers, the kicking game twice almost turned in big plays.

Peter Warrick tripped on loose grass on a 31-yard punt return, and Brandon Bennett had a 33-yard kickoff return that was stopped by an ankle tackle. A touchdown from coach Darrin Simmons' return teams would be a big boost. At the same time, Lewis needs to give kicker Shayne Graham more work. Lewis passed up 51- and 54-yard field goal opportunities last week. The Bengals need points. They need to take a chance to gain momentum. They need to play to win and not to not lose.

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E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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