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Week 9 Preview: Browns at Bengals

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The Sports Xchange

Cleveland Browns (2-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (7-0)

Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET, at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati – TV: NFL Network

*TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson

*Keys to the game: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis plastered the final score of last year’s Thursday game against the Browns in his locker room and has hammered that motivational tool following a win over the Steelers last week that came down to the wire. The Browns, who won 24-3 last November, turn to Johnny Manziel at quarterback with Josh McCown ailing. Manziel’s big-play ability was on display earlier this season but he’s equally capable of bombing against the NFL’s 18th-ranked defense.

The Bengals are putting up 394 yards and 28.3 yards per game, and it’ll be a stretch for Manziel to find that much offense on his best day, especially with the invisible running game reaching now lows last week (39 yards on 20 carries). The Bengals smother receivers outside and will sell out to get to Manziel.

Cincinnati’s balance is enviable – 231 passes, 206 rushes in 2015 – and the real reason for QB Andy Dalton’s banner season (15 touchdowns, four picks, 107.7 rating). While he had zero touchdowns and four picks in two games in this rivalry last season, cornerback concerns in Cleveland could give Dalton favorable matchups inside and out. On a short week the prescription for coordinator Hue Jackson is to lean into his offensive line with a run-heavy attack. The Browns allowed more than 150 rushing yards to six of their first eight opponents and gave up 227 yards and two touchdowns to RBs Jeremy Hill (25-148-2) and Gio Bernard in Week 15 last season.

*Matchup to watch – Browns TE Gary Barnidge vs. Bengals SS George Iloka: A free safety at Boise State who runs well at 6-4, 223, Iloka gets the call against Barnidge, who has been targeted 37 times the past four games.

*Player spotlight – Browns RB Robert Turbin: He has averaged only 3.3 yards on 18 carries in his first three games as a Brown, but Turbin is getting more comfortable with the offense, played 30 percent of the offensive snaps last week and should be increasingly involved in the running and passing games.

*Fast facts: The past five meetings have been decided by 10 or more points, including 21-plus margins in the past three. … Cleveland has three second-half points in the past two games. … The Bengals are 9 of 12 in the red zone at home.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Cincinnati’s primetime woes are no secret and the Browns would love to dent the Bengals’ perfect record but without the personnel to put up enough points, Cleveland breaks under the pressure of a steady and balanced offense without a counterpunch from Johnny Manziel.

*Our pick: Bengals 27-18.


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