The latest installment of the Ohio-based battle between the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, will be decided by two key duels.
First, running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Trent Richardson must produce on the ground. Second, both defensive lines will bid to outdo each other and determine which defense plays to its talent level.
Here are the three keys to watch, along with a prediction:
BenJarvus Green-Ellis vs. Trent Richardson
Both teams would be smart to feature the run and that means heavy doses of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Trent Richardson.
Green-Ellis was too often overlooked in a passing offense with the New England Patriots. However, the veteran is a tough, efficient and clever runner, who began his career with the Bengals in fine style.
In Week 1 against the powerful Baltimore Ravens defense, Green-Ellis gained 91 yards and scored a touchdown on 18 carries. That's a 5.1 average against a stout run defense.
That's also bad news for a Browns unit that ranked 30th against the run in 2011. They also gave up 110 yards to Philadelphia Eagles runner LeSean McCoy in Week 1.
Of course the Browns will hope to counteract Green-Ellis with third-overall draft choice Trent Richardson. The ex-Alabama ace is blessed with nimble footwork and awesome upper-body power.
The Browns were serious about acquiring Richardson, even trading up to land him in the draft. Cincinnati's defense is stout, but has experienced its share of struggles against elite runners, including Arian Foster and Ray Rice.
Whichever running back puts up the best numbers, will likely decide the winner.
The Battle of Defensive Lines
Both defensive lines will be under pressure to produce. The Bengals possess the deeper rotation, particularly at tackle.
Geno Atkins and Domata Peko must control the interior, or Richardson will be able to exploit the middle. The Browns have some issues along the interior, with 2011's first-round pick Phil Taylor missing through injury.
Fortunately, they still have Ahtyba Rubin at the heart of their 4-3 front. On the outside, Jabaal Sheard must apply consistent pressure to young Bengals passer Andy Dalton.
If either defense hopes to control this game, they must dominate up front.
The Browns must double team WR A.J. Green
Cleveland's secondary will be missing its top cover ace, suspended cornerback Joe Haden. The timing couldn't be worse as they prepare to face dynamic young Bengals flanker A.J. Green.
His big plays helped propel Cincinnati to the playoffs last season. He is quickly establishing a niche as one of the most dangerous deep threats in the NFL.
Without Haden to match up one-on-one, the Browns must double cover Green with regular safety help deep. If they can take away Green, the opportunistic Cleveland pass defense could force Dalton into some costly turnovers.
Prediction: Cleveland Browns 14 - Cincinnati Bengals 21
The Bengals couldn't cope with the play-action pass against the Baltimore Ravens last week. The problem is the Browns don't have the pass-offense to utilize this ploy.
Green should make some big plays against a secondary sure to miss Haden. If Green-Ellis gains ground between-the-tackles, the Bengals should stay in front of the Browns.113755