Cincinnati Bengals: barkevious mingo

W2W4: Browns at Bengals

November, 16, 2013
CINCINNATI -- As has been mentioned often this week, for the first time in a generation the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals have a November ballgame that's worthy of attention from the rest of the NFL.

With the Bengals' loss last week at Baltimore, the Browns are suddenly in the thick of the AFC North race and could inch dramatically closer to first place if they beat their in-state foes Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium. A win would move the Browns within a half game of the Bengals' lead ahead of Cincinnati's bye next week. For the first time in a long time, playoff fever has attacked the entire Buckeye State.

A win is possible for Cleveland, too. Despite coming in with a 4-5 record, the Browns are already responsible for one of the 6-4 Bengals' losses this season. Way back in Week 4, Cleveland's defense stood firm in a 17-6 win at home over the Bengals.

When you watch the 81st edition of the Battle of Ohio, you'll definitely want to keep a close eye on both top 5 defenses. You'll also want to keep an eye on the following:

Weather report: One week after their kickers and quarterback struggled in windy Baltimore -- gusts got as high as 28 mph -- the Bengals could be facing worse conditions at home this weekend. According to the National Weather Service, strong storms are expected to move across the Midwest on Sunday, hitting Southwest Ohio while the Bengals and Browns are playing. Lightning delays could occur at multiple games in the path of the severe weather, including Sunday's contest. In addition to intense downpours, winds with gusts up to 21 mph are being predicted. Said punter Kevin Huber about preparing for such harrowing elements: "You have to kind of trust when you're out on the field in pregame. You've got to trust that's what it's going to be like all game." It doesn't sound like that's a guarantee this week, even though coach Marvin Lewis believes the inclement weather will hold off until after the ballgame is over.

Red zone matchup: Keep a close eye on the football when the Bengals possess it inside the Browns' 20. In an otherwise balanced matchup, this is one of the few areas in which there appears to be a mismatch. Cincinnati's offense has been pretty good much of the year in the red zone, ranking sixth in efficiency at 64 percent. As good as it has been overall, Cleveland's defense hasn't been that impressive inside its own 20. The Browns rank last in the league in defensive red zone efficiency, allowing scores on 68 percent of plays inside their 20-yard line. Of course, for this to be an issue for either team, the Bengals' offense has to reach the red zone. Against the Ravens last week, it took the Bengals nine drives before they reached the red zone. They were 1-for-2 on their only red zone drives of the game.

Matchup in the trenches: In addition to seeing how well the teams fare against one another inside the 20s, keep an eye on the Bengals' offensive line and the Browns' defensive line. Cincinnati enters this game without offensive guard Kevin Zeitler, who was ruled out Friday with a foot injury. It'll be the first game in his two years that Zeitler will miss, prompting the Bengals to likely bring Mike Pollak off the bench to play his spot. The sixth-year veteran hasn't started a game since 2011 and has missed most of this season with a knee injury, but coaches are confident that he'll play well if called upon. Pollak, center Kyle Cook and left guard Clint Boling, in particular, will be facing a Browns defensive line that boasts one of the biggest and strongest interior players in the league in Phil Taylor. Defensive ends Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant have been headaches for offensive linemen, as well. Outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo will play close to the line too, providing an added element to the Bengals' blocking schemes.

Outside battle: While the threat of inclement weather could force both teams into running the ball, still pay close attention to the battle on the outside between Bengals receiver A.J. Green and cornerback Joe Haden. In their earlier meeting, Haden got the better of the competition, holding Green to just seven catches for 51 yards. It seemed like every step Green took, Haden was right there with him. Even Green's yard-after-catch numbers were abysmal in that game -- he had only four. While Haden will be trying to lock him down, the Bengals are going to use a combination of corners Adam Jones, Terence Newman and Dre Kirkpatrick to slow receivers Josh Gordon and Davone Bess. Since Chris Crocker is doubtful with a hamstring injury, when Bess lines up in the slot, he likely will see Kirkpatrick opposite him.

Morning Stripes: Learning in Louisiana

September, 27, 2013
How many high school seniors can brag to their teammates and friends about picking up free tips from an NFL star?

How many of those same young football players, as they enter college at one of the premier football factories in the country, end up maintaining the relationship with their Pro Bowl buddy, who also once attended that same college power?

How many of those players end up carving their own path in the league, getting drafted within the first six picks?

How many of them bounce back from a bruised lung in the preseason of their rookie seasons to start what many anticipate to be a good and long career?

And how many of those guys, within their first four games as a professional, get to say they went up against their mentor and battled and scraped with him for four quarters, using his techniques and methods against him?

Not many, but count Browns defensive end Barkevious Mingo among the select few.

When the Bengals and Browns meet Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, it will mark the first time Mingo will get to face Cincinnati's left offensive tackle, Andrew Whitworth. Since Mingo's days at West Monroe High in Monroe, La., Whitworth has served as an older football brother, offering football advice and providing mechanical assistance when trying to prepare Mingo for the next few steps of his playing career. Whitworth is nearly nine years Mingo's senior, but he felt an obligation five years ago to help one of his high school's rising talents.

This weekend, at long last, the student has his chance to face the master.

We start off Friday's Morning Stripes by taking a look at their time together:
  • Whitworth spoke for several minutes to reporters earlier this week about his experiences with Mingo, a first-round pick in this year's draft out of LSU.'s Geoff Hobson has this look at the dynamic the pair share. One of Whitworth and Mingo's former coaches spoke to Hobson about the two players and offered his opinion on who he thought might win the matchup between them. The cagey veteran gets his vote.
  • While you're looking to Mingo to spark Cleveland's defense in the Bengals-Browns game Sunday, expect fellow defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson to do the same for Cincinnati. The pair played key roles in last week's win over Green Bay, and along with the rest of the young Bengals defensive line, are finally coming into their own, FoxSports Ohio's Kevin Goheen writes. As defensive tackle Domata Peko put it, the Bengals' front four are "just scratching the surface" of their potential.
  • Even though the Bengals' defense was rather strong overall against the Packers last week, the group still contends it has its share of work to do. Specifically, the unit would like to continue forcing turnovers. These hopes come on the heels of a three-turnover performance Sunday, when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was intercepted twice, and Cincinnati's defenders forced a crucial fourth-down fumble that was returned for the eventual game-winning score. The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr. writes that even after all of that, the Bengals' defenders aren't satisfied.
  • One Browns player who will be trying to hold onto the ball as often as possible is newly signed running back Willis McGahee. The veteran was added to Cleveland's roster just after the Browns traded away former first-round pick Trent Richardson last week. According to the Akron Beacon Journal, McGahee is vowing for "dramatic improvement" to come to the rushing game, beginning this weekend.