The Cincinnati Bengals (9-2) will try to hit double digits in the wins column for the fourth straight season when the travel for a division meeting at 1 p.m. ET Sunday. They are facing the Cleveland Browns (2-9) at FirstEnergy Stadium. Here are things to watch for during the game:
Why watch? You'll want to tune in to see if A.J. Green can pull off something he was unable to do in the Bengals' previous outing with the Browns: completely exploit a Joe Haden-less Browns defense. For the second straight meeting, the Browns will be without their Pro Bowl cornerback, who still is dealing with the effects of a concussion he received one week before the Bengals and Browns last played. He's one of four Browns already declared out for Sunday's game due to concussions. The last time the Bengals faced the Browns without Haden in the lineup, Green caught four passes for only 53 yards.
It's worth noting Green's performance in this matchup because in recent years Haden had comparatively owned him. In the last three games in the series Haden was part of, he permitted Green to catch 10 passes for just 79 yards. In the game before those, Green managed to catch seven passes, but was limited to just 51 yards. Green also hasn't caught a touchdown pass against the Browns since Week 6 of the 2013 season, when he snagged two in that one game. So, with his longtime nemesis Haden out (the two routinely faced one another in college while playing in the SEC), how will Green respond this time around? The anticipated absence of tight end Tyler Eifert (neck/stinger) could force the Bengals into training their passing focus onto Green and other receivers. It was in last month's game between the teams that Eifert caught three touchdown passes.
Keep your eyes peeled ... On how long the Bengals' offense stays on the field. Although we just mentioned the importance of Green to the passing game, other factors could dictate this contest being one in which Cincinnati keeps the ball on the ground. After mostly staying away for the first three quarters of the season, the injury bug has finally found residence in the Bengals' locker room. In addition to Eifert's injury concerns, the Bengals on Friday listed defensive backs Adam Jones (foot), Leon Hall (back) and George Iloka (groin) as questionable for this weekend.
While signs are trending positively for Jones and Hall, still, if the pair plays, the Bengals may want to do what they can to keep the banged-up defenders as fresh as possible, and off the field as much as they can. That would make this the perfect game for the Bengals to work clock, keeping the ball in he hands of trunning backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard from the opening whistle. That actually has been the Bengals' tactic in the past two games against the Browns as fast starts have allowed them to average 41 handoffs to their backs. By running so much in those contests, Cincinnati dominated Cleveland in time of possession by 15 minutes per game.
Did you know? Andy Dalton is just one win shy of setting an NFL record for a quarterback's number of road wins through the first five years of a career. His current 23 ties him with Dan Marino, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan for the most all-time. ... Also, did you know Dalton had great success against the Browns on third down in the teams' previous meeting? In leading the Bengals to an 8-for-13 third-down showing in the November meeting, he was 8-for-8 passing for 120 yards in those situations.