10-13-01, 9:05 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
They play the game in Paul Brown Stadium and really, that's all that has to be said.
The man founded both franchises. He put his name on one and the Super Bowl on the other and everyone with the Bengals knew it without the old man having to say a word.
Before the Bengals, indeed, long before the Colts, the Falcons, the Bills, the Saints, and the Dolphins, there was only Paul Brown's Cleveland Browns near the heart of the country in professional football.
How deep does it go? Up in Toledo, Ohio, JoJuan Armour's father will do what he has done since he was a kid on most fall Sundays. Back when Jim Brown was the man and the Bengals were a glint in Paul Brown's eye.
JoJuan Armour's father will have his friends over to the house to watch the Browns. Of course, on this day they will watch his son make his first NFL start for the Bengals.
"He'll be rooting for the Browns and for me," Armour said with a laugh.
Bengals President Mike Brown understands. He couldn't talk his bride into going to that Browns game on their wedding night in 1964. So he ended up listening to some of it on the radio driving out of town.
Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau knows. He spent many a Sunday in the '40s and '50s driving around in his family's car just a few miles out of London, Ohio, so they could pick up the Browns on radio.
And, in a way, it also explains guys like Eric Thomas, who played against the Browns on national television when radio was an afterthought and who always felt his teammates felt Paul Brown's pain about getting fired in Cleveland. Thomas, a cornerback who hasn't played for the Bengals in nearly a decade, came to practice this week because, "I just wanted to see if these guys are as excited as I am."
Which is why when the Bengals play the Browns, it always means something. Even though Art Modell and Paul Brown are long gone. Even though the original Cleveland Browns won a Super Bowl for Baltimore back in January. The Browns of Mike Brown and Dick LeBeau are here Sunday.
"They are the Browns to me," Mike Brown said the other day. "They have the name, they have the
uniforms, they have the tradition. And they're building up again. They're better than they've been. They're pretty close to being one of the good teams. Rivalries build up when the two teams are good."
Jim Breech, the Bengals' all-time scorer who kicked in this game with the playoffs at stake, never had to hear it from the man himself just exactly what it all meant.
"Everybody had a pretty good idea what happened with Modell and the Browns in Cleveland," said Breech of Paul Brown's infamous firing that led to the formation of the Bengals. "When you're playing a team that is named after your owner, it's pretty obvious he had an impact on that team, too."
In his 11 seasons with Paul Brown, Breech thinks Brown talked to the team just once the week before the Cleveland game.
"He just said something like it was a game that meant a lot to him and he'd appreciate it if (they could win it,)" Breech said. "He never mentioned anything about what happened up there."
Thomas knew the story even though it was never said. No, make that felt it.
"Here's a guy who won all those championships up there and he probably felt like they ran him out of town," Thomas said. "You could tell there was a little bitterness in his voice when he talked about it. When we got ready for Cleveland, we were mad. We played Cleveland with a chip on our shoulder. I think the players felt his pain."
Sam Wyche played against Cleveland as a player and head coach under Paul Brown and there was no question in his mind that Cleveland week was electric.
"Paul never talked about how he got screwed up there or anything like that," Wyche said. "He came at it from the standpoint that it was an in-state rivalry and that winning was important so we could get more support. To him, it was about drawing fans. It would irk him that there were always so many Browns' fans at the games in Cincinnati."
Mike Brown has always said his father took pride in the fact there was always a hard-core group of Browns' fans stationed in Cincinnati. He knew why.
"I always found it remarkable when the Browns became Baltimore and even though they had been our rival for over 30 years, the game never carried the same impact. It just didn't," Mike Brown. "I do think we'll have a rivalry with Baltimore and that it started this year and that it will build over the years. But not because they were the Cleveland Browns, but who they are now."
MATCHUPS: Keep an eye in the box, where the Browns manhandled the Bengals on both sides of scrimmage in Cleveland's 24-7 victory Opening Day last year. It's also where the Bengals churned out a 12-3 win in Cleveland seven weeks later.
Bengals RT Willie Anderson, along with Bengals RB Corey Dillon, tries to cool off red-hot Browns SLB Jamir Miller on the pass rush. Bengals RG Mike Goff faces off against talented rookie Browns DT Gerard Warren.
In his first NFL start, Bengals SS JoJuan Armour tries to get Cincinnati's run defense squared away against Browns HB Mike Sellers. Bengals DE Justin Smith and the rest of the pass rush has to find a way to pressure the quick drops and quicker release of Browns QB Tim Couch. Bengals WRs Darnay Scott, Peter Warrick and Chad Johnson have to run the right routes against an opportunistic secondary of Browns CBs Corey Fuller, Daylon McCuthcheon and Anthony Henry. It figures to be a close game, which means all eyes are on Bengals K Neil Rackers and Browns P Chris Gardocki, who looks to be headed back to the Pro Bowl.
ANDERSON, DILLON VS. MILLER: Miller is the kind of guy a lot of teams just don't have. A 266-pound linebacker who can rush the passer from anywhere. Miller already has five sacks, a half off his career high.
Oddly, defensive end Courtney Brown's knee injury that has shelved him all season has given Miller more chances as a rush end on passing downs and that's how he has four of his five sacks.
The Bengals also have to be careful with Miller blitzing as a backer and Dillon may be called on to get in his way. The Ravens and Steelers each rang up a sack beating the back on a blitz.
Miller may not always line up opposite Anderson because the Browns move him around some, but the Bengals' pass blocking is the best it's been in years. In the opener last year, the Browns had seven sacks. This year the Bengals come into their fifth game with just seven sacks allowed.
GOFF VS. WARREN: Warren got a lot of ink for his $35,000 hit on Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell, but it takes away from the fact he's fast becoming a load. The Bengals think he's a star on the rise.
"He's very athletic. He reminds me of a young Sam Adams," said Goff of the Ravens' man in the middle. "And he's only going to get better the older he gets."
ARMOUR VS. SELLERS: The Browns have been using Sellers, a tight end/fullback picked up as a restricted free agent from the Redskins, mainly as blocking H-Back. The Bengals have to stop the run after two weeks of simply getting gouged.
"A lot of it is we're not getting lined up right," said Bengals middle linebacker Brian Simmons. "And it's hard to explain because we were doing it for the first two weeks. If you look at the film, we're not getting blown off the ball. We're mostly not in the right spot."
With Cory Hall moving from strong safety to free safety in place of Chris Carter and the 220-pound Armour getting the call, it's imperative the safeties get people lined up in the proper coverage and be willing to mix it up in the box.
The Browns like to pound the running game between the tackles and protect Couch with play-action. Sellers, a versatile 265-pound sort, can line up anywhere and is a size challenge for safeties.
SMITH VS. COUCH: Smith, the man picked behind Warren, is quietly impressing people with his active play. He has one sack in three games and appears to be holding up in the run game better than Reinard Wilson, although they both need to rush Couch.
Couch has thrown one fewer touchdown pass than the Bengals' Jon Kitna and is two points behind him in completion percentage. But Couch's passes are averaging more than a yard longer than Kitna's and his passing rating in the fourth quarter is an AFC-leading 106.1.
The Browns like the same quick passing scheme used by Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, but there is one difference. Manning has been sacked just five times this season while Couch has been dumped 13. **
SCOTT, WARRICK, JOHNSON VS. FULLER, MCCUTCHEON, HENRY:** The Browns have responded to first-year defensive coordinator Foge Fazio's aggressive man-to-man schemes with a league-leading 11 interceptions. Meanwhile, all four of Kitna's interceptions have been linked to his receivers' mistakes.
For instance, the game-turning interception in Pittsburgh last week came when the rookie Johnson ran behind Steelers cornerback Chad Scott instead of sticking with his post pattern and cutting in front of him.
"Rookie mistake," Johnson said. "In college, that's a touchdown because he's up on me about seven, eight yards and I just run by the guy. But Scott was playing about 14 yards off me and when I got to five yards, he was 20. Jon can't hold the ball that long if I run past the guy. I was thinking about the route, but Jon reacted to the coverage and that's what I have to do. Not be hungry for the touchdown, just get the first down."
RACKERS VS. GARDOCKI: All signs point to a game coming down to the last couple of minutes between two evenly matched clubs. The struggling Rackers hasn't made a field goal in 36 days and needs to snap his string of four straight field-goal misses if the Bengals want to compete with a team that has Gardocki.
Gardocki has never had a punt blocked in his 11 seasons for a NFL-record 749 straight block-free punts and has been a laser this season. He's drilled an AFC-leading seven inside the 20 with no touchbacks.
WYCHE UPDATE:** Sam "You Don't Live In Cleveland," Wyche is always a good guy to check in with during Browns-Bengals week. Unable to fight through the problems with his paralyzed vocal cord, Wyche is out of broadcasting after CBS terminated him early this season.
Wyche, who worked the Bengals' opener last month, is contemplating teaching high school in Florida or South Carolina. Or, he may head to Massachusetts General Hospital and go for what he calls, "a Hail Mary operation. It's a risk because it will be irreversible.
"CBS stayed with me longer than I would have," Wyche said. "I'm thinking of doing some substitute teaching to find out because I don't know if my voice could even hold up in a classroom.
"Or, the operation could work and I'd get back in broadcasting. Or, I guess a last-ditch thing would be becoming a sportswriter if I get real desperate."
Wyche, who will apparently always keep his sense of humor, still laughs
about that 1989 game against Seattle. In an effort to stop the Riverfront Stadium fans from throwing snowballs, Wyche grabbed the field microphone and admonished the crowd with, "You don't live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati."
"I was referring to the Dawg Pound up in (the Browns') stadium," Wyche said. "They would throw things at you. Snowballs. Dog bones. Batteries. It was usually just during pregame, but stuff would be thrown out there. That's what I meant. I wasn't talking about the city, but I'm sure no one will buy that explanation now."
MORE MEMORIES: This is the first time since the season Wyche grabbed the PA that the Bengals and Browns are playing each other this late in the season with both .500 or better. Former Bengals cornerback Eric Thomas remembers the games were heated even when there was nothing to play for.
In 1991, the Browns' Matt Stover kicked a field goal at the gun just past Thomas' outstretched hand to beat the Bengals in the third game of the year to help send Cincinnati to an 0-8 start in a 3-13 season.
Six weeks later, the winless Bengals hosted the 4-4 Browns and with Stover lining up another winner on the last play of the game, Thomas screeched around the edge to block it and preserve Cincinnati's first win of the year, 23-21. Cleveland won two more games the rest of the year.
"Clay Matthews was a great linebacker, but not a very good protector on field goals," Thomas said. "I had him beat up in Cleveland, but I slipped coming around the edge and still almost got it. So I knew I could get there the second time." **
WEATHER REPORT:The Channel 12 gurus say most of the rain will be gone by game time, although there could be some lingering showers. Look for a breezy, cloudy afternoon with a 10 to 20 mile-per-hour wind coming out of the north west and temperatures in the 50s. There are no umbrellas allowed in Paul Brown Stadium.
NUMBERS GAME:** All the numbers you need for this weekend, including 167 and 166. The total of 167 is the number of games Paul Brown won in 17 seasons as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. The total of 166 is the number of combined wins by the last eight Browns head coaches before the hiring of Butch Davis, starting with Forrest Gregg in 1975.
134.5 _ Yards Bengals running back Corey Dillon has averaged in four games against the Browns.
5_ The Browns' rank in NFL defense, completing a run of four straight games the Bengals have played four of the current top five: Baltimore (1), San Diego (4), Pittsburgh (3).
7_Sacks by the Browns against the Bengals in last year's opener.
7 _ Sacks allowed by the Bengals in their first four games.
7 _ Career wins for Browns quarterback Tim Couch.
5 _ Couch's career fourth-quarter comebacks.
10/28/90 _ The Bengals were 5-3 on this date, the last time they've been over .500 in October.
11 _ Cleveland's interception total this season.
12 _ Cleveland's interception total last season.
12 _ Cincinnati's total interceptions in last 20 games.