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Bengals must hold KJ to letter

9-13-02, 11:05 a.m.


For the Bengals, Browns wide receiver Kevin Johnson is one of those divisional foes becoming as familiar as a player on their own roster. Like say a Jerome Bettis, or a Ray Lewis.

Not only have the Bengals become intimately familiar with Johnson's whip-lash speed because they've allowed four of his five career 100-yard games in his four-year career, but the man coaching their coverage against him recruited Johnson to Syracuse.

Now what scares the Bengals this trip is that the Browns have surrounded Johnson with other down-the-field receivers, and they need big-time games from their cornerbacks on Sunday.

The last thing Bengals cornerbacks coach Kevin Coyle did before he left the Salt City to go to Fresno State is wrap up his recruitment of Johnson, the top prep quarterback in the East out of Hamilton West High School in New Jersey.

Just how good of an athlete? Note Johnson's 33-yard touchdown pass last week to Quincy Morgan

Coyle's last assignment for the Orangemen became dicey. While the nation's top option programs like Nebraska offered Johnson scholarships as a quarterback, Syracuse already had a kid out of Chicago in the fold named Donovan McNabb and Johnson would have to find a new spot.

How good of an athlete? Johnson changed positions without changing stride and for good measure became the first Big East player to return four kicks for touchdowns in his career.

"A heck of an athlete. A national sprinter in track and he's a real good competitor," Coyle said. "He gets down the field in a hurry and you can see he's still got an average or better arm with that touchdown pass."

Johnson finally has help. While he strafed the Chiefs last week for eight catches and 96 yards, Morgan, a second-year, second-rounder, had a career-high 151 yards, and second-year seventh-rounder Andre Davis added his first NFL touchdown catch. Dennis Northcutt, left for the waiver wire when camp started, caught a 43-yard scoring pass.

"We edited film this week to show our guys they had about 10 to 12 plays you would say are big plays," Coyle said. "Plus, they had a large number of plays in the 12-to-15-yard range. They're the kind of team that can get big chunks of yardage quickly, particularly off play action. They're a big play-action team."

No matter if the quarterback is Kelly Holcomb or Tim Couch, the Bengals know the Browns will take two or three shots down field when they get Johnson or Morgan one-on one. They won't do it off play-action all the time, either. They'll just do what they did last year and hang it up for their guys to make a play. In the Browns' 18-0 victory last season, Couch and Johnson killed the Bengals with plays of 47 and 33 yards in the second quarter alone on the way to Johnson's 113 yards. Even in the Bengals' 24-14 win last year, Johnson had a career-high 153 yards.

Now more than ever, Coyle is preaching interceptions. They had just three in the preseason and didn't come close to one last week against San Diego. Someone, he says, has to make a play.

"We've got to come up with some plays down the field," Coyle said. "We're going to have to deny some balls and we're going to have to get down the field and defend the deep ball well enough to get some turnovers. That's the challenge this week, To go up there on the deep throws and come away with it."

MATCHUPS: With the Bengals' defense reeling from the Chargers' 401-yard job and the Browns coming off piling up 411 against the Chiefs, all eyes are on Cincinnati's defense. That means Bengals CBs Artrell Hawkins and Jeff Burris, as well as Bengals FS Cory Hall and SS JoJuan Armour are in the spotlight against Browns WRs Kevin Johnson, Quincy Morgan, Andre Davis, and Dennis Northcutt.

Bengals DE Bernard Whittington and Bengals DT Tony Williams have to assert the Bengals at the line of scrimmage against a banged-up right side of the Browns' offensive line that includes C Shaun O'Hara and RG Paul Zukauskas. Bengals RE Justin Smith seeks his first sack this season against Browns LT Ross Verba.

On offense, Cincinnati has to establish RB Corey Dillon against Browns MLB Earl Holmes and Browns SS Robert Griffith. Bengals LT Richmond Webb, coming off the best game by a Cincinnati offensive lineman, gets the call against Browns DE Courtney Brown. Bengals K Neil Rackers vs. Browns K Phil Dawson.


BENGALS' SECONDARY VS. BROWNS' RECEIVERS:** The Bengals are going back to their safety combo that started 10 of the last 12 games during their run to the No. 9 ranking in the NFL. In the first game last year when Hall went to free safety and Armour went to strong, the Bengals stuffed the Browns on 40 yards rushing.

But even with the drafting of Boston College running back William Green in the first round, the Browns haven't established the run. Green has been plagued by nagging injuries and has been labeled an early-season disappointment by some observers.

The gamble the Bengals are making is that while their two "big," safeties are solid against the run, can Hall and Armour cover the Browns' new-found deep passing attack?

Plus, with Kelly Holcombe the quarterback instead of Tim Couch, more guys than Johnson are making plays.

WHTTINGTON, GIBSON VS. O'HARA, ZUKAUSKAS: Whittington figures to play for the injured Vaughn Booker and the Bengals have to do better this week than they did against the Chargers' re-tooled interior.

With Browns center Dave Wohlabaugh injured, O'Hara moves from right guard to center, where he hasn't started a game since 2000. Zukauskas is expected to make his first NFL start at right guard, and right tackle Ryan Tucker is limping with Roger Chanoine looking to return to last year's spot as the right tackle. Last week, the Browns allowed just one sack, which was chalked up to coverage, but rushed for just 59 yards on three yards per carry.

SMITH VS. VERBA: Verba took virtually the same deal in Cleveland that the Bengals offered in March of 2001, but didn't move from left guard to his favored spot at left tackle until the last month of the season. Now he's starting the season at left tackle despite some preseason back problems.

Smith didn't get much of a shot for a sack last Sunday. If Chargers quarterback Drew Brees didn't throw from a quick three-step drop, the Chargers kept a back in to help block Smith, or he simply didn't get a chance. The Bengals faced only 10 third downs and used their nickel package only a handful of times.

DILLON VS. HOLMES, GRIFFITH: Dillon, along with Jerome Bettis and Jamal Lewis, is a major reason the Browns went out and signed these two major run-stuffers. There were a lot of rumblings last week when the Chiefs' Priest Holmes went off for 122 yards in their debut. Bengals center Rich Braham says the key is getting movement on tackles Gerard Warren and Orpheus Roye.

"Holmes is a great player. They like to let him run free back there, so we have to get past the tackles and get to the linebacker level," Braham said.

Another sub-plot in the Dillon matchup is rookie left tackle Levi Jones' appearance as a tight end because the Bengals covet his ability in the running game. He appeared in about 10 plays last Sunday and could be asked to take care of Griffith if the Browns pound eight in the box. **

WEBB VS. BROWN:With leading sacker Jamir Miller out for the year, the Browns need a big-time year from Brown. There are Big Daddy-like whispers up on The Lake that Brown might be a bust. The Browns don't like his robotic play and his moves are ripped for being predictable. At 35 years young, Webb held up his end of the bargain against San Diego.

RACKERS VS. DAWSON:** Like last year when he went 3-for-3 against the Patriots, Rackers was perfect on Opening Day with a 2-for-2 effort on field goals that included a career-long 54-yarder. Dawson hasn't missed in nearly a year, nailing 19 straight with his last miss coming on Oct. 7 against the Chargers from 48 yards.

Last year in Cleveland, the Bengals might have taken a 6-6 tie into halftime instead of a 12-0 deficit if Rackers hadn't missed field goals of 47 and 43 yards in the second quarter. Dawson hit four of four, but the longest was just 33 yards and three were from 27 or shorter.


NUMBERS GAME:** All the numbers you need for Sunday's game against the Browns, starting with 123.5 and 122. The first is the number of yards Bengals running back Corey Dillon has averaged against the Browns in his six career games. The second is the number of yards Chiefs running back Priest Holmes got against the Browns last Sunday.

123.5_ Bengals running back Corey Dillon's average yards per his six career games against the Browns.

122 _ Yards Chiefs running back Priest Holmes got against the Browns last Sunday.

6,463 _ Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown's total yards rushing for Cleveland in his first five years out of Syracuse.

6,209 _ Dillon's total yards rushing in first five NFL seasons.

3-18 _ Bengals' road record in September games since 1991.

0-15 _ Bengals' road record outdoors since September, 1991.

33 _ Yards of Browns wide receiver Kevin Johnson's touchdown pass last week.

30 _ Yards of Bengals' longest touchdown pass in last 35 games.

4_ 100-yard games for Dillon against the Browns.

4 – 100-yard games for Johnson against the Bengals.

207 _ Johnson's total catches in first three seasons.

200 _ Jerry Rice's total catches in first three seasons.

167 _ Paul Brown's victory total in 17 seasons as Cleveland's head coach.

141 _ Browns' victory total the 17 years after Paul Brown left.

224 _ Bengals' victory total in 34 seasons.

5 _ Round Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau drafted in 1959 by Paul Brown.

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