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Black and blue battle

This has all the makings of a black-and-blue Battle of Ohio that should be filmed in black-and-white on a gray day where the temperature (25) and wind (30 miles per hour) may outscore the offenses. The thundering elegance of John Facenda would be a nice soundtrack. But with both teams grinding to stay out of the AFC North cellar, street-tough Joe Pesci is more like it.

Citing the Browns' short week, the Bengals victory over the Redskins as well as their edge at quarterback, the roundtable is going with the Bengals to break their longest road losing streak (seven) since the 15 straight they lost from 1992-94.

"I said Cincinnati could win its last three and they ought to win this one because they've got the better quarterback," says The Guru, a former top football exec in the NFL.

"The Browns defense is good, but beyond their three big guys up front, it's pretty average," says The Eye, an NFL scout familiar with personnel in both conferences. "They don't have the players across the board like they do in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, or even Philadelphia and Washington. And the Bengals have more momentum."

C Eric Ghiaciuc and LG Nate Livings and RG Bobbie Williams vs. Browns NT Shaun Rogers
! Ghiaciuc

"You can do things to make sure you dont have to deal with (Rogers) when you run the ball," The Eye says.

It looks like the only way the Browns can score is with their defense. Their one touchdown in the last 16 quarters came on McDonald's 24-yard interception return Monday night.

And, let's face it. Both teams are going to try and pound it because A) the weather, and B) the defenses have a long-time rep for failing to stop it even though the Bengals have quieted that on their end the past two months.

The deep zone is more of a match for Houshmandzadeh's game and Chad hasn't done much in the ill winds of December against Romeo: 2 for 22 in '05 and 4 for 44 in '07. Plus, Houshmandzadeh is due. He's got 19 catches in the last four games after a streak of six games he had at least seven.

At what point do the Browns just suck it up and go with the former Kent State QB in the Wildcat formation all game? Crennel had pledged to do it more Monday, but abandoned it early after Cribbs got stuffed and he ended up with 25 yards on five carries. It's not like he's thrown a lot, either. He's 0-for-2. But if the Browns do go to it, Jones has to make sure somebody accounts for Cribbs and gets everybody lined up. Jones figures to make the play. Last week was his second 17-tackle day of the season.

"He's a little (5-9, 205) shifty guy with a change-of-pace," says The Guru of Harrison, but that could be negated by the conditions. Plus, he was inactive last week and is nursing injured ribs.

This season the Bengals have allowed 3.9 yards per rush and are trying to hold teams to less than 4 for the first time since foes averaged 3.7 in '01.

"Darryl's shown some versatility and flexibility when we've needed it," Marvin Lewis said earlier this week. "The last two weeks he's played defensive end for us. He's done a nice job understanding it. It gives us some nice things you can do when you have a guy like that."

But Simmons says that with 22 tackles, Cribbs is having a better year covering kicks. Hebert has a team-high 20 despite playing virtually every snap at safety the last two weeks because of injury. Simmons had to back him off special teams, but kept him on one, kick cover, where he had two tackles last week. With Chinedum Ndukwe looking like he's OK to return at safety, maybe Hebert can go back to his heavy-duty specialist role and not a moment too soon. But Simmons won't say. Cribbs is also 15th in the league returning punts with a long of 32. Before the mix-and-match lineups, Hebert was usually one of the two gunners in punt cover, where the Bengals are ranked 15th.

Edwards has been struggling of late, making more news for talking about his future and leading the NFL in dropped passes. But he has hurt the Bengals. He had a 146-yard day against them last year and back in September his four-yard TD with 13:05 left gave Cleveland the lead for good.

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