11-23-01, 3:00 p.m.
Updated: 11-23-01, 7:05 p.m.
Updated: 11-24-01, 5:45 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
It seems like six years between games rather than six weeks since the Bengals' 24-14 victory over Cleveland given some of the matchups that weren't there the last time at Paul Brown Stadium.
Bengals LT Richmond Webb, off his fine outing against the Titans' Jevon Kearse, makes his first appearance against another young gun in Browns DE Courtney Brown. Bengals RG Mike Goff, who drove Gerard Warren to a second-half benching last month, looks to get Cincinnati's running game back in gear against Warren's trio of replacements in Browns DTs Orpheus Roye, Mark Smith and Alvin McKinley. Bengals ROLB Takeo Spikes, who missed last month's game, has to be part of heavy pressure on Browns QB Tim Couch, a passer looking to move a Browns' offense through the air after just one 100-yard rusher this season.
Bengals QB Jon Kitna, faces off against Browns rookie CB Anthony Henry's seven interceptions. Bengals DE Justin Smith is looking for his first full sack since going against Browns LT Roman Oben last month.
WEBB VS. BROWN: After giving up his first two sacks of the season in Jacksonville against Tony Brackens, Webb blanked Kearse. Kearse, who came into last week's game with five sacks in his last two games, got a sack rushing around tight end Tony McGee. The kids keep coming after Webb, 34, the seven-time Pro Bowler.
Brown, 23, the first pick in the 2000 draft, has four sacks in the three games since returning from the knee injury that wiped out his first six games of the season. He had three sacks and returned a fumble for a touchdown against the Bears and last week against the Ravens he stripped quarterback Elvis Grbac of the ball while sacking him.
The 6-4, 266-pound Brown poses a different problem this week for the 325-pound Webb. He thinks it helps that he's faced the 6-4, 271-pound Justin Smith in practice.
"I knew (Brown) would be one of the best rush guys just seeing him in college," Webb said. "Kearse is probably the fastest guy coming off the ball. Courtney gets up the field, but he plays with a little more leverage than Kearse. Teams seem to be going for the 260, 265 270 (pound) pass rushers who can run like a deer. (Brown) is like Justin in that from the snap, he plays until the whistle."
Crowd noise was a factor in Jacksonville against Brackens. Webb went back to fundamentals and concentrated on his footwork. One thing in common with that game two weeks ago and this one is that it's on the road and Webb, the former Dolphin who played three times in old Cleveland Stadium, knows what that means: "It won't be like what I've heard n Cleveland playing with Miami. The Bengals playing in Cleveland is like the Dolphins playing against the Jets or Buffalo on the road."
GOFF VS. ROYE, SMITH, MCKINLEY: These three guys will be playing in place of Warren, the Browns' suspended first-round pick. Goff did such a good job on Warren in the first game that Warren got benched in the second half en route to the Bengals' 199-yard rushing day. Even with Warren in the lineup, the Browns are 24th in NFL run defense.
Goff is symbolic of his offensive line. When he (and his line mates) play well in the running game, the Bengals win. Goff's manhandling of the Lions' estimable Luther Elliss is a major reason Cincinnati rushed for 224 yards in Detroit.
But after Goff's two holding calls in the second quarter last week, Bengals running back Corey Dillon got the ball nine more times and was stopped for a loss or no gain seven times.
"We've gotten frustrated when we haven't been able to run it," Goff said. "I know that's what happened to me after I got those penalties. I got frustrated and you tend to lose focus when that happens. We've just got to be more patient."
SPIKES VS. COUCH: Spikes missed the game last month because of his father's death and Adrian Ross filled in well as the Bengals held the Browns to 40 yards rushing. Which means Couch, one of six AFC passers with double-digit touchdown passes (11) will probably try to fling it. He burned the Bengals for a 30-yard touchdown pass last month to Kevin Johnson, the longest touchdown pass Cincinnati has allowed this season.
Couch has been good under pressure with the AFC's fourth-best fourth-quarter passing rating, but his offensive line has allowed the NFL's fourth most sacks with 29. And good things seem to happen for the Bengals when Spikes is pressuring up the middle. In the four games he has a sack, the Bengals are 2-2.
But Spikes is also going to have to stay at home. Last week in Baltimore, the Browns converted a fourth-and-one on their clinching touchdown drive on a 12-yard end-around to wide receiver Dennis Northcutt.
KITNA VS. HENRY: Henry, a fourth-round pick, is tied for second in the NFL with seven interceptions. He's coming off his second three-interception game, the first time a rookie has done that since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Last week against Baltimore, Henry, a nickel back, robbed Baltimore twice on the doorstep. With 50 seconds left in the first half, Henry picked off a pass at the Cleveland 13 to preserve a 20-7 half-time lead. Then with the Ravens still trailing, 20-7, in the third quarter and marching 13 plays to the Cleveland 4, Henry got between Qadry Ismail and his fade route in the end zone.
The 6-0, 200-pound Henry has good size and great hands and will no doubt be looking for Kitna. Since the win over the Browns, Kitna has thrown six of his 10 interceptions. The last time Kitna didn't throw an interception was against a Browns' team that leads the NFL with 20. In the Bengals' four wins, Kitna has thrown two interceptions. In the five losses, he's thrown eight.
SMITH VS. OBEN: Smith dominated Oben in the fourth quarter when the Bengals had a 14-point lead, ringing up a sack and a hold against the sixth-year pro from Louisville. But Smith, who has 2.5 sacks, hasn't had a sack to himself since that win, although he shared one last week with Reinard Wilson. Cleveland has allowed 29 sacks. Only the Lions, Falcons, Bills, Seahawks and Buccaneers have allowed more.
SPECIAL TIME: _ While Al Roberts has been the special teams coach for the Bengals since 1997, a tornado has taken his house while he slept, he has undergone heart surgery, and he's taken a hail of criticism while Cincinnati has gone through inconsistent punting and kicking.
Now, after a trying, tough month of Derrick Mason and Desmond Howard, the Bengals find themselves last in the NFL in kick coverage after Mason blew by them for 101 yards on last Sunday's opening kickoff.
They hope the return of cornerback Robert Bean and more instinctive play helps tighten up a unit allowing teams to start drives from their own 33.
"We've got to stop being boys out there and just step up and be men and make some plays," said linebacker Adrian Ross. "Guys are waiting on other guys to make a play. We're kind of like robots. It's like, 'I'm doing my job right here. It's not my fault.'"
Ross hears the firestorm enveloping Roberts and says there is more to the story.
"It's hard for him. He doesn't get that much time to teach it to the guys," Ross said. "A lot of the corners
were going down and he had to put in new guys who were here from other teams who haven't done it before."
Roberts lost both his key safeties on kick coverage at about the same time last month.
Bean's tender hamstring has kept him off kick cover starting with the Oct. 21 game against the Bears. That was a week after cornerback Rodney Heath was lost for the season with a torn hamstring. With rookie cornerback Bo Jennings taking Bean's spot and free safety Darryl Williams playing for Heath, Howard busted returns of 65 and 91 yards.
Last week, the Titans ran at Jennings on the far left side of the Bengals line with a lead blocker and it helped Mason break outside and up the sideline untouched.
"(The Titans) like to put two or three guys on that side and they had a guy kick out Bo," Bean said. "We have to play it harder and a little bit more aggressive. Usually, you're supposed to sit back there and bounce out, but not the way they ran it."
Roberts didn't get much sleep Sunday night. He reported for work 5 a.m. Monday, but the only significant change is Bean for Jennings. In the quirky way of special teams, that's the matchup the Titans exploited.
"My whole body aches," Roberts said. "You can't blame Bo. I'm not looking for excuses. You'd love to have all these guys from training camp. But you have to teach them once they get here and they come from different systems. We're going to get this thing straightened out."
ALL OVER:** London, Ohio, the hometown of Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau, is big in the Bengals-Browns rivalry. But so is London, England. The game is live on SKY TV and Andy Kulina reports from London that's a first for the Bengals in England. So the Bengals Fan Club of London and the Browns Backers of London are meeting at the Sports Cafe on Haymarket Street in Central London Sunday, starting at 5 p.m . GMT.
NUMBERS GAME:** All the numbers you need for this weekend, including 3.9 and 5.5. The first is Bengals running back Corey Dillon's yards per carry on the road since Cleveland Browns Stadium opened in 1999. The second is Dillon's yards per carry in his two games in the stadium.
144 _ Yards Dillon has averaged per game against the new Browns.
9-0 _ Bengals record when Dillon rushes for more than 130 yards.
79 _ Dillon's career yards per game average.
121 _ Yards Dillon averages in Bengals' 2001 victories.
47 _ Yards Dillon averages in Bengals' 2001 losses.
34 _ Consecutive games Bengals have lost on the road against teams with winning records.
5-16 _ Browns record in their new stadium.
2-0 _ Bengals' record in the new Cleveland Stadium.
81-23-2 _ Paul Brown's home record as coach of the Cleveland Browns.
28-28 _ Record of the Bengals-Browns series.
15 _ Tackles by Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes last week, giving him 87 for the season in his bid to win his third team tackling title.
4 _ Bengals who have won three team tackling titles since 1976: Nose tackle Tim Krumrie with five, and linebackers Jim LeClair with four and Reggie Williams and Steve Tovar three each.
5 _ Teams that have allowed fewer sacks than the Bengals' 15.
5 _ Teams that have allowed more sacks than the Browns' 29.
7_ Interceptions by Browns rookie cornerback Anthony Henry.
6 _ Career interceptions by active Bengals cornerbacks.