SEPTEMBER 11, 2011
Welcome to the first installment of the Bengals.com media roundtable, a weekly feature where different local and national pundits make a call on each Bengals game.
We've gone with heavy hitters at the top of the lineup to lead it off. You've got to bat a former Bengals leadoff and there's no other choice this week than former safety Solomon Wilcots of NFL Network and the guy analyzing Sunday's game in Cleveland (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) for CBS.
The King is a resourceful, Carl Crawford-type today, providing pop behind Wilcots. Peter King of Sports Illustrated covered the Bengals for a stretch in the 1980s for The Cincinnati Enquirer.
The three and four holes belong to a pair of long-time NFL scribes. Tony Grossi has covered the Browns so long and well for The Cleveland Plain-Dealer that they'll put his picture in the press box. Vic Carucci made his name at The Buffalo News, NFL.com, and Sirius Radio and is in his first year as senior editor of clevelandbrowns.com.
This quartet is no different than NFL punditry everywhere. They don't have the Bengals winning. But there is also some caution here once they look at Cincinnati's defense, kicking game and the success Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has had against 10 different starting Browns quarterbacks and three head coaches at 11-5.
Aren't we looking at the same team? Both have young quarterbacks saddled with new offenses and up-and-coming defenses, along with breathtaking threats in the return game.
Wilcots, who can't make a prediction because he's working the game, favors the Bengals in the trenches. Grossi has been writing all week that the Bengals are better than everyone thinks, but he still picks Cleveland, 24-20.
Carucci doesn't have a score, but he favors the Browns in a tight one while King is the only one that predicts a blowout with the Browns winning, 33-13.
The forum is having a hard time getting around The Stat: Only four rookie QBs since the 1970 merger have won their first NFL start in a road opener.
But here are some cold facts on the other side, too. This game is supposed to be decided with the running game to protect the two young quarterbacks and the numbers of the recent and distant past favor the Bengals. In the 24 games the clubs have played since Cleveland came back into the league in 1999, the Bengals have had 14 100-yard games by five different rushers. In the most recent game back last December, Bengals running back Cedric Benson went for 150 yards and against the quarterback and running back they will play Sunday, the Bengals held Peyton Hillis to 59 yards on 14 carries.
Plus, while the Bengals are expected to start a rookie at right guard in Clint Boling, the Browns are expected to do the same at left guard in Jason Pinkston.
And, Lewis is 15-9 against first-year head coaches, 2-2 on Opening Day. One of those wins was against Romeo Crennel in Cleveland in 2005.
WILCOTS: "This one is like the old days (in the '80s) when this game was a battle of running backs. James Brooks-Ickey Woods for the Bengals and Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack for the Browns.
"The Browns have Hillis running it and you know all three backs are going to get it for the Bengals. Benson, Scott and Leonard. They can do it by committee to protect their rookie quarterback. I favor the Bengals in the running game because the Browns lose a lot with (injured left guard) Eric Steinbach out. If Steiny was playing, it might be different.
"I really like the combination of athletes the Bengals have on the defensive line. I don't know when I've ever seen them so deep and talented there. I think you have to go all the way back to Eddie Edwards and those guys (in the mid '80s). The Bengals have a starter missing on the offensive line (right guard Bobbie Williams), but the Browns are playing with two rookies on their defensive front.
"I'll go with the Bengals in the running game, but the Browns in the passing game. Quarterback Colt McCoy is pretty good. Mike Holmgren knew he had something special last year when (McCoy) went on the road and played so well in Pittsburgh as a rookie. He can make all the throws. He's very accurate like a Drew Brees kind of quarterback.
"They've got four excellent tight ends. They'll probably only dress three, but good tight ends give the Bengals a hard time for some reason. Evan Moore (who scored his only career TD last year in Cleveland against the Bengals on a 24-yarder) is phenomenal. He catches everything.
"I do think the Bengals went out and got an excellent cover linebacker in Thomas Howard. I loved him when he was coming out of UTEP, and he's a perfect fit for them.
"Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is a guy that's played a lot of football and he's mature, but he showed some inaccuracy in the preseason. A couple of bad throws could be bad for him on Sunday. He's got to bow his neck and get better if adversity hits."
KING: Browns, 33-13.
"This is one of the most underrated and intriguing games of the weekend and I may be the only national guy that feels that way. I like the matchup of Dalton and McCoy as diminutive Texas college quarterbacks. I'm anxious to see how McCoy plays in the West Coast offense because the Browns are staking their future on it. And I'm anxious to see how much Dalton assimilates (new offensive coordinator) Jay Gruden's manic offense. I worry about the absence of (Bengals right guard) Bobbie Williams and the general shakiness of the offensive line in the preseason. And I hope for A.J. Green's sake that a veteran wide receiver emerges from Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson."
King took down this stat: The Bengals receivers have caught just 132 NFL passes heading into this one. He clearly thinks the more experienced offense wins this one.
GROSSI: Browns, 24-20.
"In general, the (Browns) are playing with a lot of confidence up here. They're only 1-11 in season openers since they've been back in the league, but they've looked so much better with the new coach (Pat Shurmur)'s West Coast offense and the expectation is they should beat a rookie quarterback at home.
"In hiring Shurmur they've finally turned away form that Belichick-Parcells defensive tree and except for Chris Palmer in 1999 and 2000, it's the first time they've hired an offensive guy since Sam Rutigliano in 1984.
"I know the Bengals saw McCoy at the end of last year, but he's a different guy in this offense. He was really efficient in the offseason with four touchdown passes and one interception and the thing that is really different is they go for the end zone now instead of settling for field goals in the red zone. They don't have a No. 1 receiver so I guess if you say you have four good ones you don't have a No. 1, but any of the guys could be a one for them. And their tight ends (Moore had two TD catches in the preseason) have looked good.
"Their rookies up front give them what they've wanted for a long time in tackle Phil Taylor and right end Jabaal Sheard, and the left end never played for them but Jayme Mitchell is a guy they wanted back because he fits so well into the 4-3. He's a 4-3 end and no one really knows why they brought him in here last year for the 3-4.
"The Bengals are obviously running a new offense, but it's going to be to the Browns' advantage that they've practiced against it all camp.
"I just don't see how you get around the fact that you have a rookie quarterback playing the most important position in the sport. It's going to be a close game, but the Browns have the edge at home.
"But they can't underestimate the Bengals. They've got a good defense and they can run the ball."
CARUCCI: Edge, Browns.
"It's going to be a close, competitive game. I don't think you can assume they know each other. Not with the Browns having a new head coach and the Bengals having a new offensive coordinator. I think they're going to be feeling each other out early in the game.
"I know that Steinbach is out, but they've got high regard for Pinkston. They drafted him to play and I think they feel comfortable about putting him between a veteran at center in Alex Mack and a Pro Bowler at left tackle in Joe Thomas.
"A big question for the Browns is how their rookie right end Jabaal Sheard holds up against the tight ends in the running game. The way (new Browns) defensive coordinator Dick Jauron built this defense, Sheard (6-2, 255) is going to have to hold the edge. He has to win.
"The Browns feel good about their secondary. They feel like Joe Haden is coming into his own in his second season at corner, corner Sheldon Brown is a vet and T.J. Ward is a good player at strong safety and they think a big key is their middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. He's been coming downhill all preseason and seems to really have adjusted to the 4-3. I don't know about their depth, but they've got some solid starters.
"I have to give the edge to the Browns. Homefield advantage, going against a rookie quarterback, and coming off a good preseason."
If it sounds like these two teams are pretty similar, you're right. While McCoy had a nice preseason, the Bengals No. 1 defense was stingy on the ground. Their new middle linebacker, Rey Maualuga, has also adjusted well and makes them better. The Bengals drafted Boling to play and are just as high on him as the Browns are in Pinkston.
Bottom line? The team that wins the game has the young quarterback that makes the fewest mistakes.