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Series of trenches

11-15-02, 3:20 p.m.


Center Rich Braham is the only player on the Bengals' roster who was here when the old Browns were in Cleveland, but he's been in enough trench warfare with the new Browns to know the line play has decided the first seven games of the new series.

"They've got a fast, aggressive front and they're very consistent. They're always coming after you," said Braham Thursday as he sat down with on audio.

In the last two weeks, the Bengals faced multi-look defenses that changed with each snap. That changes Sunday.

"They rely on their front four to do a lot," Braham said. "They don't blitz a lot, but they cause havoc with their penetration. The last couple of games we haven't played defenses that line up in the right spot ever. We kind of know where they're going and they're very confident in what they're doing."

This has been a typical season for Braham, who turned 32 last week. He hasn't missed a game (Sunday is his 95th NFL start), even though he had arthroscopic surgery to remove floating bodies in his elbow during the bye week. He also sprained an

ankle last week, but is back.

"I see it as being adversity and I have to go out there and play," Braham said. "It's my job. I enjoy playing football. Being a lineman, playing in the trenches falling down around you. Sometimes you get caught up with an ankle and knee. You can't blame anybody, just wrong place at the wrong time."

The Bengals hope they're in the right place Sunday. In the games the Bengals' offensive line controls the day, running back Corey Dillon goes off and the Bengals are 4-1 against the Browns when he runs for more than 100 yards. In the Bengals' three losses to the Browns, their quarterbacks have been sacked 15 times because Dillon hasn't been able to get rolling.

"The strength of their entire team is their front seven," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "They're the ones that make the plays. They don't have one dominant player, but they've got more solid players than most NFL teams. They play hard-nosed football and that's a reflection of their aggressive coach in Coach (Butch) Davis."

Braham says tackle Orpheus Roye is having a solid year and he has high regard for the strength and quickness of the guy next to him in Gerard Warren.

"They've got the perfect mix when you look at it," Anderson said. "Two big, strong guys in the middle, two quick guys on the end and they've got depth to run people through."

MATCHUPS: One of the many differences in the 63 days since the Browns beat the Bengals is rookie Bengals LT Levi Jones is matched against Browns DEs Courtney Brown and Mark Word. Plus, the emergence of Bengals WR Chad Johnson makes for a vocal showdown with Browns CB Corey Fuller.

Last time, the Browns did a good job maximum protecting against the Cincinnati pass rush, but Bengals DE Justin Smith has three sacks under his belt in his match against Browns LT Ross Verba Cincinnati's young safeties have their hands full with Cleveland's deep receiving corps, so watch for the duo of Bengals FS Cory Hall and Lamont Thompson against Browns WRs Dennis Northcutt and Andre' Davis. Plus, Bengals WR Ron Dugans has to stop Brown PR Dennis Northcutt on special teams.



That's going to be on passing downs. But with Brown back in the lineup, Jones figures to get a healthy dose of Brown in the base defense and on the pass rush after a week he held up well against quicksilver Ravens rush specialist Peter Boulware.

Brown has been taking heat because he has just two sacks, but Jones thinks he's got a lot of weapons.

"As a true defensive end, he's probably a lot stronger than most guys," Jones said. "He's an explosive player. He's got a combination of speed, strength and control. Boulware was all speed, all finesse. This guy (Brown) can give you anything."

Jones has watched tape of the last game and even though it's Webb working against Word and not him, Jones can still try to isolate Word's tendencies.

"He has a lot more moves," Jones said. "He's a lot more explosive and a lot less controlled. He's extremely quick, a dangerous guy who you would have to say is a speed guy."

The Bengals allowed five sacks two month ago against the Browns in giving up 14 sacks in the first four games. Since Jones has joined quarterback Jon Kitna in the starting lineup, they have allowed nine in the last five.

JOHNSON VS. FULLER:. Here are two guys who never met a word they didn't like. But when Fuller was told of Johnson's guarantee that the Bengals would beat the Browns, it was almost too easy. He basically said it was a mistake of youth and that, "you never hear the veterans doing that, it's always the young guys."

Browns wide receiver Kevin Johnson knows all about it and seems to empathize with his fellow Johnson. Kevin predicted the winless Browns would beat the Super Bowl-bound Rams back in 1999 and Cleveland got crushed. So Kevin Johnson understands.

"I like that," Kevin said, who fears the danger of Chad pumping up his teammates. "We think we're going to win, too."

Johnson has nothing against the Browns. He's just looking at the numbers since Kitna became the starter five games ago. In that stretch, he has 29 of his 34 catches, 388 of his 458 yards and two of his three touchdowns. **

VERBA VS. SMITH:The Bengals sacked Kelly Holcomb just once in Cleveland, but the Bengals may get a better shot at Tim Couch. It's hard to maximum protect out of a four-receiver set and that's about the only way the Browns have moved the ball because they are averaging 72 yards a game on the ground and just 3.5 yards per carry. Plus, TE Aaron Shea, who the Browns used to "chip," on Smith at times on double teams, isn't expected to play. Holcomb supposedly gets the ball off quicker than Couch and the Bengals have had some success getting Couch on the ground. In five games against him, the Bengals have sacked him 12 times.

HALL, THOMPSON VS. NORTHCUTT, DAVIS:** The Bengals fear these guys in the slot because they're going to have enough trouble covering wide receivers Kevin Johnson and Quincy Morgan on the outside. Plus, the Bengals are down a cornerback when Bo Jennings ripped up his knee last week in Baltimore.

Northcutt (four) and Davis (five) have combined for nine touchdowns with Couch living on the big play and until the last two games, the Bengals had trouble stopping the big pass. They have the third fewest interceptions in the NFL with seven and foes have a passer rating of 95, which is 10 more points than the Bengals allowed last season. **

DUGANS VS. NORTHCUTT:** Northcutt has jetted to two touchdowns off punt returns, joining the Jets' Santana Moss as the only players with two this season. The Bengals gave up their longest punt return in history last week for 95 yards when Dugans got double-teamed Dugans, the Bengals' flier at the end of the line. The Bengals have noticed the Browns block their returns differently than the Ravens because Cleveland likes to keep the foes tied up at the line of scrimmage rather than waiting to set up to block down field.


NUMBERS GAME:** All the numbers you need for this Sunday's game against the Browns, including five and eight. The first is the number of starting quarterbacks the Bengals have had since the 1999 NFL Draft. The second is the number of fourth-quarter wins orchestrated by Browns quarterback Tim Couch, the No. 1 pick in the 1999 Draft.

5 _ 100-yard rushing games Bengals RB Corey Dillon has against the Browns since they came back into the NFL in 1999.

2 _ Total of 100-yard individual rushing games Browns QB Tim Couch has had behind him in 44 NFL starts since 1999.

18 _ 100-yard rushing games by Dillon since 1999.

4 _ Dillon's 100-yard games in 2002, one off his club record for a season he holds with Ickey Woods, James Brooks and Harold Green.

4 _ 100-yard rushing games the Bengals have allowed this season.

71.6 _ Bengals QB Jon Kitna's completion percentage in five starts this season.

70.55 _ Bengals quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson's NFL-record completion percentage in 1982.

32 _ Interceptions thrown by Anderson from 1980-82.

32 _ Interceptions thrown by Kitna in 2001 and 2002.

16 _ Wins by the expansion Browns since they were re-born in 1999.

15 _ Wins by the Bengals in the same stretch.

7 _ Points Bengals have scored in last eight quarters against Browns.

448 _ Points Bengals are on pace to allow in 2002, third most in their history.

60-13.6 _ Catches and yards per catch Bengals WR Chad Johnson is on pace to finish, just the third time since '94 a Cincy receiver has averaged 13-plus with 60 or more catches (Carl Pickens in '94 and Darnay Scott in '99)

3 _ Catches Bengals WR T.J. Housmandzadeh and Ron Dugans each need Sunday to make Bengals fourth NFL team with five players catching 25 or more balls, joining Browns, Colts and Eagles.

23 _ Games Bengals have played without allowing a 300-yard passer.

18 _ Games Browns have played without allowing a 300-yard passer.

10-4 _ Browns record under head coach Butch Davis when they score at least 20 points.

0-3 _ Bengals' record this season when scoring 20 or more points.

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