After one week, the Cincinnati Bengals are near the bottom of the NFL in every defensive category.
That shouldn't raise too much of a concern with the season just underway, but the Bengals still could be in some trouble when they take on the Cleveland Browns in their home opener from Paul Brown Stadium.
Cincinnati, which hasn't started 0-2 since losing its first eight games back in 2008, dropped a lopsided 44-13 decision against the defending AFC North champion Baltimore Ravens Monday night from M&T Bank Stadium. Fresh off an encouraging playoff run the year before, the Bengals failed to make a case as a contender in the division after being gashed for 430 yards, including 299 through the air from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
The Bengals weren't tested much by Baltimore's Ray Rice, one of the premier running backs in the game, but big plays by the Ravens in the passing game hurt. Flacco hit eight different receivers and threw for a pair of touchdowns against the Cincinnati secondary, while completing 21 of his 29 attempts.
Safety Taylor Mays said the Bengals weren't unprepared, but just failed to execute.
"I don't think so at all," said Mays when asked if the defense was ready."I think, especially early in the game, everything we saw we had practiced. There were some different things, but for the most part, it was all that we saw in practice. We just didn't execute."
Down 17-3 in the second quarter after Anquan Boldin hauled in a 34-yard touchdown strike from Flacco, the Bengals did score 10 straight points to close the gap. However, Baltimore rolled from there en route to handing Cincinnati a loss that could be costly at the end of the season if the Bengals are in contention for an AFC North crown or Wild Card berth.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had some sophomore issues in completing 22 of his 37 passes for 221 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. The second-year pro, who enjoyed a fantastic rookie campaign in 2011, put the blame on himself after the game.
"We've got to be better, I've got to be better," Dalton said. "But it's over now. We can't worry about it. It's one game. We'll bounce back. We'll be fine. I believe in myself and in this team."
Under head coach Marvin Lewis, the Bengals are 5-4 in home openers and 25-19 all-time in such games. They are 3-3 in home openers against Cleveland.
The Browns, meanwhile, have finished last in the AFC North in six of the previous nine seasons and could be headed for another basement billing. They blew a late lead against NFC contender Philadelphia in last Sunday's 17-16 home loss and haven't won a season opener since 2004, when then under head coach Butch Davis.
Pat Shurmur runs the show now in Cleveland and had to be pleased with some of things he saw against the Eagles, in particular his defense. Besides giving up 456 yards to the Eagles, the Browns intercepted Michael Vick four times and recovered a LeSean McCoy fumble.
"This is the day when you go back and you look at it all," Shurmur said on Monday. "You reevaluate it; you try to make corrections and I would say this, from a defensive standpoint, I thought it was a great effort. I talked all offseason about getting turnovers, which we did, and yards aside, we eliminated scoring on a very explosive offense."
D'Qwell Jackson was one of three Cleveland linebackers with an pick and returned a Vick interception 27 yards for his first career touchdown to put the Browns up 16-10 in the fourth quarter.
The Browns' defense imploded on Philadelphia's go-ahead drive late in the game, though, and rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden was intercepted at the end to kill any comeback hopes.
Weeden was selected in the first round of April's draft and was one of five rookies to start around the league (Washington's Robert Griffin III, Indianapolis' Andrew Luck, Seattle's Russell Wilson, Miami's Ryan Tannehill) in Week 1. He passed for only 118 yards and was picked off four times, none more painful than the one safety Kurt Coleman made to seal Philadelphia's win.
Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden got into the theft act with an interception of Vick and was appealing a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing supplements. However, his plea was denied and he'll be out the next four games without pay until being eligible to return to the active roster on Oct. 8.
Bengals lead 41-36
Streak: Bengals have won last three meetings 2011 Meetings: Bengals 27, Browns 17 (Sept. 11 at Cleveland) Bengals 23, Browns 20 (Nov. 27 at Cincinnati)
Browns HC Pat Shurmur vs. Bengals: 0-2 Bengals HC Marvin Lewis vs. Browns: 12-6 Shurmur vs. Lewis Head-to-Head: Lewis leads, 2-0
Notes: Bengals have won six of the last seven matchups between these in-state rivals, with Cleveland's lone victory over that span a 23-20 home decision in 2010. Browns have also lost at Cincinnati in seven of the past eight seasons, with their lone positive result during that stretch a 20-12 triumph in 2008. Four of the last six games in the set have been decided by three or less points.
BY THE NUMBERS
Offensive Team Rankings
Cleveland: 32nd overall (210.0 ypg), 16th rushing (99.0 ypg), 32nd passing (111.0 ypg), 25th scoring (16.0 ppg)
Cincinnati: 20th overall (322.0 ypg), 9th rushing (129.0 ypg), 26th passing (193.0 ypg), 29th scoring (13.0 ppg)
Defensive Team Rankings
Cleveland: 31st overall (456.0 ypg), 27th rushing (150.0 ypg), 27th passing (306.0 ypg), 9th scoring (17.0 ppg)
Cincinnati: 29th overall (430.0 ypg), 22nd rushing (122.0 ypg), 28th passing (308.0 ypg), 31st scoring (44.0 ppg)
Cleveland: +1 (5 takeaways, 4 giveaways) Cincinnati: -2 (0 takeaways, 2 giveaways)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (offense)
Cleveland: 0.0 percent (2 possessions, 0 TD, 1 FG) -- tied 28th overall Cincinnati: 33.3 percent (3 possessions, 1 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 23rd overall
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (defense)
Cleveland: 100.0 percent (2 possessions, 2 TD, 0 FG) -- tied 27th overall Cincinnati: 100.0 percent (3 possessions, 3 TD, 0 FG) -- tied 27th overall
WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL
Weeden (118 passing yards, 4 INT) became the first Browns rookie quarterback to start a season in the Super Bowl era, and didn't turn many heads besides those of his teammates on overthrown passes. He was sacked just twice and showed poise in the pocket, despite completing just 12-of-35 passes for 118 yards. The Browns had trouble keeping up with Philadelphia's improved defense, managing only 210 total yards and failing to punch one into the end zone. Fellow rookies Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon also made their professional debuts for the Browns, who became just the third NFL team since 1970 to start a rookie quarterback, running back and wide receiver on opening day. Running back Richardson showed his toughness by playing on a sore knee but finished with just 39 yards on 19 carries, while Gordon had two catches for 32 yards on four targets. The Browns had six rookies start in total versus the Eagles. Wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi led the team with three receptions for 41 yards. Left tackle Joe Thomas has started and played in each of the first 81 games of his career and is the anchor of a solid offensive line, while center Alex Mack has started and played in each of his initial 49 games as a pro.
Cincinnati will try to pressure the rookie Weeden into as many, if not more, mistakes he made in Week 1. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins will have his ears pinned and sacked Flacco twice on Monday. A short week may play a role in the team's preparation for Sunday, but that can't be an excuse if the execution fails against a lesser offense this time around. Linebacker Thomas Howard (3 tackles) also was able to get to Flacco and strongside starter Manny Lawson (6 tackles) finished second on the team in stops behind free safety Reggie Nelson (8 tackles). The Bengals did have six passes defensed, two coming from cornerback Leon Hall (4 tackles), but no interceptions. That number could go up with the developing Weeden on the other side if Cincinnati tightens things up during the week. Hall, who has five career picks against the Browns, and veteran cornerback Nate Clements (3 tackles) should know what to expect in the renewal of the "Battle of Ohio." End Carlos Dunlap was inactive at Baltimore because of a knee strain suffered in the preseason, but he could play against Cleveland. Fellow lineman Robert Geathers was in action for the first time after missing the preseason with a knee injury, however.
WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL
If there were any offensive highlights for the Bengals in their loss to Baltimore it would be the team debut of running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, with the former Patriot carrying the ball 18 times for 91 yards and converting two fourth-down scenarios, including a six-yard touchdown run. Green-Ellis is talented enough to fill the void Cedric Benson left, and the Bengals have to feel good about themselves running the football against Cleveland after totaling 129 yards on the ground against Baltimore's tough defense. Philadelphia had 150 yards rushing against the Browns, with McCoy racking up 110 yards on 20 touches. Bengals guards Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler and center Jeff Faine all received praise afterward from left tackle Andrew Whitworth, with left guard Boling taking on more responsibility with Travelle Wharton out for the season with a knee injury. Dalton (221 passing yards, 1 TD) completed 22-of-37 passes and hooked up with Andrew Hawkins (8 receptions, 86 yards) and promising young receiver A.J. Green (5 receptions, 70 yards) a combined 13 times. It's doubtful that coordinator Jay Gruden will have Dalton throw 56 times like Vick did against Cleveland last week, but expect Dalton and Green to hook up more often on Sunday.
Browns linebackers L.J. Fort (2 tackles, 1 INT) and Craig Robertson (8 tackles, 1INT) each recorded interceptions in their NFL debuts last week. Jackson (3 tackles, 1 INT) had the other interception for the corps and was one of three Cleveland players with at least two passes defensed. All 16 points the Browns scored were off turnovers, making the loss that much difficult to cope with. The Browns haven't recorded back-to-back games with four or more interceptions since 2001, however. Since Haden (6 tackles, 1 INT) is out the next four games, the Bengals will try and pick on his replacement, which could be Dimitri Patterson (3 tackles) or rookie Trevin Wade, who was inactive on Sunday. Veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown (3 tackles) left Sunday's game in the first quarter with a shoulder injury and could miss this weekend, though Shurmur is confident Brown will keep his streak of 161 consecutive regular-season games played streak intact.
The Browns showed some signs of promise last week and look to build on a few solid points in preparation for their first division game of the season. Weeden must protect the football and make better choices if Cleveland has any shot at all in picking up its first win, though. If Richardson doesn't encounter any issues with his surgically-repaired knee, his touches could increase and help out the offense. Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko may have given the Browns some bulletin board material when he said the Bengals' run defense will have to "take it out on Cleveland" after allowing Rice's 68 yards on only 10 carries on Monday. On offense, Cincinnati needs its top two playmakers in Dalton and Green to discover the magic that led them to the postseason a year ago. Having Green-Ellis in the fold will take some of the pressure off for the Bengals, who swept the season series with Cleveland last year and have won the last three meetings. Make it four in a row on Sunday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bengals 21, Browns 13