After completing a stunning upset over the Green Bay Packers last Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals now find themselves with a 2-1 record and sit atop the AFC North. While a win is a win, that Week 3 matchup was not a pretty affair for either team.
The Bengals were able to improve in certain aspects of the game after plenty of deficiencies—mostly in the first half—surfaced against the Pittsburgh Steelers just one week prior.
However, there is still plenty of room for improvement if Cincinnati wants to keep its playoff hopes alive in 2013.
What must the Bengals do to increase their winning streak to three games this week against the Cleveland Browns?
Defense: Watch Out for Jordan Cameron
Browns tight end Jordan Cameron has been an absolute juggernaut this season. He has compiled 269 yards and four touchdowns on 20 receptions through three weeks.
Last week against the Minnesota Vikings, Cameron had a field day, scoring three touchdowns over the course of the game.
The Vikings may not have had an answer for him, but the Bengals must.
Defending against tight ends has long been an issue in Cincinnati. The Bengals did fare well last week in that regard against Green Bay, but it may have been a different story if Jermichael Finley did not exit the game early due to a concussion.
That being said, Cameron—the Browns' leading receiver—must be accounted for.
Of his six receptions against the Vikings, none was more effective than his 19-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.
Here, the Browns isolate Cameron on the weak side of the field. The attention of the defense is drawn to the bunch formation on the strong side.
Quarterback Brian Hoyer knows exactly where he wants to go. He immediately stares down Cameron upon dropping back. The Vikings are in a zone coverage and keep their eyes on Hoyer in the backfield.
The underneath coverage pauses as Davone Bess comes across the middle of the field, which allows Cameron to slip past it and find a one-on-one matchup against the safety. Hoyer releases the ball as Cameron makes his break toward the outside. He now has perfect position on the defender.
A well-thrown ball will result in an easy score here, as Cameron has his man beaten to the corner of the end zone.
Hoyer places the ball perfectly and Cameron taps both feet in bounds for six points.
Now, watch the play it its entirety.
Taking favorable matchups away from this dangerous tight end should be the first priority for the Bengals defense this week. If Cameron becomes unavailable to his quarterback, Hoyer's inexperience could show immediately without his safety blanket.
Offense: Will the Real Andy Dalton Please Stand Up?
Over the past two weeks, quarterback Andy Dalton has been a completely different quarterback from the first half to the second half.
Against Green Bay, a first-quarter interception and second-quarter fumble allowed a dangerous Packers offense to get back in the game.
However, Dalton finished the game completing nine of his last 10 passes for two touchdowns over three drives—the second of the three drives resulted in a missed field goal. This stellar play got the Bengals right back into the game and put them in a position to win.
So, which Dalton will we see against the Browns this Sunday?
If Dalton is to be effective for the full duration of a game, he needs to trust his weapons. After all, All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green did not have a reception until the third quarter against the Packers—shades of the Wild Card Game loss to the Houston Texans in 2012.
When Dalton trusts his receivers, good things tend to happen.
During this third-quarter play, Dalton sees single coverage on Green due to the safety shading toward the weak side of the field. This is a scenario in which at least a jump ball to the wide receiver is necessary.
Dalton immediately looks in Green's direction—he knew where he was going with the ball before the snap. Green uses his strength and length to fight off the cornerback and get into a good position.
The ball is already on its way and Green now has a step on the corner. The safety is virtually helpless, as he started too far away from Green to be effective.
Green makes an easy reception on a perfectly placed ball for the score.
Now, watch the play in its entirety.
This is a perfect example of the good Dalton. He recognized the matchup advantage immediately and did not hesitate on the throw. The timing and execution were impeccable.
Dalton must begin to show the ability to make plays like this throughout the course of a game—not just in the second half. Quick starts are very important in the NFL, and the Bengals' chances of doing that this week against the Browns rest on the arm of Dalton.
Coaching: Give Giovani Bernard the Ball
That is a 31-yard catch-and-run by rookie running back Giovani Bernard. He was electric once again last week against Green Bay, as he carried the ball 10 times for 50 yards—an average of 5.0 yards per carry—and one score.
He also added four receptions for 49 yards and finished the game as the Bengals' second-leading receiver.
Good things happen when the ball is in Bernard's hands. Outside of Green, he has shown himself to be the most dynamic threat on the offense. His 14 touches against Green Bay should only be scratching the surface of what is to come for the remainder of the season.
Coaching: Change BenJarvus Green-Ellis' Role
On the flip side, veteran running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis did not have a solid performance. The play above would be a fumble on a crucial 3rd-and-short that was recovered by the Packers.
What will be the outcome of Sunday's game?
Green-Ellis finished the game with 10 carries for just 29 yards—2.9 yards per carry—and one touchdown. At this point, Green-Ellis seems to be more of a liability than anything. Bernard has shown that he can be a short-yardage back and does not have the ball-security issues that Green-Ellis has shown since becoming a Bengal.
Cincinnati totaled five fumbles—losing three—and one interception against the Packers. If Green Bay did not have the same trouble with ball security, rest assured the outcome would have been much different.
It is time for the coaching staff to rely heavily on trusted players going forward. That means an increased workload for Bernard and change-of-pace duties for Green-Ellis.
All screenshots courtesy of NFL Game Rewind.