There have been some explosive, high-scoring contests among the 80 previous Battle of Ohio games, including a 58-48 Cincinnati win in 2004 that remains the highest-scoring game in NFL history.
Three years later the Browns won a 51-45 shootout that ranks as the seventh-highest point total in league annals.
But don’t expect Sunday’s game at Paul Brown Stadium to challenge any scoring marks.
The Bengals are fourth in the league in total defense, allowing 311.4 yards per game, while the Browns are fifth, surrendering 315.7 ypg.
“It’s going to be a defensive battle, I can tell you that,” Cincinnati cornerback Terence Newman said. “And we have to be up to it because we know our offense may find some trouble. You’re not going to walk into a game against the No. 5 defense and just have great success. We’ve got to do our part and put our offense in good positions. Their defense needs to feel the same way.”
When the teams met in September they combined for 23 points, the second-lowest total in a Battle of Ohio game in the last 11 years, as Cleveland kept Cincinnati out of the end zone for a 17-6 victory.
And as good as the Browns were that day, they’re playing even stronger seven weeks later as they adapt to first-year head coach Rob Chudzinski and defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
“I think we’ve improved and specifically I think the guys are more comfortable in the scheme and are understanding the scheme better,” Chudzinski said.
The Browns also have been able to avoid the injury problems that have plagued the Bengals, who have had to place eight defefnsive players on season-ending injured reserve.
Seven Cleveland defenders – end Desmond Bryant, nose tackle Phil Taylor, linebackers Craig Robertson, D’Qwell Jackson and Paul Kruger, cornerback Joe Haden and safety T.J. Ward – have started all nine games for Cleveland, and two others have started eight games.
In addition to ranking fifth in total defense, the Browns are sixth in rush defense (98.2), 10th in pass defense (217.4) and 11th in scoring defense (21.9).
“You can see some of the different looks that they’re trying to show,” Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said. “They’re not a huge blitz team. It’s just they get pressure with the guys up front and they put a lot of guys in the box and try to do things to disrupt.”
Despite not blitzing much, the Browns are tied for fifth in the league in quarterback sacks with 31. Those sacks have been shared by 15 players, 11 of whom have more than one. Rookie linebacker Barkevious Mingo leads the way with 4.0.
Cincinnati is tied for seventh with 30 sacks, and its other rankings also are similar to the Browns.
The Bengals are ninth against the run (102.0), seventh against the pass (209.4) and sixth in scoring defense (18.6).
As good as those numbers are, defensive end Wallace Gilberry wants more.
“Being the highest-ranked defense is the division is great, but we want to be No. 1 in the league,” he said.
Linebacker Vinny Rey, who is coming off the best game of his career with three sacks, an interception and 13 tackles, offered a simpler goal.
“We’re just trying to be the best defense on the field on Sunday,” he said.
Browns (4-5) at Bengals (6-4), 1 p.m., Ch. 7, 12, 1290-AM, 95.7-FM, 700-AM, 1530-AM, 102.7-FM, 104.7-FM