The Cincinnati Bengals' offense took a step back last week. Even with standout cornerback Joe Haden returning for the Cleveland Browns, the Bengals have to like their chances of getting back on track Sunday.
Cincinnati goes for the season sweep and a fifth consecutive victory over the host Browns, who will try to avoid a franchise-record 12th straight defeat.
After averaging 33.0 points and 411.7 yards during a three-game winning streak, the Bengals (3-2) had a season-low 298 yards and three turnovers in last Sunday's 17-13 home loss to Miami.
"The offense didn't play well across the board," said Andy Dalton, who threw for 234 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. "It's tough sitting here where we are. We had our chances, but we couldn't get it done."
Dalton was 24 of 31 for 318 yards with three TDs in a 34-27 win over Cleveland in Week 2, but Haden wasn't on the field.
He'll start Sunday for the Browns (0-5) after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Haden admitted Monday that he tested positive for the stimulant Adderall.
The 2010 first-round pick couldn't be more excited to return to face Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Green, who had 58 receiving yards and a TD last month when Cleveland played its first game without Haden.
"Perfect timing," he said. "At least when I come back, I can try to make a statement going against somebody in the division like him. I feel like once I come back and just do my thing, then I'll just be back."
Haden looks to help keep the Bengals struggling on third down. They are 4 for 25 in those situations over the last two games and converting 24.6 percent on third down this season, second-worst in the league.
"There were a couple second-and-2s and third-and-2s that we've got to convert to first downs," coach Marvin Lewis said after last week's loss. "That will keep us moving the football down the field a little better."
With running back Bernard Scott out for the season after injuring his left knee last week, Cincinnati will lean more on BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Brian Leonard and Cedric Peerman in short-yardage situations.
"It's unfortunate for (Scott), but we'll have to move on," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said.
"I can just call the game the way it is and hopefully Cedric and Brian Leonard, with some more opportunities, will give us some different looks and BenJarvus the rest on the sideline when he needs it."
Green-Ellis ran for a season-low 14 yards against Miami and is averaging 3.3 per carry, third-worst among running backs with at least 60 attempts.
He rushed for 75 yards against the Browns, who are surrendering 4.7 per carry after giving up 243 on the ground in last Sunday's 41-27 loss to the New York Giants. Cleveland blew an early 14-point lead, allowing a season-high 502 yards while committing three turnovers and 10 penalties.
Off to their worst start since opening 0-7 in 1999, the Browns are winless since a 14-10 victory over Jacksonville on Nov. 20. Cleveland ended its last 11-game skid with a home win over Cincinnati, 35-23 on Nov. 23, 1975.
If the Browns are going to break into the win column Sunday, they may need big performances from rookies Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson. Weeden, who threw for a season-best 322 yards and two TDs last month at Cincinnati, is tied for the most INTs in the NFL with nine but has shown better poise in the pocket.
"I think he made progress (last Sunday)," coach Pat Shurmur told the Browns' official website. ".... There was some general efficiency there and there were a couple bad plays that he'd love to have back. How he responds to all that, that's this week's challenge as we get ready to play the Bengals."
Richardson has rushed for 303 yards and had his only 100-yard game against the Bengals, but Cincinnati has held its last two opponents to a combined 137 on the ground.
The former Alabama star also leads Cleveland in receiving yards (169) and could be used even more in the passing game if wideouts Mohamed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin are out again with hamstring injuries.
Cincinnati has won five of seven in Cleveland, including a 27-17 victory Sept. 11, 2011, that spoiled Shurmur's debut as Browns coach.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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