BEREA — It’s only taken two weeks for Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to fall from the penthouse to the outhouse.
Dalton was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month in October, but has followed that honor with two terrible performances — totaling six interceptions and 10 sacks in a pair of defeats.
The Browns hope to extend his slump to three games when they play in Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon.
“Obviously, we see that and we want to have the same kind of game against him,” Cleveland linebacker Paul Kruger said. “Not only does playing aggressive football give your team the best opportunity to win, it’s fun and exciting to be a part of.
“For us, though, it’s all about executing our game plan and continuing to build on what we’ve done thus far.”
The Bengals (6-4) were in firm control of the AFC North Division during Dalton’s hot streak, but now find themselves just 1½ games ahead of the Browns (4-5) and Ravens (4-5).
Two weeks ago, Cincinnati lost 22-20 in Miami when Dalton was sacked for a safety in overtime, then dropped a 20-17 OT decision at Baltimore on Sunday.
The Ravens loss featured a 51-yard Hail Mary pass from Dalton to A.J. Green at the end of regulation, but saw the signalcaller only complete 24-of-51 throws with three interceptions and five sacks. He also had three picks and five sacks against the Dolphins.
“This is a very big game, not just for Cleveland, but for us because we’ve got a lot riding on it,” Dalton said in a conference call with Browns beat writers. “We know they’ll be bringing their best and they’re playing with a lot of confidence right now.
“Both teams have done some good things this season. I guess you can say all of them have been leading up to this week.”
While the third-year pro has struggled of late, Dalton is still averaging 286.1 yards per game — keeping him on pace to shatter the Bengals record for passing yards in a season.
Dalton also has been outstanding in five career games against the Browns, posting a passer rating of 92.4 and a completion percentage of .661 while throwing for 1,256 yards. Included in that total is a career-high, 381-yard explosion at Cleveland on Oct. 14, 2012.
“He tries to get the ball to his playmakers, like (wide receiver A.J. Green and running back Giovani Bernard) because he has a lot of confidence in those guys,” Browns cornerback Joe Haden said. “Sometimes, even if the defense and the pressure is there, he’s still going to throw it. So we just have to be able to go up and catch it, instead of trying to knock it down.”
Cleveland also has to be aware of Dalton’s feet. The 6-foot-2 redhead is a deceptively good scrambler and has rushed for 110 yards, which would rank second on the Browns.
Cincinnati’s offensive scheme complements his skill set nicely, utilizing two large tight ends in Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert, who give Dalton multiple options as blockers or pass catchers.
Since Cleveland was able to shut both of them down during its 17-6 win on Sept. 29, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden could pull out his entire playbook in the rematch.
“I’m sure they’re working down there to figure out what the abnormalities have been for Dalton, so they can remove those variables,” Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. “Our job is hopefully to continue the way things have been going for them. There are a lot of factors that go into it, but that is the NFL. It really is about ‘What have you done for me lately?’”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.