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Browns-Bengals matchup of the day: Saturday

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Posted Dec. 18, 2010 @ 5:26 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Here's a matchup to watch in Sunday's Browns-Bengals game: 

Browns QB Colt McCoy vs. the Bengals' pass rush

McCoy, who missed three games with a high ankle sprain and will start Sunday at Cincinnati, showed promise in his first five NFL starts. He completed 23-of-33 passes for 281 yards in an eye-opening debut at Pittsburgh, a rather impressive performance considering his inexperience and the caliber of opponent.

Though he threw two picks vs. the Steelers, he was intercepted just once in his next four starts, and in addition to being prudent, he has been accurate, completing 63.8 percent of his attempts. He has also shown some playmaking ability. He's adept at buying time with his feet and throwing on the run, and he leads Browns quarterbacks in yards per attempt (7.68). 

Considering he played so well at Pittsburgh after having not played in a game since the end of preseason, and factoring in the experience he gained earlier this season, he's definitely capable of being sharp in his return Sunday. The Browns' offensive strategy early in the game bears watching: Will they lean on RB Peyton Hillis and allow McCoy to get settled, or will they come out throwing?

It's hard to see the Bengals' defense being passive against the rookie quarterback, however. They have lost 10 straight games, for one thing, so what do they have to lose in dialing up some blitzes? What's more, the Browns don't have an especially aggressive passing game or a consistent field-stretching threat, and the lack of those elements make it safer for Cincinnati to take some chances. 

McCoy has been sacked 15 times in five starts, including six in his last start vs. Jacksonville. The Browns' pass protection will be key in the face of an improving Bengals pass rush. Cincinnati generated an impressive amount of pressure from a variety of players in Week 14, sacking Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger four times. Five players were credited with at least one-half sack, and eight defenders were credited with at least one QB hit.

The emergence of rookie DE Carlos Dunlap, who has five sacks in the last five games, has particularly bolstered the Bengals' pass rush. 

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