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Key matchup: Browns running game vs. Bengals run defense

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By Mike Wilkening

Here's a key matchup to watch as a pair of division rivals look to avoid starting 0-2: 

Browns running game vs. Bengals run defense

Saturday's key matchup got some added intrigue when Bengals MLB Rey Maualuga called Browns RB Trent Richardson's Week One performance "nothing spectacular." Yes, Richardson rushed for just 39 yards on just 19 carries, but on one of those carries, he knocked off Eagles S Kurt Coleman's helmet finishing off his run. 

Surely there will be better days for Richardson than his NFL debut, and surely, he will get plenty of work on Sunday. 

How he fares on first down particularly bears watching. 

In 10 first-down carries against Philadelphia, Richardson gained only 14 yards, with a long rush of five yards. The more ground Richardson can get on first down, the better it will be for an offense led by a rookie quarterback (Brandon Weeden) who was 12-of-35 passing in his debut. Surely, too, there will be better days for Weeden, and particularly if he can be placed in as many ideal down-and-distance situations as possible. 

Richardson's NFL debut was his return to action after arthoscopic knee surgery, so a little rust perhaps was to be unexpected. 

“I think you will see him be a little bit fresher, a little bit sharper in everything he does," Browns head coach Pat Shurmur said of his Week Two expectations for Richardson. 

The Bengals also have something to prove in this matchup. Their run defense in Week One left something to be desired. Ravens RB Ray Rice again gave the Bengals fits, rushing for 68 yards and two TDs on 10 carries as Baltimore leaned on the pass. 

Given their passing-game woes last Sunday, the Browns very well could emphasize the run. Keep a close eye on the trenches, where the Bengals' very good DT tandem of Geno Atkins and Domata Peko will square off against a Browns interior led by solid C Alex Mack. How Mack, OLG Jason Pinkston and ORG Shaun Lauvao fare will be a key to Richardson's success. 

Yes, passing is all of the rage in today's NFL, but in this game, the Browns' ability to run figures to play a big role in whether they can challenge a Cincinnati club that swept them in 2011. 

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