BEREA — Carson Palmer has an extra reason to hang a towel from his uniform pants Sunday: He’ll need something to wipe the drool off his chin.
The Bengals Pro Bowl quarterback will face a Browns defense he torched for 627 yards and five touchdowns in two games last year. The Browns made improving the secondary a priority in the offseason, but it debuted by allowing a career-high four touchdown passes to Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger.
“Mentally I guess we weren’t prepared for what they did, or weren’t in tune for what they did,” cornerback Leigh Bodden said. “Things happen, but giving up four (touchdowns) is just crazy.”
The Browns rank seventh in the NFL in pass defense after Week 1. That has to be the most misleading stat in the league. The ranking is based on yards allowed, and the Browns “only” gave up 159 yards passing to the Steelers. But five turnovers gave the Steelers great field position and limited their opportunities.
The Steelers took over at the Cleveland 22-yard line on the first drive and gained 24 through the air – they lost 2 yards rushing. On another drive, they needed just one pass to cover 40 yards for a touchdown. Oh, yeah, Pittsburgh didn’t throw a pass in the fourth quarter.
No wonder Cincinnati receiver Chad Johnson’s dreaming of jumping into the Dawg Pound after scoring a touchdown.
“It’s my responsibility. He’s not going to get in the end zone,” Bodden said.
Even if Bodden, who didn’t practice Friday and is listed as questionable with an injured groin, puts the clamps on Johnson, that doesn’t mean the Bengals will be silenced. T.J. Houshmandzadeh is a great No. 2 receiver and running back Rudi Johnson gives the Browns fits, especially when Palmer audibles to a run when the defense is spread out.
The Bengals could miss third receiver Chris Henry, who’s serving a league suspension. He had 10 catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns in two games vs. the Browns last year.
“I still think they have a lot of ability,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “They have some tools to work with and they have an excellent quarterback who gets them in the right play at the right time.
“I expect — with Leigh there and Eric (Wright) — that we have a little more talent there.”
Bodden was slowed by injuries last year and Wright is a rookie. He allowed an early touchdown to Hines Ward on a difficult catch last week, but looked fine otherwise. With Bodden and Wright starting, Daven Holly as the nickelback and free-agent signee Kenny Wright coming off the bench, the Browns feel they are better suited to handling Cincinnati’s multiple-receiver sets that dominated them last year.
“I think we have some good corners and I think we match up very well against these guys,” safety Brodney Pool said.
Pool was in the middle of – or a few steps behind – the biggest defensive breakdown Sunday, as Santonio Holmes beat him on a post for the backbreaking 40-yard touchdown.
“I’m not thinking about last week. It’s over,” he said.
Pool is a new starter, replacing departed veteran Brian Russell, who was a master of setting the defense and preventing the deep ball.
“Brian Russell was the quarterback of our defense. Brodney Pool and Sean Jones are now,” Bodden said. “They do a pretty good job. They’re not where Brian Russell was.
“Athletically they’re great and talented, they just have to work on the mental aspect of it and they’ll be fine.”