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By JEFF MEZYDLO

STATS Senior Writer
(AP) -- The Cleveland Browns are turning to Johnny Manziel to help keep their fading playoff hopes alive.

 

But even before Manziel was named the starter for Sunday's clash with the AFC North-leading Bengals, Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis found himself on the defensive regarding the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner.

 

While Manziel's first pro start adds another chapter to this historic rivalry, it finally gives the Browns organization and its fans an extensive look at the dynamic collegiate athlete they hope will blossom into the franchise quarterback they've coveted.

 

"I'm very excited to get out on the field with my teammates on Sunday and to have the opportunity to make the Dawg Pound proud," the popular and polarizing Manziel, who has made more news off the field than on it during his short NFL career, told the Browns' official website.

 

Coach Mike Pettine thought about starting Manziel last week but stuck with the struggling Brian Hoyer, who has thrown one touchdown and eight interceptions during Cleveland's stretch of three losses in four games. Pettine's decision became easier after Hoyer went 14 of 31 for a season-low 140 yards with two picks and no TDs as Cleveland (7-6) fell 25-24 at home to Indianapolis last Sunday.

 

"We are trying to get the offense to perform at a higher level," said Pettine, whose team has lost two in a row to fall into last place and 1 1/2 games behind the Bengals.

 

"Johnny has worked very hard to earn this opportunity and it will be very important for every member of the offense to elevate their play for us to obtain our desired result."

 

The Browns moved up four spots to take Manziel with the 22nd pick, but he couldn't beat out Hoyer in training camp after recording almost 10,000 total yards in two seasons at Texas A&M. Manziel has been on the field for 18 plays this season. His most extensive action came Nov. 30, when he went 5 of 8 for 63 yards and scored on a 10-yard run in a 26-10 loss at Buffalo.

 

"I've tried to spend my entire season learning what it takes to become a pro and it's been great to watch Brian because he knows what it takes," said Manziel, who will be Cleveland's 21st starting quarterback since 1999. "I've prepared every week to be ready to help the team however possible and my focus has been on improving every day."

 

Lewis probably had a good idea who his team would face Monday when he ignited some controversy by referring to the 6-foot Manziel as a "midget" during a radio interview. He later apologized to Manziel, the Browns and anybody else outside the organization who might have been offended.

 

"It was thoughtless on my part to use the word I did, and not excusable, and I greatly regret it," Lewis said in a statement.

 

Lewis said the Bengals (8-4-1) will game plan for the Browns as an offense, and not one player, as they try to avoid being swept in the season series for the first time since 2002. However, a defense that allowed 36 points during a three-game winning streak - all on the road - before a 42-21 home loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday can't afford another poor effort.

 

For a franchise-record third time this season, Cincinnati allowed 500 total yards. Of the season-high 543 it gave up, 193 came on the ground. The Bengals yielded 214 rushing yards over the previous three games.

 

Their defense absorbed another hit when Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict (knee) was placed on injured reserve this week.

 

"We have to be better when the odds are against us a little bit," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. "When things aren't going quite as smoothly as we want them to go, we have to go out there and buckle up and play good defense."

 

The Browns ran for 170 yards in a 24-3 win at Cincinnati on Nov. 6, with Terrance West gaining 94 and fellow rookie Isaiah Crowell adding 41 with one TD apiece.

 

Each ran for 54 yards against the Colts, and Crowell scored for the fourth time in five games.

 

Defensively, Cleveland must improve after allowing at least 23 points in four straight games and blowing a 14-point lead to the Colts.

 

The Browns held Cincinnati to 165 yards last month and star A.J. Green to three catches for 23. Green, who usually draws coverage from Pro Bowler Joe Haden, has been limited to 12 receptions, 81 yards and no TDs in his last three games versus Cleveland.

 

Green, however, recorded a career-high 224 yards and a TD on 11 receptions against the Steelers. He's gone over 120 yards three times in four games since facing Cleveland.

 

Andy Dalton is expected to play despite sitting near the end of last Sunday's contest after a taking a hit to the ribs. He's completed 70.8 percent of his passes with seven TDs, four INTs and a 101.3 passer rating since posting a career-worst 2.0 mark versus Cleveland, going 10 of 33 for 86 yards with three picks.

 

Browns kicker Billy Cundiff, who has missed at least one field goal attempt in each of the last five games, is questionable with a right knee injury. While the Browns did try out other kickers during the week, punter Spencer Lanning might be able to perform place-kicking duties if Cundiff cannot.

 

Source: Hosted.Stats.com

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This is going to be a game... I don't think the Browns can win another game at this rate though. The defense can't score all of their points...

 

:Bengals: 24

:Browns: 21

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Browns ILB Karlos Dansby (knee) is inactive for Week 15 against the Bengals.

Dansby was listed as questionable. He remains week to week.
Also inactive for the Browns are CB K'Waun Williams, FS Tashaun Gipson, RB Glenn Winston, CB Robert Nelson, OT Vinston Painter and TE Gary Barnidge.

 

 

 

 

Jermaine Gresham (toe) is inactive for Week 15 against the Browns.

Kevin Brock will start in his place, and is obviously not a fantasy option.
Also inactive for the Bengals are QB A.J. McCarron, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, CB Terence Newman, OT Tanner Hawkinson, WR James Wright and DE Margus Hunt.

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