1. Second Quarter
The Browns were up 13-0 and cruising going into the second quarter. They’d driven down the field once and picked off Dalton twice, one being returned for a TD. It looked like they were on their way to a big win and a step towards the playoffs. Everything then went very very wrong. They gave up 31 unanswered points as the Bengals partially blocked a punt, blocked another and returned it for a TD, picked off Campbell in the Browns half and returned a fumble for a TD. Another 3 points before the half after a Browns failed drive was just one more mocking nail in the coffin.
At some point Jason Campbell had to revert to the mean. He’d been playing lights out football, throwing for 555 yards and 5 TDs to no INTs. On Sunday he reverted way past the mean. It seemed like he was blinded by Cincinnati’s D. He was completely unable to find receivers further than 8 yards down the field, retreating into his shell and holding the ball too long and consistently checking the ball down to Chris Ogbonnaya and Fozzy Whittaker. The 19 play 0 point drive near the end of the 4th summed up his day.
3. Not So Special Teams
The Special Teams collapsed completely against the Bengals. Once a strength with Spencer Lanning’s punting and Travis Benjamin’s returns, it cost the game on Sunday. The punt protection broke down and the Bengals got their hands on two punts, both leading to touchdowns. They also gave up a 27 yard return at the end of the half leading to another 3 points given up. The Browns also struggled returning punts and kicks, managing just one good return in the bad weather. They comprehensively lost the field position battle.
4. Too Many TDs
As well as struggling on 3rd downs this season, the Browns have also given up the highest percentage of TDs in the redzone per attempt in the NFL. It was the case again on Sunday as Andy Dalton threw 3 TDs, despite only putting up 93 yards in the air. Both trips to the redzone resulted in TDs for the Bengals, as well as another from the CLE 25 to Jermaine Gresham, who again bundled his way through Browns tackles to the endzone. The Browns are currently 17th in points allowed per game making them pretty much squarely middle of the pack. If they can tighten up their redzone D, it will be another step towards becoming an elite defense.
Turnovers win football games. Therfore, they also lose them. The Browns intercepted Andy Dalton twice on Sunday, capitalising on those turnovers to the tune of 10 points. On a normal day that would be a step towards a big win, but Sunday was no normal day. Jason Campbell threw 3 interceptions and Chris Ogbonnaya added a fumble, which the Bengals converted into 14 points themselves. The Browns don’t really have anyone to blame but themselves for the loss Sunday.
The Browns actually managed to find some production from their running backs against the Bengals, and not only in the pass game. Chris Ogbonnaya had 8 carries for 69 yards, and Fozzy Whittaker added 4 for 20 yards. Ogbonnaya had the Browns longest carry by a running back since Peyton Hillis in 2010, running for 43 yards in the 1st quarter. It seems that Willis McGahee has finally been taken off primary carries and served mostly as a short yardage back against the Bengals. It will be interesting to see if Ogbonnaya and Whittaker can keep up their production when they get the chance to carry a larger load.
Despite posting no sacks against the Bengals, the pass rush had a fairly productive day. They consistently pushed the Bengals’ Oline back into Dalton and pressured him into bad throws. Amongst them Jabaal Sheard had a very good game. He displayed a mixture of power and technique in the pass rush whilst displaying his usual skills against the run. At one point he pancaked Bengals TE Jermaine Gresham on a bull rush. He played with an unbridled ferocity which the Bengals struggled to contain.
3. Tank Job
The Browns turned to second-year linebacker and Special Teamer Tank Carder when Craig Robertson went down and he stepped in capably. Less of an athlete than Robertson, he flashed good instincts against the Bengals. He played the run well, taking on blocks and picking his way through the traffic to seek out the ball carrier, tackling soundly. He finished second on the team in tackles on the day with 7 (2 solo). Robertson is questionable for the Steelers and if he misses the game, Carder has an opportunity to gain himself more playing time.
4. Third Down D Turns Up
3rd down defense has been a big struggle for the Browns but they managed to turn it around against the Bengals. They forced the Bengals into 15 3rd down situations, and the Bengals managed to convert only one, the TD to Mo Sanu on a blown coverage. Despite the nature of the game and the result, the Browns D had a relatively strong game overall. They stopped the Bengals explosive playmakers, contained them in the run and the pass, and limited them to 3.8 yards per play overall. On another day, things could have gone differently for the Browns.
5. All Pro Joe
Once again, Joe Haden came out on top against a top receiver. AJ Green had only 2 receptions for 7 yards and was basically a non-factor against the Browns. Although it’s obviously not all down to Haden, it’s becoming a running trend that big name WRs have bad days when they come up against him. Haden added two picks, one returned for a touchdown, proving that it’s a bad idea to take your chances in his coverage. He should be on his way to his first Pro Bowl, and potentially also All-Pro recognition for his strong play this season.