Benson & Bengals Control the Clock in 19-17 Win Over Browns

CLEVELAND BROWNS (5-9) GAME #14 CINCINNATI BENGALS (3-11)
VS.
17 19


For as good as the Browns threw the ball on their opening drive and their final drive of the game under Colt McCoy, you would think the Browns would have managed more than 17 points. Likewise, with how much the Bengals, led by running back Cedric Benson, dominated the ground game, you would think the Bengals would have managed more than one touchdown. It felt like a strange game overall, and ultimately the result was not the one that Cleveland fans desired.

Let's get to the review of this week's game, starting with the goats and then the game balls.

WEEK 15 - CLEVELAND BROWNS VS. CINCINNATI BENGALS (COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)

Goats of the Game:

  • Front Seven: The Bengals made it clear what they wanted to do against Cleveland: pound the football. It was surprising to see the Bengals actually remain committed to running the ball, something they should've been doing all season long. Maybe Terrell Owens' injury contributed to that. After all, the only time Cleveland really stopped Cincinnati was on their first drive of the game, before Owens' injury. The front seven are goats because they were consistently pushed back by the Bengals' offensive line, almost to the point where it seemed like they were playing uninspired football.
     
  • John St. Clair: Please don't play him against Baltimore or Pittsburgh.

Awarding the Game Balls:

  • Benjamin Watson: Our reliable tight end finished the game with 7 catches for 92 yards. He caught several beautifully thrown passed by Colt McCoy over the middle, knowing full well he was going to take some shots. He helped the Browns' offense be in position to try a late comeback.

General Thoughts:

  1. Coming Out Aggressive: It was nice to see Brian Daboll allow Colt McCoy to be aggressive and take some shots down the field early in the game. On the first drive, he hit Watson and Brian Robiskie for 15+ yard completions. Later in the drive, on 1st-and-10 from the 20, the Browns lined up in a unique formation that led to a touchdown.
     
  2. The Trick Play Touchdown: On the trick play, Cleveland had three offensive linemen in their traditional spots in the middle of the field. Split wide on each side of the field were a trio of players (1 offensive lineman, 2 eligible receivers). Then, there was one random guy in the slot. The play didn't result in a wide open touchdown, and still required an on target throw from McCoy and a great diving catch by Robert Royal. The defense bit just enough to allow for that opening.
     
  3. Can't Fault the Calls: After stopping the Bengals on downs on their first drive, Cleveland's offense stayed aggressive with McCoy. After picking up a first down, McCoy aired one out deep to Joshua Cribbs. It might not have been the greatest throw, but if Cribbs had better body positioning, he comes away with the completion. Upon replay, I'm still not sure how Cribbs didn't get to the ball better. McCoy still got another first down on a pass to Robiskie, moving into Cincinnati territory.
     
  4. Missed Opportunities (continued): On the next play, McCoy went deep again, this time for Mohamed Massaquoi. The pass might have been better on a little more of a rope, but the fact is the ball was right there for Massaquoi for a big completion. Unfortunately, for as long of a time as he had to find the ball, he seemed to have never seen it until the last second. On the next play, Chansi Stuckey caught his traditional third down short pass and seemed a hair away from highstepping the defender. He was barely tripped up, forcing a punt.
     
    Looking back to that drive, there were several plays to be made that could've led to Cleveland being up 10-0 or 14-0. When you take that lead, I doubt a Bengals team that hasn't run the ball very much all season is going to remain committed to the run. The quarterback made some good throws on this drive -- next year we need some receivers who can convert these type of plays.
     
  5. Special Teams Coverage Down: As the injuries have happened on special teams and the season goes on, the Browns' special teams coverage hasn't been as good. Bernard Scott had a 69 yard runback in the first quarter. It was brought back due to a holding penalty though, and the ball should've been placed at the 35 yard line, 65 yards away from the end zone. Instead, the ball was placed at the 50. Why?
     
  6. Overreaction by Officials: During the return, an official tripped on Brad Seely, who was barely on the white sideline stripe. The official flagged the Browns 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct, but they tacked it on after the Bengals' penalty. I see -- so the official screws over the Browns there, but later on, when the Browns have an illegal formation and Brian Robiskie is on the receiving end of a defenseless receiver blow, the penalties are offset.
     
    There are so many ridiculous nuisances with these penalties. I'm more so burned that the Seely penalty wasn't ruled as an offsetting one, forcing a rekick on special teams. It didn't cost the Browns, but it irked me as a kneejerk reaction by the official as a result of last week's "intended" and very much different incident involving the Jets.
     
  7. Shut Down Cribbs for the Year: What are the odds that after the season, Joshua Cribbs reveals that he was playing through an injury even before he fractured his toes? The guy just isn't the same on special teams right now as he once was. He provides zero spark. Remember, special teams was a huge reason Cleveland won their final four games last season.
     
    Even Marcus Benard looks like he can make better moves on a return than Cribbs right now. I think it is better to just shut Cribbs down for the year -- why have him in there if all he can do is average 17 yards per return? Mike Bell, Joe Haden, or someone else can do just as well, and probably better, without worrying about a nagging injury. Against the Bengals, Cribbs had 5 returns for just 87 yards. He also almost lost a kickoff when he fumbled but fell back on top of it.
     
  8. End of Half Blunder: The Browns did a good job moving the ball as they headed into the two-minute warning in the first half. Cleveland faced a 1st-and-10 from the 37. After the game, Phil Dawson said his max field goal range there was 48 yards, or from the 31-yard line. On McCoy's first pass, he hit Watson for six yards. Perfect! Cleveland is in field goal range. Unfortunately, McCoy was sacked on the next play, and on third down he hit Robiskie for just 5 yards.
     
    That set up a 4th-and-7 from the 34, which was three yards beyond Dawson's range. After offsetting penalties and a retry, the Browns lined up to go for it again. John St. Clair had a false start though, and Cleveland elected to punt. Given the weather conditions that didn't favor kickers though, even on the 4th-and-12, with just 16 seconds left, Cleveland probably should've considered taking a deep shot.
     
  9. Pass Defense to Blame Too: For as much as the front seven didn't stop the run well, the pass defense didn't exactly excel. Minus Terrell Owens, Carson Palmer had no problems finding some of his young receivers wide open on short comeback routes. To start the third quarter, the pass coverage missed on two opportunities. The Bengals were flagged for holding on the first play of the half. On 1st-and-20, Palmer hit Andre Caldwell for 21 yards. Later in the drive, on 3rd-and-7, Palmer hit running back Brian Leonard for 20 yards and a first down (the play where he tried to hurdle T.J. Ward). The plays led to a field goal.
     
  10. One Drive Killer: It's like a chain reaction of "what if" plays. After the Bengals' field goal, a sack on second down of Cleveland's next drive killed it before it could even get started. After a punt, the Bengals decided to run the ball down Cleveland's throats.
     
  11. Bengals' Ground Game Effectiveness: On their second drive of the second half, the Bengals handed off to Benson on 8 consecutive plays. No fakes. No trickery. Just basic running of the football. He averaged 4-5 yards on those runs, eating up clock and setting up another field goal. Not only did it give the Bengals a two possession lead, it showed that Cleveland had no answer for the Bengals' running game. It's tough to rebound from that type of mental state during a game.
     
  12. Offense Responds: Again, despite only having 17 points, the offense had quite a few pretty good drives and opportunities -- they just failed to finish them. On the next drive, Peyton Hillis came alive with a couple of big runs. To end the third quarter, Cleveland set up a 3rd-and-1 from the 5 yard line. To start the fourth quarter, the Browns ran Hillis straight up the middle and he was stoned for no gain.
     
    I thought about debating this play call, but instead I'll give the Bengals credit for laying a great smack on Hillis. Mangini opted to go for the field goal. I agreed with that decision, because it would bring Cleveland to within a touchdown. However, I only agreed with the decision under one condition: The Browns needed to load the box a little more to stop Benson. I didn't feel they made the proper adjustments defensively to do that the rest of the game.
     
  13. Need a Stop: Down 16-10, the Browns needed their defense to force the Bengals' first punt of the game: a field goal was unacceptable. Things started good when the special teams unit held the Bengals to a short return to the 20. Cincinnati was sparked again by a first down run of 7 yards, and the next play was a well-timed playcall by the Bengals: a quick wide receiver screen as the Browns blitzed the corner from that side. It resulted in a 53-yard field goal, and just like that, Mangini's decision to kick the field goal was negated. Another punch in the gut.
     
  14. Robiskie's First Touchdown: Props to Brian Robiskie for a nice catch-and-run for a 46-yard touchdown down the sideline with a little over two minutes to play. From what I've seen this season, Robiskie has had pretty decent separation in the limited number of times he has been targeted on a deep pass. This is the first time a quarterback's pass was on the money though. The play gave Cleveland a chance for an onside kick, down 19-17.
     
  15. The Onside Attempt: The highlight of the day for Cleveland's special teams should have come here. Phil Dawson hit the onside kick, and it took a perfect bounce into the air for our oncoming players right at ten yards. I swear our player should have had it -- it looked like Ray Ventrone -- but just barely whiffed in the bang-bang situation. Cleveland emerged from the pile with the ball, but the referees seemed to get it right as the Bengals player had a pretty clear recovery and was down by himself initially.
     
  16. One Last Gasp: Cleveland still could've stopped the Bengals and actually would've had a full minute to get into field goal range given their timeout situation. The Bengals ran it three times and got the first down, which wasn't a surprise given our run defense the entire game. I wish the Browns would have shoved T.J. Ward in the box at the start of the run plays. In that situation, if Palmer wants to throw to a receiver one-on-one, even if it's relatively open, let him. This is a quarterback who has not thrived on fourth quarter throws this season. Oh well.
     
  17. No Third Down Niche: One of the reason for Cleveland's downfall offensively has been their lack of success on third down. Earlier this season, Chansi Stuckey was money on third down. The second half of the year, I don't know if he's been able to convert one third down. Cleveland needs an answer in those situations, because it's preventing Cleveland from keeping a Fujita-less defense off the field.
     
  18. Special Teams Tackles: Each having one special teams tackle were T.J. Ward, Joe Haden, and Jason Trusnik. A bunch of guys assisted on tackles.
     
  19. Brownies: The Bengals had the ball 38 minutes to the Browns' 22 minutes...Ward seemed to have a pretty fair game overall...for the first time in weeks, Abram Elam didn't have a big play (although no one did) on defense...Reggie Hodges had his worst day statistically of the season, but based on how everyone punted and kicked the ball, it was attributed to the cold weather and not an "off" day for the punter.

Next up, the Browns take on the Ravens and the Steelers. The last two losses have been downers, but I'm still excited about the prospect of Cleveland upsetting their division rivals this week. Hopefully the team appears a little more motivated and plays a complete game to close out the season with at least one more win than last year.

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