CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 27: A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals is congratulated by fans in the end zone after catching a pass for a first down against the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium on November 27, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Tyler Barrick/Getty Images)
This might just be the Bengals' season. Time and time again, rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has led the Bengals down the field with assistance from outstanding receivers like tight end Jermaine Gresham and wide receiver A.J. Green. Maybe there is some truth in the fact that the lack of a "star" receiver is holding the Browns back. Cleveland had the same opportunity to do what Cincinnati did. They had Gresham and Green, and we had Greg Little. I think we know how that one turned out. In what could have been a turning point for the Browns' season record-wise, they couldn't close out the game. Let's get to the full review of the game...
|CLEVELAND BROWNS (4-7)||GAME #11||
CINCINNATI BENGALS (7-4)
WEEK 12 - CLEVELAND BROWNS VS. CINCINNATI BENGALS (COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)
- Goat of the Week: WR Greg Little - In a game where Little had his first career touchdown reception, you would have hoped it was a day Little could be proud of. Instead, his touchdown reception was overshadowed by four dropped passes. Our offense can't afford to have that many drops. In a game where the Browns were trying to put a dagger in the Bengals, Little prevented that from happening. Hopefully he can find some redemption against Baltimore and Pittsburgh in four of the next five games.
- Awarding Game Balls: WR Jordan Norwood - For the second week in a row, I am giving Norwood the game ball. He also had his first career touchdown reception, and it was a game for him to remember. The Browns had not had a first quarter touchdown all season long, but Norwood and Colt McCoy put an end to that. First, McCoy connected with a wide open Norwood (who had beat Nate Clements) down the right sideline.
The pass was angling Norwood out of bounds, so he couldn't get yards after the catch. He beat Clements again though a few plays later on a perfect strike for 24 yards. On 2nd-and-6 with only a few seconds left in the first half, McCoy hit Norwood for seven yards over the middle. Norwood took a big shot, but for being a little guy, he held on to the football. That set up Little's touchdown two plays later.
- Shurmur's Playcalling: At first, I was a little frustrated by Pat Shurmur's playcalling at around the time when the fourth quarter started. The offense seemed to be less aggressive than it was in the first half. After having time to cool down though, I changed my tune. With the lead, we did a good job of staying committed to running back Peyton Hillis. We mixed in some nice passes to our receivers, but they dropped passes to prevent the drives from continuing. Even if you extend one of those drives with a catch, it could've changed the outcome of the game.
- Return for Hillis: With Montario Hardesty sitting out due to his calf injury acting up, Peyton Hillis received a much bigger workload than anticipated. His final average (3.4 yards per carry) is what I would've expected, but what I liked to see was his tough runs that helped set up better situations for us on second- or third downs. It is not a coincidence that our offense scored a first quarter touchdown as soon as Hillis returned. Hillis set our offense up well in the second half too.
- Sudden Dropoff for Ogbonnaya: This is not a complaint, but rather a wondering observation. Like Shurmur did at the beginning of the season, he played the backup running back, Chris Ogbonnaya, on the second offensive series of the game. Ogbonnaya had some good runs for 11 yards, 4 yards, and 1 yard. What Shurmur did differently, which I liked, was that he still had Hillis play during the drive, as he also had three carries in that series. Why didn't Ogbonnaya have any other carries the rest of the game though? It just seemed like the mix was working pretty well, and with Hillis just coming back, I'm surprised we didn't go back to it.
- Sheard is a Beast: I already mentioned this in my Top 5 Defensive Plays post, but Jabaal Sheard continues to be a beast at defensive end. Just before the end of the first half, he forced a sack+fumble on Andy Dalton that was recovered by Scott Paxson. That led directly to seven Cleveland points. Sheard finished the game with four tackles.
- McCoy Taking Chances: It is becoming a recurring trend that Colt McCoy will have one screw up play during the game. The Browns had just yielded a touchdown to the Bengals near the end of the third quarter, cutting their lead to 20-17. On the final two plays of the third quarter, Hillis ran twice and picked up a first down for the Browns. It felt great to have our bruising runner back in the lineup for a situation just like this. And then, on the first play of the fourth quarter, on a 1st-and-10, McCoy rolled out to the right sideline and inexplicably threw a pass toward Greg Little down the right sideline.
The problem was that a defender was about to hit McCoy as he threw it, and even if McCoy got a clean throw off, the play was well covered. That was zero need to take a risk there. The Bengals intercepted it and took over at midfield. It only led to a field goal, but that was the game-tying score. This could have been McCoy pressing out of frustration that he didn't get help from Little earlier and tried to make up for it with a big play. He has got to keep a stronger mental mindset and just throw the ball away on a first-down play.
- Green Gets an Upper Hand: The Bengals used receiver A.J. Green wisely against the Browns. I'm not sure if it was scripted this way or not, but they basically kept Green out of the gameplan for most of the game. He was only targeted four times, but when they did throw the ball his way, he used his height and athleticism to go up in the air and make a play on the football. It sucks that we're going to have to defend this guy in the division for years to come. I look forward to more battles between he and Joe Haden, because Haden is his best competition in the division.
- Cribbs is No Longer Effective on Returns: I might make a separate post about this, but we can't really claim that Joshua Cribbs is very effective on returns at this point. Teams are no longer kicking the ball away from him. On kickoffs, he might fight through one defender to gain an extra tough yard or two, but what happened to the days where it was a given that he would evade three guys on every return and get the ball out to the 40? I've been especially disappointed on punts, where he often seems to try to cut to the sideline rather than running straight up the field and making some quick moves like he used to do. I also think the blocking on special teams has to have taken a step back, but it's just disappointing to see guys like Devin Hester and Patrick Peterson making an impact while Cribbs is not.
- Hagg Sees Extended Action: I'm not sure why they Browns decided to line up Eric Hagg in coverage more often against the Bengals than they had in previous weeks. He was often responsible for guarding Gresham, who had a big day with 5 catches for 68 yards and 1 touchdown. It's not that I thought Hagg was terrible, but Gresham had the size advantage. Hagg did have one nice breakup late in the game.
- Punt or Field Goal: In the fourth quarter, the Browns were faced with a 55-yard field goal. If they make it, they are in good position to win the game. If they miss it, the Bengals don't have to do much to be in field goal range. The Browns were going against the wind, so it would've been a tough kick. We also had all three timeouts. Do you kick the field goal, or pin the Bengals back with a punt?
In hindsight, a punt would've been nice, and is also might have saved Ryan Pontbriand's job. In 12 previous seasons with the Browns, the most 50+ yarders Dawson had made in one season was 3 field goals. Prior to the kick, Dawson was an unbelievable 7-of-7 on 50+ yarders, including a 54-yard field goal earlier in the game. Pat Shurmur probably relied on those odds to go for the kick. It's a tough decision to make as a coach. If the snap was good, I think Dawson still makes it. Dawson would not go for the kick if he wasn't hitting them in pregame warmups.
- Special Teams Tackles: The Browns had five special teams tackles and four assists. Cornerback Dimitri Patterson had two tackles. S Usama Young, LB Titus Brown, and TE Alex Smith each had one tackle. WR Joshua Cribbs had two assists, and Young and CB James Dockery each had one assist. I'd like to single out Patterson, who was outstanding on special teams.
- Brownies: I think McCoy continues to struggle on when to check down to his running backs...Hillis was thrown to twice for -4 yards...Mohamed Massaquoi was targeted three times but did not have a reception...linebacker D'Qwell Jackson led the team with 9 tackles...defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin had two quarterback hits on Dalton...linebacker Titus Brown notched a sack...the Browns were an acceptable 6-of-15 on 3rd down conversions...Colt McCoy had an awesome scramble on 3rd-and-long that had to get you pumped up.
Up next, the Browns take on the Baltimore Ravens at home. Many consider the Ravens to be the best team in the AFC, and they are coming off a big win with extended rest against the 49ers. Hopefully Cleveland can challenge them and come away with an upset win.