Matt Sullivan - Getty Images
Just a week after the Cleveland Browns' defense allowed 41 points, the most surrendered by the team over the last two seasons, they bounced back by making plays when it counted and holding down the Cincinnati Bengals deep into the fourth quarter.
This team is forcing turnovers again. Being able to make plays on defense was key to this victory. The Browns forced four turnovers by the Bengals, the most since Week 1 against the Eagles, a 1-point loss and the closest of the season. All of the turnovers on Sunday came from Cincinnati's second-year QB Andy Dalton. Despite an otherwise fine outing, Dalton threw three interceptions and lost a fumble.
All of the Bengals' turnovers came in the second half and three of the four came in the fourth quarter. Remember, for five weeks prior to this the Browns had failed to finish. This week CB Sheldon Brown picked off Dalton half-way through the fourth and took the ball back for a touchdown giving the Browns a 34-17 lead. It appeared to ice the game. Then just over two minutes later Dalton responded with a 57-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green on the very next drive. The Browns' offense when three-and-out on their next two possessions. How did the defense respond? Back-to-back turnovers. Emmanuel Stephens forced the Dalton fumble and Usama Young intercepted the 50-yard bomb on what was the Bengals' final play from scrimmage.
Joe Haden was spectacular in his return. Although, he did allow significant yards to A.J. Green, including the long touchdown on a play where Haden appeared to slip. Outside of that mistake, holding Green to 25 yards on two catches is quite a good performance against a WR of that caliber. Haden also intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 14 yards to put the Browns at the Cincinnati 25-yard line. After missing four weeks due to a suspension for a banned substance, this kind of play in his first game back is more than one could ask for as an apology to the Browns' faithful.
Perhaps most positively impacted by Haden's return was Sheldon Brown. Brown was absolutely phenomenal on Sunday. You may recall from Week 2 names like Brandon Tate, Armon Binns, and Andrew Hawkins. The Browns gave up 193 yards to those Bengals' receivers in their previous meeting. Not this time. The trio only managed a combined 58 yards this week, thanks in large part to the play of Sheldon Brown.
Cleveland can also thank solid coverage Buster Skrine and the rest of the secondary, but they were not entirely without their problems.
Bending and breaking:
T.J. Ward hasn't been the same since his thumb surgery two weeks ago. For the fifth week in a row, Ward has played in every single defensive snap. This is the second game that he's done it with his right hand "clubbed" and struggled to have a significant positive impact. One of his blown plays resulted in a 55-yard catch and run by TE Jermaine Gresham for the first touchdown of the game. The Browns aren't deep at the safety position, so he has to adapt to playing with that cast.
The Cleveland defensive line has been mediocre across the board as of late, but primarily rushing the passer. For a while earlier in the season, the Browns were among the leaders in total sacks. They've since fallen to a tie for eleventh with 15. Second-year DE Jabaal Sheard simply has not played as well as he did last season. Juqua Parker is still contributing when he gets the opportunity, but expectations should be kept realistic. The blitz seemed to be fairly effective against the Bengals. That might just create the pass rush Cleveland needs while the defense isn't at full strength.
The Browns' were missing DT Ahtyba Rubin on the defensive line, now in addition to Phil Taylor. Rookies Billy Winn and John Hughes are doing their jobs of filling in, but aren't exactly making plays outside of the fumble recovery.
This was just one game, just one win, the first on the season. But, it's a win worth celebrating. This young team is showing potential. They're showing that they can win. The next test is to show that they can do it again.