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Browns Bring an End to Bengals 8-Game Division Winning Streak With 23-20 Victory

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Victory, at last! Browns fans breathed a collective sigh of relief after Peyton Hillis' game-sealing run just before the two-minute warning in Sunday's victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, because it meant that for the first time in four games, the team had held on to a fourth-quarter lead.

I couldn't believe the number of fans who, after the team started 0-2 and then 0-3, seemed convinced that an 0-9 start was a real possibility for this team. The Browns have been very competitive in every game they've been in, including against the team the media is now touting as the best team in football (Baltimore) and the only undefeated team remaining in the league (Kansas City). Eric Mangini does have a tough schedule awaiting them, but guess what? We have a pretty tough football team too, and I'd put money on it that we're going to have a couple of upset victories over the next several weeks against the league's "top-tier" teams.

With that said, let's get to the review of the game. With the team's first victory of the year, we'll kick off with the game balls first, and the goats second...


Awarding the Game Ball:

  • Scott Fujita: I almost feel like I foreshadowed this one in a way. When Cincy Jungle interviewed me last week, their last question asked, "which defensive player would come up with the big stop on the last play of the game?" I picked Fujita for his veteran experience, but in the back of my mind I had picked him because I was yearning for the former Saint to start making some big plays in Cleveland.
    Fujita had two game-changing plays on Sunday. First, after the Browns were originally up 10-0, the Bengals ripped off 10 straight to tie the game and were looking to tack on a field goal just before halftime. Fujita blocked the kick though, allowing the Browns to take over with 1:31 left in the half. Phil Dawson tacked on a field goal, making it 13-10 at the half.
    Then, after a masterful offensive drive to open the half, the Bengals finally got the ball mid-way through the quarter. On their second play, Fujita sacked Carson Palmer and the football came loose at the same time. Cleveland recovered, and tacked on another field goal to make it a 23-10 game at the time. Considering both of Fujita's clutch plays, he certainly helped the Browns get their first win of the season.

Goat of the Game:

  • Eric Wright: I had faith in the cornerback heading into this week's game against the Bengals, but that faith quickly went away with every catch Terrell Owens had. Owens is not in his prime anymore and was quiet against the Browns last year, but he had 10 catches for 222 yards and 1 touchdown. Besides the one 78-yard touchdown pass, most of that production came off of Eric Wright.
    Hat tip to kwoog for pointing this out, from Terry Pluto's column:
    "The Plain Dealer’s Dennis Manoloff carefully went through the game video and discovered that Owens caught four passes against Sheldon Brown, including the 78-yarder for a TD when Brown fell down. He caught four more against rookie Joe Haden. There was one off Wright — and on one play, everyone seemed to blitz and no one covered Owens." Link
    While I still saw Wright play poorly on the other receivers he covered, he must not have been the culprit on Owens' big day as I assumed.
    During the later part of the game, I started looking for Wright's jersey number before every play, and you could just see how the Bengals would shift a receiver away from his area to help ensure Wright would be on an island out there. The Bengals' playbook seemed to be designed around working against Wright, something that really hasn't happened to him prior to this season.

General Thoughts:

  1. The Hit: You know what hit I'm talking about: the one where T.J. Ward drilled Jordan Shipley in the end zone in the fourth quarter of the game. I don't want to get into an in-depth discussion over whether or not the hit was legal or justified, because I think the 1,000+ comments regarding the issue on this site have already been a bit overkill.
    In terms of my opinion, the NFL officials in today's era are going to call that a penalty every time, much like the Bengals were flagged earlier in the game for a hit on Benjamin Watson. The Bengals have every right to be upset that their rookie took a sick hit, but Ward was trying to break up the play. It's easy to look at something in slow motion and say, "he already dropped the ball and Ward still hit him, that asshole!" In reality, we're talking about Ward making a decision in less than a second to try to save a touchdown. You can't expect Ward to let a receiver catch an easy touchdown, so he tried to break up the play, plain and simple.
  2. Running the Football: While there were some instances where I still feel like nitpicking, it's great to see the commitment to running the football sticking for the second half. Take a look at the pass-run distribution for each half for the Browns (note: I include sacks as a pass play, and I don't include Wallace's scrambles as runs unless its a QB sneak):
    First Half: 22 pass attempts, 14 rushes
    Second Half: 8 pass attempts, 17 rushes
    While the Browns don't have a star wide receiver, I think we have some valuable targets in Ben Watson, Evan Moore, Peyton Hillis, and as we saw Sunday, Chansi Stuckey. I don't mind being a little aggressive in the first half with passing the ball, as long as we still give our running backs 10+ carries. What I love in the second half is the added emphasis on running the football -- it wears the defense down, eats up the clock, and allows you to possibly set up a clutch pass play off of playaction if you time it correctly.
  3. Third Down Conversions: The Browns were 6-of-14 on third downs, which isn't too bad. Two of those conversions went to Chansi Stuckey, a guy who I touted before the season as being the player the Browns should target in those situations. Jake Delhomme seemed prepared to do that, but Stuckey had sort of fallen off in Week 2 and Week 3 under Seneca Wallace. It's good to see him get back in the thick of things.
  4. Womack's Save: Don't forget how huge Floyd Womack's fumble recovery was in the second quarter; I almost gave him a game ball because of it. After Chansi Stuckey caught a pass and was making some nifty moves to get extra yardage, a defender poked the ball out. I thought for sure a Bengal would fall on top of it, but Womack, who had been trying to help block down the field, emerged from the pile with the football. Remember what happened three plays later? Seneca Wallace threw a touchdown pass to Evan Moore.
  5. Speaking of Moore: We need to see more of this guy. I believe our offense can be more efficient at times by just lining him up at one of the receiver positions instead of Mohamed Massaquoi or Brian Robiskie. He has only 4 catches this year, but they've gone for 111 yards -- that is an astounding 27.8 yards per catch. He almost seems undefendable when you run him up the seam unless a safety is there for help, which I imagine would open things up for other players. I'm tired of using the phrase "I want more of Moore." If there's a player that needs to be inserted into the passing game more, it's him.
  6. Hillis' Production: As I scanned the Internet, while the Bengals' fans gave Peyton Hillis credit for his tough, punishing runs, it seemed like they weren't very impressed with him because of his "low" YPC average (3.8).
    Well, here's a reality check: when your defense keys in on Hillis and he still punches forward for a yard or two, and when he's able to help move the chains on third down, and when he's able to beat your defense down at the goal lone, and when he's able to pull off a 24-yard game-sealing scamper to seal the deal, I think it'd be wise to give Hillis the credit he deserves. Hillis had 27 carries, while their past two opponents didn't surpass 20 carries with their running backs. When you know you have the offensive line that can get the job done, the commitment to the run is key.
  7. Wallace's Last Start: By the end of this week, I think we'll be discussing how we think Jake Delhomme will do under center this week. With that said, I think Seneca Wallace deserves a lot of props for his three-week stint as the starter, even if he was only able to produce one win. He showed off a lot of the intriguing skills he has and could probably do a decent job running this offense.
    While some argue that Delhomme makes crazy throws, go back to this game against the Bengals -- both times that Wallace threw toward Mohamed Massaquoi, I thought for sure the ball was going to be pick six'ed. Delhomme has that edge of going through his reads and getting the ball out a tad quicker, something that'll help our receivers make catches to compensate for the fact that they aren't great route-running improvisers.
  8. Cribbs Still Not Used: We saw Joshua Cribbs featured in three Wildcat plays. That's better than nothing I suppose, but it still feels like a weak attempt by Brian Daboll to mix it in without having a feel for when and how often it should be used.
    If Delhomme is back, we certainly have to go back to discussing how the Cyclone will be incorporated into the playbook. Now that Wallace has literally had a ton of in-game experience with the first-team offense, there should be more confidence in featuring him and Cribbs in the backfield for a change-of-pace from the less-mobile Delhomme.
  9. Field Position for Cribbs: The Bengals gave Cribbs five chances to return the ball on kickoffs, so let's see where the Browns' starting field position ended up being on those drives:
    -22 yard line
    -32 yard line
    -36 yard line
    -44 yard line
    -33 yard line
    We might be a tad disappointed that Cribbs hasn't gotten a return past midfield yet or "broken the big one," but this is still fantastic starting field position. To prove that, let's take a look at where the Bengals started after kickoffs on five attempts:
    -24 yard line
    -32 yard line
    -33 yard line
    -26 yard line
    -17 yard line
    Browns' average = 33.4 yard line
    Bengals' average = 26.4 yard line
  10. Roth Delivers a Pair: This is another one I foreshadowed somewhat -- if you read my preview post, then you should remember me asking for Matt Roth to step up and deliver some more pressure and some sacks. He did just that, notching two against the Bengals on Sunday. While the second one was a coverage sack, we still needed someone to get there, otherwise Palmer probably would've found a breakdown in our coverage again.
  11. Right Place at the Right Time: It was a solid game for Browns defensive lineman Kenyon Coleman, who recovered two fumbles. While it was somewhat of a case of him being in the right place at the right time, history shows it's not as easy as it looks for a big guy to fall down and scoop in the loose football. Coleman especially did a nice job recovering the second one, diving to the ground and then pulling the ball in toward his body for the recovery. He also had one of the team's four sacks.
  12. Corner Blitzes: I like the fact that the Browns brought the corner blitz often, but at the same time our defense seems to be showing their hand too early. I believe rufio mentioned this in one of his comments -- the Browns brought pressure, but Carson Palmer's internal clock was able to get the ball away to an open receiver every time. We almost allowed Palmer to develop a rhythm by coming so often but not getting to the quarterback early in any of the instances. Joe Haden was able to bat one pass down on a corner blitz.
  13. Owens' Smooth Move: While our secondary did a horrible job containing Terrell Owens, I thought he did a great job Sunday. I was impressed with his ability to make our defenders miss and get yardage after the catch -- it seemed like vintage TO to me.
    On his 78-yard touchdown pass, Sheldon Brown did fall, but did Owens' slight arm backward possibly have anything to do with it? Maybe not, but the two events seemed to coincide with each other and it was a good play by Owens. Him setting the ball down at the goal line is such a tame celebration if you consider what he's done in the past.
  14. Wallace and Timeouts / Audibles: Here's another disadvantage (or rather, two) to having Wallace play: first, he burns too many timeouts early in the half. As a long term starter, that's going to hurt a team from scoring late in a half or from being able to challenge a call on the field. There were also several times in which Rich Gannon pointed out the safeties coming right up to the line pre-snap, but Wallace couldn't/didn't adjust the play. In each case, the play ended up resulting in a wasted down basically.
  15. Bowens With a Tip: Early in the game, it was good to see veteran David Bowens get in there and tip a pass from Palmer. He's definitely not being used as often as I envisioned this year, but he can still help in spot situations.
  16. Special Teams Tackles: This week, rookie Joe Haden got in on the special teams action with two tackles (although he did have one false start as a gunner). Nick Sorensen also had two tackles. Rounding out the other tackles with one each were Mike Adams, T.J. Ward, Sam Aiken, and Titus Brown.
  17. Dawson & Hodges: After an 0-for-2 start, Phil Dawson has made four field goals in a row, including three against the Bengals. Reggie Hodges didn't get punts downed inside the 20, but I remain impressed with the distance on his kicks and the lack of shanks. While I'd still rather have Dave Zastudil, I've seen several teams in the league who have seen their punters perform much worse than Hodges has (that's not to say Hodges has been bad).
  18. Accepted Penalty: I hit on this big in the instant recap, so this is the cliff notes version: I cringed when we accepted the offensive pass interference penalty late in the fourth quarter, because I was that afraid that one of our cornerbacks would allow a receiver wide open. Even if the Bengals picked up half the yardage on third down, they could've gone for it on fourth down with it being a borderline field goal try. Thankfully, Roth's timely sack forced a punt.
  19. Chinedum Ndukwe: Remember how I said the backup safety had thrived against the Browns (from my preview post)? Well, he tied for the team lead in tackles at eight, and broke up a goal line pass to Ben Watson (the one that Wallace threw behind him and could've been picked). We averted the wrath of Ndukwe, but just barely.
  20. Brownies: With the Ravens beating the Steelers, the Browns enter Week 5 just two games back of the division lead...a worse-cast scenario would've been being four games back...nice to see Mangini smile and the team get their "yes, we got one!" win out of the way so they can build more confidence with a tougher schedule coming up...Sam Aiken had a catch, which was sort of random...thankfully the rain unexpectedly held off (those in attendance can confirm if there were any sprinkles).

Next up, the Browns take on the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons are 3-1 and have some dangerous targets in Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, but the team has had some difficulty living up to its maximum potential. It'll be interesting to see how the Browns end up doing, because we'll be at home again and I'm not so sure that Atlanta is any better than the team we almost beat two weeks ago, Baltimore.