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Game Review: Browns Stay Creative in 17-6 Win Over Bengals

Chris Pokorny breaks down the Cleveland Browns' 17-6 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns didn't get a lot of pressure on Andy Dalton, which is a tribute to their coverage on defense as they did not allow a touchdown in the team's 17-6 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. It was the first time since Week 3 of the 2011 NFL season in which the Bengals' offense did not score a touchdown. Let's get to my complete game review to see how the Browns got the job done.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns

1st 2nd 3rd 4th FINAL


  1. Awarding the Game Ball: CB Joe Haden - In his fourth season, Haden has taken the next step toward being one, if not the best, cornerback in the NFL. His latest challenge was A.J. Green, a guy who you could argue bested him in the three previous matchups they've had with each other. Not this time.
    Here is a play the Bengals ran in the second quarter with the Browns up 7-0. It's a 3rd down, and Cincinnati needs to get to the five yard line for a first down. They come out with a trips bunch tight to Dalton's left. Whenever I see these formations, I always feel like the offense has the advantage. A.J. Green is the inside receiver who is going to go out into the flat, and Joe Haden is the circled defender in cyan.
    You can see the other Bengals receiver is running to the corner of the end zone, and Haden is the only defender back there. Andy Dalton anticipates that Haden will be stuck in between, but instead, Haden goes on instinct and immediately shoots through the gap when he sees Dalton loading up.
    Now, it's up to Haden to make the one-on-one tackle in the open field, and he does it soundly, forcing the Bengals to settle for a field goal.
    Here is another play on a different drive in the second quarter, where Green and Haden are one-on-one with each other. Dalton is throwing the ball up for Green. Both guys are extending their arms beyond five yards, but the officials lets the play go on. I think Haden is getting more "respect" in that regard from officials this season. Anyway, in the screenshot above, Haden ensures their is separation between he and Green, so that Green can't try for a jump ball over him. Haden actually spots the football being thrown behind him.
    Haden whips his head around and sticks his arms up. The ball hits him in the hands, but he can't haul in the interception. A knockaway still works here, though.
    To top if off, Haden engages the fans and then continues to play on.

  2. Goat of the Game: LG John Greco - This was the best game for the offensive line in general, and truth be told, I had trouble finding one specific player who was a goat in this game. I am giving it to Greco, because I noticed a few run and pass plays in which it seemed like he was no match for either Geno Atkins or Domata Peko.

  3. Horrible Game for Dalton: Our defense deserves accolades for what they did against the Bengals, no doubt. It should also be noted that Andy Dalton played an atrocious game; in fact, I would say it was the worst performance I'd seen from him. It's not that he was throwing picks left and right, but for a guy who was very well protected (our pass rush couldn't get to him), he kept on sailing passes to open receivers -- plays that would have moved the chains. Dalton is starting to teeter into that territory of, "is he good, but not good enough, a la Matt Schaub?"

  4. Getting to Dalton, Part 1: Even though the Browns didn't get to Dalton a lot during the game, let's take a look at two times that they did get to him, both of which came on third down (speaking of which, the Bengals were just 4-of-14, 29%, on third down).
    This particular third down play came in the first quarter when the Bengals were driving. The Bengals, in my opinion, have a personnel issue here, with the smaller Giovani Bernard in to pass protect on Paul Kruger's side. The Bengals do have a tight end over by Kruger, but they decide to have him chip Desmond Bryant so a semi-double team can be worked on Phil Taylor and/or Bryant. Linebacker Craig Robertson is also going to wrap around with a blitz.
    You can see what I was discussing above. Kruger is going to gain immediate leverage on Bernard and get his arms up to where Dalton is looking to throw the ball (the right sideline, where he has A.J. Green doing a deep comeback route on Joe Haden).
    As Dalton is winding up for the long throw to the sideline, Kruger gets to him in time and prevents a follow through on his delivery, which results in a duck that lands incomplete. Punt.

  5. Getting to Dalton, Part 2: This next play comes near the beginning of the third quarter, but it's also a third down play.
    Cornerback Chris Owens is at the top of the screen. He is going to come on a corner blitz. OLB Barkevious Mingo is going to take a really wide angle on the left tackle, which opens up that gap for Owens to blitz through. The safety behind Owens, Tashaun Gipson, will quickly shift over to cover the receiver at the top of the screen in man coverage.
    In the screenshot above, you can see some of what I am talking about. The running back might look like a threat to pick up Owens here, but he will actually run up the middle in preparation to be a dump off receivers. What really helps here is the fact that the ball is snapped low. Dalton has to reach down, taking his eyes off the defense, and I think he never feels Owens' corner blitz coming. His first read after the low snap is to look right, presumably toward A.J. Green's area.
    Yep, Dalton must have never felt Owens, because he is moving like he has all day here. Owens grabs Dalton's arm before he can throw, resulting in the sack, strip, and by a little lucky bounce, he gets the recovery in a scrum too.

  6. New Look - Three Tight Ends: The Browns used some different personnel packages against the Bengals, and here is one of them: a three tight end set.
    In the screenshot above, Gary Barnidge is the tight end on the right. The tight end who I circled is Jordan Cameron, and the guy next to him is MarQueis Gray. Pay attention to the linebackers, because Cameron is about to go in motion.
    Cameron goes in motion, but the defense does not react whatsoever. Cleveland has the numbers on Cameron's side of the formation to execute a simple, well-blocked run play. Will they come through?
    Yep. This 3rd-and-1 run by Chris Ogbonnaya went for 11 yards on the team's first-quarter touchdown drive. The Browns executed on third downs much better this week, going 9-of-18 (50%).

  7. Big Play for Benjamin: The biggest offensive play of the day (in terms of yards gained) went for 39 yards on a wide receiver screen to Travis Benjamin. This looked like a play they've practiced for weeks, because the timing and execution by everybody was perfect.
    At the top of the screen, Brian Hoyer is going to quickly look toward Josh Gordon, with Greg Little out in front of him. That's the fake. On the other side of the field, Travis Benjamin quickly works his way back to Hoyer at the line of scrimmage. Jordan Cameron goes out for a block, and Alex Mack, John Greco, and Joe Thomas all let their guys past them (they don't even fake a chip) so they can get out in front of Benjamin for some blocks.
    Here is Hoyer looking toward the right side of the field at first. You can see the blockers starting to creep out.
    Hoyer throws this ball as soon as he turns toward the other side, and it's timed so that Benjamin still has to run back toward the middle of the field. By doing so, he is delaying enough so those blocks can get out in front of him. You can see that Cleveland clearly has a numbers advantage here as long as Hoyer's pass doesn't get tipped.
    The pass doesn't get tipped, the blocks are hit well, and Benjamin uses his good vision to make this a punt return now and pick up 39 yards, helping to set up the Browns' first touchdown of the game.

  8. Opps: The Browns had a gaffe in the second quarter.
    This was a run play, but at the snap, the only people on offense who moved really were Alex Mack, Brian Hoyer, and Willis McGahee. You can see how McGahee is trying to dodge a free defender, while his teammates, including fullback Chris Ogbonnaya, are just staring back at him, almost wondering, "is this really a live play?" The officials let it stand.

  9. Cundiff's Field Goals: It wasn't the best of games for Billy Cundiff, who went 1-of-3. He missed one field goal, had another tipped (for a miss), but then made a 51-yarder. We feared that Cundiff would cost us a game this year. A 1-of-3 stat line typically would, but it didn't in this case.
    The screenshot above shows the field goal that was tipped by the Bengals' No. 98. There are two things you can see on this play. First, the trajectory of the kick does seem a tad low. Second, OT Rashad Butler (the guy who appears to be running up field), kind of whiffed on No. 98, putting him in position to get the tip. I think both guys deserve the blame here. If Butler gets a slightly better chip, the kick isn't tipped. If Cundiff's kick is a bit higher, Butler's miscue doesn't even get noticed.
    To compare, now we look at the 51-yarder that was good. This time, Butler holds his ground, and No. 98 is not within the angle of the kick. The ball also seems to have a higher trajectory. You could argue that the Bengals were playing more conservative for a fake here, but I think overall, these two plays are pretty comparable, and you can spot the differences I noted. Cundiff is an impressive 2-of-2 on 50+ yard kicks this year after being terrible from that range in his career prior to 2013.

  10. MarQueis Gray at QB: The Browns lined up tight end MarQueis Gray at quarterback twice in the game -- once in the first quarter, and once in the third quarter. In the first quarter, the Bengals called a timeout, but they only had six guys up near the line of scrimmage: four defensive linemen and two linebackers.
    When the Browns bust out the formation in the third quarter again, the Bengals have four defensive linemen, three linebackers, and also bring the safety up a little closer.
    Gray hands the ball off to Bobby Rainey, but this looks like one of those option things we used to do with Joshua Cribbs, where Gray could take it up the gut if he wants. Gray is a former college quarterback, so he's a threat to throw the ball too in future weeks.
    As for the outcome of the play, the Bengals overpursue, which allows Rainey to cut back for three yards here.

  11. Ogbonnaya With the Save: On the next play, the Browns wanted to take a shot to TE Jordan Cameron down the left sideline.
    You can see OLB James Harrison, No. 92, coming free off the edge here. Uh oh, is Brian Hoyer about to become Harrison's next victim?
    Nope. RB Chris Ogbonnaya does a great job going low and taking out Harrison, which allows Hoyer to deliver the pass down the sideline. The defender makes a nice play on the ball, but Cameron does an even better job at breaking up the potential interception. It's good to see we have a receiver who fights for the ball.

    A few plays later, Harrison actually comes free on a similar play. Willis McGahee is the running back this time, and unfortunately, it's a called run play, so McGahee gets dumped for a five yard loss.

  12. Final Assessments: This was another impressive game for QB Brian Hoyer. I won't talk too much about the quarterback situation, since I know people are sick of hearing about it. My stance remains that I'm curious how QB Brandon Weeden would do with WR Josh Gordon, but because of how comfortable Hoyer looks in this offense right now and his quick delivery, I really have no issues with him staying in there until he starts regressing.

    On the Browns' touchdown-scoring drive in the fourth quarter, the running game got going. RB Willis McGahee had 6 carries for 33 yards. What clicked for the Browns? Well, on four of those successful run plays, I noticed the Browns doing the pulling guard type of runs, and they executed it quite well. McGahee wasn't getting pressured in the backfield, and he used his running style to find the crease and fall forward.

    I didn't highlight the touchdown passes in screenshots this week because they were very simple plays that don't need to be broken down really. On the first one, TE Jordan Cameron won a one-on-one battle. On the second one, it paid off to have a fullback who is really a running a running back who can catch.

    Teams often ignore the fullback position, and on this playaction pass, all RB Chris Ogbonnaya needed was one false step by the linebacker to get out to the flat, allowing Hoyer to deliver a simple throw. Both touchdowns were good use of personnel, something I criticized with the previous regime. Both times, Hoyer also knew exactly where to go without hesitation, too, and delivered on-target passes.

    The final interception for the Browns was pretty basic too. D'Qwell Jackson had coverage on a Bengals tight end, and did a good job getting his hand up high to deflect a pass and into the diving grasp of CB Buster Skrine. Cleveland played mistake-free football and neither the offense nor the defense suffered a significant letdown during the game. Now, Cleveland is tied for first place in the AFC North at the first quarter point of the season.

  13. Special Teams Tackles: There were five special teams tackles by the Browns, with one tackle each by LB Craig Robertson, CB Chris Owens, LB Brandon Magee, CB Leon McFadden, and CB Johnson Bademosi.

  14. Snap Counts on Offense & Defense: If you missed them, here are the links to our snap count trackers for offense (link) and defense (link). On offense, we slowly started to see RB Willis McGahee get more carries, and a sixth offensive lineman and third tight end played for the first time this season. On defense, outside linebackers Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo played 100% of the snaps on defense, which is out of the norm for that position.

  15. Brownies: WR Josh Gordon made an athletic catch in the first quarter, going over a defender's back to make a grab. ... Another new wrinkle I saw was a tight end screen pass to Jordan Cameron. ... On a 2nd-and-1, the Browns sent TE Gary Barnidge in motion, and nobody moved, indicating zone coverage; QB Brian Hoyer immediately threw to him in the flat for a first down. ... The Browns ran a packaged play in the first half that had a run/pass option, and Hoyer handed it off.

    Both CB Buster Skrine and S T.J. Ward bit up on the fleaflicker, but a poor pass from Dalton and good recovery speed by Skrine allowed him to get to the receiver in time to draw a pass interference flag, rather than allowing a touchdown. ... On the Bengals' 4th-and-1 in the second quarter, they ran the ball, but OLB Barkevious Mingo cut out one blocker, allowing DE Desmond Bryant to shoot it and make the stop. ... PFF rated Mingo low, and while it was true that he didn't win one-on-one battles, he stopped Dalton twice when he tried to scramble, disrupted a wide receiver screen pass, tipped passes, and shot in like a cannon to ensure a bad snap by the Bengals resulted in a 14 yard loss.

Up next, the Browns take on the Buffalo Bills for Thursday Night Football. Can Cleveland climb to over .500? Also, GO TRIBE!!!