The Browns put on a spectacle last Thursday in prime time, and as a reward, they moved into sole possession of first place in the AFC North. Perhaps the least discussed storyline after the win was the fact that it happened on the road, where Cleveland has faced significant issues in 2014.
Think back to the terrible first halves against Pittsburgh and Tennessee, and then the complete egg laid against Jacksonville. Despite all of that, the Browns are 2-2 on the road, 2-2 within the division, and 6-3 overall. Let's get to my complete game review to see how it went down.
WEEK 10 - CLEVELAND BROWNS VS. CINCINNATI BENGALS
(COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)
- Awarding the Game Ball: SS Donte Whitner - There were a lot of good individual performances by players, and there wasn't one single play that stood out as a game-changer, given the lopsided 24-3 outcome. Therefore, I'll give the game ball to Whitner, who all of the defenders gave props to following the game for delivering an emotional pre-game speech:
Karlos Dasnby: Guys had tears in their eyes from Donte Whitner's powerful speech. It got us so focused.— Kevin Jones (@Mr_KevinJones) November 7, 2014
- Goat of the Game: S Jim Leonhard - The Browns' designated "punt catcher" continues to catch the ball cleanly, but while trying to return the ball in the first quarter, he was stripped of the ball. The Bengals recovered, and it helped lead to Cincinnati's only score of the game.
Robertson Jumps Route for INT: Things were doom-and-gloom for QB Andy Dalton right from the team's first drive of the game.
Facing a 2nd-and-10 from the 30 yard line, Dalton is going to be looking for TE Jermaine Gresham on a crossing route from the bottom of the screen.
Dalton is already staring down Gresham. In a best-case scenario, Gresham will have to make a tough catch with ILB Craig Robertson ready to lunge at him. OLB Paul Kruger gets a little bit of pressure on Dalton, forcing him to step up for a second.
When Gresham sees Dalton step up, he stops his route. Dalton doesn't realize that and throws as if Gresham is going to keep running in stride, which allows Robertson to make the interception and return it to the 18 yard line.
Steady Improvement in Run Blocking: The Browns made steady improvement on the ground this week with their run blocking. I wouldn't say that the run blocking was excellent, but there were far fewer blown assignments. In previous weeks, those blown assignments would lead to running backs being hit in the backfield. This week, the running backs were able to consistently pick up positive yardage.
RB Terrance West was the featured back this week. After two straight carries, the Browns faced a 3rd-and-1 from the 9 yard line. Cleveland stuck with the run, and as you can see above, none of the defenders are able to get penetration. West stumbles into the back of one of his lineman for a second before cutting to the left.
West picks up four yards and a first down.
Scheming Defenders Out of the Way for TD: On the next play, RB Terrance West picked up a yard to make it 2nd-and-goal from the 4 yard line. That's when RB Ben Tate was inserted into the game.
Lined up in a different formation, Cleveland schemed to draw a couple of defenders out of the middle. They send WR Miles Austin in motion behind Tate, which takes a defensive back out of the middle. QB Brian Hoyer hands the ball off to Tate, but the edge defender runs wide as the tight ends cuts across to ensure he can't disrupt the play.
The offensive line creates a big hole right up the middle, which Tate dives through for the touchdown to give Cleveland a 7-0 lead.
Sheard Stuffs Hill on 3rd Down: The Browns' defense was worse than what RB Jeremy Hill thought, as evidenced by this play here on 3rd-and-2.
First off, with a safety being in the box, I'm not too sure why the Bengals still ran the ball toward the left side of the defense. OLB Jabaal Sheard is going to shed the block by the tight end with an inside move.
There goes Sheard, and ILB Karlos Dansby is also going to get a free release into the backfield. With OLB Barkevious Mingo on the backside of the play, Hill can't do a cutback here.
Sheard hits Hill in the backfield for a loss of two yards, making it 4th-and-4 and forcing the Bengals to punt (a 15-yard penalty on WR Greg Little turned it into 4th-and-19). This is when S Jim Leonhard had his fumble, giving Cincinnati the ball in Cleveland territory.
Gilbert Defends Little: One of the side storyline concerns was that WR Greg Little would have a good game against his former team. Instead, he lived up to expectations and pretty much had a night to forget.
Facing a 3rd-and-10, Little is lined up at the bottom of the screen. CB Justin Gilbert has man coverage on Little, and after the snap, S Jim Leonhard immediately turns toward Little for the apparent double team.
With Gilbert knowing he has help on the inside, he's able to make an aggressive move as soon as Little makes a move to the outside.
Although the game book doesn't credit Gilbert with a pass breakup here, Gilbert does as good a job as one could do for his coverage here without making contact to Little.
Skrine Commits Pass Interference on 4th Down: On 4th-and-10 at the 32 yard line, head coach Marvin Lewis passed on a 49-yard field goal attempt due to the swirling winds.
WR Mohamed Sanu is tight to the right of QB Andy Dalton. Sanu is going to fake an out before cutting back up the seam over the middle.
Ideally, you'd like to see Skrine turn his head to the inside here.
Instead, Skrine turns his head to the outside and sees the ball coming. Because of Skrine's angle, his hands are grabbing Sanu a bit.
Here is another shot where you can see the grab. This is one of the things I'd like to see officials let defensive backs get away with at times, because it was more of each player jostling for position. The pass interference penalty gives the Bengals a fresh set of downs.
Dalton Frustrates Wide Receivers: This play here was probably the Bengals' best chance at scoring a touchdown on the day, but QB Andy Dalton had to zap all of the energy out of his receivers by having a historically bad performance.
At the bottom of the screen, WR Mohamed Sanu is lined up one-on-one with CB Buster Skrine. Sanu is going to fake a comeback route and then spin up the field to the corner of the end zone.
When Sanu fakes the comeback, Skrine bites. The safety is too far away in coverage to make a play on a well thrown ball.
You can see the separation that Sanu has on Skrine -- a full two yards.
OLB Paul Kruger did get a tiny bit of pressure on Dalton. I don't know if it effected the throw, though, considering how awful Dalton was on Thursday.
The arrow shows how far out of bounds the ball fell. Early in the game, it made sense for fans to think, "man, the wind must really be a factor on the quarterbacks today." When you flashed to QB Brian Hoyer having absolutely no issues with the wind, though, those thoughts turned to, "no, Dalton just sucks." The Bengals had to settle for a 43-yard field goal to make it a 7-3 game.
Geno Atkins Blows in Before Handoff: The worst offensive play of the game came on the team's second drive, leading 7-3.
This is supposed to be a handoff to RB Ben Tate.
First off, a few freeze frames before the screenshot above, you can see that OG John Greco leaves early. Sometimes the offensive linemen get a good jump, but this appeared to be borderline false start early. When the ball gets snapped above, you can see the giant gap between the center and the right guard. That wouldn't have been possible if Greco doesn't leave early.
Thankfully, QB Brian Hoyer doesn't get killed on this play, and he's able to hold on to the football too. It goes for a loss of 2nd-and-14, which basically kills the drive.
Isolated Route With Benjamin: On Cleveland's next offensive possession, they still held a 7-3 lead with under two minutes to play in the first quarter.
Facing a 2nd-and-8 from the 43 yard line, QB Brian Hoyer is going to fake a handoff to RB Terrance West, and then fake the ball on an end around to WR Taylor Gabriel, who is coming in motion at the snap. WR Travis Benjamin is streaking up the field as the only receiver. When the safety sees this, he sprints upfield to try to be in position to defend the deep ball.
Hoyer has great perfection, and the safety is already out of the All-22 picture above.
When Benjamin gets to the 40 yard line, he puts on the breaks and comes back to the ball.
Hoyer fires the ball to Benjamin for a gain of 18 yards. The play takes advantage of the Bengals' overpursuit -- even without the safety playing the run, Cleveland still finds a way to get him out of the picture for a first down.
Continuing to Execute on the Ground: This is the final play of the first quarter with the Browns facing a 2nd-and-6 from the Bengals' 36 yard line.
RG John Greco chips a defender before moving to the second level. When Greco goes to the second level, RT Mitchell Schwartz is behind him to pick up the guy that Greco releases.
As shown on the team's first drive, you have everybody hitting their blocks a lot better. I know that the Bengals were a very poor defense against the run heading into this game, but I'd like to think that part of our success involves our linemen getting more comfortable playing without C Alex Mack.
On the cutback, West picks up six yards and gives Cleveland a fresh set of downs to begin the second quarter of play.
Benjamin Gets YAC After Quick Delivery: The Browns needed their receivers to step up in the absence of WR Andrew Hawkins, and they were up to the challenge.
Facing a 2nd-and-10 from the 30 yard line, WR Travis Benjamin is going to run a slant at the bottom of the screen. Based on the location of the Bengals' linebackers, if they are frozen on the playaction fake, QB Brian Hoyer knows that he'll have a quick, open window to get the ball to Benjamin.
There it is -- Hoyer snaps his head around and sees Benjamin open. We've seen Hoyer miss this throw to Hawkins and other receivers over the past few weeks...
...but he puts this one right on the money. Because the ball is thrown to Benjamin in stride, he's able to pick up significant yards after the catch here. Most of it involves the Bengals having a hard time catching the rabbit, but WR Miles Austin plays a part too. He doesn't throw a block, but he helps get in the way of Bengals defenders.
This is just another angle of the previous screenshot, and you can see Austin in position to shield off the backside pursuit.
He keeps going! Benjamin caught this pass at the 22 yard line, but he isn't brought down until he reaches the 8 yard line. It's a lesson to Hoyer, too -- a well placed ball on this play, unlike in previous weeks, allows for a YAC of 14 yards. Two plays later, RB Isaiah Crowell plowed into the end zone from two yards out, giving the Browns a 14-3 lead.
Gipson Forces Fumble at Opportune Time: At this point, we'd only seen one poor quarter of play from QB Andy Dalton. In 2013 in Cincinnati, the Browns led 13-0 before having a terrible second quarter. Therefore, it was impossible for Browns fans to feel "safe" with a 14-3 lead.
After an 11-yard completion from Dalton to WR A.J. Green, Dalton handed the ball off to RB Jeremy Hill. Hill is lined up to the right of Dalton on this play.
Hill finds a hole to the right of the line and sprints through it. FS Tashaun Gipson isn't tentative in attacking the potential one-on-one situation as CB Joe Haden (dashed cyan arrow) is playing for the safe tackle.
Hill is looking for other defenders as Gipson is leading with his helmet right underneath his arm. The impact allows the ball to shoot up into the air and right into the hands of Haden. If Cincinnati had one final glimmer of hope of getting back into the game, this was probably it...and it was Hill who blew it. I could say that he played worse than I thought he would, but that's not the case. I thought he'd be a pedestrian back, and that's all he really turned out to be. He's no Giovani Bernard, that's for sure.
Trying to Hit Benjamin Deep: Right after the fumble recovery, QB Brian Hoyer tried to go for the bomb.
WR Travis Benjamin is lined up at the bottom of the screen and WR Miles Austin is in the slot to Hoyer's right. The safety in magenta is going to follow Austin all the way. S Reggie Nelson, circled in Green, is going to stay with Benjamin. The cornerback in cyan, who is originally lined up on Benjamin, will stay with him part of the way before switching off.
Here, you can see the cornerback spots Austin coming across and decides to anticipate a throw going to him underneath. This is how Benjamin is able to get the separation that he got -- he already has a full head of steam, while Nelson hasn't hit full stride yet.
There is the separation -- probably a good two yards.
When the ball comes down, Nelson is able to break it up just as it arrives to Benjamin. One could say that the ball was underthrown, but this pass traveled a good 56 yards in air. It's probably better to say that Hoyer should have released the ball a hair earlier rather than throwing it deeper. I'm just waiting for the week when Hoyer can connect on this type of play, because the opportunities are there. Maybe when WR Josh Gordon is back, Hoyer will feel more confident hitting a bigger target deep. The Browns went three-and-out on this series and punted.
Hoyer Hits Gabriel on 3rd Down: After Cincinnati went three-and-out, Cleveland got the ball right back.
Facing a 3rd-and-8, QB Brian Hoyer is going to hit WR Taylor Gabriel for a gain of 15 yards and a first down. Gabriel plays the role of an Andrew Hawkins here. It's not a complicated play, but with the look Cincinnati gives pre-snap, the completion feels like stealing.
Gabriel makes his cut on the out route with a ton of space to work with toward the sideline and the cornerback trailing. Gabriel is right -- the smaller receivers play to Cleveland's advantage because cornerbacks have a hard time knowing which way they'll go.
Trying to Find Benjamin in End Zone: Eight plays later, the Browns faced a 1st-and-10 from the 18 yard line.
This is the play where QB Brian Hoyer threw to WR Travis Benjamin in the back of the end zone, but the cornerback tipped the pass away at the last second. The point of showing the play above is to look at the safety at the top of the screen (cyan arrow). Defenses are fearful of Cleveland throwing the ball back across the formation. The Browns did it three times in the win over the Buccaneers, but we didn't do it against the Bengals. Nonetheless, the setup here creates an opportunity for Benjamin to sprint back to the middle of the field without worrying about a late-approaching safety.
To the credit of CB Adam Jones, when Benjamin tried coming back to his right, Jones did a good job changing direction and then going up high to knock this away. There are plenty of times where I think the cornerback would stumble, though, and this backside throw would lead to a wide open touchdown. Instead, Cleveland settles for a 32 yard field goal by K Billy Cundiff to go up 17-3.
Mix-Up on Hoyer Scramble: The Bengals went three-and-out, and Cleveland got the ball back with under two minutes to play in the first half.
On a 1st-and-10 with 1:31 left in the half, QB Brian Hoyer is shouting commands pre-snap -- likely an audible.
While Benjamin is double covered at the bottom of the screen, WR Taylor Gabriel isn't running a route. He has his back to Hoyer and is positioned like he's ready to block. Hoyer has protection, but with Gabriel not looking and no other receivers, he takes off to the sideline for a 3-yard scramble.
After the play, Hoyer says something to Gabriel. Gabriel points to his ear as if to say he didn't hear the audible. If he had, perhaps Cleveland could have had a big play and a scoring drive before the end of the half. Instead, Cleveland eventually punts and the Bengals do nothing before the end of the half.
Gipson Drops INT: Cleveland got the ball to begin the third quarter but went three-and-out.
Facing a 1st-and-10 from the 39 yard line, QB Andy Dalton is going to look for WR A.J. Green. Green is running the crossing route from the trips formation to Dalton's right. SS Donte Whitner will pick up Green in coverage at midfield.
As you can see from the screenshot above, Green is open, and a good throw would result in a gain of about 15-20 yards.
The throw isn't even remotely close, though, unless Dalton thought FS Tashaun Gipson played for the Bengals. The ball is right in Gipson's gut, but he drops it! You can tell on the replay that Gipson was already eying the past avenue to take for a shot at a pick six before securing the football.
Back to Back Sacks for Bryant: Despite the dropped interception, it set a negative tone for the Bengals' offense on the next two plays, both of which were sacks by DE Desmond Bryant.
RT Marshall Newhouse, filling in for starter Andre Smith, was terrible. Newhouse played the way I thought Oniel Cousins would the previous week against Tampa Bay. On this play, Bryant does an inside move on Newhouse, and it almost looks like Newhouse passes Bryant off so he can pick up the blitzing cornerback. It leads to a sack.
On the very next play, with Cincinnati facing a 3rd-and-15, Bryant is simply one-on-one with the Bengals' rookie center.
Bryant wins the battle and drops Dalton for a loss of nine yards.
Perfect Placement to Barnidge: Cleveland's next drive lasted forever. There were 12 plays that culminated in a touchdown, but it was the three replay reviews on the drive that made it last forever in real time, totaling 15 minutes.
The key play of the drive was an awesome hookup between QB Brian Hoyer and TE Gary Barnidge. Facing a 2nd-and-10 from the 31 yard line, Hoyer is going to pump fake the wide receiver screen to WR Taylor Gabriel to his left. WR Miles Austin and Barnidge are both running up the left side of the field.
Barnidge has position on the defender, and the safety isn't close enough to make a play on the ball with good ball placement.
Hoyer fits it in beautifully to where only Barnidge can make the catch. The play goes for 28 yards, down to the 3 yard line. Both tight ends deserve props for making big catches in the absence of TE Jordan Cameron. Three plays later on 3rd-and-goal from the 1, RB Terrance West scored to give the Browns a 24-3 lead.
Tate Wide Open on 3rd Down: Near the end of the third quarter, the Browns faced a 3rd-and-2 backed up in their own territory.
RB Ben Tate is going to be uncovered in the flat as the tight end on the short route gets double covered by Cincinnati.
Hoyer hits Tate after going through his reads for a gain of 23 yards. Tate is flagged after the first down for a facemask penalty, but it just appeared to be a good stiff arm.
Bengals fans are not pleased.
Little & Dalton Picked on Same Play: Facing a 3rd-and-3 at the 34 yard line in the fourth quarter, QB Andy Dalton throws his second interception of the game.
WR Greg Little is lined up with CB Buster Skrine at the bottom of the screen. TE Jermaine Gresham is running a route into the flat, and FS Tashaun Gipson immediately darts that direction to try to prevent a first down throw to him.
As you can see here, Gipson's pursuit of Gresham ends up picking Little. Little can't complete his route, so Dalton's anticipated throw is intercepted by Skrine. There was still 10 minutes of game play left, but I think you get the point -- Cleveland maintained their 24-3 lead the rest of the way.
- Special Teams Tackles: There were 5 special teams tackles, with 2 from ILB Craig Robertson and 1 each from TE Ryan Taylor, ILB Tank Carder, and S Jordan Poyer. There were 4 assists, with 1 each from ILB Tank Carder, ILB Craig Robertson, S Jordan Poyer, and S Jim Leonhard.
- 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, WR Marlon Moore and WR Rodney Smith combined for 15 snaps with WR Andrew Hawkins out. On defense, CB Joe Haden got the final series off and NT Phil Taylor returned to action.
- Brownies: The Browns were 7-of-16 (44%) on third downs, while the Bengals were 3-of-17 (18%). ... Cleveland ran the ball 52 times compared to 23 pass attempts. ... Cleveland had their best kickoff return of the season, by WR Marlon Moore, negated by a holding penalty by ILB Craig Robertson, which looked more like a good pancake. ... The Browns faced three goal-to-go situations and scored touchdowns on each of them. ... K Billy Cundiff missed a field goal that the wind took. ... WR Greg Little was flagged early on for a 15-yard personal foul penalty (headbutt). ... The Browns won the time of possession battle 35:49 to 24:11.
Up next, the Browns take on the Houston Texans at home. Keep it tuned to Dawgs By Nature for our coverage leading up to the game!