A crucial penalty and an off day on defense resulted in yet another Cleveland Browns loss on Sunday.
The “rivalry” game with the Cincinnati Bengals went as so many before have – Andy Dalton did just enough to win, orchestrating a solid offense to conquer the Browns, while the offense succeeding some, but not enough points for the W.
With the Browns’ fourth straight loss to the Hue Jackson’s former team in the books, the Browns drop to 0-11 for the second consecutive season.
Here’s what you missed if you stayed away from the television set:
1. Battle of Ohio reignited: The Browns and Bengals have a rivalry in name, but the teams have not been on the same plane as of late. This game was more competitive, with more animosity than a typical game between a 4-6 and 0-10 teams.
The teams exchange plenty of pleasantries in the first half, especially after a cheap shot by Vontaze Burfict on the opening drive, which led to an easy 15 yards. The Browns were quite happy to have the help. Tre Kirkpatrick fueled the fire
But the Browns returned the favor a little later, as Bryce Treggs was flagged for a taunting penalty. If you’re 0-10, you really shouldn’t be talking smack, especially as a second string wide receiver.
Dre Kirkpatrick fueled the fire, and football is an emotional game, but you can’t get sucked into that trash, especially on a run play. The lost yards really hurt the Browns.
2. Run, run, run the ball: The Browns ran the ball well against the Bengals, taking advantage of the hard Cincinnati turf to gain yards on the ground.
Last week, Isaiah Crowell scuffled and Duke Johnson only received a pair of carries, to the anger of many a Browns fan. This week, Johnson was again underused, but Crowell saw more openings on the ground.
The Browns’ offensive line paved the way well for the Browns’ ground game. Joel Bitonio bodied his foes on running plays, showing impressive strength and showing his value to the team. Bitonio makes a huge difference on running plays.
The Browns used a variety of formations and looks to open holes for the team’s running backs. We saw runs out of formations with 2 and 3 tight ends, and also some runs out of shotgun, which is good to see. You need to run and pass out of every formation so that opponents don’t assume a run is coming out of a certain formation.
Crowell showed much better burst through the hole, though he still isn’t as adept at cutting back as his backup Duke Johnson. Crowell finished the day with 16 carries for 95 yards, his best effort of the season. Johnson dashed for 35 yards on 6 carries, adding 32 yards on 4 receptions. That’s 67 yards on 10 touches, or 6.7 yards per touch. Keep feeding this man the ball.
3. Getting shredded: The Browns were burned by the Bengals’ ground game and short passes. The Bengals scored 16 points in the first half alone.
Tackling in the NFL is a lost art. To avoid injuries, players often arm tackle and avoid throwing their bodies into tackles. The Browns are no different from other teams in being deficient in the tackling department.
Going further, the Browns seem to be mediocre at tackling compared to other teams. The Browns were burned a number of times on the ground, as a Browns tackler put a hand on a Bengals back, only for Joe Mixon and Co. to slip away for solid gains.
The Bengals gashed the Browns for 96 rushing yards in the first half, gaining 6.4 yards per carry. The Bengals used the Browns’ aggressive defensive line against them, allowing them to push towards the hole to allow a cutback lane to open. Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey struggled at times to read the hole and square up the running back.
The Bengals’ success at the second level led to many of the years. The Browns’ defensive line held strong on a number of runs, but the linebackers could not pick up the slack on the other plays.
In the passing game, the Browns pressured Andy Dalton on several plays, forcing him to scramble or roll out. The Browns could not take advantage, though, as missed chances at sacks allowed Dalton to throw the ball away to fight another day.
The Browns, while allowing over 200 yards in the first half, stiffened in the red zone. The Bengals did not punt in the first half, but did have to settle for 3 field goals. Credit the Browns’ defense with holding firm on key third downs.
However, the Bengals adjusted in the second half. To avoid the Browns’ pass rush, Cincinnati used more short passes. Andy Dalton tossed slant passes and out routes to his tight ends, dinking and dunking the Browns. A rollout pass to AJ Green granted the Bengals a place in the red zone, and a pass interference on Jason McCourty on third down in the end zone led to a huge Bengals touchdown on a playaction pass.
Don’t be too harsh on McCourty on the call – the veteran barely touched the wideout. It still hurt the Browns significantly.
To the Browns’ credit, the unit strengthened against the run in the third quarter, adjusting with more run blitzes to compensate. As a result, the Bengals only managed 23 rushing yards in the third quarter and punted for the first time.
But at the end of the day, the Browns allowed 152 yards for an average of 5.1 yards per carry. The Browns truly miss Emmanuel Ogbah on the defensive line.
4. Showing improvement: DeShone Kizer bounced back from an awful performance last week, using an improved ground game to build long drives. But Kizer could not lead the Browns’ offense to a win.
Kizer showed more comfort in the pocket, not panicking as often. The rookie showed better pocket awareness, knowing when to scramble and when to toss the ball away. Kizer only took one sack in the first half.
Kizer’s accuracy vastly improved in the warm Cincinnati air. The young signalcaller’s throws arrived at his wideouts with much more precision. Kizer did not throw behind his receivers or overthrow them as often as he did last week.
In disappointing fashion, Kizer’s first three scoring drives resulted in field goals instead of touchdowns. However, Kizer is not fully to blame for the failure to score six. On the opening drive, a negative run by Crowell and an offensive pass interference call on David Njoku set back the Browns. On the team’s first drive of the third quarter, a Shon Coleman holding penalty pushed back the Browns out of the red zone.
The last drive of the first drive resulted in a field goal, as well, though simply recording the points was a win. Kizer showed improvement in the two-minute drill, rallying the troops at the line and throwing well against zone coverage. Kizer exhibited touch on his passes down the field.
Kizer’s running ability both helped and hindered him today. Kizer was forced to leave the game in the first half due to the concussion protocol. Kizer, as we know, sometimes struggles to slide or avoid hits on scrambles.
At the same time, his runs led to first downs and a clutch touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter. Faced with fourth and goal from the 3-yard line, Kizer followed his blockers on a quarterback keeper into the end zone. The play kept the Browns alive and in the game instead of killing all hopes of a win.
5. Save us, Josh: The Browns’ wideouts struggled mightily against the Bengals. Not even the hyped Corey Coleman could do much today.
The Browns’ woes ranged from pass interference to taunting to dropped passes. Kizer found Corey Coleman on a beautiful 29-yard pass in the end zone, but the second-year wideout dropped it. The ball hit him in the chest before tumbling to the Browns, costing the team four points after the team kicked a field goal a few plays later.
Ricardo Louis also dropped a pass right in his hands off a slant pass from Kizer on fourth down late in the game. Yes, Louis was being hit. Sure, the game was decided by that point. Even still, you have to come up with the ball.
Through three quarters, the Browns’ wideouts managed just 4 catches on 9 targets. It’s nice that Kizer spread the ball around to six different plays in his first 19 passes. However, the wide receivers should shoulder more of the burden in the passing game.
Kenny Britt, to his credit, did make a great catch on the Browns’ first drive of the fourth quarter. Britt high-pointed the ball and notched some yards after the catch for a total of 38 yards.
Still, the team’s receivers need to be better. Duke Johnson and Seth DeValve have helped recoup yards with short plays, but the Browns need their receivers to come open down the field more often.
6. Tabor’s troubles: The Browns’ special teams looked terrible today, costing the Browns points and allowing the Bengals to often win the field position battle.
Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor deserves some of the blame, but not quite all of it. Much of the embarrassment stemmed from an injury sustained to Britton Colquitt on a punt return.
Adam “Pacman” Jones danced his way into the end zone on a first half punt return, skipping past would-be tacklers. The Browns missed a number of tackles on the play, leading to the Bengals attacking Colquitt to secure six points. Luckily for the Browns, the Bengals drew a block in the back call to reverse the play.
But Colquitt’s departure due to the concussion protocol led to Zane Gonzalez punting the ball. That did not go well. He shanked the punt, only getting 16 yards on the boot.
Gonzalez also missed a 43-yard field goal, costing the Browns 3 points. Gonzalez did connect on three other field goals, but his struggles this season are well-known. The rookie has connected on 11-of-16 field goals. Only one of his four misses are from 50+ yards, with two misses from 30-39 yards and two flubs on 40-49 yarders.
At some point, you have to wonder if the Browns will consider another kicker, especially one who can be depended upon if Colquitt were to sustain another injury. I don’t like calling for a player’s head, but Gonzalez has not adjusted well to the NFL and at some point, a player has to be held accountable.
7. Crazy call: The game changed on a critical third down play that resulted in a first down for the Bengals in the fourth quarter. The referees’ call was downright criminal.
Following a great touchdown drive by Kizer and the Browns’ offense, the visitors’ defense allowed a pair of solid games before forcing a 3rd and 5 for the Bengals from the Cleveland 40-yard line with 3:57 to play. Dalton fired the ball deep to Josh Malone, who hauled it in inside the 10-yard line, only to be belted by Jabrill Peppers.
The much-maligned rookie, often criticized thus far this season (not always fairly), perfectly hit Malone. Peppers led with his shoulder, only hit the wideout after he caught the ball, and hit him from the front, not behind. Despite his textbook form, the referees called a penalty for a hit on a defenseless receiver after Malone took a while to recover.
Peppers and the Browns had every right to be furious. First off, the hit was completely clean. Malone was in no way defenseless. His head was up and he did not turn or make a cut. Secondly, the call changed the complexion of the game. The Bengals received a fresh set of downs and 15 yards. At the least, the Bengals could kick a field goal. As it happened, something better happened for the Bengals – Joe Mixon gashed a tired Browns defense for a touchdown.
The game of football is dangerously violent for the league’s players. We’ve seen a host of superstars fall prey to season-ending injuries, including our own Joe Thomas. The league should definitely continue to police hard hits to prevent unnecessary injuries.
However, the NFL should not regulate or disavow hard hits on receivers. Big hits on wideouts make a large impact on games. If you have a hard-hitting safety or linebacker, offenses think twice before throwing across the middle, opting for pass plays to the edges of the field.
In all probability, the Browns still do not win the game if the penalty were not called. The offense still had to drive down the field to tie the game, and then score once more again in regulation or overtime. We know our Browns.
However, the ill-timed and ill-advised penalty gave the Bengals a free chance to seal the game, which they did. The penalty substantially changed the outcome of the game, to no fault of the Browns. That’s not right.