The Cincinnati Bengals regressed as a football team on Sunday. After the offense only managed to put six points on the board, the inept Bengals fell to the Cleveland Browns by a score of 17-6. For Cincinnati, this game resembled shades of the Wild Card loss to the Houston Texans last season.
Multiple factors came into play during Sunday's loss. The end result of the game does not fall upon one individual's shoulders, but rather the team as a whole. Especially on offense, no one stepped up, and no one impressed.
The Bengals—who were absolutely stellar on the road in 2012—are now 0-2 on the road this season and are tied atop the AFC North with the Browns and Baltimore Ravens at 2-2 after the first quarter of the season.
Let's take a look at each positional group from Sunday's game to figure out what problems must be addressed going forward.
Andy Dalton did not receive much help on Sunday, but that is no excuse for the dreadful performance that he produced. Dalton finished the game completing just 23 of his 42 attempts for 206 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception for a dismal passer rating of 58.2—by far his worst game of 2013.
He did not have much to work with—the running game was non-existent and his receivers struggled to get open—but those circumstances separate the average quarterbacks from the good ones.
Dalton was less-than-average on Sunday.
With the New England Patriots coming to town next Sunday, Dalton must step up his game to compete with Tom Brady and Co. who just put up 30 points against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday Night Football.
Is Dalton the guy that can take the Bengals to the next level? The rest of this season will be very telling.
Quarterback Game Grade: D-
The running game was part of the reason that forced Dalton's hand which lead to a mediocre game for the quarterback. Simply put, running backs Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis could not get anything going against the Browns front seven on Sunday.
Bernard had his worst statistical game of the season. He rushed 10 times for 37 yards, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry on the ground. To make matters worse, Green-Ellis was even more atrocious, as he averaged just 2.2 yards per carry while producing just 13 yards on six carries.
All the more telling is this: The longest run of the day was 10 yards—by Dalton.
Credit must be given when it's due—the Browns front seven had a very impressive game. However, with the talent on the Bengals roster, it's hard to believe that this team could not find any way to create room for its running backs.
Who's at fault here? Everyone.
The coaching staff did not make adjustments, the offensive line could not control the line of scrimmage, the passing game was inefficient and posed no threat and the running backs were simply ineffective.
Running Backs Game Grade: D-
Cornerback Joe Haden finally got the best of A.J. Green on Sunday. The wide receiver has dominated this matchup since the two started to square off three years ago. This time, Haden was able to shut Green down to the tune of seven receptions on 15 targets for 51 yards. Haden blanketed Green all day and came away with two passes defensed.
The remainder of the Bengals wide receiver corps was completely ineffective and could not find space against a below average Cleveland secondary.
Mohamed Sanu came away with three receptions for 19 yards—the second most by a Bengals wide receiver.
Dane Sanzenbacher was active and only caught one pass for six yards—he was the only other wide receiver to record a reception. Marvin Jones was completely shut out.
As a group, Bengals wide receivers totaled a mere 76 yards against the Browns.
The talent that the Bengals have at this position is immense and there is no reason for these putrid numbers. Yes, Dalton had an awful day and was horribly inaccurate; however, these wide receivers are talented enough to win one-on-one battles against lesser opponents. They failed to do so on Sunday.
Wide Receivers Game Grade: D
The one inkling of a bright spot on the Bengals offense has been the tight ends. Jermaine Gresham has been pleasantly surprising this season and rookie Tyler Eifert has been as advertised since he was taken in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.
Gresham caught three passes on Sunday for a total of 53 yards—which lead all Bengals receivers—and showed his athleticism by making some tough catches.
Eifert also had three receptions for a total of 39 yards, but had the long reception on the day—a 29 yard catch-and-run from Dalton.
This positional group looks to have a bright future going forward. Gresham is playing his way towards a new contract in 2014 and this tight end duo could be a thorn in the side of opposing defenses for years to come.
Tight Ends Game Grade: B
The offensive line as a whole had a decent day in protection against a very good Browns front seven. Dalton was sacked twice, but those were the only two times the quarterback was hit on Sunday.
The one player that posed a huge problem for the line—and especially left tackle Andrew Whitworth—was rookie Barkevious Mingo. The linebacker totaled four tackles, one sack and two tackles for a loss and was seen beating Whitworth to the outside on more than one occasion.
The line could have done a better job blocking for the run against the Browns. Holes were not opening up and yardage was tough to come by; however, part of that was due to the inefficiency of the backs on Sunday.
Overall, the line had a solid performance. They just need to continue building upon this type of success for the duration of the season.
Offensive Line Game Grade: B
The Bengals defensive line played well, but not as a whole. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap stole the show against the Browns. Both players accumulated 1.5 sacks on the day. Dunlap included four tackles and two for a loss. Atkins recorded three tackles and one for a loss. Combined, these players accounted for five of the six hits on quarterback Brian Hoyer on Sunday.
The rest of the line was solid but unspectacular. Second-year defensive tackle Brandon Thompson has been playing well and recorded three tackles and one tackle for a loss. He is beginning to fill the void left by Pat Sims nicely.
Domata Peko recorded four tackles and Michael Johnson recorded two. This is the reason the Bengals chose to apply the franchise tag to Johnson over signing him to a long-term deal—he continues to be inconsistent. The defensive end followed up a spectacular game against the Green Bay Packers with an average game against the Browns.
Defensive Line Game Grade: B-
As far as sure-tackling goes, the Bengals linebackers continued to dominate in that department. Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga were seemingly everywhere on Sunday and recorded 14 and 11 tackles, respectively.
Taylor Mays has been responding well to his duties as a nickel linebacker and recorded five tackles on the game. However, he is still learning the position and seems unsure of himself when playing at the line of scrimmage.
James Harrison got into the action and recorded four tackles of his own—including one for a loss.
That was the positive side of this positional group. Here's the down side: Browns tight end Jordan Cameron recorded 10 receptions for 91 yards and a score on 12 targets. Cameron found himself so wide open, it was tough for Hoyer to actually miss his tight end.
The trend of Bengals linebackers getting burned by athletic tight ends continues. This has been going on for years now, and Cincinnati simply does not have an athletic enough linebacker to combat this type of player. Expect this to be an ongoing trend for the remainder of 2013.
Linebackers Game Grade: C
The Bengals secondary was completely decimated heading into this matchup against the Browns. No Leon Hall and no Dre Kirkpatrick. Despite the Bengals inability to enter the game at full strength, the secondary was not terrible.
Josh Gordon had a nice day, catching four passes for 71 yards. However, he was targeted nine times, which means the coverage was tight for the most part.
After Gordon, Cleveland's remaining wide receivers did not do much. Travis Benjamin had the second most receiving yards after a catch-and-run that resulted in a 39-yard gain—his only reception on the day.
Even shifty slot receiver Davone Bess only totaled two receptions for 25 yards on six targets.
Terence Newman and Adam Jones were able to step up for the most part in Hall's absence. Safety George Iloka had an up and down day while partially covering Cameron. He gave up some plays to the tight end, but also came away with a pass defensed—a near interception.
Hoyer passed for 269 yards which now puts the Bengals defense on an 18-game streak without allowing a 300-yard passer—the longest active streak in the NFL. They were able to do this with a vastly depleted secondary and deserve credit for holding the Browns to 17 points.
Secondary Game Grade: B
Special teams were rather special for the Bengals on Sunday. All of the pieces seemed to click, whether it was in coverage, kicking or the return game.
Brandon Tate had a long punt return of 10 yards and returned three kickoffs for 60 total yards—an average of 20 yards per return. His numbers were respectable for the day.
Kicker Mike Nugent connected on both of his field goals—his longest from 43 yards out. He was the only Bengal to put points on the board against the Browns.
Punter Kevin Huber drilled three punts inside of the Browns 20-yard line and continues his solid play.
The Bengals were solid in punt coverage as the only Browns return netted seven yards. However, they lacked in kickoff coverage, as Greg Little had two returns, each for 30 yards.
It is very safe to say that the Bengals special teams unit did not contribute to the team's loss whatsoever.
Special Teams Grade: A-
There is one very important note to take away from this game: The Bengals coaching staff continues to react slowly to necessary in-game adjustments.
Despite only coming away with three points in the first half, the Bengals entered the second half of Sunday's contest with virtually zero changes to the game plan.
Yes, they were only down by four points at the time due to a stout defense, but after the offense was only capable of generating three points in an entire half of football against a suspect secondary, one would imagine that changes would certainly be in order.
Not for Marvin Lewis and Co.
They stuck to the same game plan which doomed the team and unsurprisingly only netted another three points throughout the second half of the game.
The coaching staff must make quicker adjustments on the fly to succeed with this type of team. There are so many different advantages that can be created using the versatility of the team's players. However, the coaching staff remains set in their ways.
If the Bengals offense were to create multiple pace adjustments throughout the course of a game instead of sticking with one look, there would be an immediate increase in production. Using a no-huddle offense and tiring out a defense on a long drive would help hide the deficiencies of certain offensive players.
The coaching staff had a large role in Sunday's loss to the Browns. If changes are not made quickly, this team could be in for more of the same.
Coaching Staff Game Grade: D