Browns vs. Bengals: Takeaways from Cincinnati's 41-20 Win over Cleveland
Not only did Cincinnati snap a devastating streak of overtime losses, the Bengals extracted a measure of retribution for a loss to the Browns back in Week 4.
In the 41-20 victory, the Bengals fired on all cylinders at one point or another. Quarterback Andy Dalton will once again come under fire for his erratic day. That said, he was helped vastly by his defense and special teams.
Cincinnati remains alone at the top of the AFC North at 7-4. With the bye week on the horizon, let's take a look at the biggest points of note from Cincinnati's big win.
Offensive Woes Are Real
The Cincinnati Bengals are fortunate the defense and special teams units came to play on Sunday.
The offense sure didn't.
Cincinnati mustered only 224 total yards. Dalton threw two interceptions and managed a pathetic 93 passing yards. As a whole, Cincinnati only rushed for 106 total yards.
Star receiver A.J. Green was limited to two receptions for seven yards.
This is the third week in a row the Cincinnati offense has failed to get it done. Cleveland has a great defense under coordinator Ray Horton, but more must be expected from a unit so clearly talented.
Dalton and coordinator Jay Gruden have plenty of work to do during the bye week.
Vincent Rey Makes a Case for More Playing Time
Vincent Rey once again had a major day for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Last week, Rey went off and recorded three sacks and 15 total tackles to lead the team against Baltimore.
Rey did not put up sexy numbers against Cleveland Sunday, but he once again had a nose for the football and was efficient when asked to apply pressure on the quarterback.
Rey finished the game with 12 total tackles, one pass defensed and a quarterback hit. While he's only playing in place of the injured Rey Maualuga, one has to wonder how the coaching staff will make a decision once the starter is healthy again.
One thing's for sure—it won't be an easy one.
Vontaze Burict Is a Target—and a Great Player
Vontaze Burfict continues to struggle with his on-field behavior.
Burfict notched a personal foul penalty in the first half against Cleveland. As noted by Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Burfict has made a bad habit of committing penalties this season:
And Burfict’s sixth 15-yader— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) November 17, 2013
Alas, Burfict more than made up for his early mistake. He finished with 15 total tackles to lead the team. Burfict also forced a fumble in the first half, which he easily took back for a touchdown.
Burfict has some growing up to do—referees clearly place him under a microscope at all times—but he's arguably the best player on the field for Cincinnati defensively.
James Harrison Is Having an Impact with More Opportunities
James Harrison now has two major performances in a row.
Whether it's because of injuries or some other factor, Harrison has been seeing more playing time as of late and is making the most of it.
Harrison grabbed an interception in the first half and returned it for a touchdown after a gritty run. A penalty on a blocker would bring the score back, but the point remains—Harrison is making an impact when on the field.
The veteran finished with four total tackles and is making a name for himself in Mike Zimmer's defense.
Special Teams Can Bail out Cincinnati If Necessary
Here's a sign of a great football team—a special teams unit is the one to pick up the slack for a lagging offensive unit.
That's exactly what happened for the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday against Cleveland.
Cincinnati didn't block one punt in the first half—the unit blocked two (the first may go down in the record books as a "deflection"). As Reedy reports, Jayson DiManche blocked the second punt, which was scooped up by Tony Dye and returned for a touchdown:
And now that’s a punt block and a TD - -block by DiManche, and Tony Dye, who got called up from the practice squad, returns it for the TD— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) November 17, 2013
We know Cincinnati is a legit contender, but it's nice to see the units pick up for each other when necessary. The definition of a complete team, all units were able to complement each other when necessary Sunday.
Tight Ends Not a Problem?
For years, the tight end position has plagued the Cincinnati Bengals defense.
Not on Sunday against Cleveland.
Savvy fans will remember that when these two sides met in Week 4, Cleveland tight end Jordan Cameron caught 10 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Despite the absence of key components such as Leon Hall, Geno Atkins and Maualuga, the Bengals held Cameron to six receptions for 29 yards.
It's a small note, but an important one nonetheless. At this point, it's all about cleaning up the little things, and this is an encouraging sign for a hobbled defense.
Andy Dalton Is Impossible to Figure Out
Dalton finished the game with three touchdowns, but it was one of the ugliest three-touchdown performances in recent memory.
Dalton started the game off in horrific fashion with two interceptions. The first was a horribly thrown ball into Haden's gut.
So was the second—but Haden returned that one for a touchdown.
Dalton then turned around and played better the rest of the way to finish with 93 yards and his three touchdowns and two interceptions.
The problem with Dalton is simple—the team never knows which version of the third-year quarterback will show up—to each game or drive.
Sunday, Dalton was bailed out by the rest of his team. That won't be the case every week. At this point, Dalton is what he is, but that's a good and bad thing.
Cincinnati Goes as Far as Its Defense Can Carry It
In a game where the offense notched just 224 total yards, the Cincinnati Bengals once again knelt on a strong defense to pull out a win.
Hat's off to defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer—his unit continues to play at a high level despite the absence of Atkins, Hall and others.
In other words, nothing has really changed in Cincinnati. The offense is a mess. While major outbursts are possible, the unit as a whole is too erratic to be counted on each week. Despite injuries, the opposite is true for Zimmer's defense.
Sunday was simply more of the same. In the past, Zimmer has taken bargain-bin units with free agents from the trash heap and molded them into great units. It should come as no surprise the defense continues to play at a high level in the face of adversity.
The victory over Cleveland simply reinforces the notion the Bengals will go as the defense goes.