Browns vs. Bengals: 12 Things We Learned from Cincinnati's 23-20 Win
AJ Green would be back in action, and the missing link to this season's most successful rookie tandem showed up in style.
The Battle of Ohio part two 2011 featured the Browns returning Peyton Hillis from an extended absence due to injury, but it would be too little for the Browns (named after the Bengals late owner Paul Brown) to pull off the upset.
Here is what we learned about the Bengals in Week 12.
Timid at First Half
The Bengals looked like Bambi (of Disney fame) taking his first steps awkwardly, as the first half showed sputtering signs of life, but nothing worth writing home (or here) about (aside from Cedric Benson).
Surgical Second Half Strike
Again, the Bengals exploded to life in the second half, scoring 16 points on 241 yards of offense (183 of which was through the air). For a team expected to be run first (and only), the Bengals sure are not looking like a ground team.
Offense Has Been on a Flat Field...
Without A.J. Green, the Bengals offense is limited to the horizontal plane with limited vertical lift. The passing window from field level to the sky is limited to Jermaine Gresham's ability to extend and dynamic route running. Yet this says nothing as far as creative ability to open up the game.
...but Green Opens Up the Heavens.
With the return of Air A.J. Green, the dynamic wide receiver showed why good route running along with great instincts for correction makes Andy Dalton that much more successful (as well as the Bengals).
Said Green in comparing his pass catching acrobatics to basketball (courtesy of ESPN.com and the Associated Press), "I did play basketball when I was younger...It's like rebounding. A lot of it is just timing and going up strong."
The Ground Swelled and Benson Roared
Cedric Benson came back to life with 21 rushing attempts for 106 yards (5.0 average per attempt), along with a touchdown.
Gains of 33 yards on the first drive of the game and 16 yards into the end zone on the second drive showed that Cedric would be sticking around to open of the ground assault to compliment the aforementioned aerial attack.
Big Red Dalton
The Dalton gang continued to excel with Andy at the helm. Showing presence in the pocket while escaping the rush on other plays, Dalton created 23 rushing yards on six attempts.
Yet it was the pass attack which truly showed how far Dalton has come since his shortened Week 1 appearance against these very same Browns. Twenty-one completions on 31 attempts to compile 270 passing yards, exacting one passing touchdown to Jermaine Gresham to tidy up with a 105.6 passers rating.
A.J. Green's return did it all to open the field back up and give the Bengals a more dynamic, multi-pronged attack to reek havoc on the Cleveland secondary.
Mike Nugent continued to show why he is the unsung hero—and difference maker—on this team.
In the unheralded position of kicker (it's OK to make it, but go home if you do not), Nugent tacked on three pivotal field goals to continue to prove his worth (and leg).
Defense Started Slow...
As is seemingly becoming the norm, the Bengals defensive unit came out sluggish to a fired-up Browns offense which scored 17 points with 187 net yards (89 rushing, 98 passing) in the first half...
...but Bullied to the Finish.
...and also a new norm, the Bengals adjusted at halftime and shut down the Browns, yielding only a field goal and 87 yards to the Browns as the offense similarly came to life.
Secondary Still Looked Dazed and Confused
Coverage was still a problem for the Bengals—especially in the first half—when Colt McCoy threaded a very generous needle in the second quarter with two Bengals coverage specialists in the area and looking elsewhere and seemingly nowhere.
Fun Run Defense
Peyton Hillis pounded back into duty but came away with only 65 yards on 19 attempts. Yet the normally well covered middle of the field gave up a big 20-yard scamper to Colt McCoy that showed a break down in the field awareness. All in all, a good showing but certainly the Bengals will need to work.
Injury Bug Continues to Creep Up
In the third quarter, defensive tackle Pat Sims had his knee rolled up on, and while he walked to the sideline (after laboring on the field for a few tense minutes), the cart had to take him the rest of the way to the locker room.
Looking at the replays, it would not be suprising to hear about ligament tears and injured reserve, but as of this writing, no word. (Bengals.com reported that he turned down the cart from the field, but the sideline told a different story.)
Similarly in a scary after the tackle roll on Jerome Simpson (no, not the cops to take him away for possession), the wild child showed the difference in flexibility between a wide receiver and defensive tackle, coming back to be a force on offense.
Conclusion: OK Win, but It's a Win, OK?
Remember: Wasn't this supposed to be a rebuilding year? Now with playoff fever in the air and Bengals fans slowly coming around (paid attendance according to the NFL was a paltry 48,260), the critics are coming out, lamenting a two-game losing streak when a one-game winning streak was a dream before the season started.
In any event, the Bengals need to work on the secondary, get Carlos Dunlap back, get in the game on both sides of the ball quicker (i.e. the first half counts boys!) and get ready for the Steelers in Week 13.
The grass certainly is greener on the other side.