1. The red-headed quarterback: The thought that popped into my mind at halftime was “Did these guys switch uniforms?” On one side of the field was:
- A team with a red-headed quarterback who couldn’t have hit water if he fell out of a boat.
- Wide receiver Greg Little, who guaranteed that his team would win.
- A offense that kept asking the bum to throw, even though it was running the ball effectively (15 carries for 62 yards in the first half)
- A run defense that was playing off the ball, giving opponents running room (24-81 with 2 TDs in the first half) .
- A pass defense that kept biting on fakes, letting the overachieving QB hurt them (10-16 for 119 yards).
Damned if it didn’t look like Shurmurball.2. Deja vu all over again: A year ago, writing about the 17-6 win, I said:
The Bengals played a very poor game. The offense behaved as if NFL rules required them to win by throwing deep passes to wide receivers A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu. The tight ends were open on pretty much every play and the backs always seemed to be free– Andy Dalton was 12-17 for 130 yards when he threw to them. But Dalton decided it was in his best interests to go 11-25 for 76 yards on throws to wide receivers.
The numbers this year were 5-17 for 43 yards to Green and Sanu, and 8-20 for 50 yards to the other guys. The difference was that the non-receivers weren’t as open– and Dalton couldn’t have hit them if they had been
3. Unforced errors: I would love to give credit to the Browns’ defense for an overwhelming performance that stifled the Bengals. But the Bengals put on a stunning display of beating themselves:
- On the fourth play of the game– after three runs by Jeremy Hill produced a first downs– the Bengals ran what my mother would have called a “Balinese fire and boat drill” and my father (the former marine) would have called a “Mongolian Cluster Fluff.”
The Bengals proved incapable of lining up properly– Andy Dalton was barking audibles and waving players from right to left– and they finally called timeout with the clock about to expire.
- On the very next play, Dalton fired a short pass to TE Jermaine Gresham at the 33, expecting him to break to the outside, catch the ball and run. Gresham not only didn’t break– he just stood there. Dalton’s pass went into the hands of LB Craig Robertson, who ran it back to the 18.
Robertson made a nice catch and run– D’Qwell Jackson would have dropped the ball– but Phil Simms immediately blamed Gresham– and both Dalton and Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson were seen yelling at him on the sidelines.
- On the Bengals third possession (after Jim Leonhard fumbled the ball on a punt return), Dalton was facing a 2nd-&-10 from the 19. WR Mohamed Sanu— who had beaten CB Buster Skrine— was wide open in the end zone. But Dalton threw the ball deep and too far to the left, and the ball sailed out of bounds.
Two plays earlier, he’d sailed a ball to Gresham, who was open at about the 20 and looked like he could have run all the way.
- On the next play, the Bengals had 12 men in the huddle– which is against the rules– and got nailed for a penalty, making it 3rd & 15.
- On the next play, Dalton looked exactly like Brandon Weeden in his prime. On a 3rd & 15, with the ball on the 24, he got flushed out of the pocket and scrambled to his right.
Just short of the 20– four yards past the line of scrimmage— Dalton sees FS Tashaun Gipson and LB Karlos Dansby coming at him, realizes he’s not going to get the first down… and throws the ball out of bounds.
Problem #1: He’s past the line of scrimmage, so this is an automatic illegal forward pass. That’s a five-yard penalty and a loss of down.
Problem #2: He threw the ball out of bounds, negating the gain he had made with his feet. Even if the pass hadn’t been illegal, it would have cost the team yardage.
Problem #3: He was maybe two yards from the sideline and could have run out before the Browns got to him, if he wanted to avoid the hit. .
Dalton’s performance drops his record to 2-9 in nationally televised games since entering the league. In those 11 games, he has completed 226 of 414 passes (54.6 percent) for 2,299 yards (5.6 yards per attempt), a 8:14 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 63.2 passer rating. In other words, he has been equivalent to Blaine Gabbert when the world is watching..
- On his second pass of the third quarter, Dalton missed WR A.J. Green, who had beaten CB Joe Haden.
- On the first interception to CB Buster Skrine, I have no idea who Dalton was throwing to. Since the closest receiver was Little, it’s tempting to assume that the ex-Brown turned the wrong way… but nobody confirmed it.
- On Skrine’s second interception, the 5’9″, 182-pound player outfought WR James Wright (6’2″, 203) for the ball.
3. Unforced errors: The Bengals were charged with 7 penalties for 55 yards, of which 6 penalties and 50 yards were on the offense. Only two of those penalties could you say that the Browns forced them by strong play:
- WR Greg Little: 15 yards (Unnecessary Roughness; a head butt)
- Team: 5 yards, (Too many men on the field).
- QB Dalton: 5 yards and loss of down (Illegal Forward pass).
- RT Marshall Newhouse: 10 yards (Holding)
- Newhouse: 10 yards (holding)
- LG Clint Boling: 5 yards (Ineligible receiver downfield)
That’s the sort of performance one used to see from the Browns. And even the two holding penalties are somewhat less than genuine. Newhouse was replacing T Andre Smith, who was injured,.
Granted there have been Browns teams who couldn’t have forced errors– even out of a substitute. But the Bengals normally aren’t that poor.
4. No help from the audience: In their 17-6 loss last year, (which came right after Hoyer started and won in Minnesota), the Bengals played as if they had not seen the game. Cincinnati put an enormous amount of energy into stopping the deep pass, with the following result:
- QB Brian Hoyer went 3-9 (for 80 yards) on balls thrown 15+ yards.
- He went 22-29 for 189 yards and two scores on short and medium-range throws.
This game was even less explicable. The Browns had played 8 games– all of which Hoyer had started– and struggled in each of the last 3. Three weak opponents used the same game plan:
- Put 8 men on the line to stop the run
- Cover the short zones
- Force Hoyer to throw to someone deep to beat them
The Bengals played the way the first five opponents had– ignore the possibility of the run, get beat a few times… and then bite on every play action fake.
Don’t they get the NFL down there? Or does Marvin Lewis feel like imitating other teams would be cheating? Cincinnati was missing two LBs and a corner… but the Browns succeeded largely because the Bengals didn’t put any men in the box.
5. Rotation: The biggest change in the offense was that Cleveland ditched the “Give Ben Tate 67% of the carries” approach and went back to trying all three players and seeing who was hot:
- At the end of the first quarter, it looked like “Same scheme, different back”: Terrance West had 7 carries for 26 yards and Tate had 4 yards on one carry.
- In the second quarter, Isaiah Crowell carried 8 times for 29 yards, Tate carried 3 times for 12 yards and West carried twice for 9 yards.
- In the third quarter, West went 6-29, Crowell 4-12 and Tate 3-11.
- West had all 11 carries by backs in the fourth quarter, gaining 30 yards.
Maybe I watched too much Lenny Wilkins over the years and have become warped. But letting each guy carry some of the load and going with the hot hand makes more sense than picking a guy in advance and hoping you guessed right.
6. “Pay the Man!”: If this game reminded everyone that Andy Dalton chokes when the pressure is on, it turned Hoyer into a folk hero. Deion Sanders is the NFL Network’s answer to Charles Barkle, in that he says controversial things very loudly, usually without looking at the evidence– which are usually mistaken.
A friend calls him “The Black Terry Bradshaw.” Which isn’t accurate, because Bradshaw is often right.
Sanders, who was convinced that the Browns were making a grievous mistake by not playing Johnny Football, seemed stunned that Hoyer could manage a game and make the occasional good throw. Like many people, he seemed to give the quarterback full credit for (a) the defense taking the play-action fake and (b) the receiver being uncovered.
I remain unconvinced that Hoyer is much better than Kyle Orton or Ryan Fitspatrick, but everyone in the national media will believe he is vastly superior until Hoyer tanks a few big games,