ATTN: Browns and Bengals
Bring the big guns. Defense need not apply.
At least, that’s what I imagined the memo to these two teams looked like while I watched the shootout between the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday afternoon. The two squads combined for 61 points during the Bengals 34-27 win. While the 78th Battle of Ohio only went down as the third-highest scoring game of the early Sunday matchups, there certainly wasn’t a shortage of breakout performances and big plays from unexpected players.
Both offensive units were very efficient, and it made for a swift-moving game, but it wasn’t an offensive play that set the tone for the afternoon. No, that distinction fell to Bengals CB Adam “PacMan” Jones, who turned in an 81-yard punt return early in the first quarter to give Cincinnati a 7-0 lead and their second touchdown of the year. Jones’ return was the proverbial gunshot to start a high-octane offensive sprint that would result in 5 touchdown plays of 20 or more yards and 3 of 30 or more.
The two most notable Cincinnati players with ticks in the TD column were WR Brandon Tate off of a 44-yard TD grab and WR Andrew Hawkins after showing some lightning-quick agility during a 50-yard catch-and-run to put the Bengals up by two scores in the beginning of the 4th. Both plays were career-longs for Tate and Hawkins and went a long way towards reassuring Who Dey Nation that the six other wideouts behind A.J. Green can contribute.
Hawkins is slowly emerging as a force to be reckoned with. He’s shown that he’s sure-handed, catching 10 of his 12 total tagets this season, and has a definite Victor Cruz-like knack for Y.A.C. (yards after catch). Tate, on the other hand, really needed the day he had after only recording one catch for 3 yards last week and showing some very poor instincts as a kick returner. His 3 catches for 71 yards and a TD led all Bengals receivers and kept him in the conversation regarding who will be Cincinnati’s long-term No. 2.
Of course, you can’t have standout receiver performances without some elite quarterback play and, today, Browns and Bengals fans got just that from two young QBs who combine for 3 total years of NFL experience. Forget the 4 INT flop last week, Browns QB Brandon Weeden gave the Dawg Pound something to be hopeful about, going 26-for-37 for 322 yards, 2 TDs, and 0 INTs; that’s good for a QB rating of 114.9. Earlier this week, I predicted that the Bengals’ final score would dwarf Weeden’s QB rating; I was sorely mistaken and I have to give it up to Weeden because I legitimately thought he didn’t have this type of performance in him. Not to be outdone though, Bengals QB Andy Dalton turned in 3 touchdown passes and a 128.2 rating despite being sacked 6 times. Both Dalton and Weeden showed incredible mental toughness with their bounce-back performances and, if Sunday is any indication, these two will be Ohio’s beloved men-under-center for years to come.
Lining up four to six yards behind Weeden was the real star of the game and a serious problem child for the Bengals’ defensive front seven. Tailback Trent Richardson may have been wearing the losing team’s jersey, but his performance on Sunday confirmed why the Browns traded up one spot in last year’s Draft to get him. Richardson, who racked up 145 total yards and 2 total TDs, became the first Browns rookie to hit the century mark on the ground and score a touchdown both through the air and on the ground.
Through his first 10 carries, Richardson gashed the Bengals defense, averaging 7 yards a carry. Between the tackles, Richardson ran with a full head of steam and the Cincinnati defensive line simply couldn’t contain him in the first half. Richardson also showed how nimble he was in open space by scoring on a 32-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. Later in the game, the Bengals defense did adjust to Richardson, but only comparatively considering the fact that Richardson still averaged 4.3 yards-per-carry on his final 9 hand-offs.
On the other side, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a very BenJarvus Green-Ellis stat line (21 carries, 75 yards), but the Law Firm reaffirmed that he is money in third-and-short situations. Green-Ellis ran hard all game, only had one play that went for negative yardage, still hasn’t fumbled once in his career, and continued his teams’ collective winning streak when he gets 20 or more touches (7-0).
Yes, the Bengals got their win and that’s all that ultimately matters, but Cincinnati has to be concerned with the growing liability that is their defense. They essentially were eviscerated by two Browns rookies, Weeden and Richardson, to the tune of 431 yards. While divisional opponents always play each other tough regardless of how much better one team looks on paper than the other, it doesn’t bode well for Cincinnati’s playoff hopes if they surrender nearly 500 yards to a rebuilding team. To boot, the Bengals injury woes at defensive line continued when backup DE Jamaal Anderson was carted off the field late in the game. The extent of the injury has yet to be determined, but it does raise red flags because Anderson was the replacement for already-sidelined starter, Carlos Dunlap. Dunlap seemed ready to go earlier this week, but he was inevitably kept out Sunday. Considering the Bengals’ shallow depth at defensive line, don’t be surprised to see Dunlap’s recovery timetable shorten if Anderson is ruled out for next week.
One bright spot for the Bengals defense was LB Vincent Rey, who stepped in for former starter, LB Thomas Howard following his season-ending knee injury earlier this week. Rey gave the Bengals 7 total tackles – including one for loss – and a sack. Unfortunately, the rest of the orange and black defense wasn’t infected with Rey’s intensity, but that’s going to have to change with 2 of the AFC’s elite stalwarts residing in the same division.
Final Score: Cleveland 27, Cincinnati 34
Top Performer: RB Trent Richardson (CLE): 19 carries, 109 yards, 1 TD; 4 reception, 36 yards, 1 TD
–Again, Richardson didn’t lead his team to victory Sunday, but he did have an incredible breakout performance that affirmed his Top 10 selection status and exposed some serious defensive issues with the Bengals.