Review of Bengals @ Browns – Game #4
The defense played extremely well and the offense did just enough for the Browns to win their second game in a row. One mistake by Hoyer and the offense and it may have been over; however, the unit scored and kept the ball away from the defenders – especially late. Combined with the Raven loss, the Browns are now back in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC North. I hope they are ready for the short week before their Thursday matchup.
Offense: It was another great outing for Brian Hoyer – the hometown kid put the team in position to win and did not turn the football over. The quarterback completed twenty-five of thirty-eight passes for 269 yards and hit two guys for touchdowns. As opposed to last week, he did not throw the ball to the opposing team –I am extremely excited by his growth over the week. Many believed this Bengals defense was better than the Vikings unit Hoyer faced last week – however the quarterback played smartly and took advantage of situations. A few defensive backs were out due to injury, and the wide outs made the unit pay as a result. I hope Hoyer keeps it up during the season – he will definitely have his challenges in 2013. Should Hoyer play as brilliantly as he has done as of late (including throwing it away when nothing was there), then there’s a fair chance he could be the quarterback for the Browns – at least in the short-term.
Following a dismal outing last week, the Browns put together an admirable effort running the ball against the Bengals. Willis McGahee toted the football fifteen times for forty-six yards; a huge improvement over last week’s performance. He ran hard at the end of the contest, picking up crucial first downs and burning the clock. Additionally, the Browns got a solid effort from Chris Ogbonnaya via both the run and the pass. The University of Texas star had twenty-seven yards on the ground and twenty-one yards through the air. More importantly, he was on the receiving end of Hoyer’s second touchdown. Granted, he did not dominate, but the back made a couple of big plays over the course of the game. The Browns will likely not have an exceptional running attack all year long – however playing efficient enough could be the difference between a win and a loss.
It was much of the same for both Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. The duo led all receiving targets for the Browns with fourteen grabs, 162 yards, and a touchdown. Cameron has been amazing all year long – I look forward to his play every game. Gordon made a couple nice plays, especially on third down. I have been impressed with his play and what he has done in his second year. Travis Benjamin only had one reception, but it was a huge one (for thirty-nine yards) that set up a score. I do not anticipate big games out of him, but being a part of scoring drives is what this team needs. In a diminished role, Greg Little did not record a reception. Unfortunately, I see him more of a special teamer whose offensive spot will be replaced next season.
Outside of a few sacks given up late in the contest, the offensive live had a terrific outing. They have improved tremendously over the last few weeks – even with a third-string guard anchoring the right side. Hoyer escaped out of a few takedowns and was sacked three times, but it could have been a lot worse. Additionally, the unit was able to open some holes for the running attack. The team did not eclipse 100 yards on the ground, but McGahee’s last few bursts set up the team’s final score. It will be hard to find a more difficult defensive line for the Browns to face, but if the guys upfront can play as well as they did against the likes of Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, and Michael Johnson then they should be fine.
Defense: The Browns defensive line did not skip a beat without Billy Winn. The group surrendered just sixty-three yards on the ground and continues to be the strength of the team. Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant each had four tackles; they were around Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis and Giovanni Bernard all game long. Phil Taylor had only two tackles, but also had a punishing shot on Green-Ellis – this really set the tone for the defense. They will have another tough test on Thursday, facing a couple of excellent running backs that the Bills feature. However, if they continue to play this way, the Browns can compete with anyone in the NFL.
Following the injuries to Jabaal Sheard and Quentin Groves, rookie Barkevious Mingo saw his playing time increasing significantly against the Bengals. The former LSU standout did not disappoint – he finished the game with four tackles (two for losses), a sack, and a hit on the quarterback. Mingo also nearly had an interception; his blazing speed was completely on display at First Energy Stadium. Not to be outdone, Paul Kruger made plays from the other outside linebacker spot. He hit Andy Dalton’s arm on third down, causing an errant pass and a punt. He will be relied upon until the injured linebackers get healthy. The two inside linebackers were extremely active in this contest – they had twenty tackles, a pass defended, and put a hit on the opposing quarterback. Jermaine Gresham made Craig Robertson look foolish a few times in coverage, but the former North Texas athlete still had a solid outing.
A lot of the energy within the defense definitely came from Joe Haden. The cornerback blanketed one of the best receivers in the game in A.J. Green and had four critical tackles. It was one of his best performances of his pro career, and he finally got the better end of his matchup with his college rival. On the other side, Buster Skrine made some plays when it counted. He defended three passes and collected the only interception of the game. I am willing to forgo his cushion he gives to wide outs, if he can deflect and intercept passes as well. T.J. Ward continues to play well – especially in run support. The strong safety finished the game with five stops, while Tashaun Gipson had six. The University of Wyoming star also defended three passes and nearly had an interception (on a difficult pass from Dalton). The secondary has come a long way from the opener; the perceived weakness of the team is beginning to shed that label.
Special Teams: Whether he was injured or not, kicker Billy Cundiff had a less-than-stellar game. The former Raven missed a pair of field goals in the first half, but made a huge fifty-one yarder in the third quarter to stretch the lead. Spencer Lanning is putting together a fantastic season – his punts changed the field position regularly. The move to put Greg Little as kick returner is paying dividends. The wide receiver is not dominating, but he is getting at least an extra five to ten yards (than Bobby Rainey did) when returning the football.
Coaching: The coaching staff stated they would not be as reliant on Hoyer as they were last week, and that was exactly the case. They employed the run and pass as needed, and it worked out fantastically. Defensively, they harassed Dalton and shut down the run. This may be the most competent coaching staff for the Browns in a long time – we are very fortunate to see the players get great guidance.