Football taught me the age-old lesson that comes with the territory of chest-thumping, overboard smack talk which was haughtily displayed within these pages less than a week ago. My tone was mouthy and flippant and I only sprinkled the Browns with the flimsiest of respect. I knew I was taunting the Gods, mocking the force that rules the football universe, describing it as a silly karmic undertow. I've watched enough football to know that divisional match-ups often play out illogically, but I was high atop my pedestal in full throat, peeved by the naysayers. I let them get to me and I am the one now feasting on crow, not them. As solid as the analysis and talking points may or may not have been, I eliminated even the possibility of an upset, and for that I feel somewhat responsible that it happened at all.
The game was a funny one, weird in its nature. Initially everything was fine, but then Josh Cribbs cashed in on a big punt return and the shroud of doom lurked around the Bengal sideline. Next an interception gave the Brownies three more easy points and doom took a step closer. Montario Hardesty entered the game and lifted Cleveland's offense in an instant. The scattered style of Trent Richardson wasn't scaring anyone, but Hardesty took the ball and ran straight ahead, seemingly confusing the Bengals in the process. A couple of bad zone coverages later, the deficit was ten with eight minutes to go and the unthinkable was unfolding right before us. Once Any Dalton threw his second pick—returned for a score—doom began whispering into Marvin Lewis' ear. The sack fumble at the end was the icing and it rendered the Bengals mediocre at best for now.
A lot of this loss is heaved upon the shoulders of Dalton. He didn't play well. The two picks were avoidable and mostly on him. That being said, Cedric Peerman couldn't make his block and it spooked Red into throwing a bad ball on the first one, and Brandon Tate ran an awfully rounded slant route on the second one. Still, Dalton threw too high on a number of passes, didn't look like he recognized a lot of the Browns' coverages, and rarely appeared in rhythm. Andrew Whitworth got beat on the sack fumble, but for the most part, I thought the offensive line pass-protected well. I feel on a lot of Dalton's scrambles, he moved out of the pocket because he was confused, not always because he was being chased. His inability to regularly find safety valve check-down receivers is costing a lot of hidden yards in field position. I still love Big Red as the quarterback, but for all of the intangibly good things he does, his report card does come with some legitimate gripes. My ultimate concern surrounding Dalton and the Bengals is that they attempt to harness his wily instincts and robotize him like they did Carson Palmer. By the end of the Palmer-era in Cincinnati, he had become a programmed cyborg who played with an uncompromising predictability. Last year, Dalton's greatest attribute was his pocket presence and I already feel that has marginally declined here in 2012. I sense he panics more than he did last year and the reason could be because he is asked to do more and therefore has more to think about rather than just reacting to the play. Who knows? He is still putting up nice statistics, but I feel his command of this offense is not quite yet where it needs to be.
As documented, the defense did not play all that poorly despite the big point total. Outside of the Hardesty effect, Cleveland struggled moving the ball, they just benefited from Cribbs and turnovers. Vontaze Burfict played very well and continues to impress. He's active, hard to block and wants to hit people every time. I can't say the same for some of the other linebackers on the team. The pass rush was mild on Sunday, but good enough to keep things in order. Terence Newman has proven himself to be a pretty fearless hitter and rather excellent in run support, but his man-coverage skills are seriously lacking. When random tight ends are running successful out patterns to the sidelines on him, you know speed is a concern. Leon Hall continues to play with good technique but he too looks to have lost a step from an already below-average speed. I hate to keep harping on how slow these guys are, but it keeps showing up. Hopefully Kirkpatrick can alleviate some of this concern after the bye week.
Another player I am hopeful returns is Kyle Cook. While Jeff Faine filled in admirably early on in the season, he is now getting pushed around on a somewhat regular basis. He looks okay in pass-protection, but his running blocking rarely has a positive impact. Trevor Robinson came in for a series and looked to do okay against Cleveland, perhaps indicating a shared concern by the coaching staff about the center position. I haven't read or heard about Cook in a while and have no idea of his recovery, but if he can come back this season, it would be a sizable upgrade along the offensive line.
Lastly, Armon Binns struggled on Sunday and may have given more snaps to Marvin Jones. In my last entry, I mentioned how the supporting cast behind A.J. Green needed to show more pizazz. Binns showed the opposite, and his targets are coming up empty too often to stay on the field.
Maybe next time I won't be so brash about my Bengals support. Perhaps I should remain a bit more grounded for credibility purposes, but above all other football-related things, I am Bengals fan and it bleeds out in my writing. We should have beat those Browns and everyone knows it, but to tempt fate by saying we couldn't lose was a mistake. I must be sage at my post. Lessons learned, I suppose.
Mojokong—week-old humble pie.