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What We Learned: Bengals vs Browns

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Did the Bengals eliminate themselves from the playoffs on Thursday night? Sadly, I believe so. Here is what else we learned from Thursday nights debacle.

Andy Lyons

One word comes to mind when I think of Thursday night's game - Dumpster Fire.

A Marvin Lewis team came out flat, uninspired and lacking energy in a big game...again

Every time the Bengals play in a big game - whether on primetime, in the playoffs or simply during a big matchup (see week 6 against the Colts) - I find myself saying the same thing: "they look flat, unprepared and lack energy." That is on coaching.

During the Marvin Lewis era, the Bengals are 6-14 in primetime/playoff games. Those numbers have stretched across four defensive coordinators, three offensive coordinators and three quarterbacks. The only consistent aspect of the Bengals primetime/playoff woes is the head man: Marvin Lewis.

In the first five minutes of Thursday night's game, the Bengals burned a timeout, threw an interception on a "miscommunication" and were penalized for 12 men in the huddle. The only thing missing was a poorly used challenge. I would say I was surprised by the start....but I wasn't.

The Bengals playoff chances just took a huge hit

5-3-1 doesn't seem like an insurmountable record, but the way I see it, the Bengals will not get more than nine wins...and even that is a stretch. With road games remaining against the Saints and Steelers and a home game against the Broncos (another primetime game), I have all three chalked up as losses.

Their other four games include three games I see as 50-50 at best - road games against the Texans and Browns and a home game against the Steelers. If they do lose to the Saints and Broncos and split with the Steelers, the best they can do is 9-6-1 and with 11 teams in the AFC above .500, nine wins is unlikely to get them to the playoffs.

Andy Dalton was indefensible

I have long been a defender of Andy Dalton. I have never been sold on him as a franchise quarterback, but I have always believed he has been unfairly criticized. Even I couldn't defend his play on Thursday. According to Stats, Inc., Dalton became just the fifth quarterback since 1960 to have 30+ pass attempts and a passer rating of 2.0 or less. Was Dalton the only problem? Absolutely not - we will get to that later. But he was the biggest problem.

Primetime or not, that was arguably the worst quarterback performance I have ever seen, and for someone who remembers the 1990's and early 2000's, that is saying a lot. 10/33 (30 percent), 86 yards, 2.6 YPA, zero touchdowns, three interceptions, 4.3 QBR and a 2.0 passer rating...and those numbers don't even tell the whole story! Dalton threw a pass from four yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He threw a pick on the opening drive deep in his own territory to put his team in an early 7-0 hole and take the crowd out of the game (yes the interception was on Gresham, but the pass had no business being thrown). He overthrew guys all night long and should have had five interceptions. And most disturbing was how he looked completely overwhelmed and shell-shocked all night - something that surprised me after he played well in New England during the Bengals Week 4 Sunday night game.

Regardless, Dalton is now 2-9 in primetime/playoff games with a 54.5 completion percentage, 209.0 YPG, 5.6 YPA, 8 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a 63.2 passer rating. While it is true that primetime games count just the same as any other game, primetime games are against good teams, the type of teams you have to beat if you want to win a championship. That is why these stats are relevant...and disturbing.

Jermaine Gresham was to blame for the first interception

Dalton will get credited for the interception that started the Bengals tailspin on Thursday, and while the pass should never have been thrown, make no mistake about it, that interception was on Gresham. Gresham hung Dalton out to dry by stopping his route...something he did in Week 1 against the Ravens. With so many routes based on timing and correctly reading coverages the same as your quarterback, a quarterback has to be able to trust his receivers to run the route and read the coverage correctly. If they aren't on the same page, interceptions happen.

A.J. Green laid another egg in a big game...yet will escape criticism

I will delve into this later this week, but I am starting to call A.J. Green "Houdini" for the way he not only disappears in big games, but also how he manages to disappear under the radar of fan (and media) criticism. Dalton haters cling to their self-created belief that Dalton's numbers are inflated because of A.J. Green and that Green is being "wasted" with a quarterback like Dalton. But, last I checked, Green has never helped Dalton in a big game. Never. While it may not have mattered on Thursday, Green did it again.

Under the big lights at Paul Brown Stadium, when his team could have used him, Green had three catches for 23 yards and was out performed by the likes of Jermaine Gresham, Miles Austin, Gary Barnidge, Travis Benjamin and Taylor Gabriel. Yet, while fans and media scrambled all over themselves to bury Andy Dalton, they seem to forget that Green's stat line would have read five catches for something more than 23 yards if Green caught the two balls Dalton banked off his hands. Green only had five catchable passes thrown his way and he dropped two of those - or 40 percent - a rate about as bad as Dalton's completion percentage. Remember, this is a guy who just this summer was voted number nine on the NFL Top 100 players list - a list Andy Dalton was not on. Guys like that aren't supposed to disappear in big games, they are supposed to excel. Guys of that caliber don't get free passes for not showing up in a big game, let alone not showing up for a big game EVER.

Remember how we jumped on Dalton for his interceptions in the Jaguars game? Remember how Green fumbled on the goal line and lined up off sides (negating his own touchdown)? I didn't hear boo about it from the fans or media. Don't get me wrong, I like Green, but if we are going to criticize Dalton when he fails (criticism which is warranted); we cannot let Green get a pass for the same failures. This Bengals team has the same primetime/playoff record with Green as it does with Dalton.

The Bengals lack leadership

I said it after the Colts game and I will say it again. Teams with leaders don't wilt in big games like the Bengals have...three times. Much of that is on Dalton, but it also has to be spread to guys like Whitworth (the O-Line was terrible), Green (drops), Geno Atkins and Domata Peko (D-Line was pushed around) and Newman, Nelson, Jones (secondary was abused by a weak corps of receivers and tight ends).

Hue Jackson dialed up another terrible game plan

I couldn't have been happier when Jay Gruden left this offseason and the Bengals hired Hue Jackson. Through the first five games, I was feeling good about Hue and his offense. However, in two of their last four games (Indy and Cleveland) Hue has dialed up game plans that make Bob Bratkowski scratch his head.

Coming into the game, the Browns run defense was tied with the Bengals for 30th in the NFL surrendering 139.6 YPG. The Browns ran for 170 yards while the Bengals managed just 86 yards. In fact, in a game that was close most of the night and saw his quarterback struggling in weather conditions perfectly suited for the run - cold and wet with bouts of swirling wind - Hue called just 19 designed runs. 19 F@$&ing runs?

Adding more WTF to the Thursday dumpster fire that was the Cincinnati Bengals, only 12 of those runs went to his big rookie running back, Jeremy Hill, who was coming off a 154 yard, two touchdown outing against the Jaguars. Yes, Hill had a huge and inexcusable fumble, but in his 12 carries, he was averaging 4.6 YPA - or 2.0 yards more than Dalton was averaging per throw - so give him the damn ball Hue!

Marshall Newhouse is not a starting offensive tackle

Packers fans were happy to see Newhouse go and Thursday was a perfect display why. While Dalton was bad on Thursday, a lot of that can be attributed to the pressure that was constantly in his face, much of which was being surrendered by Rod Jones, er, Marshall Newhouse. Andre Smith has not had a good year, but even a bad Andre Smith is 10 times better than Marshall Newhouse.

The Bengals secondary looked like amateurs against a who's who wide receiver corps

The Bengals featured five first round picks in their secondary on Thursday night and the Browns were missing Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron and Andrew Hawkins. Yet, despite playing at home, a place where they were 13-0-1 in their last 14 regular season games, the Bengals were consistently beat by Miles Austin, Travis Benjamin, Taylor Gabriel and Gary Barnidge. Who you ask? Exactly.

While I wasn't surprised that a Bengals defense made another no name tight end look like Tony Gonzalez, I found myself constantly yelling at the screen about the amount of cushion the Bengals corners were giving the Browns wide receivers. Were they afraid to get beat deep, in the wind, by one of these guys? Can you imagine what that game would have looked like if the Browns did have Gordon, Cameron and Hawkins?

The Bengals run defense is embarrassing

At some point you can't use injuries as an excuse. The Browns defense had a ton of injuries too and they played just fine. These players are all professional football players and to give up 170 yards on the ground to anyone, let alone a team that came into the game averaging 1.9 YPA in their last three games, is enough to question these players manhood.

Oh, and those three teams that held the Browns to a combined 1.9 YPA? The Jaguars, Raiders and Buccaneers. The three worst teams in the league with a combined 2-23 record.

Paul Guenther's job should not be safe

After the first three games I was singing his praise. My singing has stopped and the tune is very different. This defense went from third overall and fifth against the run in 2013 to 30th and 31st respectively in 2014...and don't give me injuries. The 2013 squad was without Emmanuel Lemur for the whole year, did not have Darqueze Dennard and lost Leon Hall and Geno Atkins for half the year.

Watching this team trying to stop the run is embarrassing. Starting with the New England game, the Bengals run defense has surrendered an average of 157.8 YPG over their last six games (220, 147, 171, 107, 132, 170) and now face top 13 rushing attacks in five of their next seven games (Houston, New Orleans, Pittsburgh (2), Cleveland), four of which are on the road.

Thursday night football is not good football

This has nothing to do with the Bengals losing; it has everything to do with the football not being good. Most of the games are simply not competitive and many players who would otherwise play on Sundays end up sitting out of the game because of it being on Thursday. Don't get me wrong, I love having NFL games to watch on Thursday, but from a quality of product standpoint, it is lacking. If the NFL wants games every Thursday, which they clearly do, they should provide teams a second bye week. Each team should have a bye week before their Thursday night game. Doing so would provide healthier teams on Thursday nights, and presumably more entertaining games to watch.

Greg Little should be unemployed by the time this article runs

"Little" is exactly what he has provided the Bengals since he was signed prior to Week 7. Since joining the Bengals he has continued his career of batting down passes and now he is getting 15 yard penalties for head butting. Dane Sanzenbacher can provide this team with more than Little can.

Cleveland may have a quarterback dilemma on their hands in 2015

Brian Hoyer is now 9-3 as a starter and becomes a free agent at the end of the year. The Browns also have a highly touted first round pick sitting behind him. Hoyer has played well enough to earn the starting position and a decent contract, but will the Browns give it to him?