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Bengals' defense shuts down Johnny Manziel and Browns' offense in second half

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After Johnny Manziel got off to a nice start, the Bengals defense made sure he did nothing coming out of the halftime break.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

While Tyler Eifert, Andy Dalton and the rest of the Bengals' offense are getting much of the praise from Thursday's win over the Browns, it was the defense that was the real story of this game.

After all, we've come to expect the offense to put up big numbers as they have in nearly every game this season, but the defense hasn't shut down opposing offenses with as much ease. That's changed in the last two games as this unit is beginning to resemble that of what it was when Mike Zimmer was in Cincinnati coordinating one of the league's best defenses on an annual basis.

Now, it's up to Paul Guenther to make this unit one that can complement the offense enough to make this team a legitimate championship contender. They've looked every bit like a championship-level defense over the past two games. Last week, this unit played their best game of the season in limiting Pittsburgh to 10 points, the Steelers' fewest since Week 6 of the 2014 season and fewest in a home game since Week 1 of the 2013 season.

Against the Browns though, it didn't look like they'd be dominating anyone in the first half. Johnny Manziel looked like the Heisman-winning quarterback he was was at Texas A&M as he routinely broke containment and made big plays outside the pocket.

"The scrambling (ability), breaking down the plays and extending the plays. He did a great job of that," cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. We knew he was going to go out there and make a few plays, but the ultimate goal was to contain him for 60 minutes. I feel we did a fairly good job of that."

It was frustrating to watch the second-year quarterback, making just his fourth NFL start, move Cleveland's offense up and down the field, but George Iloka wasn't worried.

"We weren’t frustrated at all," Iloka said. "This team is a little different. Maybe in past years we would’ve been frustrated and crawling at each other’s neck. But for the most part, we knew what we had to do. We came in and made a few minor adjustments, and we executed in the second half. But we weren’t frustrated at all — at least I wasn’t."

Manziel did enough to keep the Browns within striking distance at halftime, but from there, Cincinnati's defense put the clamps down. The defense line really ramped up their pressure on Manziel in the second half with three sacks to go with five QB hits in the game.

Cincinnati held Cleveland to just seven yards in the second half until the Browns' final drive of the game.

"We settled down. I looked up and saw that it was like 250 yards (of offense) to their seven," defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. "But that’s our team, that’s what we do. Early in the game, we were a little messed up because you can’t really game plan for Johnny. You don’t know what offense they’re going to give him, if they’re going to get him the option stuff — it didn’t work for them last time — or whether they’re going to let him be a quarterback. That’s why you make those adjustments at halftime, and go back to doing what we do best and getting three-and-outs."

That kind of domination is hard for any team to achieve, and Adam Jones credited the coaches for their second-half adjustments that made it possible.

"I think the coaching staff did a good job of putting us in great positions in the second half," Jones said. "The (defensive) front was unbelievable in the second half, so when you’ve got guys covering in the back end and guys up front rushing, it always works out good. And when the play broke down, he (Manziel) didn’t have anywhere to go. The guys did a good job up front and the team, we played really good in the second half."

The Browns would finish the game with just 213 total yards and 13 first downs, both season-lows for any offense against the Bengals. This was also the second consecutive week in which the defense allowed just 10 points, and they now rank fourth in the NFL in scoring defense (17.8 points per game allowed). This was also the fewest points allowed by the Bengals' defense over a two-game stretch since Weeks 2 and 3 of the 2014 season.

This defense has clearly kicked it into another gear that's making this Bengals team as dangerous as any team in the NFL.