Kudos have to be given to the Cincinnati Bengals for continuing to handle their business on Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns. On a short week, after a physical game against the Steelers and with the Browns reeling at 2-6 going into the matchup, all signs pointed to a possible trap game scenario.
It began playing out as such in the first half, but the Bengals flexed their muscles and put Cleveland away in dramatic fashion in the second half. Let's take a look our best and worst in the Bengals' win over the Browns.
Efficiency on both sides of the ball: Andy Dalton only missed six passes on 27 attempts and while big-chunk plays didn't come often, the offensive game plan visibly frustrated and tired out the Browns' defense. The defense did their part with three sacks and forced over 150 less yards in the game than what the Bengals' offense gained. Though no turnovers were forced and it wasn't a bombs away offense on Thursday night, it was methodical.
Weapons, Weapons, Weapons: Big Tyler Eifert had three touchdown receptions, tying Bob Trumpy's record, while Marvin Jones had 78 receiving yards and A.J. Green had 53 receiving yards of his own. Then, there was the versatile Mohamed Sanu's 25-yard touchdown run on a reverse, while also getting 124 combined rushing yards from Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. With eight players garnering receptions on the evening, it points to exactly how the Bengals have been drawing up their roster over the past few seasons.
Halftime Adjustments: A major critique of Marvin Lewis and his staff while coaching the Bengals has been their inability to make necessary adjustments as games wear on. Perhaps the shining example of Lewis' staff making changes came in the second half against the Browns. After Cleveland scored a gut-punch touchdown right before halftime, they brought the game within reach at 14-10 and things felt uneasy at Paul Brown Stadium. But, both Hue Jackson and Paul Guenther spoke with their units and tweaked their respective plans. The result was a 17-0 second half run, with the offense moving the ball at will and the defense stifling Johnny Manziel and Co.
Late-Down Efficiencies: What the Bengals' offense lacked in big plays, they made up with more than half of their third down conversions (8-for-14) and achieved their only fourth down conversion attempt--a critical early one to take a 7-0 lead, in which they never looked back.
Mike Nugent: The veteran kicker had a nice evening with seven total points. While extra points are still being made at high rates, they aren't the gimmes they used to be because of the rule changes. Nugent made four of those and another 28-yard field goal on the evening.
Bottling Up Barnidge: Eifert has exploded on the NFL scene this year, but Browns tight end Gary Barnidge has done the same. Going into Thursday night, Eifert and Barnidge both had six touchdown receptions and with so many Cleveland offensive weapons out, Manziel would be sure to look his way. Barnidge only had two catches for 35 yards and was kept out of the end zone.
Making Paul Brown Smile: Whether or not you watched the recent documentary on Brown, any football fan knows the disdain the old man had for the Browns once he parted ways with the team named after him. If there are watering holes in heaven, one can envision Brown and Art Modell in the same place, on opposite sides of the bar while watching their teams clash. Taking it to Cleveland on a field named after him had to have Paul Brown smirking.
Officiating...Again: There were a couple more non-calls that frustrated the home crowd on Thursday night. Granted, "homers" think the officials are always out to get their team, but no Pass Interference on Marvin Jones was just one of the more recent examples of terrible officiating in 2015.
Early Buzz on Johnny Football: Last year, the Bengals absolutely embarrassed Johnny Manziel in Cleveland during his first start. The hope was that they would do the same again on Thursday, but Johnny Football seemed like a more comfortable pro quarterback in the first half. Cincinnati didn't have a ton of answers in stopping Manziel early, but the aforementioned adjustments at half stopped what would have become a huge national story.
Jeremy Hill's Struggles: It wasn't an awful night by Hill, but he failed to generate four yards per carry once again. He had some quality runs, including a critical early fourth down conversion. It's more about how different he looks from how it did last season. Is it the reported increase in leg bulk this offseason that has him lumbering around a bit more? Or is it some tentativeness because of early fumble issues? Either way, he's not getting the big runs we saw in 2014 yet this year, but we're seeing them with Giovani Bernard.
Dre Kirkpatrick's Dropped Pick-Six: It's been an up-and-down season in his first full year as a starter for Kirkpatrick, but a big play to really change the perspective was available on Thursday night. Late in the game, Manziel fluttered a pass up and Kirkpatrick got under it, but let it go right off of his hands. The worst part? Kirkpatrick conceded that he thought it would have gone all the way had he snagged it. Overall, credit is due to Kirkpatrick and others for disallowing any Browns receiver to crack 40 yards, but the play was frustrating.