Going into Sunday's matchup between the Bengals and Browns, there was an odd feeling. Most assumed with Cleveland being a total mess, they would fall all over themselves and get beat soundly by a formidable Cincinnati squad. However, there have been so many funky twists and turns in the "Battle of Ohio" rivalry, it never seems to be a safe prediction when these two teams play. After all, divisional games embody the "any given Sunday" motto, and Cincinnati has the Steelers looming in Week 14.
But, the Bengals gave a thumping to the Browns, resulting in a 37-3 victory, continuing the team's plight in front of a beleaguered home crowd. We take a look at the best and worst from the Bengals in their destruction of the Browns on Sunday.
The Defensive Line: Cincinnati's formidable front had a plan against quarterback Austin Davis, who was making his first start for Cleveland. Stop the run early and be able to tee off on the pass rush to fluster the young signal-caller. It seemed like on almost every drop back, Davis had Bengals defenders bearing down on him and the effects were felt in both direct and indirect statistics. Carlos Dunlap had a sack, three tackles, a forced fumble and a blocked field goal attempt, while Domata Peko and Michael Johnson each had a sack. Geno Atkins didn't show up on the stat sheet, but he caused three changes at left guard by the Browns and constantly bullied the Browns' offensive line.
A no-Tyler Eifert Andy Dalton: Some wondered who would do the scoring without Eifert playing after he scored three touchdowns against the Browns in Week 9. They struggled in the red zone on their initial drive, needing to convert third and fourth-and-shorts, but Dalton hit eight different receivers and once again played turnover-less football. He finished 14-of-19 passing, with 220 yards (a 15.7-yard per completion average), and three total touchdowns (two passing, one rushing).
Stomping a Lesser Opponent: When you're a good team and you play a team having a terrible season, you're expected to throttle them. But, Sunday provided an away game against a heated divisional opponent in a contest that preceded a very important one in Week 14 against the Steelers. It had some of the key ingredients of a trap game, but the Bengals played well in all three phases to an utterly dominant win, which is what was expected of them.
Jeremy Hill and the Running Attack: It looks like the Bengals' big back is beginning to finally hit his stride this year, as his performance against the Browns marked two straight quality starts. He had his most rushing yards of the season with 98 on 22 carries and added a touchdown run. Giovani Bernard didn't get nearly as many carries as usual, but cracked his 2015 standard of over five yards per carry on the afternoon (five for 26), while Dalton added a touchdown run early in the contest. The offensive line helped paved the way for those performances, which mostly added up to the 144-yard, 4.4 yard per carry team average on the afternoon.
Clean, Turnover-Less Football: Cincinnati didn't commit any turnovers on the afternoon, while forcing two from Davis. Moreover, they only had five penalties on the afternoon, though most were of the frustrating personal foul variety. Still, any game you're plus-two in turnovers and committing just five flags, you're likely to come out in the win column.
Mike Nugent: Sometimes you don't know what you have until it's gone--or, in an NFL kicker's realm, until a mistake is finally made. Nugent has come under fire for critical misses throughout his Bengals career, but he's on another one of his long hot streaks. He accounted for 13 of the Bengals' 37 points on Sunday, including three field goals and four of the new, longer extra points. Kickers around the NFL missed eight of those extra points on Sunday alone?
Reggie Nelson and Youngsters Stepping up in Secondary: The veteran safety is having his best professional season at the ripe age of 32. He grabbed his league-leading seventh interception of 2015 and some believe he should be in Defensive Player of the Year discussions. Josh Shaw got early extensive time because of accrued injuries, but he suffered one himself. That left Troy Hill, just activated to the 53-man roster on Saturday, and Shawn Williams contributing to the defense's allowance of three points.
The A.J. And Mojo Show: Cincinnati's top two receivers made the type of plays on Sunday that totally showed off their respective skill sets. A.J. Green caught a long ball and fought through broken coverage for a pretty touchdown grab, on his way to one of his most productive games of 2015 (five catches, 128 yards and the score). Meanwhile, his counterpart took screen passes and other short routes for yards-after-the-catch opportunities, but also popped a big-play 21-yard touchdown. He finished with five catches for 55 yards and the score.
Stout Offensive Line Play: As we mentioned before, they imposed their will against the Browns in the run game and allowed just one sack on the afternoon. Though the Bengals only had about a minute more of possession time, it's a bit deceiving of a stat because of some Cleveland garbage time at the end of the game. It has been two consecutive weeks of good play up front.
Allowance Of Third Down Conversions: With so many receiving options out of the lineup for the Browns and Davis getting his first start of the season, you would think the Cleveland offense would have trouble moving the sticks. However, even with the pressure, Davis often scrambled out and converted third-and-longs that initially seemed insurmountable. Cleveland's offense converted third downs at a 46 percent clip on Sunday.
Personal Fouls: Though they only had the five penalties, three were personal fouls, totaling 45 of the 55 accrued yards. Two of those three came on third downs extending drives, which made the early part of the game frustrating against such a lowly opponent. Still, it's hard to get mad at of these, as they are bang-bang plays with defenders going at offensive players aggressively.
Some Offensive Efficiencies: The Bengals were 2-of-3 on fourth down attempts, 2-of-5 overall in the red zone, and 2-of-3 on goal-to-go situations. It's hard to complain about the offense with 37 points scored, but these need to get cleaned up against the likes of Pittsburgh, Denver and other foes the Bengals may face in January.