A win is a win, and while the Bengals defeated the Browns to get to 3-4 on the season, it wasn’t the dominant defensive performance we’ve come to expect from the past couple of games in the rivalry. Even so, there were a lot of positives to take from Cincinnati as they got back to their winning ways. And a high-powered offense was one of them.
Here are the best and worst aspects from the Bengals’ win over the Browns on Sunday afternoon.
We all must recognize that A.J. Green isn’t human, but rather an alien life-form: All hail No. 18. Even though the Bengals are off to a slow start and the team lost two receivers in free agency, this might be the best campaign we’ve seen from the Pro Bowler—and that’s saying something. Green torched the Browns for eight catches and 169 yards, which was just 13 yards shy of the amount of passing yards from Cleveland’s two quarterbacks on the day.
Whether it was pulling down a Hail Mary right before halftime that could have been a season-changer, or a one-handed snag in the third quarter, he dominated the Browns. Sure, having his longtime rival, cornerback Joe Haden on the sidelines helped in his big day, but we get the feeling he would have still made his share of plays regardless.
A.J. Green is the NFL's best wide receiver... in our eyes, at least. pic.twitter.com/vXE5x5rWiF— Cincy Jungle (@CincyJungle) October 24, 2016
The run game: Green stole the spotlight, but both Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill had great games. Ken Zampese drew up a number of plays where linemen were pulling and it worked to perfection. Bernard had 4.7 yards per carry on the day, along with a touchdown run, while Hill had a whopping 18.7 yards per carry on the afternoon.
It was particularly nice to see a good day from Hill, as he channeled his rookie form. A lack of big plays from the big back has been apparent since 2014, but a 74-yard scamper for a score rekindled hope for his long-term success.
Brandon LaFell: When the Bengals signed the free agent receiver, would you have believed he would be the team leader in touchdown receptions through seven games? Probably not, but that’s currently the case. Though his stepping up isn’t always directly translating to wins, his four touchdown catches already matches the 2015 receiving output from Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones combined.
LaFell finished with four catches for 83 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown. At his current rate, LaFell is on pace for one of the best statistical seasons of his career, which should pay dividends as the season continues to roll on.
Pass defense: Sure, the Bengals went up against Cody Kessler, the Browns’ third-string quarterback, and Kevin Hogan, a 2016 fifth-round pick by the Chiefs, but 182 total passing yards and two interceptions against Cleveland pointed to doing what they were supposed to on Sunday. Hogan seemed to be a run-first type of quarterback and it worked for him, but the Bengals smothered the Browns’ receivers. The long pass of the day was 21 yards, and emerging star Terrelle Pryor, was held to just two catches for 18 yards.
Pass rush: Yes, the Bengals had two sacks on the afternoon and flustered both Hogan and Kessler, but missed opportunities were prevalent. Sunday seemed like a perfect time for the defensive line to build their stats, but Margus Hunt and Geno Atkins both whiffed on possible sacks. With Cleveland’s issues at center and right guard, the star-studded Bengals line just seemed to underachieve. It might not have been “bad” per se, but just not up to the expectations of the day.
Shawn Williams’ fumble: It’s been a tough go for Williams in his first season as a full-time starter. He signed a big extension this offseason and hasn’t quite lived up to his end of the bargain. He finally recorded an interception on Sunday, which would have given the Bengals an opportunity to really pile on Cleveland.
Late in the third quarter, Hogan floated a pass too high for his receiver and Williams pounced on it. On his return, he was stripped of the ball at the Browns’ 35-yard line and Cleveland recovered for a first down. A nice diving play by Williams turned into one of those wacky plays between two teams suiting up for what was a sloppy game between two teams who had two combined wins going into the contest.
Mike Nugent: After a solid start to the season following a terrible preseason, the August 2016 version of the Bengals’ kicker resurfaced on Sunday. He missed two makeable kicks—one from 40 and another from 45 yards out. In fairness, there was a breeze blowing at Paul Brown Stadium, but against a better opponent, these types of misses will undoubtedly spell doom for the Bengals going forward.
The run defense: Isaiah Crowell, a guy who doesn’t have the most exceptional skills for an NFL running back, continued to get it done again this Sunday against the Bengals. With 12 carries for 63 yards, he once again cracked the five yards per carry mark, but he wasn’t the only issue for the Bengals’ defense against the Browns.
Hogan ran wild on Cincinnati’s defense, both in read-option plays and in pass calls that broke down. His inexplicable 28-yard touchdown run showed a bunch of issues and the trend of the Bengals’ defense unable to corral a nimble quarterback continued on Sunday. His 104 yards rushing was a Michael Vick-esque stat line and with Tyrod Taylor, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Wentz looming on the schedule, this needs to be cleaned up quickly.