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Bengals’ solid run game carries team to win over Browns

It wasn’t the prettiest of wins by the Bengals, but the offensive game plan was successful, as they pounded the football down Cleveland’s throat.

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Something interesting always happens with AFC North teams as the calendar turns to December: the squads within the division deal with playing in poor weather. Even with a strong aerial attack, offensive game plans need to be altered as wind picks up and rain and snow begin to fall.

When the Bengals traveled to Cleveland this weekend, light snow and some heavy breezes came through FirstEnergy Stadium. Even though Cincinnati’s staff has great confidence in quarterback Andy Dalton, they chose to rely on the run to get them their fifth win of the season.

It was Dalton’s first professional game in the snow (save for a few games with light snow) and while he threw two touchdowns without turning the ball over, it was the run game that got Cincinnati the victory. Even without Giovani Bernard in the lineup, the Bengals netted 213 yards on the ground via four different players.

“I haven’t had much experience [dealing with snowfall in games],” Dalton said earlier this week. “It depends on what kind of snow it will be. It could be that cold damp snow that will slow everything down, or it will just be flurries. It depends. It will be great Bengal weather on Sunday regardless.”

It ended up being that slushy kind of snow on Sunday afternoon, which made the passing game a bit dull for both teams. Even though players had trouble with their footing, particularly while running routes, Cincinnati’s running backs came up huge as the Bengals clawed to keep their thin playoff hopes alive.

After Jeremy Hill had a career-high 168 rushing yards against the Browns in Week 7, he followed it up with a gutsy 111-yard rushing effort on 25 carries this Sunday. Rex Burkhead, who is in the lineup in relief of Giovani Bernard, added a career-high 45 rushing yards of his own.

Because of the weather, offensive coordinator Ken Zampese decided to get creative. On Cincinnati’s fourth offensive play from scrimmage, he dialed up a reverse to Tyler Boyd. The rookie receiver took the pitch 39 yards, giving the Bengals their biggest offensive play of the day and setting them up for what would become a 7-0 lead on a Tyler Eifert touchdown reception.

Initially looking at this matchup going into Week 14, most realized it wasn’t going to be a very glamorous game—both because of the teams’ records and the impending conditions. However, sometimes grinding out an “ugly win” in these type of situations is what builds character for football teams.

The run game’s success against the Browns was also of paramount importance, given Cincinnati’s struggles protecting Dalton once again on Sunday. Entering Week 14, Cleveland was dead last in the league with 17 quarterback sacks, but they managed to rack up four against the Bengals. Stifling their pass rush by using Hill and Burkhead definitely paved the way to the team’s second win in as many weeks.

Some have contended that Hill’s strength as an NFL running back is as a clock-grinder in the second half of games. With the Bengals having a 20-0 halftime lead, the team was able to use the third-year back in that capacity, as Hill generated 14 of his 25 carries in the final two quarters of play.

It was the strong group performance in the run game that gave the Bengals their fifth win of the season. We’ll see if the running game can continue to see success next Sunday when the Bengals face the Steelers and their top 10 rushing defense.