The Bengals defense has been much better since their bye week, following their game in London against the Redskins and Sunday was yet another example of that. Though, the Browns helped them out in many ways. The weather wasn’t nice, but that didn’t prevent Andy Dalton and Jeremy Hill from torching Cleveland’s defense.
A win is a win, though, and it really never seemed like the Browns were going to be able to pull off a comeback. Cincinnati scored easily and quickly to begin the game and Hue Jackson’s squad didn’t get any rhythm going until their second drive of the third quarter. There were three key factors that allowed the Bengals’ defense to dominate the winless Browns on Sunday, despite giving up 169 rushing yards.
Browns early gameplan
Cleveland started at their own eight, 12, 31, two and six-yard line during their drives in the first half. Instead of trying to establish the running game, which is one of the Bengals’ defense’s main weaknesses, the Browns tried to take shots downfield, in the snow.
Not only it was very windy, Cleveland’s new quarterback, Robert Griffin III, hadn’t played in months. With only two reads deep down the field and a defense that was ready for it, Griffin had to scramble for his life or just throw it away more often than not. The Browns could have tried to use more quick passes early to build some momentum and confidence for their playcaller, but instead, they fell in love with his big arm.
When Cleveland went to their running game, it eventually worked. It helped that the Bengals had to account for the quarterback keeps off the read option, but Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr. amassed 137 yards on just 14 carries and both had a few big plays that went 20+ yards.
Cincinnati was ready for Hue Jackson. Paul Guenther’s defense did another nice job and never let any receiver get behind their backs. The wind helped, but no play-action fake worked at all and only a couple of RGIII’s scrambles gained decent yardage.
You can’t underestimate what a healthy and in-form Vontaze Burfict means for this unit. They have been balling since his return from suspension (plus a few games to get into football shape) and the entire defense has been raised by his level of play and the number of mistakes have decreased overall.
The Bengals have stopped allowing deep passes and the defensive line had more time to pressure RGIII on Sunday. The former Redskin, was to blame for that too, but he was never allowed to get into rhythm due to the defense’s aggressive play calling and discipline.
RGIII was very, very cold
The Browns quarterback was off all day. He only completed 12 of his 28 attempts for 104 yards. We’ve already mentioned how he didn’t get many chances for quick hits, but when he did get the opportunity, he missed almost exclusively.
That was with a Bengals defense content to allow short passes for a few yards and let the clock go. RGIII looked hesitant and inaccurate. He sometimes didn’t pull the trigger, other times he just missed badly.
Credit the Bengals’ front four for making his job harder, but most of the time, Griffin had a clean pocket to work with. It’s always going to be hard to be effective when you haven’t played football in 13 weeks, but the Browns quarterback was worse than expected.
Just check out this play. This was a flood pattern which gave RGIII two open targets near the sticks for the taking. He had a clean pocket. It ended up with tight end Gary Barnidge gaining 13 yards, but only after Griffin scrambled left and then right and the receiver made two players miss a tackle.
There were other times where he could have hit an open receiver down the field or on a one-on-one matchup, and he missed then, too.
If there was a moment to throw, it was this one, and the ball should have gone to the far side. Instead Griffin waited too long and allowed the cornerback to get there easily. Again, the wind didn’t help, but when your quarterback is making this kind of decision, the defense’s job is much easier.
Check out the interception. A gutsy call by Hue Jackson, a flea flicker in their own end zone. RGIII had a clean pocket and the matchup he wanted on the left side. Instead, he made the wrong decision again and threw into triple coverage. It’s not that he would surely get the completion had he thrown left, but it was a better look. And, Bengals defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle completely expected the flea-flicker call, which is why there was triple coverage on Terrelle Pryor.
On this third down, RGIII ended up scrambling for seven yards, getting tackled short of the first down marker.
The Bengals did a good job on Sunday, preventing the Browns from hitting big plays down the field and staying disciplined on the play-action fakes. When Cleveland went to their running game, Cincinnati was already up 20, and only a couple of missed tackles here and there allowed the Browns to gain 20 or 30 yards on those plays, instead of eight or 10.
RGIII, rusty after a long time on the mend, didn’t help his team and Hue Jackson bet on Griffin’s strong arm and lost.