FirstEnergy Stadium is proving to be the home away from home for the Cincinnati Bengals. After dropping its inaugural visit to the home of the Cleveland Browns, the Bengals have now won four straight games there after crushing the Browns by a 31-7 count.
Of course, the question that remains to be answered is whether Cincinnati has finally overcome its early offensive woes, or whether Cleveland is just that bad. But several things did stand out with the Bengals’ first victory of the season.
Kroft comes alive
The first was Tyler Kroft, whose persistent blocking problems put Cincinnati into an early hole. A holding call on the third-year tight end out of Rutgers put the skids on the Bengals’ second drive of the game, but it may have ignited a fire under the Bengals’ backup tight end, who is trying to overcome the loss of the injured Tyler Eifert.
Kroft responded with his best-ever half as a professional, catching five passes for 52 yards and a three-yard touchdown.
In this clip, you see Kroft cut off of the linebacker and make a nice catch in the end zone for the Bengals’ lead to 14-0.
It was the second touchdown reception of Kroft’s career, and the first from Dalton – but not the last. Kroft’s only other reception was a 16-yard touchdown grab late in the third quarter.
Dalton catches fire
Andy Dalton was as hot as he had ever been in the first half of a game as he completed 14 straight passes en route to going 17 of 18 for 215 yards and three touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 156.0, just short of a perfect mark of 158.3. It marked Dalton’s first three-touchdown performance in the past 23 games.
Dalton finished the afternoon at 25-of-30 passing for 286 yards and four touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 146. It was Dalton’s first four-touchdown performance since his third season back in 2013. On the downside, Dalton threw only one deep pass and missed it, badly.
Fejedelem in right place
All of the hard work is finally beginning to pay off for second-year safety Clayton Fejedelem, who continues to see additional playing time while starter Shawn Williams tries to shake off various injuries.
Fejedelem had the first interception of his young career on this play, which sees the pass of DeShone Kizer carom off of the hands of his receiver, Kenny Britt, and bounce right into Fejedelem’s waiting arms.
Andre Smith finds a home
Andre Smith was brought back to the Bengals with the idea that he would be able to take the place of the departed Kevin Zeitler at right guard. Fortunately for Cincinnati, that experiment did not pan out.
Fortunate because Smith is now back where he belongs at his more familiar tackle position, but not necessarily where he had made his living for some many years before moving to Minnesota on a one-year deal.
Smith started the Cleveland game at left tackle and rotated in at right tackle, the position he played for eight years. Smith was Cincinnati’s left tackle for the first two possessions of the second half, as well.
Smith appears to be just as comfortable at left tackle, and, coming in to the Cleveland game, was graded by Pro Football Focus as the 27th best tackle in the NFL. That standing is only likely to improve after his impressive showing against the Browns.
By comparison, Jake Fisher, the Bengals’ starting right tackle, was graded by PFF as the 61st best tackle in the league, with Cedric Ogbuehi, formerly Cincinnati’s starting left, coming in No. 66.
Giovani Bernard makes it look easy
Coming back from a torn ACL is a daunting task for any NFL player, and it is even tougher for a running back, who makes his living by trying to make other people miss, But the Bengals’ Giovani Bernard, who tore his ACL on November 20, 2016, against the Buffalo Bills, is making it look easy.
Sunday, Bernard took a short 3-yard screen pass from Dalton, who was in the face of an all-out blitz by Cleveland and turned it into a 61-yard touchdown scamper that gave the Bengals a 21-0 lead late in the second quarter and all but broke the backs of the winless Browns.
Bernard finished with three receptions for 67 yards and the one score. He also added three carries for 12 yards to an otherwise stagnant Cincinnati ground game, which was led by Joe Mixon’s 17 carries for 29 yards.
It is only the first victory of the year after a dismal 0-3 start, and it came against the lowly Cleveland Browns. But the dominating nature of the win and the fact that it came against a Browns’ team that had shown signs of life in his previous three losses have left Bengals fans feeling a measure of optimism that has been almost completely lacking so far in 2017.