The Cincinnati Bengals faced what seemed like a must-win scenario in Week 4 as they traveled to Cleveland to face the Cleveland Browns. Perhaps one single win could turn the season around, as Cincinnati needed a divisional victory, but that remains to be seen.
Still, there was a lot to like out of the Bengals’ 31-7 domination of the Browns, aside from Mike Brown’s own satisfaction of the domination of a rival. Here are the best and worst facets from Cincinnati’s big win over Cleveland in Week 4.
Bill Lazor: Throughout 2016 and into the first two weeks of this season, critics of Ken Zampese were prevalent—and for the right reasons. It almost seemed as if players were pressing at times and it ultimately cost the longtime quarterbacks coach his job.
Cincinnati’s offense has had six touchdowns and two field goals the past two weeks, after scoring just 10 points in the first two games. Turnovers have been cut to just one total since Lazor’s takeover, and it has made a big difference.
Andy Dalton: The biggest benefactor of Lazor’s rise to offensive coordinator has been Dalton. He has had six touchdown passes against zero turnovers since the switch occurred, while obviously looking far more comfortable of what is asked of him.
On Sunday, Dalton threw four touchdown passes and missed just five passes on 30 attempts. Yes, it was against the beleaguered Browns, but it was one of the best performances we have seen in Dalton’s seven-year career.
The defense: Obviously, when you see a quarterback throw for four touchdowns and the team wins 31-7, people immediately applaud the offense. However, Lazor’s unit got off to a sluggish start to the game, including a scoreless first quarter.
Cincinnati’s defense came to the rescue, stymying DeShone Kizer in a number of different ways. The Bengals’ defense allowed just 215 total net yards, grabbed an interception and only gave up a mere garbage-time touchdown. Not bad for a group who just regained Vontaze Burfict.
Showing up in a must-win week: We can talk about how Cincinnati didn’t come up big in huge games (and such was the case), but this was a potential season-changer this Sunday. They have three gigantic games coming up against the Bills, Steelers and Colts, respectively, but in order to continue to talk about the postseason, the Bengals needed this one against the Browns.
It would be one thing if the Bengals squeaked by what seemed to be an inferior opponent. However, Cincinnati absolutely throttled Cleveland in almost every facet and got a much-needed win. Maybe we were wrong on Marvin Lewis’ ability to get his team to step on the gas pedal when it is needed the most?
Efficiency percentages: Football is a game of numbers, and you’re not going to lose a game when you have solid numbers in important, albeit sometimes overlooked areas. The Bengals were 54 percent on third downs (6-of-11), as well as being 100 percent on red zone (3-of-3) and goal-to-go (1-of-1) scenarios.
Young players stepping up: Whether it was Nick Vigil notching a sack and 11 total tackles, Clayton Fejedelem notching his first career interception and/or Darqueze Dennard stepping up again, Cincinnati had a number of young guys making plays against Cleveland. When you have such a lopsided win, it’s easy to point out so many solid performances, but this was a day in which Lewis’ draft prowess wasn’t questioned.
Utter domination in most statistical categories: Aside from the efficiency ratings, the Bengals did a great job in other critical areas. They held Cleveland to just 31 percent on third down conversions, had nine more first downs (25 to 16) and held the Browns to just 215 net yards. You’re just not going to lose with those stat lines.
A lack of turnovers: The Bengals have done a great job in getting to the quarterback and limiting points this year, but the big plays have come at a premium. Sure, outliers like William Jackson’s pick-six last week and Fejedelem’s interception this week prove this wrong, but the unit remains a solid, yet unspectacular to this point.
Even with a 31-7 win, the Bengals only had the lone pick to use as a feather in its cap. Strip-sacks, more big plays from youngsters and other opportunities will need to present themselves if the Bengals are to truly turn around the 2017 season.
Penalties: It was a solid game from the Bengals in most aspects, but some areas need to be cleaned up if they are to get wins against some of the better NFL teams. After being one of the least-penalized teams in 2016, Cincinnati grabbed another eight yellow flags for 66 yards in Cleveland.
Of course, Vontaze Burfict, who made his return to the lineup after a suspension, was under the microscope and an iffy call on him was seen on Sunday. However, Marvin Lewis’ team needs to be at the six-or-less mark in this category to consistently win games.
Burfict flagged for roughing the passer on this: pic.twitter.com/xQgMVdnIdA— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) October 1, 2017
The running game: It’s a weird dichotomy with this team. They have invested three second-round picks on exciting running backs, yet haven’t put the same kind of investments in the offensive line. Sure, we can look to the 2015 drafts and point out the duo of tackles the team selected, but they have largely ignored the interior of the line.
It showed on Sunday, as the Bengals netted just 86 rushing yards between four guys toting the rock. The trio of Giovani Bernard, Joe Mixon and Jeremy Hill didn’t provide much, as they combined for 26 carries for 47 yards. It was particularly troubling that Mixon had 17 of those carries for just 29 of the rushing yards.
The first quarter: Look, let’s revel in the first win of the 2017 season. However, Cincinnati struggled to find its groove, particularly on offense, in the first part of the game. Yes, Cleveland is a lesser opponent, but Cincinnati failed to take advantage of opportunities to put the game away early.