Spoiler alert: there will not be many aspects under "the good" this week. Another primetime game and another disappointing result for the Queen City cats. Even though the Cincinnati Bengals are still in the playoff hunt at 5-3-1 after their 24-3 loss to the Browns, it's how they lost that inspires disbelief in this club's potential going forward. Pretty disturbing for a club that some lumped in with Super Bowl possibilities.
Nico Johnson: From street free agent to starting middle linebacker in a few short weeks, Johnson was one of just a couple of Bengals players that decided to make the Thursday evening trip to Paul Brown Stadium. On the few stalled Cleveland offensive drives, tackles by Johnson on ball carriers were reasons why the Bengals offense got the ball back. Johnson finished the night with ten total tackles, and while the Browns had their way running the ball on the evening, Johnson did a decent job of filling in at the position with so many injuries suffered.
George Iloka: The emerging safety had a pass breakup and eight total tackles on the evening. What I was more impressed with was the gaul that Iloka showed on Twitter and in post-game interviews in calling out the team's performance--maybe even hinting at some individual ones. Some may scoff at his remarks and point to the fact that he isn't necessarily a "team leader", but I view it as a passionate plea to his team to wake up and play at a higher level.
Bengals Honoring Leah Still: Most would say that this is truly the only thing that the Bengals did right as a team on Thursday. The organization brought little Leah onto the field and presented a check for $1.3 million that was raised from her father's jersey sales. The money is going towards pediatric cancer research. Unfortunately, the team decided not to let this awesome moment ignite them as a team and got manhandled from there. An awesome exchange happened after Leah was on the field between Devon Still and Brian Hoyer.
Benching of Jeremy Hill: With about twelve and half minutes left in the first half, Andy Dalton handed the ball off to Hill. Ih what briefly looked like a play that would be a shot to the arm for a reeling Bengals offense, Hill trotted his way for 13 yards and a first down when safety Tashon Gipson hit him from behind and jarred the ball loose. Joe Haden recovered and the Browns were back in business, already up 14-3 before the fumble. In an effort to make a point to the rookie back, Hill sat the rest of the second quarter. It was a more-than-questionable move by Marvin Lewis and Co., given that Hill was the only effective offensive weapon on the night and Giovani Bernard was out with an injury. But, yeah, point proven, Marv.
The Backs Behind Hill: Cedric Peerman had two carries for minus-two yards and Rex Burkhead had four carries for twelve yards. Hill had 55 yards on the ground and a 4.6 yard-per-carry average. Totally sweet call on the Hill benching, though.
Lack Of Big Plays On Special Teams Returns: The Bengals needed a spark somewhere on Thursday, and they had been relying on big plays from special teams often this year. It didn't happen this week. Adam Jones averaged 27yards per kickoff return (still decent), but had just one punt return for four yards. Brandon Tate reverted to his typical return style, getting a long return of eleven yards and a seven-yard average. To top it all off, Dre Kirkpatrick was pushed way out of bounds while covering a punt and ran into Marvin Lewis on the sideline. The play pretty much encapsulated the night for the Bengals.
Andy Dalton: The past few weeks, I added Dalton in both "good" and "bad" categories because of a couple of brief bonehead plays. All that needs to be said is that the worst single-game passing performance in Bengals history belongs to Dalton. Not Scott Mitchell, Akili Smith, Paul Justin, or David Klinger. That dubious crown is now worn by the recently-named-franchise-quarterback.
The First Drive: The Bengals wanted to make a statement on the opening drive to make sure they reminded the Browns of who they have been since re-entering the league in 1999. After a hard-fought first down via three Hill carries, the Bengals were on the move. Dalton sailed a pass to A.J. Green and faced a second and ten. Not liking what he saw from the Cleveland defense, they called a timeout. Hoping to have sorted things out, Dalton dropped back to pass and a miscommunication occurred between he and Jermaine Gresham leading to an interception. Nice timeout, fellas.
The Prime Time Woes Continue And The End Of An Impressive Streak: Dalton and Lewis are now 2-9 in big time games (including playoffs) and the two wins came against a Steelers team that went 8-8 later in 2013 and an Eagles team that stumbled to a 4-12 finish in 2012. While you're digesting that, let's not brush off how embarrassing of fashion that the Bengals decided to relinquish the 13-0-1 consecutive winning streak at home.
The Game Plans And (Lack Of) Motivational Tactics By The Coordinators: Windy conditions, a backup right tackle, other offensive weapons out of the lineup and a quarterback who has a penchant for making some dumb plays the past couple of weeks shouldn't lead up to the plan that Hue Jackson developed. Long-deveolping passes and an overall scheme that Browns linebacker Karlos Dansby claimed was totally predictable isn't what is needed in a divisional matchup. Meanwhile, on defense, they have lost the ability to tackle and create a turnover--two things that typified the Mike Zimmer defense. Throw in the lack of a consistent pass rush and the inability to stop the run and you have one of the NFL's worst statistical defenses under Paul Guenther.
The Dropsies Seep To The Offense: The Bengals defense isn't the only unit having trouble hanging on to the football. A.J. Green, though disregarded in the game plan early on, had a couple of ugly drops late, proving that Joe Haden had gotten into his head. Other players dropped more difficult balls, but those are the types of plays that need to be made to help out a reeling quarterback. It still probably wouldn't have done much good with the hole that Dalton was digging for them though.
Marshall Newhouse: Something that kept running through my mind on Thursday night were those Packers fans that laughed at the Bengals for signing Newhouse this offseason. The veteran tackle had one of the worst nights I've ever seen from a right tackle and it didn't help out Dalton's issues either. He let up a sack, three hurries, and had two holding penalties to the tune of a Pro FootballFocus score of -4.6. And a partridge in a pear tree.