The Bengals once again swept “The Battle of Ohio”, as they beat the Browns at home, 30-16. While Cincinnati was largely in control on the day, there were some elements to the contest that continue to bring troubling feelings.
Here are the best and worst aspects of the Bengals’ win over the Browns in Week 12.
The run game: Cincinnati hasn’t been able to run the ball well at all this season, but they got out of their funk against the Browns. It’s now a two-back system for the Bengals, as Jeremy Hill has landed on I.R., so Joe Mixon is getting more touches.
Mixon had 23 carries for 114 yards and added another 51 yards through the air. Giovani Bernard averaged four yards per carrry, while Andy Dalton had a 25-yard scamper. The big guys up front paved a lot of lanes for those three to have success.
The offensive line: We just spoke about their success in running the football, but the unit also played better in protecting the quarterback. Clint Boling had a good 88.4 grade from Pro Football Focus for his efforts, while Andre Smith put in a solid day with a 76.9 PFF rating.
Turnover-free, albeit somewhat-vanilla offense: Cincinnati was methodical on offense, as they didn’t relinquish a turnover, but got into the end zone three times. While there weren’t the 60-plus-yard plays, they moved the sticks and kept with what was working for them.
Randy Bullock: The veteran kicker had a nice afternoon against the Browns as he preps for the big showdown against the Steelers. Bullock nailed all six of his attempts (three field goals and three extra points) to collect 12 points on the day.
Pass rush: Cincinnati’s pass-rush from various players remains the strong point of this year’s team. They’ve found ways to get to the quarterback without a ton of blitzing, which is key to what Paul Guenther likes to do with his defense.
On Sunday, the Bengals sacked DeShone Kizer four times. Rookie Carl Lawson led the way with 1.5 of them, Pat Sims had another, while Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Chris Smith all had half sacks.
Cethan Carter and the would-be Adam Jones punt return touchdown: After having a major drop a few weeks back, the undrafted rookie free agent was again under the spotlight for the wrong reasons. It looked as if Adam Jones had made an early back-breaking play on an outstanding punt return, but it was called back.
Carter was the culprit of an illegal block on the play, nullifying the touchdown midway in the second quarter. Upon replay, it looked like a bit of a ticky-tack call, though.
The defense: Aside from the pass rush, the Bengals defense actually struggled a bit against an anemic Browns offense. Cleveland had 405 total net yards of offense, which includes the subtraction of 34 yards on the sacks they gave up.
The ground out 169 rushing yards as well, with Isaiah Crowell coming close to hitting the 100-yard mark. Kizer had a career day in passing yards with 268, so things need to get cleaned up fast, if the Bengals are to sneak into the postseason.
Certain stats against an 0-11 team: Aside from again losing the time of possession battle (29:28 to 30:32), the team struggled in red zone and third down efficiencies. Cincinnati’s offense was just 3-of-5 in the area, settling for field goals twice, and were average at best on third down, going 4-of-10.
They were outgained in total yards in Cleveland’s 405 to Cincinnati’s 361 and ran eight fewer plays (67 to 59) than the Browns. They’ve been able to skate by with wins despite these disparities the past two weeks, but it has to start changing in this final stretch of the season.
No turnovers forced: This kind of plays into some aspects above, but it’s a troubling one. Yes, they forced one fumble, but didn’t recover it on Sunday, and they didn’t grab an interception off a struggling rookie quarterback.
While the pass rush is solid and the allowance of 19.5 points per game is 10-best in the league, forcing these big plays is what will propel them into the postseason.