Halloween brings a lot of good times to many, as children get buckets of candy and people of all ages have fun playing dress-up for a night. However, the smiles weren’t aplenty for the Cincinnati Bengals who embarrassed themselves on primetime television.
There wasn’t much to like in the team’s 32-13 loss to the Browns, but we’re going to dissect it. Here are the best and worst facets to the team’s fall to 4-4 earlier this week.
Dispersal of passing targets and the contributions of many:
Given the blowout that ensued and Joe Burrow needing to garner plays from a committee without Ja’Marr Chase in the game, many players were targeted—10, in fact. Nine of them made receptions and while the Bengals didn’t score a lot of points, it did point to the fact that a number of players can contribute positively.
Grasping at straws here? Maybe. A small victory? Sure.
The edge rushers:
They’re still lacking consistency in the pass-rush department, but Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard remain warriors. Both are taking a lot of snaps and are seemingly still feeling effects from the long 2021 season.
Hendrickson briefly left the game because of a shot to his back, while Hubbard had postgame x-rays (negative) on his hand. Both combined for 1.5 sacks, 14 total tackles and three quarterback hits. Joseph Ossai also chipped in with three tackles and a hit on Jacoby Brissett.
Where were the rush attempts?:
Coming into this contest, Cleveland’s defense was not good against the run. To this point, they have allowed 13 touchdowns and a 4.6 yards-per-carry average.
With Chase out, the defense continuing to lose pieces and some of Joe Mixon’s best career performances coming against the Browns and the team not wanting Nick Chubb to have the ball in his hands for sustained Cleveland drives, one would have thought this would be a game to show a little more balance—especially early when the game was still in hand.
Mixon and the run game has struggled this year, yes, but eight carries for their go-to back? And, if you weren’t confident in him finding holes, what about Samaje Perine and/or Chris Evans? The latter showed play-making ability on the very first drive with a 26-yard grab...
Knowing the key players to contain and failing to do so:
With Brissett under center, this game was all about Nick Chubb and Myles Garrett. Find a way to contain them and limit their respective impacts (you won’t stop them completely) and you walk out of Cleveland with a victory.
In case you missed it, these were Chubb’s numbers against the Bengals heading into Monday night:
Garrett has also routinely been a Bengals killer, too. So, what happened?
Chubb notched yet another 100-yard, multi-touchdown performance against Cincinnati and Garrett wrecked the offense to the tune of 1.5 sacks and a pass defended that led to an interception, changing the trajectory of the game.
Some players are too good to truly be taken out of the equation, but Cincinnati knows the the villains in this division, namely those two Browns players, T.J. Watt and Mark Andrews. Yet, they routinely have major performances against the Bengals.
Divisional loss to a backup quarterback, who had a career day:
Depending on your expectations of Deshaun Watson, who hasn’t played football in about a year and a half, this matchup against the Browns was supposed to provide some relief. Brissett is a capable quarterback and solid spot starter, but Cincinnati had to feel like they had the upper hand in a game against Cleveland’s backup quarterback.
Instead, Brissett responded with some of the highest passing yards (278) and best quarterback rating (133.7) of his career in a single game. Yes, the Bengals had personnel attrition on defense and Brissett is better than your average backup, but this still felt like a very favorable matchup for the Bengals.
If there’s one of the three facets the Bengals can seemingly always rely upon in games, it’s the mix of veteran steadiness, youthful talent and astute coaching from Darrin Simmons in the special teams group. Unfortunately, Halloween’s tricks haunted the group on Monday night.
Evan McPherson missed a 47-yard attempt and an extra point, while Kevin Huber managed a subpar 36.8 yards per punt, with only one getting inside the Browns’ 20-yard line. Evans, who “has his role” with the team, also managed just 18.7 yards per kick return.
A complete lack of “complementary football”—particularly by the offense and special teams:
There’s a concept that some of us who write about football and the Cincinnati Bengals in “complementary football”. Essentially, there are a couple of premises with it: respective units (offense, defense, special teams) picking each other up when they falter, and/or those units going for the jugular when another makes a big play.
Case in point: Cincinnati’s defense allowed just 11 points to the Browns on their home field, despite the offense and special teams committing two turnovers and missing a field goal. Lou Anarumo’s unit forced a missed field goal, an interception, a fumble and a punt before those two scoring possessions to end the half.
When you have Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon and McPherson, you should be able to take advantage of those opportunities. Particularly against a Browns team sporting a backup quarterback and missing star cornerback Denzel Ward.
0-3 in the AFC North:
While it’s true that the Bengals have an opportunity to get to the same record they had at the bye at an identical time last year with a win over Carolina this week (potentially getting to 5-4), there are stark differences in how they can get there. Namely, Cincinnati had two dominating wins over the Steelers and Ravens under their belt in the beginning of the year in 2021.
Now, Cincinnati needs to rely upon likely winning out in the back half of their schedule against each of their division rivals. Two of the games are at home, but these pesky Browns will once again provide a big test.
With wins coming at a premium and the NFL having a logjam of .500-ish teams (including within the AFC North), Cincinnati’s best shot at the postseason is winning the division once again. They’ll need to channel some big energy to get the job done.
Complete statistical disparity:
The Browns vastly out-dueled the Bengals in so many statistical categories in the Monday night loss. Cleveland had nine more first downs (24 to 15), were 22% better on third down, outgained Cincinnati by 211 total yards and had the ball 13:30 more than the Bengals.
The most damning and dominating of statistics? Cincinnati was out-rushed 172 yards to 36. Regardless of who your quarterbacks are on either team, the AFC North always brings a physical brand of football and that column speaks volumes.