Rushing offense: C
It was another day of plodding for Bengals backs as the team averaged just 3.4 yards per rush, including a mere 2.2 in the first half with 20 yards on nine carries. It’s now been 14 games since the team has had a 100-yard rusher (BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 106 at Philadelphia on Dec. 13 last year). On the plus side, Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard were strong in the fourth quarter after the Browns had closed to within 31-20. Green-Ellis averaged 5.4 yards on seven carries in the final stanza, and Bernard went for 6.0 a pop on his four rushes.
Passing offense: D+
Andy Dalton threw interceptions to Cleveland’s Joe Haden on successive passes in the first quarter, with the second one resulting in a 24-yard return for a touchdown. The score put the Bengals in 13-0 hole that they probably would not have been able to overcome had the offense not been bailed out by the defense and special teams. The unit’s grade gets a boost from wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, who executed a double pass perfectly with a beautiful, across-the-field throw to Giovani Bernard for a 25-yard gain that set up the go-ahead touchdown. Both of Dalton’s first two TD passes were excellent throws, but they also were rare on a day when he was 13 of 27 for 93 yards and a passer rating of 62.7 despite good pass protection that kept him from being sacked for the first time since Week 2.
Rushing defense: B
The Bengals allowed 102 yards to an rushing offense that was ranked 26th in the league and averaging just 81.6 yards per game. Cleveland went for 5.4 yards per rush Sunday, although that number was inflated by Chris Ogbonnaya’s 43-yard run midway through the first quarter. After the Ogbonnaya play, the Browns gained only 58 yards on 15 carries (3.9) over the final 3 ½ quarters.
Passing defense: B+
Hard to earn an A when you allow a 74-yard touchdown, as Dre Kirkpatrick did against Josh Gordon in the third quarter, but that really was the only blemish on a day when the Bengals had three interceptions, 15 passes defensed, four sacks and nine quarterback hits against Jason Campbell. Cincinnati kept Campbell under 50 percent passing (27 of 56) and held the Browns to 4 of 18 third-down conversions. The three interceptions were the most since Dec. 24, 2011, when the Bengals picked off three passes by Arizona’s John Skelton.
Special teams: A
The special teams were the highlight of the day by far. Rookie Jayson DiManche blocked a punt that Tony Dye, who was making his NFL debut, returned 24 yards for a touchdown, and rookie Shawn Williams got his hands on another Lanning effort, resulting in a 9-yard punt that set up the go-ahead score. With time running out in the first half and the Bengals needing a good return for a chance at more points, Adam Jones gave them 27 yards to set up Mike Nugent’s 41-yard field goal with 1 second left before the break. Nugent was a perfect 2 for 2 on his field goal tries, and Kevin Huber averaged 45.3 yards per punt, including a season-long 66-yarder. The coverage units also were strong, limiting Cleveland to a 14.0-yard average on three kick returns and an 8.3 mark on three punt returns.
It was a not a good sign to see to see an offensive game plan fail to show any real signs of improvement from the first loss to Cleveland in Week 4. But the defensive game plan was as solid as ever despite not having much film to work with as Browns quarterback Jason Campbell made just his third start with the team. Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons continues to work magic with a revolving cast of youngsters. While it’s true the players get most of the credit for the big plays in the record-breaking second quarter, the coaching staff gets some credit for keeping the adversity from snowballing after falling behind 13-0 on the heels of back-to-back overtime losses.