There was a lot to like about the way the Cincinnati Bengals played in primetime against the Cleveland Browns. But there also are plenty of things to correct as the Bengals remain a far from perfect team despite their perfect 8-0 record.
Here are the grades for the 31-10 victory against the Browns.
Rush offense: B
The 152 rushing yards the Bengals gained were their second most this season. But on a night when everything seemed aligned to get Jeremy Hill going, the second-year back struggled again against the NFL’s worst run defense. Giovani Bernard provided the spark in relief, gaining 72 yards on 13 carries (5.5) to Hill’s 52 on 15 attempts (3.5). The biggest run came from wide receiver Mohamed Sanu when he went untouched on a reverse for a 25-yard touchdown. Andy Dalton made a couple of poor decisions on zone read plays, one of which came on a third and 2 at the Cleveland 5 and resulted in a 5-yard loss that forced the Bengals to settle for a field goal.
Pass offense: A-
Other than Dalton getting sacked twice, it’s hard to find anything to critique. There were more receivers who caught passes (eight) than Dalton incompletions (six). Tyler Eifert caught a career-high three touchdown passes. It was the fourth time in six games Dalton has thrown for at least three touchdown passes. Prior to that, he only had three three-touchdown performances in a span of 23 games. And Dalton’s passer rating of 139.8 was the second highest of his career. He was 8 of 8 on third downs as the Bengals converted on 8 of 14 tries.
Rush defense: A
Even with middle linebacker and primary run-stopper Rey Maualuga inactive with a calf injury, the Bengals held the Browns to 69 yards on 17 carries, marking the third time this season they have held an opponent under 70 yards. Thirty-one of those yards came on scrambles by Cleveland quarterback Johnny Manziel, which means the 13 designed runs by Browns running backs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson netted just 38 yards.
Pass defense: B+
The Bengals sacked Manziel three times and held him to 45-percent completion rate. The final drive of the first half was the biggest disappointment, with Manziel going 4 of 5 for 70 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown pass to Johnson that closed the gap to 14-10 with 19 seconds left. Dre Kirkpatrick dropped a sure pick-six in the fourth quarter, but it came on a fourth-down play that gave the ball back to the Bengals anyway. The rest of the night the pass rush kept Manziel uncomfortably on the run.
Special teams: C
For the second week in a row the Bengals had a kick blocked. This time it was a punt that gave the Browns the ball at the Cincinnati 37, but the defense kept the mistake from turning into points. The return game was non-existent, with Brandon Tate and Adam Jones combining to average 3 yards on three punt returns. Jones’ lone kick return netted just 13 yards. Kicker Mike Nugent made a routine 28-yard field goal for his seventh successful boot in eight tries, and four of his six kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther threw some blitzes at Manziel early, but when they weren’t working he backed off and let the front four use a more controlled pass rush that, coupled with solid coverage in the secondary, gave the Browns fits. Marvin Lewis saw both of his decisions to go for it on fourth down eventually result in touchdowns. And he won a replay challenge to negate a Cleveland first down and force a punt early in the game. But Darrin Simmons saw his special teams get a kick blocked for the third time this season.