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As a Bengals fan this was a tough game to watch live, and I only made it through so much coaching tape as it was just horrible to pick the debacle apart. At the start of the year my things to watch for these teams was left tackle Joe Thomas and the quarterback situation for the Browns, and for the Bengals it was AJ Green, Geno Atkins and Vontaze Burfict. The problem with the Bengals players was that coming into the game Burfict was out with a knee problem, and having watched the game live, the only real stories for me were Andy Dalton’s epic melt down and Marshall Newhouse’s problems at right tackle. I gave up making notes of BE#14 incomplete pass or variations of, as well as BE#74 beaten or gives up pressure, but before we get into that let’s start with the positive things in this game.

One of the things I was interested in at the beginning of the season was the quarterback situation for the Browns, and whilst this is bubbling under, there is no controversy in this game. Brian Hoyer is a competent quarterback who has led his team to a 6-3 record this season, with an overall record as a starter of 9-4. He doesn’t exactly set the world alight, but he is a solid starter who threw for 198 yards on fifteen of twenty-three passes with no touchdowns and no interceptions. The Browns rushing game had been struggling since Alex Mack went out injured, but they managed to run for 170 yards in this game. The interesting thing for me was that at the end of the game when the Bengals had pulled Andy Dalton, the Browns didn’t put Johnny Manziel into the game to get him some reps, and I can only think that this is because they knew what a media circus this would cause, and that in of itself is a little worrying.

However, what the Browns’ QB does not have to worry about is pressure from the right side of the opposing defence. Their left tackle Joe Thomas is seven time Pro Bowler, four time First-Team All-Pro player, and he certainly looks the part. The Bengals pass rush has not been good this season, and certainly didn’t look to trouble Thomas. I’m no expert in line play, but he was always in control of the engagement in pass protection, never off balance and didn’t look like he was going to give up pressure in this game at any point.

Pretty much the complete opposite could be said of Marshall Newhouse who was standing in for Andre Smith at right tackle. There were very few plays where he didn’t seem to be giving up pressure or being forced back into the play, and these were usually when he wasn’t being rushed. He also managed to give up a couple of drive killing holding penalties, and the problem is further exacerbated by Andre Smith being currently listed as questionable due to his ankle problem with the Bengals about to go to New Orleans, not the kind of place you want to play if you are having line issues.

Whilst the Bengals offence looked bad all game, the defence hung in for a while, but it is worrying that a team with starting defensive tackles of Domata Peko and Geno Atkins are ranked dead last in rush defence by DVOA. Some of this will be down to how little Vontaze Burfict has played all season, and Rey Maualuga is currently out as well with a hamstring problem, but there are clearly issues with stopping the run. The only real bright spot in this game was Geno Atkins bursting through the line so quickly he was able to tackle Brian Hoyer before he could hand the ball off. In this age where players come back so quickly from ACL tears, it seems like Atkins is still getting his burst back, and I would not be surprised if we see a resurgence from him next season.

The one player who needs resurgence straight away is Andy Dalton. I have been impressed with the way that Hue Jackson has been running the offence, with a good amount of creative play calling, which included a thirteen yard run by wide receiver James Wright off what looked like normal receiver motion in the slot, and a good looking run by Jeremy Hill who was lined up at fullback. However, the commitment to the run that was so vaunted before the season doesn’t quite seem to be working in practice, and Andy Dalton has been having issues in the last couple of weeks.

There is a narrative that Dalton is not good under the pressure of nationally televised games, and certainly his record is pretty paltry. This game however was the worst, with Dalton finishing with a quarterback rating of two. He threw for eighty-six yards, completing ten of thirty-three attempts with three interceptions, and should have had a fourth when he overthrew another pass straight to Browns safety Tashaun Gipson who leads the league in interceptions yet somehow dropped it. It was straight after this dropped interception that Dalton was sacked twice and I gave up watching the coaching tape.

For the first sack Desmond Bryant straight beat Marshall Newhouse at right tackle to get to Dalton, then on the very next play the Browns only sending three pass rushers, somehow Bryant ended up one on one with Bengals rookie centre Russell Bodine and got his second sack. However, these were the only sacks  of the game and  the problems began much earlier.

The Bengals opening drive finished in an interception, when Dalton threw to Jermaine Gresham who wasn’t really open and Craig Robertson simply beat him to the ball. The fact that the Bengals only managed three points in this game is made worse by the fact that the offence did not really generate them. On their second drive of the game, the Bengals initially stalled and it was only that the Browns fumbled the ball on the resulting punt return that got the Bengals decent field position, but they couldn’t really take advantage of it. The drive was only kept alive, when on fourth and ten, Andy Dalton’s pass to Mohamed Sanu fell incomplete, but Buster Skrine was called for pass interference. The drive continued to falter until finally on third and fifteen, Andy Dalton ran past the line of scrimmage and then threw an illegal pass which fell incomplete and Mike Nugent kicked the field goal. I’d just like to remind you that this was the only scoring drive of the game.

Every now and a gain the Bengals would start a drive with a good run or complete a pass, but they could not sustain anything and this was not a surprise as Dalton kept missing throws, often by quite a margin. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that Dalton actually threw more interceptions, but by the time the second and third ones came the game was already over, and it just added more insult to the horrible performance by Dalton.

The Browns have been competitive year and whilst I don’t know if they will be able to maintain their push for the playoffs, things are looking up in the city of Cleveland. For the Bengals, I said it was a playoff win or bust this season. There have been injuries, but frankly I’m not sure they are even going to make the playoffs. The regular season record of Andy Dalton got him his contract extension, along with having AJ Green to throw to, but if he doesn’t find a way to win nationally televised games regularly then the Bengals are going to remain the team with the longest playoff drought in the NFL.

I think I need to take a break from football for a bit now…