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Analysis

Bengals 31, Browns 7: The breakdown — thumbs up, thumbs down, the matchups

THUMBS UP

Andy Dalton, Bengals quarterback

He found the matchups he wanted, threw the ball where he wanted and got the win his team needed. The Bengals entered 0-3, but Dalton picked apart Cleveland’s defense to change that.

Dalton went 25-for-30 for 286 yards, four touchdowns and a 146.0 rating. He was 17-for-18 for 215 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. The only incompletion was on a screen pass. Dalton hit receiver A.J. Green for a 7-yard score, tight end Tyler Kroft for a 3-yarder, running back Giovani Bernard for a 61-yarder and Kroft for a 16-yarder.

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“I feel like I got into a good rhythm and was seeing things well,” Dalton said. “I was able to get the ball to different guys.”

Dalton got off to an awful start as the Bengals didn’t score a touchdown in the first two games. He’s changed the course of his season the last two weeks, going 46-for-57 (81 percent) for 498 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions.

“I feel we’ve had a good opportunity to hit on some plays and we’ve been hitting them,” he said. “We just have to keep scoring touchdowns.”

THUMBS DOWN

Gregg Williams, Browns defensive coordinator

First, the disclaimer: The Browns were without No. 1 pick Myles Garrett at defensive end, outside linebacker Jamie Collins and defensive tackle Danny Shelton.

But Williams, with his colossal ego, prides himself on being able to succeed with anyone. He believes he can outscheme and outwit his counterpart. He failed miserably against the Bengals and recently promoted offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. The Browns couldn’t stop Dalton, Kroft or Green, and three plays illustrated the difficult day for Williams.

On third-and-6 from the 7-yard line to start the second quarter, Williams dialed up a cornerback blitz. Dalton saw Briean Boddy-Calhoun coming, switched to the correct protection and found Green wide open in the corner of the end zone after rookie free safety Jabrill Peppers was left in man coverage.

“We were in a zero blitz, and he got matched up on him,” coach Hue Jackson said. “That is going to happen sometimes.”

The next touchdown came after Kroft caught a 21-yarder on third-and-15 from the Cincinnati 27-yard line. He ran open down the left seam.

“It was one of those things that was a good design for their coverage and we were able to convert,” Dalton said.

The backbreaker came in the final two minutes of the half. Williams brought a double blitz from the left with safety Derrick Kindred and linebacker Joe Schobert, and Dalton threw a screen to Bernard in the vacated area. He went 61 yards and was never touched.

“I know Gregg’s probably not going to sleep,” cornerback Jamar Taylor said.

PLAYS OF THE GAME

The momentum was there for the seizing. A lead, for the first time this season, was within reach.

They slipped through the Browns’ fingers.

Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah sacked Dalton, stripped him and recovered the fumble to end Cincinnati’s first possession. The offense took over at the Cincinnati 30-yard line.

Isaiah Crowell rushed for 5 yards on first down then lost 5 on second down. A third-down pass to receiver Kenny Britt would’ve picked up a first down and extended the drive, but Britt slipped and the ball went off his hands.

Rookie Zane Gonzalez missed a 48-yard field goal, and it was all downhill from there.

“We would like for the offense to go out there and score once we take the ball away,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said. “But at the end of the day, man, it’s football, we made a play on the ball, their defense made a play.”

STAT OF THE GAME

0

Seconds the Browns have led this season. The last team to start the season with a longer such stretch was the Houston Texans in 2005, when they didn’t lead for the first six games.

QUOTE OF THE GAME

“We could win next week, and it’d be big for us. And who says we can’t win the rest of them? We’ve just got to come ready to work. There can’t be no excuses, no explanations, we’ve just got to come ready.” — Browns cornerback Jamar Taylor

 

MATCHUPS

Offense

The Browns didn’t score until 1:54 remained. They managed 215 yards total, 118 passing from starting quarterback DeShone Kizer. Receiver Kenny Britt turned a catch into an interception.

Quarterback Andy Dalton, tight end Tyler Kroft and receiver A.J. Green carried the load for the Bengals.

Edge: Bengals

Defense

Three straight touchdowns allowed in the second quarter decided the game. Big plays and end-of-half touchdowns continue to haunt the Browns.

Cincinnati nearly pitched a shutout, which is tough to do in the NFL. The pass rush harassed Kizer all day and forced coach Hue Jackson to lift him for his well-being.

Edge: Bengals

Special teams

Zane Gonzalez missed a 48-yard field goal that would’ve given the Browns an early lead. Cleveland let Adam Jones, 34, return a punt 40 yards. Jabrill Peppers can’t find a comfort zone and averaged 1.3 yards on three punt returns.

Edge: Bengals

Coaching

Hue Jackson has lost to good friend and former boss Marvin Lewis by double digits in all three meetings over the last two years. Jackson is 0-9 in the AFC North.

Lewis’ Bengals didn’t play like an 0-3 team.

Edge: Bengals

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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