They don’t always play the best football and they don’t always win, but there is something pretty entertaining about the Cleveland Browns’ ability to turn any contest into a close one. Their 23-20 defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals was the third time in as many weeks a game was decided by a margin of four points or less. This one being decided as Colt McCoy was unable to drive his team down the field after Mike Nugent’s field goal gave the Bengals the lead with 41 seconds remaining.
It’s another one of those games Cleveland will look back on and think what could have been, with some errant throws and incomprehensible drops hurting an offense that got off to a great start. For Cincinnati, this game wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of their playoff credentials, but they eked out a win without ever really excelling. There’s something to be said for that as they made big plays when they needed to.
Let’s look at some of the best and worst performers from this AFC North matchup.
Cleveland – Three Performances of Note
A Little problem with drops
If you saw the game you know who I’m going to talk about and why just from the heading. Greg Little (-3.1) may have picked up the first touchdown grab of his career, but he did little else right in a textbook example of how not to catch footballs. The rookie receiver dropped an incredible four passes as he was guilty of constantly taking his eyes off the ball as he prepared what to do next. To his credit, he doesn’t shy away from bouncing back, and his quarterback kept going after him (12 times in all), but you won’t find many performances this year from a WR where they drop such easy-to-catch balls. His drop with 27 seconds left in the game summed up his day and it’s a growing problem given that he’s now dropped 12 on the year – an astonishing 20.3% of all catchable balls throw his way.
A force in the middle
While everyone, myself included, was looking for Phil Taylor to become the stud in the middle of the Browns’ defensive line, it’s starting to look like the true MVP of the unit is Ahtyba Rubin (+6.2). This week marked the third consecutive game where Rubin graded in the green (+1.1 or above), with this by far his best performance of the season. What makes it all the more remarkable is that his grade comes on the back of something that has proven to be very much a secondary skill; his pass rushing. There’s no real surprise the former Iowa State Cyclone had his way with the poor Nate Livings, but it was the ease at which he got the better of Bobbie Williams that really stood out. The hit he picked up on Williams with 1:08 to go in the game was overshadowed by the catch and run of A.J. Green, but is the perfect example of what Rubin was doing all game.
I was generally wowed by Joe Haden (-1.4) as a rookie. He was so good that even when he got beat he was able to come back and make a play on the ball. But over the last two weeks he’s started to have a few issues, and this game was no different. All-in-all he gave up 125 yards, having more than his fair share of issues trying to keep up with A.J. Green. On more than one occasion Haden got beaten off the line by Green and was unable to locate the ball such was the separation between the two. So, round two goes to the Bengals receiver, but the real winner in this matchup will always be the fans; we’re going to be fortunate enough to watch two of the best at their positions go up against each other twice every year (barring injuries).
Cincinnati – Three Performances of Note
After losing a touchdown last week to the ‘Calvin Johnson rule’, maybe Jermaine Gresham (+3.5) had a little bit of extra motivation. It certainly looked that way as the Browns not only had trouble covering him, but also besting him in the run game. Gresham, not always someone who excels with his in line blocking, had joy against Jabaal Sheard and Brian Schafering in one of his most complete performances to date even if he did give up a sack. His most notable impact may have been as a receiver, with his touchdown (Q3 1:29) being a great adjustment, but Bengals fans should be happy that this was the first time all year that he graded positively with his blocking and receiving.
I’ve mentioned it briefly earlier, and have written about it at great length before, but Bengals left guard Nate Livings (-5.4) continues to have problems. He may have only walked away having given up a hit and a pressure, but add a couple of penalties to the mix and you’ve got a disastrous performance highlighted by his play on the final Bengals drive of the game. First he gives up a false start penalty, then he fails to engage his man as he pulls to the right (00:49), before finally allowing Scott Paxson to fly past him to tackle Cedric Benson for a 4-yard loss. Cincinnati went on to make the field goal, but it doesn’t take away from the poor play of the individual. Livings remains a liability.
So often I make predictions that go horribly, horribly wrong. So allow me to pat myself on the back as I say I knew Geno Atkins (+0.9), was going to have a great year in 2011. A leading candidate (in the collective minds of the PFF staffers) for a Pro Bowl spot, this wasn’t Atkins at his best in the run game as his desire to get up field was used against him at times. But it’s his work as a pass rusher that warrants praise, with the sophomore stepping up in Carlos Dunlap‘s absence to make life very uncomfortable for Colt McCoy. He picked up a sack, two hits and another pressure, as well as a batted pass, as the Browns interior struggled to stop him penetrating. He’s turning into a player you need to gameplan for because he’s nigh on impossible to keep in check.
– Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton completed 4-of-6 passes thrown over 20 yards in the air.
– The Browns only missed three tackles the entire game, with two of those by Chris Gocong.
– Which team blitzed the most? The Bengals blitzed on 31.7% of all passing plays, while the Browns did so on 36.8% of plays.
PFF Game Ball
They try to tell me I need to give this to a player on the winning team, I respond with an emphatic “pah”. Ahtyba Rubin was the best player on the park on Sunday so he deserves this award.