The Browns defense just keeps coming and seems to be getting better by the week. This week against the Bengals might have been their most complete team effort as a defensive unit. Certainly, the Bengals made some mistakes and shot themselves in the foot but the Browns defense and constant pressure was a big reason why. While individual players had some important plays and some pretty good days for the Browns on defense, the overall unit seemed to wear down on the Bengals.
Joe Haden had the toughest assignment of the day and did a good job against A.J. Green. Haden was physical, ran with him and just seemed to frustrate him, but Green still made plays with 7 catches for 51 yards, but on 15 targets. Some of that frustration may been directed at his quarterback, Andy Dalton, who seemed to struggle and would make the occasional great play followed by a number of misfires.
Whether a success on the part of the Browns or a failure on the part of the Bengals, it is surprising the tight ends of the Bengals were not able to do more. They combined for 6 catches on 10 targets for 92 yards. This was a huge mismatch coming into the game and one that perhaps could have been exploited more than it was.
The run defense was again extremely strong, holding the Bengals to 63 yards on 20 carries. 4 of those carries and 13 of the yards were from Dalton on scrambles and a fourth down sneak, so the actual running backs for the Bengals were only able to 50 yards on 16 carries. Putting Dalton in obvious pass situations and giving their defense that advantage was a huge part of their success.
Barkevious Mingo was able to make an impact in the first start of his career. Mingo was able to get his third sack in three games when Dalton tried to scramble and Mingo tracked him down before he could get loose. The very next play, Mingo shot into the backfield and tripped up a run which his teammates finished. He also had two pass deflections in the game and was able to get penetration that helped them stop the Bengals on a fourth down attempt in Browns territory.
Maybe the biggest plays of the game came from unlikely sources in Chris Owens and Buster Skrine. On a well-timed, well-executed corner blitz, Owens shot through untouched with Dalton unaware and Owens was able to punch the ball out before Dalton could throw it. Owens was then able to scramble and recover the fumble. The play was reviewed but the Browns kept the ball. D’Qwell Jackson was able to tip the third pass of this season that ended up in the hands of a teammate, this time to the embattled Skrine. Skrine had two penalties that loomed large, but was resilient and had two big pass deflections, drew a holding call, and secured that interception.
The Browns defense has every excuse to let down with the way the offense is struggling to put up points and miss opportunities, but they have accepted that challenge and been effective enough to give their offense enough opportunities to score points. In the end, the Browns had enough points to win the game before the defense stepped onto the field, but their continued impressive play that sometimes borders on dominance is getting a lot of notice a month into the season, especially against the run. In a game without Jabaal Sheard and Billy Winn, the defense was still able to be great and not falter. They cannot wait for those two players to come back and give them that many more potential impact players, but their investment in the defense and the newfound attitude and identity on defense and especially in that front seven has put the Browns in a tie for first place in the division heading into October with a 2-2 record.