Cincinnati Bengals 31, Cleveland Browns 17
Here are the highest-graded players and top takeaways from the Bengals' AFC North victory over the visiting Browns.
Quarterback grade: Andy Dalton, 76.5
If last season didn’t convince you, then Andy Dalton’s start to the 2016 season clearly shows that his days of inconsistency are in the past. Dalton avoided an interception for the fourth straight week and hit on some key deep and intermediate passes down the field to A.J. Green in the first half to establish the Bengals’ lead. Ultimately, the game’s pivotal play was outside of Dalton’s control, with Green miraculously bringing in a Hail Mary at the end of the first half that allowed the Bengals to establish a two-score lead, which they were able to protect in the second half.
Top offensive grades
RG Kevin Zeitler, 88.8
WR A.J. Green, 88.7
LT Andrew Whitworth, 85.3
C Russell Bodine, 79.7
RB Jeremy Hill, 78.0
O-line sets the platform, A.J. Green steals the show
The two most memorable plays in this game were made by A.J. Green, snagging a deep shot down the sideline with one hand and then pulling in a miraculous Hail Mary at the end of the first half. Up on Green’s level, though, were some performances on the offensive line, especially a career day by RG Kevin Zeitler. Both on inline blocks and pulling on the move, Zeitler was a wrecking ball for Cleveland defensive linemen and linebackers alike. The Bengals gained 70 yards on 10 carries on the gaps either side of Zeitler, and he made plenty of impact pulling on power and counter runs to the left edge, which gained 51 yards on eight carries.
Top defensive grades
CB Dre Kirkpatrick, 80.7
LB Karlos Dansby, 78.5
LB Vincent Rey, 77.9
DE Carlos Dunlap, 75.7
S Shawn Williams, 72.8
Kirkpatrick shines after inconsistent start to the season
Heading into a one-on-one matchup with Terrelle Pryor having given up a passer rating over 100.0 three times this season, Dre Kirkpatrick came up with one of his strongest performances of the season. Pryor played less than 50 percent of the Browns’ offensive snaps, but when he was on the field, Kirkpatrick held him to two catches for 18 yards on three targets with a pass defense causing the incompletion. Versus other receivers, Kirkpatrick surrendered only two catches for 3 yards on four targets with two defensive stops. The Bengals’ run defense was suspect to say the least, with the defensive ends losing contain on the Browns’ read-option plays, but solid performances in coverage ensured that the Browns didn’t have a speedy path back into this game.
Quarterback grade: Kevin Hogan 80.2 (55.8 passing, 95.8 running)
While Cody Kessler (68.0 overall grade) got the start again, it was Kevin Hogan who was the story in the game for the Browns at quarterback—first as a surprising choice as the Browns' change-of-pace QB, and then taking over for an injured Kessler. The Bengals clearly were not prepared for Hogan’s threat as a runner, and even as the game wore on, did not adjust to Hogan’s willingness to keep the ball on read options. Hogan led the Browns in rushing with 104 yards on seven attempts, 35 of those coming on designed runs and four gains of 10 or more yards on designed runs. All this talk of Hogan’s running, however, makes the point in its own way about his passing, which was inconsistent at best, Hogan completed just 50 percent of his passes and couldn’t get the short-passing game going, averaging just 3.2 yards per attempt on short passes (9 or fewer yards in the air).
Top offensive grades
G/C John Greco, 85.8
RT Austin Pasztor, 83.2
LT Joe Thomas, 78.2
C Cameron Erving, 75.5
TE Gary Barnidge, 74.0
Offensive line makes its mark on Bengals’ run defense
The Bengals’ run defense isn’t used to being shoved around, but they were tested physically by the Browns’ offensive line this week, with John Greco in particular taking it to the Bengals’ defensive tackles, driving the likes of Geno Atkins, Pat Sims, and Domata Peko backwards on a consistent basis. The Browns’ interior offensive held Atkins without a stop for the first time this season, and controlled him to ensure he earned his lowest run-defense grade of his career. Isaiah Crowell (67.4 overall grade; 71.8 running grade) made the best use of the Browns’ run blocking, and if the Browns had been able to keep the game closer, their ground attack looked like a potential weapon to control this football game.
Top defensive grades
S Derrick Kindred, 77.1
CB Tramon Williams, 73.4
CB Tracy Howard, 72.3
DE Xavier Cooper, 60.4
CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun, 54.0
Browns’ run defense springs a leak
Just as the Browns’ offensive line got the best of the Bengals’ run defense, so Cleveland's run defense was bested by the Cincinnati ground game. Defensive end Xavier Cooper was the only front-seven defender for the Browns to earn a run-defense grade of 50.0 or higher, as the Bengals ran up and down the field on Cleveland with big plays and consistent gains alike. The Browns didn’t miss tackles, but simply struggled to get contact on the ball carrier early to slow the ground attack. The Bengals’ offensive line picked up nearly 3 yards per carry before contact, and Jeremy Hill added plenty after first contact. The pass-rush of Emmanuel Ogbah was a bright spot, but the extremely poor game in run defense overwhelmed that highlight.
PFF Game-Ball Winner: Bengals WR A.J. Green
PFF’s player grading process includes multiple reviews, which may change the grade initially published in order to increase its accuracy. Learn more about how we grade and access grades for every player through each week of the NFL season by subscribing to Player Grades.