Tight end Tyler Eifert caught three touchdown passes for the 8-0 Bengals in a 31-10 victory over their division rivals. This is the type of clinical, balanced, mature performance we've come to expect from the Bengals. Cleveland and Cincinnati traded long drives in the first half before the Bengals absolutely dominated the second half. The Bengals had 12 first downs and 17 points before the Browns picked up a first down in garbage time. Eifert has proven to be a difference maker in the red zone and could be the second-best tight end in football.
Andy Dalton completed 21 of 27 passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns, yet it didn't even feel like one of his best outings of the year. He only completed one pass downfield all game because he didn't need to throw deep. The Browns' secondary played a soft zone, and Dalton simply took what the defense gave him. The Bengals rushed for 152 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown on a reverse from Mohamed Sanu.
It was a night where offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was one step ahead of Browns coach Mike Pettine. The Bengals didn't turn the ball over and only punted twice in the first 56 minutes of the game. While the Browns' offense gets most of the attention, Pettine's defense has been far more disappointing this year. They have taken a big step back from last year's early promise.
Manziel rightfully got most of the attention before the game. We believe the Browns made the right decision to start him if there was any choice in the matter. He looked better than he did a season ago, yet it's debatable whether he did enough to keep the starting job over Josh McCown. The final numbers aren't great: 15-of-33 passing for 168 yards and a touchdown. But his receivers did not help with a number of drops. Manziel made several plays outside of the pocket in the first half, showing flashes of his old college magic. Still, he did not always see open receivers early in the down. He is at his best improvising and that might not be enough at the pro level. It still makes sense to keep starting Manziel to see what they have.
At 2-7, the Browns have not always made it easy on their opponents this season. They have competed well for a half against top-level teams like the Cardinals and Bengals, but they haven't been competitive for a full 60 minutes. After starting last season 7-4, Mike Pettine's Browns are 2-12 in their last 14 games.
Cleveland is searching for an identity, while the Bengals are secure in who they are. Dalton plays point guard with tons of talent around him, free to take the occasional big shot. The defensive line gets after it weekly and Adam "Pacman" Jones leads a deep secondary. The Bengals have dispatched second-tier opponents easily this season. We don't need them to win in January before declaring this the best team of the Marvin Lewis era.