Green still made hay catching the ball against the Browns, with 7 receptions for 135 yards and 2 TDs. But the lack of quality receiving depth was made apparent. Armon Binns was never thought to be able to get much separation with his lack of speed, but cornerbacks began learning to play him aggressively in response, focusing on the underneath routes. He only had 2 receptions on 5 targets for 12 yards.
Andrew Hawkins did have 5 receptions on 5 targets, but only for 35 yards and a long of 11. A safety often kept an eye on him to make sure to limit his ability to run after the catch. At one point Jermaine Gresham did take advantage of the focus on Hawkins with his 55-yard touchdown catch-and-run, but Gresham later demonstrated why it hurts that he was taken ahead of Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Jimmy Graham.
Gresham made a couple drops on catches that would look natural with either of those other three tight ends, but he made it seem difficult. Maybe Orson Charles will continue to become integrated in the offense. The rookie tight end’s 12-yard catch was the second of his career, and that second catch made him look like the natural pass-catcher he was advertised to be coming out of Georgia.
Perhaps Jay Gruden will notice on particularly successful element of the offense against the Browns. Last year’s formula – throw it to Green down the sidelines – was successful because Green has the talent to outplay almost any coverage on a regular basis. With the Browns playing prevent defense, Green was still able to grab a 57-yard bomb for a touchdown.
Defensively, the Bengals did limit Richardson to 37 yards on a 2.6 average with a long of 8 yards, while Montario Hardesty ran for 56 yards with a 3.7 average. By concentrating on stopping the run, however, the Bengals did keep most of their blitz packages under wraps. This is compounded by the fact that Nate Clements, while doing an excellent job in coverage, is not adept as a Mike Zimmer strong safety in that he does not excel in playing in the box or blitzing.
Without the threat of extra men, including Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict threatening to blitz the interior, extra attention could be paid to Geno Atkins. For the second straight week Atkins was largely neutralized, but this week in order to ensure that Richardson did not make plays on screen passes and wheel routes like he is apt to do.
Like a broken record, it must again be emphasized that this frustration is hard to be avoided. Mike Zimmer does an excellent job of working with the pieces that he has, but with an incomplete set of talent, the defensive game plan often has to pick its poison.
But with Terence Newman and Jason Allen signed on one-year and two-year contracts, respectively, and Nate Clements on the last year of his, the table is being set to recharge with new talent. In fact, the signing of Chris Crocker is another indication that the education of Dre Kirkpatrick will be a continuing process. But with Kirkpatrick’s length and physical skill set he could become a cornerback in the mold of Seattle’s Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner.
Even more encouraging for the future has been the performance of cornerback Leon Hall over the past two weeks. After perhaps pushing himself back too early, Hall nursed a calf injury and has performed superbly the past two weeks. He has regained his closing speed, and appears to be explosive out of breaks.
With Adam Jones playing solid slot coverage and safety Reggie Nelson playing a Troy-Polamalu-esque role on defense, the defensive backfield quietly turned in another solid performance.