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Guenther pushed Bengals’ defense to finish shutout

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CINCINNATI — While the last few minutes of Sunday’s blowout in Cleveland may have seemed like a formality, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther was working the sideline, getting in players’ faces and urging them on as if the lead were just three points instead of three scores.

“I said, ‘We’re going to need one more drive.’ I wanted to keep them off the board,” Guenther said. “It’s just a mindset that our guys have to have. I told them regardless of the situation, when we are up by 20, down by 20, ball’s at the 5-yard line or minus-5, we have to go play good defense all the time regardless of the situation.”

The Bengals responded with their seventh three-and-out of the game, then the offense melted the rest of the clock and punched in one final score for a 30-0 victory that was the franchise’s first shutout in six seasons.

The accomplishment came with some early Christmas presents.

“When we get shutouts around here, which doesn’t happen very often, we give a game ball to every guy,” Guenther said. “Everybody on the defense gets a ball. They’re so hard to come by. We almost had one there against Tennessee (33-7), but like I said, the thing I preach to the guys is playing consistent.

“If we can play at that level all of the time regardless of who’s in there, that’s what I’m trying to get the guys to understand,” he continued. “Because when we play good, we play damn good. When we’ve played bad, we’ve had some bad ones.”

Guenther said he didn’t get much sleep last week while preparing for the Browns and the unknown wild card that was Johnny Manziel. With just two quarters of regular-season film on the rookie, Guenther dipped into Manziel’s past and broke down a pair of games the quarterback played while at Texas A&M.

“LSU and Missouri,” Guenther said, referring to the back-to-back losses Manziel suffered in his final two regular-season games. “I went back and looked at the games he struggled. Those were his worst two games in college, so you could see obviously what their plan was — to keep him in the pocket or move him to a side where he wasn’t throwing.”

The Bengals kept Manziel corralled all game and held him to 10-of-18 passing for 80 yards while intercepting two passes and sacking him three times as part of the team’s second shutout in the Marvin Lewis era.

Guenther may have trouble sleeping again this week, but he won’t struggle to find NFL game film on his next target, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, who will lead the 11-3 Broncos into Paul Brown Stadium on Monday night.

NOTES: TE Jermaine Gresham (toe) was a surprise inactive Sunday. He was listed as questionable, but coach Marvin Lewis said he expected Gresham to play, especially after watching him workout on the field prior to the game. … CB Adam Jones (chest) played through pain but did not return kicks and was on the field for only 18 snaps. … LB Emmanuel Lamur (hamstring) left the game in the third quarter and did not return. … CB Dre Kirkpatrick made his first start of the season and recorded his first interception of the season with Terence Newman (ankle) inactive and Adam Jones (chest) limited.

REPORT CARD VS. BROWNS

–PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus — The dominating run game and dismal starting debut of Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel masked a subpar performance by Andy Dalton, who was 14 of 24 for 117 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Browns cornerback Joe Haden dropped another interception before leaving the game with a shoulder injury in the first half. Even with Haden and cornerback Justin Gilbert (concussion) out in the second half, Dalton continued to struggle. His passer rating of 53.6 was his lowest ever in a victory. Dalton’s interception would have been a touchdown pass to wide open tight end Ryan Hewitt had he not underthrown it by five yards.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: A — The Bengals set the tone as soon as they touched the ball, opening the game by running Jeremy Hill on the first four snaps of a 14-play, 81-yard touchdown drive that Hill capped with a 2-yard run. The newly coronated starter blasted through the Browns’ defense all afternoon, carrying 25 times for 148 yards and two scores. Giovani Bernard added 15 rushes for 79 yards as the Bengals posted 244 yards, their most in more than 10 years. The last time the team ran the ball more than the 45 times it did Sunday was Dec. 21, 2008, when the Bengals rushed 46 times in a 14-0 win at Cleveland.

–PASS DEFENSE: A — The Bengals tied their season high with three sacks and came up with multiple interceptions for just the fourth time this season to ruin Manziel’s starting debut. Rey Maualuga had a third pick wiped out when Wallace Gilberry lined up offsides. The Bengals held Manziel to 10 completions on 18 attempts, and a couple of times when he was on target some big hits by defensive backs dislodged the ball from the receivers.

RUSH DEFENSE: A — After being thoroughly dominated at the point of attack last month in a 24-3 loss in which the Browns ran the ball 52 times, the Bengals rebounded in impressive fashion. They held Cleveland to 53 yards on 17 carries. Manziel’s five runs/scrambles netted just 13 yards. The Bengals held the Browns to 1 of 10 on third downs, and three of those stops were on rushing attempts of third-and-2 or less.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus — Mike Nugent ran his streak of consecutive field goals to 11 by hitting from 44, 44 and 34 yards less than a week after his father’s sudden death, and while punter Kevin Huber’s average doesn’t look strong at first glance, it was due more to his limited sample size. Huber punted twice, once from the Cleveland 45. It led to a fair catch at the 15, and that 30-yarder offset a 47-yard boot in his only other attempt. Brandon Tate handled all the return duties with Adam Jones bothered by a chest injury, and Tate turned in a season-high 30-yard punt return to set up the Bengals’ second touchdown. The coverage units were solid as well, holding the Browns to a 20.2-yard average on five kickoff returns and no yards on punt returns.

COACHING: A — Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther resisted the temptation to throw a heavy dose of blitzes at a rookie making his first start, and it paid off as the Bengals did a great job of corralling Manziel in the pocket and taking away his ability to make plays with his feet. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who like Nugent was working with a heavy heart after the death of his father six days earlier, also drew up a gem of a game plan. Jackson installed some new plays that got Hill and Bernard to the edge with option tosses to take advantage of the way the Browns stacked the box in the first meeting. Plus, any time a team blows a fourth-quarter lead to drop a division game and comes back to win a division game on the road in the manner the Bengals did, the coaching staff deserves a lot of credit.


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