CLEVELAND — If anyone had told Bengals Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth his ballyhooed offense going into its 36th game in the A.J. Green-Andy Dalton reboot would score no touchdowns before Sunday's 17-6 stunner to the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium, he would have had a ready answer.
"I would have been embarrassed; that's what I am right now," Whitworth said. "Embarrassed. Being an older guy, that can't happen and we have to find a way to correct it. We have the ability and talent. This should never happen. We have to find out a way to make that way."
The symbolic play came with the Browns leading, 7-3 with 4:39 left in the first half and the Bengals going for it on fourth-and-one from the Cleveland 7. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis got blown up on a play Whitworth could only call "a cluster."
"It got real loud and we kind of had a play where we had a couple of options and it just seemed to be a lack of communication," Whitworth said. "Half the people were thinking one play and half the other people … it was a cluster basically. We had an opportunity … a critical moment. A bad, embarrassing moment. Pull out or take a timeout and have a play that's easy to communicate."
Green-Ellis, last year's NFL leader when he converted all but one of his third-and-one runs, said the Browns walked up a linebacker into the A gap.
"Everybody had to come down," Green-Ellis said. "We've got to get to another play, hopefully get to a better play or take a timeout. They brought their guy in the A gap, which made the guard go down and made everyone come down a gap. They did a good job. We have to just do a better job getting ourselves into a better play and executing."
Andy Dalton's 58.2 passer rating was his third lowest in the regular season, better only than a 56.4 against the Steelers last year and a 40.8 against the 49ers in his third NFL start in 2011. That 13-8 loss to San Francisco on Sept. 25, 2011 was the last time the Bengals offense or defense didn't score a touchown. And, like working against the Steelers, the Browns version of the 3-4 defense really shut it down when the Bengals got one-dimensional. They ran it 20 times for 63 yards compared to 42 throws.
Whitworth knows what kind of stress the offense is putting on the defense. A week after the defense was on the field for 81 snaps, it played 71 more on Sunday. The Browns got 366 yards, but it took them 4.7 yards per snap. How could they get beat? The offense went 4.2.
"The last two games—we call it a team game—but the truth is offensively we're not playing well," Whitworth said. "We have to hold on to the ball and execute."
GREEN FRUSTRATION: It's about as frustrated as anyone has seen cool two-time Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green. He was targeted 15 times, caught only seven for 51 yards and the longest one went for just 16 yards.
Even when cornerback Joe Haden wasn't on him, he and Dalton looked to be badly out of sync. Once when Green moved into the slot on third-and-six, he beat cornerback Buster Skrine but Dalton overthrew him. For the most part Haden shadowed Green one-on-one with some help over the top. But there were other plays, like early in the fourth quarter of a 10-6 game, where Green went deep down the sideline and Dalton threw it short to the sideline.
In the last two games, Dalton has thrown it to Green 29 times for 13 catches and less than 100 yards with 92 for a long of 20 yards.
"Sometimes we are, sometimes not," Green said of the same page. "But we've got to get back to a consistent basis on some of those deep balls when it's there. My part. His part. We have to put more work in.
"It's there. You saw the play when I was in the slot. The plays are there. We just have to go back with me digging more and him putting it in a better spot. Both of us."
Like Whitworth, Green was stunned to come out of this with no touchdowns. But he says the offense didn't play well last week, either, with four turnovers. The Bengals had two more Sunday.
"That's very shocking. I feel like we've got all the pieces to be a great team," Green said. "We're not playing on a cosistent basis. Even the games we won. To be a great team we have to week in and week out play great and we're not doing that right now. Last week we had those turnovers and eventualy all that is going to catch up with you."
There were a couple of times after those long-ball frustrations, Green came out. One was when he said he got hit on the elbow and went numb for a minute.
"I want to be fresh every play," Green said. "I ran a 'go' ball, got a little tired and came back the next snap."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» The newly-signed Chris Crocker played 23 of the 71 snaps (32 percent) rotating between slot corner and safety. He was surprised Browns tight end Jordan Cameron had 10 catches for 91 yards, 31 coming on a wide-open crossing route that was a backbreaker in the last TD drive.
"It was a quiet 10 catches," Crocker said.
» Defensive tackle Domata Peko joined the crew trying to understand 2-2.
"Everyone had us winning (Sunday) on paper but if you don't go out and execute and do the job, you aint going to win no games, Our record says we're back to even. We can't point fingers and we have to stick together. ... Offense, defense, we all have to get better."
» Rookie running back Giovani Bernard (10-37) had four more carries than BJGE (6-13).
» Dalton said the fumbled snap that cost the Bengals their last best chance in the fourth quarter slipped out of center Kyle Cook's hands. It was a conventional center-QB exchange that went flying past Dalton's ear for a 14-yard loss on first down.