Jeremy Hill under way Sunday.
CLEVELAND - Hemingway called it "grace under pressure."
No doubt Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson would say it was simply execution. But his steel-belted game plan for Sunday's 30-point domination of the Browns was much more than that considering it was hatched on the day his 86-year-old father died in Los Angeles earlier in the week.
As left tackle Andrew Whitworth observed, it was powerful enough "to suck the air out of the stadium," at aptly named FirstEnergy Stadium when the first 14 plays of the game consumed the first 7:07 and a touchdown.
"He must not have had much sleep this week with everything he was going through. I can't imagine it, but he did a great job game planning," said rookie running back Jeremy Hill, the centerpiece of the attack with 148 yards on 25 carries. "He put the onus on Gio (Giovani Bernard) and me. He met with us in his office this week and said, 'Look, we're going to run the ball this week,' and I really went home and thought that."
The Browns beat their chests last month on how they knew everything was coming at them in the 24-3 beat down they gave the Bengals on that Thursday night last month. But now they have to figure out how they gave up 30 points to an offense that didn't have three of its top four targets, the top target only had five catches for 49 yards, and the quarterback threw for just 117 yards and a 53.6 passer rating.
Not only that, they moved around their offensive line early in the second half, moving right tackle Clint Boling back to left guard and bringing in veteran right tackle Eric Winston even though he's been with the team only 10 days.
"It definitely was a surprise to me. If they planned it, they didn't tell me," Winston said. "I think they had a good game plan and the coaches challenged guys, especially up front in the offensive line to get after it and be the difference in the game…I thought we did a good job setting the tone. It seemed like even the bad plays went for three and four yards."
Instead of thumping their chests that they knew what was coming, the Browns got hit in the chest by Jackson's wrinkles they hadn't seen. The first thing he did was huddle every play because the Bengals thought the Browns had a good read on their signals back at Paul Brown Stadium.
-Put in option pitch they hadn't run this season to blow up the eight-man front on the perimeter.
-Put in some counters as well as both guard and tackle pulling from the back side to take out the safeties that were flooding the box.
-Used double tight ends and even triple tight ends more than he did back on Nov. 6. But even that was revamped because tight end Jermaine Gresham (toe) was a surprise late scratch after warmups, and Kevin Brock had to make his second Bengals start and suddenly the extra tight end had to be tackle Marshall Newhouse and even fullback Ryan Hewitt. They stepped in so well that they rushed for 244 yards for the second highest rushing yards in the 12 seasons of head coach Marvin Lewis. Naturally, the only game better was a game 10 years ago against the Browns with 253.
"We had guys step up and come through," Hill said of the business-like manner the Bengals dispatched the Browns. "The focus was at an all-time high. When you're winning and everything is going fine, sometimes you can get satisfied and get distracted by other things. When you lose a big division game at home you really have to tighten the bolts and just focus on what you need to do."
The usually voluble Hill, immersed in controversy last month after the game when he said in frustration that the Browns were "worse than he thought," said he chose to stay away from any kind of media this week in order to keep his head in the game.
Social or otherwise.
After that first drive where Hill vacuumed up 26 yards on six runs and Bernard added a huge 14-yard catch when he was wide open in the flat on third-and-seven, Jackson unveiled The Pitch on the third play of the second series and Hill rambled for 20 yards on the wide-open left edge.
(Quarterback Andy Dalton may have had another tough day throwing the ball against the Browns with a 53 passer rating, but his ball handling was Johnny Football-like and he appeared to make most of the right checks in the running game.)
The Pitch exposed the weakness of the Browns' Bear defense they used last month in Cincinnati and Hill made it hurt when he made a vicious cut back inside. Once they ran the play, the Browns played their defense straighter and the running game had easier access to the middle.
Hill said he and Bernard took a page out of Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell a week after Bell shredded the Bengals on 185 yards.
"They used that Bears defense with a lot of guys up front and that's what they did in the last game," Hill said. "Hue did a great job seeing they didn't have any guys out there on the perimeter and had both of our receivers running into man coverage, and he got out playmakers into the open field.
"We stole a few moves from (Bell)," Hill said. "A lot of guys just run down hill and run into people, but sometimes you have to set up the blocks just being patient and hitting it."
Bernard looked comfortable and feisty in what is not a reduced role. He still carried 15 times for 79 yards and his three catches for 24 yards (two on third down) gave him more than 100 all-purpose yards for the first time since he came back from an October injury.
The running game got the Browns into a more favorable passing set, but Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green couldn't take advantage of several long balls even though Green's arch-nemesis, cornerback Joe Haden (shoulder), and first-round corner Justin Gilbert (concussion), exited for the game in the first half.
Dalton's two lowest passing games in a win have now come against the Browns after he threw for 93 last year at PBS. Green shrugged. Who would have though the Bengals could have won Sunday with 49 yards from A.J. Green?
"Sometimes it happens like that," Green said. "We were up. We didn't really have to throw the ball. They don't give up a lot of go balls. They have outside leverage with the safety right there."
But even though Jackson switched things up, his offensive line had to fire off the ball and it was an impressive effort from a re-tooled unit without injured right tackle Andre Smith that pushed back a front seven that handled them so well last month.
Hewitt, the undrafted rookie, quietly personified just how physical the Bengals were Sunday on the signature play of the day, Hill's virtually untouched 16-yard touchdown run that made it 17-0 16 minutes into the game behind the right side. As he has all year, Hewitt led the way with a wipe-put block of linebacker Chris Kirskey and Hill did the rest with a stiff arm of safety Jim Leohnard.
(The only problem Hill encountered came at the end of the jaunt when he saw a Bengals jersey in the front row and tried to jump into the stands, but got pushed back by Browns fans.)
If that stiff-arm brought back memories of Corey Dillon, why not? Last week when former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason was in town he was calling Hill another Dillon. Hill is now 123 yards from becoming the first Bengals rookie rusher since Esiason handed off to Dillon in 1997 to hit 1,000 yards.
"We were physical and got into it right away. That was the thing," Whitworth said. "We knew we were going to have to come in here and play physical and run the ball and we were able to do that.
"I think we did a good job of taking the energy. We knew with Johnny starting and everything that was around this game, it was a great job of just sucking all the energy out of the stadium. Kind of setting the tone for the day. We knew we were going to have to run the ball to win and that was kind of the mindset and the attitude all day."
They came in talking about one rookie and left talking about another. At the ancestral home of the big back (Paul Brown's Marion Motley and Jim Brown), Hill, wearing Brown's No. 32, came through.
"Once Hue let me know what my role was going to be and how much the team is going to depend on me this week," Hill said, "I wanted to embellish it and take advantage of it this week."