*Tyler Eifert did what a Bengals tight end hasn't done in 46 years Thursday night and scored three TDs. *
With the undefeated Bengals rolling into the second half of the season off Thursday night's lunch-bucket-punch-the-clock 31-10 victory over the Browns before a delirious sell-out of the faithful at Paul Brown Stadium, they're making a case for the best Bengals team of all-time.
After the fireworks cleared from an AFC North game that left the 8-0 Bengals four games up with eight to play, they're on pace to set the club record for most points (458) and tie the record for fewest points allowed (284) with quarterback Andy Dalton on pace to set the record for most
touchdown passes (36) and yards (4,452), tight end Tyler Eifert looking at the touchdowns record (18), and left Carlos Dunlap on pace for the sacks record with 17.
"If we can score a lot of points and play defense like that,' said left tackle Andrew Whitworth, "no matter what any narrative is, no matter what anybody thinks about us . . . the bottom line is if you play defense and score on offense, you're going to be have to deal with us every week."
It's to the point where each side of the ball is raving about the other. After five players accounted for at least 52 yards either rushing or passing, left end Carlos Dunlap marveled at the depth on offense. You just never know who is going to beat you how.
"We're just trying to get the offense, the pretty boys in there and let them do what they do best. Light up the scoreboard,'' said Dunlap, who had two more sacks Thursday. "We just want to get some quick three-and-outs, get a few sacks so those guys can get out there with Tyler, A.J., Marv Jones, Sanu, Gio. Just go down the line. We have so many weapons it's unbelievable. We just want to give them as many possessions as possible."
But the defense flexed its own flexibility with some crisp second-half adjustments that stymied the Browns on a grand total of seven yards with three minutes left in the game. Dunlap and company backed off from a blitzing, pressuring first half and then slowed down their pass rush with the idea of hemming Manziel in the pocket.
"He won't beat you from the pocket, He has to get outside of you," said nose tackle Domata Peko, and he was doing that in the first half.
"You saw I had some good rushes where I got past my man, but Johnny made some good football plays and we made those corrections at half," Dunlap said.
You just never know how these guys are going to beat you on either side of the ball. Their cornerbacks are known for playing relentless man-to-man, led by the irrepressible Adam Jones. But in the second half, after Manziel made some big plays out of the pocket, Manziel said he saw them switch to Cover Two, a relatively deep zone.
Jones didn't want to elaborate, but they saw the problem and fixed it at halftime.
"When he gets out of the pocket, we're guarding our guy with our back to him," Jones said. "That's not good. We did a couple of things so we could keep our eyes on the quarterback."
Peko thought the key was stopping the run at certain big points. The Browns had a shot to tie it at seven with a first down from the Bengals 4, but defensive tackle Brandon Thompson rode someone else's run blitz to register a loss of minus-4 on first down and the Browns had to kick a very big field goal.
Then when Dunlap dumped running back Isaiah Crowell for a four-yard loss on the first snap of the second half, the Browns were backed up at their own 3 and never recovered.
"We knew with Johnny that he's such a young quarterback that they were going to try and run it and we kind of put a stop to that," Peko said.
But the Browns couldn't stop the Bengals from running and it set up an intoxicating look at their wonderfully diverse offense, where they have a tight end (Tyler Eifert) who runs routes like a receiver, a wide receiver who runs like a running back (Mohamed Sanu), and a quarterback (Andy Dalton) who plays like an ACC point guard distributing the ball quickly and efficiently to the tune of a 111.0 passer rating that would, yes, be another Bengals record.
Eifert scored three red-zone touchdowns in a variety of ways Thursday, symbolic of just how versatile they are. On the first touchdown, a nine-yard slant, the 6-6 Eifert overmatched a 5-11 Pro Bowl safety in Tashaun Gipson at the goal line. On the second one, with Dalton scrambling to his left from the Cleveland 2, Eifert broke off his route and made himself available in a sea of linebackers and they couldn't match his quickness.
"A matchup monster," said wide receiver Marvin Jones.
"Tyler is always open," said Green, enveloped in more double coverage on this night. "Always."
Eifert came out of his stance on the first two. On the third one, which wrapped up the scoring with 7:43 left, he began the play as a fullback, then split out to the left on one-time Packers Pro Bowl cornerback Tramon Williams and ran a route as good as any receiver. He'd been going over the middle all day and when Williams bought Eifert's deke inside on a double move, Eifert cruised past Williams on the outside and burned him badly.
"We had a double move on, and Tyler did a great job of selling it and got the guy to bite and got open," Dalton said. "It was a really good route, and he got wide open.
"He's just got such a great feel and understands how to get open, use leverages, come out of breaks and different things. That's what's so big. He scored touchdowns on three different types of plays. He's a big body that can go up and make tough catches. There's not much he can't do."
But the running game was just as tricky when wide receiver Mohamed Sanu became one of the few men to complete the trifecta of catching a TD pass, throwing a TD pass, and running for a TD. His 25-yard reverse early in the fourth quarter broke it open for a 24-10 lead.
It was a Hue Jackson Special, who knew that running backs Jeremy Hill (52) and Giovani Bernard (72) were in the process of quietly combining for 124 yards on 28 carries. On first-and-10 from the Browns 25, Sanu lined up in the slot on the right and when Bernard took a handoff and went right, he flipped to Sanu coming the other way. He was escorted by Dalton and left tackle Andrew Whitworth.
"(It was set up) by the running backs. The way they've been running all night," Sanu said. "They over pursued once they saw Gio with the ball and when Gio flipped it to me all I saw was green turf."
No one touched him.
"Maybe Andy," Sanu said. "That's my quarterback. He's always ready to block for me. You've got to love him."
Even the receivers are marveling at each other. Marvin Jones, whose 78 yards led them in receiving for the second time in three games, actually slipped on third-and-two coming out of the slot, got back up, and caught a 25-yard crossing pattern. Sanu scored on the next play.
"Flash. I call him Flash," Sanu said. "He's so fast and he's able to do some ridiculous things."
At the moment, it's all pretty flashy on both sides of the ball.
Cincinnati Bengals host Cleveland Browns in week 9 of the regular season.