What we learned: Bengals continue to break from past

Andy Dalton connected on a trio of touchdown passes to tight end Tyler Eifert, leading the Bengals to a convincing 31-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night. Here's what you need to know:

  1. Dalton certainly deserves all of the credit he has received for renewed confidence, fourth-quarter success and downfield efficiency, but the most important factor in his MVP-caliber season has been the return to health of Eifert, A.J. Green and Marvin Jones. Dalton was without all three of those receivers in last year's playoff loss to the Colts. Now he has one of the game's premier red-zone weapons in Eifert, a third-down security blanket in Jones and an All-Pro mismatch in Green.

At the season's midpoint, Dalton needs just one more touchdown to match his total (19) for the entirety of 2014. Eifert has already tied Bob Trumpy and Rodney Holman for most touchdowns (nine) by a Bengals tight end in a single season. Green is on pace for his second-career 1,400-yard season. Marvin Lewis is winning challenges and going for fourth downs like he's Riverboat Ron Rivera. He's the first coach in AFC North history to reach 8-0. The DNA of this undefeated Cincinnati outfit bears little resemblance to the quiveringly obsequious one-and-done playoff squads of the previous four years.

  1. Johnny Manziel showed flashes of improvisational creativity out of the pocket entering halftime, but struggled with reads in the pocket. The Browns managed just one first down in an inept second-half performance. To be fair, Manziel didn't get much help from his supporting cast. The bottom line, though, is that a healthy Josh McCown simply runs this offense more efficiently. McCown (ribs) is expected to be ready for next week's game at Pittsburgh. We suspect the veteran will get the nod in that case.
  1. There will be at least a handful of teams searching for a new head coach in January. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson should be a hot commodity for his leadership, tutelage of Dalton and balanced offensive attack that has the Bengals going toe-to-toe with perennial AFC superpowers such as the Patriots and Broncos.
  1. Jackson can share the credit with the Bengals' front office, the structure of which is among the NFL's most secretive. We know that owner Mike Brown has stepped aside on a day-to-day basis, leaving coach Marvin Lewis and director of player personnel Duke Tobin to pull the strings on the football side of the operations. The Packers (49) and Rams (42) are the only teams with more than the Bengals' 41 homegrown players. Nobody's laughing anymore about Lewis' vow to walk away if Cincinnati wins the Super Bowl.
  1. Giovani Bernard continues to outplay a slow-moving Jeremy Hill in the Bengals' backfield. Hill has been noticeably more hesitant at the line of scrimmage this season, perhaps due to the shift toward a three-receiver offense with read-option looks and no lead blocker. In other words, the system and prevailing personnel are more suited to Bernard's skillset than Hill's.
  1. The Browns' defense held its own, down just four points at halftime. At the end of the game, though, Dalton boasted a 139.8 passer rating while the Bengals churned out 152 yards on the ground. Kevin Huber attempted just three punts. While McCown's offense has overachieved, coach Mike Pettine's defense has regressed from last season. The Browns simply haven't drafted impact players under general manager Ray Farmer. Will there be another changing of the guard in 2016?
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