- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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An examination of four hot issues from the Bengals' 17-6 loss to the Browns:
1. Paging A.J. Green. Cincinnati has made a concerted effort to get the ball to receiver A.J. Green this season, targeting him 50 times through just four games. The success rate in actually getting the ball in his hands hasn't been very high, though. Of those 50 times he has been thrown to, Green has caught just 26 passes. In his past three games, the third-year wideout has caught just 17 of the 37 balls that quarterback Andy Dalton has sent his way. During Sunday's game, the pair connected on half of the 14 passing attempts that were directed toward Green. On multiple occasions, though, passes were either overthrown, underthrown or thrown into a space that Green didn't cut into. In order to get Cincinnati's offense rolling again, these two have to get back on the same page.
2. Still going to Gio. Rookie running back Giovani Bernard is another offensive player the Bengals are trying to get the ball to. Ever since his two-touchdown performance in his unofficial coming-out party during the Week 2 win over Pittsburgh, Bernard has been a fan (and fantasy fan) favorite. His speed makes him a threat to make plays in space and pick up large chunks of yards off short screen passes. Although Bernard wasn't able to get in the end zone Sunday in Cleveland, the Bengals' promise of putting him in more positions to make plays has taken shape. After having just five touches in Week 1, Bernard's role has steadily increased. He had nine touches in Week 2, 14 in Week 3 and 16 on Sunday. Against the Browns, Bernard's 6.3 yards per reception was his lowest single-game total this year.
3. Third-down difficulties. The Bengals couldn't seem to stay on the field long enough offensively, and couldn't kick the Browns off it defensively. In both phases the Bengals' third-down conversion ratings were the worst they have been all season. On offense, they converted just four of their 14 third-down opportunities (28.6 percent). On defense, they allowed the Browns to convert 9 of 18 opportunities (50 percent). All season, the offensive third-down conversion rating has trended negatively. After starting at 63.6 percent in the opener, Cincinnati has been less and less successful across the past three weeks. Before Sunday, the offense's third-down conversion percentage against the Packers (36.4 percent) had been the lowest. "At the end of the day, the tale of the tape would be third-down conversions," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "Those are things we've got to do better."
4. Crocker feels fine. Cincinnati hopes to get a little healthier this week when undefeated New England comes to town. Against the Browns, the Bengals were down three defensive backs, including veterans Leon Hall and Reggie Nelson. They hope the pair can heal from hamstring injuries this week. If not, safety Chris Crocker, who was re-signed last week and relieved both players at times on Sunday, feels confident that he can go out again if needed. After his first game since the 2012 regular-season finale, Crocker said his "conditioning was pretty good, and each week I'll be better."