In order to pass out grades, I will first grade each unit as a whole and then give each position group a separate grade. We’ll start with the offense.
Overall Grade for the Offense: D+
I toggled between a D- and a C+ for the offense. My reasoning for giving them a C- was based on the idea that we’ve seen some brutal offenses here in the past, and this one seems like an improvement. Then I looked at the numbers.
The offense ranks 24th in the league in yards per game with 317 and 25th in points per game at 18.5. Last season they averaged 314 yards a game and 18.9 points. In other words, when you look at the measurables this team hasn’t improved offensively.
Now, the eye test tells me something else. The eye test tells me that when Weeden isn’t under center this offense is better. But even when Hoyer was under center, they were still inconsistent.
Obviously this group is graded on a Hoyer/Campbell curve. Going into this season, the coaching staff needed to know what it had in Brandon Weeden. They found out. Weeden can’t make this offense go against a half-decent defense. He holds the ball too long and doesn’t make good decisions. He misses open receivers and still locks on to one target.
Hoyer showed signs of being a decent quarterback, but what he may have shown was simply mediocrity, which looks pretty good under center for the Browns given the history of that position since ’99. Campbell shook off the rust last week and moved the offense for a half. While he’s a better option than Weeden, I think teams will gameplan against him and he won’t have a great second half.
Running Backs: D
The Browns are 26th in the league in rushing yards per game at 82.6. They have one rushing touchdown. Willis McGahee leads the team in rushing with 231 yards. He averages 2.9 yards per carry. Trent Richardson is second on the team with 105 yards rushing. Ugh.
To put the Browns running game into perspective, in an absolutely down season for running backs and rushing yards, LeSean McCoy has more rushing yards than the Browns do as a team. Quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor (391), Russell Wilson (339), Michael Vick (308), Colin Kaepernick (294), Alex Smith (258) and Robert Griffin III (240) all have more rushing yards than McGahee.
Chris Ogbonnaya averages 5.3 yards per carry on 19 attempts. He has caught 23 passes out of the backfield and gains 7.3 yards per reception. Perhaps he should be more of a focal point than McGahee.
Offensive Line: C
The season started off dreadfully for the line, but the group has improved as the season went along. Sunday’s game against the Chiefs may have been their best performance in pass protection going up against a Kansas City defense that averaged five sacks a game. The Chiefs recorded only one sack, and weren’t able to get a ton of pressure on Campbell. A big part of the problem on the line had to do with trying to get away with Oniel Cousins at right guard while Jason Pinkston and Shaun Lauvao recovered from injuries. Not only was guard a weak spot, but it left Mitchell Schwartz exposed as well. Lauvao’s return has stabilized the right side of the line.
In the running game, the line still isn’t living up to expectations. I think there is a little bit of the chicken and the egg thing going on, trying to figure out if the line isn’t blocking well enough or the backs aren’t getting to the holes and through them. There have been holes however. Not as consistently as you’d like to see, but they are there. Unfortunately, the running game never seems to get going in part because of play calling. It just hasn’t been a big enough portion of the game plan.
This isn’t hard. Jordon Cameron deserves an A. Josh Gordon probably gets a B or B+. The rest of the group has done nothing. Davone Bess has been a disappointment. Greg Little hasn’t been any better than that. The two of them have been flopping in and out of the starting line-up. Travis Benjamin was never really involved in the offense, catching five passes on the year. It would be hard to think what this group would look like without Cameron’s 49 catches for 596 yards and six touchdowns.
Let’s move on to the other side of the ball.
Overall Defensive Grade: C+
This was a tough one. There have been times this season when the defense was dominant. The first half against Baltimore. The second half against Minnesota. Most of the Cincinnati game. Even a good part of the second half against the undefeated Chiefs. The problem here is consistency.
The Browns rank seventh in total defense giving up 320.4 yards a game and fifteenth in points against averaging 22.4 points a game. These represent big improvements over last year’s defense. Cleveland started the season with fantastic numbers against the run, but have dropped back to 12th against the rush giving up 103 yards per game.
Defensive Line: B
Of all the units on defense, the line has probably been the most consistent. Even with some injuries and a seven man rotation, this group has performed well. Ahtyba Rubin leads the defensive line in tackles again with 25. Rubin is often in the top 10 for defensive linemen in tackles but has slipped to 21st overall this season. He still has more tackles than big name players like Suh and Jared Allen.
Desmond Bryant leads the group in sacks with 3.5, but six of the seven defensive linemen have all recorded at least one. Ishmaaily Kitchen has yet to reach the quarterback. Together the defensive line has 8.5 sacks. They have helped make the Browns a much tougher team against the run this season as well.
Perhaps this grade would be higher if there weren’t more expectations on them heading into the season. The Browns invested big money in OLB Paul Kruger, and to this point he’s been pretty average. Kruger has 21 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Those 21 tackles rank him 90th just among linebackers in the league.
On the other side Jabaal Sheard’s injury certainly hurt the defense. Quentin Groves and Barkevious Mingo should have tag teamed to give the Browns decent production from that side, but Groves has been hurt as well leaving the rookie on the edge by himself a lot this season. Mingo leads the team in sacks with 4, and is among the rookie leaders in that category. He also has been burned on the edge in the running game several times. It’s something he will work on and get better, but it has hurt the defense in the first half of the season.
The inside linebackers have had struggles as well. Craig Robertson was torched trying to cover Reggie Bush out of the backfield against the Lions, and neither he or D’Qwell Jackson has done very well against tight ends this season. As usual, D’Qwell Jackson is among the league leaders in tackles with 69 for the year.
Defensive Backs: B-
If I were handing out a surprise group of the year award, the defensive backs would probably get it. Joe Haden is who he is. For the most part quarterbacks look away from his side of the field. The biggest surprise on the team has been the play of Buster Skrine. Skrine is really improved and every game it seems he makes a good play to break up a pass. I really like what I’ve seen from him.
I don’t think Gipson is the long term answer at safety, and T.J. Ward has been solid but not spectacular this season. Other and Owens, we haven’t seen a ton from the other defensive backs.
Special Teams: B
The Browns have done a very good job covering kicks. Opponents average just 7.8 yards per punt return and 22.8 yards per kick-off return. Both of those are in the top 15 in the league. The Browns are fourth in kick-off return yard average if you can believe that, and ninth in punt return average. Unfortunately, they have now lost Travis Benjamin for the season. Those averages will probably suffer because of it.
Spencer Lanning is tied for 8th in punts downed inside the 20, and Billy Cundiff is a respectable 12 of 15 in field goals.
The Coaching Staff: Incomplete
This may seem like a cop-out, but I need to see more from this group. I don’t have a great handle on the job they are doing. At times Ray Horton’s defense looks terrific. Then there are times when they can’t get any pressure on the quarterback and they waltz right down the field. Norv Turner’s offense has been all over the place as well. How much of that is on the quarterback? What about the abandonment of the running game?
Rob Chudzinski has made some in-game decisions that seem a bit questionable, but he has also been aggressive at times and it has paid off for the team. I think his handling of the quarterback situation and the trade of Trent Richardson have been very good. The players like him, but he isn’t afraid to bench players that aren’t producing.
Here’s hoping the second half of the season brings better grades, but more importantly more wins.