The Browns at midseason, a report card.

Gordon and Cameron

Haslam2The Browns head into Sunday’s division game against the Ravens with a 3-5 record. For Cleveland, half the season is now in the books. It’s time for a mid-season report card.

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.

Quarterbacks: C-

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.

Receivers: C

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.

Linebackers: C

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.

  • Harv 21

    Mostly agree, Rick, with a few quibbles:

    – I don’t see QBs with good #1 receivers staying away from Haden at all. His receivers get plenty of throws and he’s gotten more than his share of flags. Maybe it’s just in the first 4-5 games coordinators were challenging Skrine relentlessly, and it’s too tempting not to throw to whomever Owens is covering.

    – My grade for the running game is “S.I.” (Self-Immolation). It’s impossible to grade the run blocking with nothing but mid-season practice squad scrap heap and UFAs back there. With these guys and the Richardson trade, this FO couldn’t be any clearer about its disdain for running game emphasis.

    – Re the coaching, not sure what more you expect from Chud in his first few games as a HC anywhere. There’s no more melt downs, confusion or talk of “learning curve.” His ability to focus the team after the trade and switch QBs 3 times was fabulous. Norv? Nary a word about playcalling, evenwhen he’s had to adjust repeatedly to new QBs, sometimes in mid-game. Ray Horton is an awful lot of talk so far, and a lot of his blitzes get picked up, exposing the middle of the field to decent QBs. We’ll see whether the second half is better. I give the coaches as a group a A-/B+.

  • Mongoose

    The offense is what it is.

    I’m excited to see if the defense can play a full game like they played the second half against the Chiefs. I thought they played great and have the potential to become a dominant defense.

  • humboldt

    Good stuff Rick, and I agree on most grades, though I would bump the corners up to a B- due to the surprise play of Skrine.

    What troubles me the most as I evaluate these units is that we are still a team with no real identity. What is it that we do well? Other than a strong defensive line, I’m not sure I see a real coherent foundation. Still a lot of season left to play, but I’d like to see more of an identity emerge, and it seems most likely that it would be a team whose defense imposes its will on games (beyond the “attack, attack, attack” platitudes.

  • CB Everett

    Great analysis, Rick. Couple points on the LBs: I think Kruger has been better than average. The stats mentioned are misleading. He only has 2.5 sacks, but is consistently getting pressure. Also, tackles are not an accurate measure for an OLB in the 3-4, so general LB tackle rankings are somewhat irrelevant.

    Also, Craig Robertson, Horton’s “little ace in the hole,” has been awful in coverage. You mentioned Bush torching him, but let’s not forget the consistent beat downs by opposing TEs (Detroit’s backup TE has 3 TDs, GB, KC…). This is a big concern when mediocre guys are winning the battles. Hate to see what Gronk and more athletic TEs would do against us.

  • RGB

    Ugh, I hate that 3-4.
    Horton depends too much on schemes, blitzes and disguises.
    We have the manpower to play a straight up 4-3. No tricks, no junk. Just line up and dominate.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    Agree I most points, though I’d add that the coaching staff has been great with one glaring exception…the decision to stick with Weeden as long as they did. Given that both Hoyer and Campbell have looked better than the abismal showing by Weeden, I can’t imagine what the coaches saw in him.

    Also, Norv has been above average. He’s had some pretty bad pieces to work with thus far, but he’s still managed to squeeze some production out of a terrible QB and witness protection group of RBs.

    I expect better from Horton, particularly in the QB pressure department. The front line is very talented, and they need to apply more prevsureto take pressure off the linebackers.

  • Jason Hurley

    I think it’s going to be hard to establish an identity (especially on offense) when we don’t have a lot of the pieces we need.

  • nj0

    Agreed. Seems to me that tricky, blitz heavy defensive packages do extremely well at first, but have a short shelf life. Unless you’re Dick Lebeau and you’ve had amazing talent for nearly ten years straight.

  • CB Everett

    Our identity was originally cast as “Big guys who can run and little guys who can hit.” I guess it’s slightly better than Old guys who can’t throw and other guys who can’t run.

  • mgbode

    disagree. plenty of 3-4 and 4-3 good defenses throughout the NFL. SF, Arizona, KC and others.

    heck, did you know we are currently #1 in the NFL at Y/A defense?

  • Harv 21

    Schemes, blitzes and disguises is the NFL now, and has to be with the mobile QBs, bigger/faster receivers and rule changes that favor offense. Most of the d-line and LBs are rookies or played in the 4-3 previously. DQ Jackson always makes more impact plays in a 4-3 where he can sprint without dealing with o-linemen. No defensive backs on the roster have a nose to pick off errant throws forced by pressure. Unfair to expect that personnel and scheme turnover will produce a dominating defense in half a season. The league’s dominating defenses have played together in a scheme for a while.

  • Albert

    Josh Gordon gets a B or B+? His numbers prorate to 85 catches and 1500 yards with C- quarterbacking.

  • mgbode

    he missed 25% of the games, so they must have given him 1/2 credit for making that up once he got back.