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Bengals vs. Browns: Final Report Card, Grades for Cleveland

Mike HoagCorrespondent IIDecember 27, 2016

Bengals vs. Browns: Final Report Card, Grades for Cleveland

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    The no-longer winless Cleveland Browns (1-5) defeated the Cincinnati Bengals (3-3) 34-24 in a hard-fought battle at Cleveland Browns Stadium in Cleveland.

    Cleveland broke it's franchise tying 11-game losing streak and won its first AFC North divisional game in its last 13 tries.

    Brandon Weeden was 17-of-29 in passing and threw two touchdowns including an electrifying 71-yard bomb to Josh Gordon to tie the game in the first quarter. It's the second week in a row he's connected with Gordon on a deep touchdown.

    Trent Richardson left the game with a rib injury and was replaced by Montario Hardesty. In relief duty, the team's former second-round pick performed adequately and dove over the pile for a go-ahead Browns touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

    After Weeden connected on a short touchdown pass to Benjamin Watson, 11-year veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown intercepted Andy Dalton and took it 19 yards for a game-sealing touchdown.

    The Bengals didn't surrender even though they were down by 17 with only eight minutes to play. Dalton found A.J. Green for a 57-yard touchdown strike over the top of the Browns' secondary. Green beat Joe Haden on the route to bring the Bengals within 10 but was the end of the scoring on the afternoon.

Brandon Weeden

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    Brandon Weeden: B+

    Brandon Weeden made significant progress on his 29th birthday. His throws were, for the most part, completely on target with the exception of a couple batted down passes. One of those was deflected up in the air and intercepted for Weeden’s only real mistake of the game.

    It wasn’t pretty at times as the rookie checked down in long down and distance situations. However, he made throws when they counted. His 71-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon hit the receiver perfectly in stride for the second week in a row.

Running Backs

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    Trent Richardson: C+/Incomplete

    Richardson averaged just 2.7 yards per carry before leaving the game with a rib injury. He missed a block on a third-down that resulted in a sack on Brandon Weeden.

    His involvement in the game-plan was increased in an attempt to boost the team’s inept offense. However, after the team’s opening drive, Richardson and the rest of the offense was bottled up until late in the third quarter. He was injured and out of the game by that point.

    Chris Ogbonnaya: B

    Ogbonnaya wasn’t involved much in the game-plan even after Trent Richardson left with a rib injury. Montario Hardesty is the team’s No. 2 running back while Ogbonnaya handles most third-down situations.

    Montario Hardesty: A-

    Hardesty received his first carries of the season and showed some fresh legs off the bench in relief for the injured Trent Richardson.

    His 15 carries for 57 yards (3.7 yards per carry) was exactly what the Browns needed in the second half to get their first win of the season.

    Owen Marecic: D

    Marecic was drafted for his reliable hands out of the backfield but dropped another two passes. His blocking was average and helped open some holes but for the most part it was another disappointing performance from the former Stanford two-way star.

Wide Receivers

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    Josh Gordon: A

    For the second week in a row, Gordon hauled in a deep touchdown and is beginning to emerge as a big-play threat for the Browns.

    Greg Little: C+

    Little has fallen off and taken a step behind Gordon as the team’s No. 1 receiver. He had a team-high five targets but only hauled in three of them for 18 yards. One of them came on the team’s fourth-quarter touchdown drive that put the Browns up by six points.

    Josh Cooper: B+

    Cooper’s first NFL action provided a glimpse at what the youngster is capable of doing. His rapport with friend and former college teammate Weeden has definitely helped his transition. He hauled in two of the three passes thrown in his direction for 39 yards.

Tight Ends

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    Jordan Cameron: B+

    Cameron’s 23-yard reception in the fourth quarter set up the 3-yard touchdown pass to Benjamin Watson. That score put the Browns up by 10 and was a key moment in the game.

    He also whiffed on a block that left Weeden open for a sack. It was hard to tell whether or not Cameron was supposed to leave him unblocked and Weeden was supposed to get rid of it quicker or if the young tight end just blew the assignment.

    Benjamin Watson: B

    Watson hauled in just two of his five targets for six yards. However, one of them was a short toss from Weeden on a play-action from the Bengals’ 3-yard line for a touchdown.

Offensive Line

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    Joe Thomas, Mitchell Schwartz: B

    The offensive tackles did a good job in keeping the heat off of Weeden in this one. Run blocking could use some improvement but they did a good job against the NFL sack leading Bengals defense. Both sacks on their quarterback were attributed to Richardson and Cameron.

    Jason Pinkston: B

    Pinkston left with an injury and was replaced by John Greco for a couple series. He would return and was good in pass protection but was only mildly effective in the rushing game.

    Alex Mack: B-

    Unsportsmanlike conduct put the Browns in a 2nd-and-20 situation in the second quarter. Other than that mental lapse, Mack was relatively solid on the afternoon. His big push up the middle helped the Browns convert a key third-down quarterback sneak.

    Shawn Lauvao: C

    Geno Atkins pushed Lauvao into the pocket and batted a Weeden pass that was intercepted. Lauvao continues to struggle on the inside of the line and gets consistently pushed back into the pocket.

Defensive Line

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    Jabaal Sheard: B

    Sheard opened up things with a nice stop on Green-Ellis and then followed that with a pass deflection on third and short to force a punt.

    He was constantly in the backfield and applying pressure to Dalton. While he failed to record a sack, his presence was still a big contributor to shutting down the Bengals.

    Billy Winn: B+

    It might not show up on the stat-sheet, but Billy Winn was a dominant presence in the middle of the Browns’ defense on Sunday.

    He was consistently getting into backfield and disrupting play development. With the game on the line, Emmanuel Stephens stripped Andy Dalton and Winn scooped it and ran 35 yards to kill any comeback hopes for the Bengals.

    John Hughes: C+

    John Hughes' aggressiveness allowed him to be moved out of position and a BenJarvus Green-Ellis run went underneath him and through his gap for a 20-yard gain. Besides  that, Hughes seemed to do a decent job in clogging up the middle of the Browns' front-seven.

    Frostee Rucker: C

    Rucker recorded two tackles against his former teammates. In his first action against the Bengals, Rucker was much more involved in the action.

    Juqua Parker: B+

    The veteran pass rusher continues to be a huge bonus for the Cleveland Browns' defense. Although he doesn't play every down, when he's in the game he is making plays by getting after the quarterback and disrupting plays. He finished with one sack, a tackle for a loss and another hit on Dalton.


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    D’Qwell Jackson: B+

    Jackson’s return helped the Browns rectify some run defense issues that allowed the New York Giants to gouge the Browns a week ago. Cincinnati rushed for just 76 yards thanks to six tackles from Jackson in the middle of the defense.

    Craig Robertson: B-

    With exception to being stiff-armed and thrown to the side by Jermaine Greshman on his 55-yard catch and run touchdown, Robertson was all over the field and recorded seven tackles for the Browns defense.

    Kaluka Maiava: C

    Maiava was not much of a factor although he was given additional playing time due to the upheld suspension of veteran linebacker Scott Fujita.

    James-Michael Johnson: C+

    The rookie wasn't involved much but did end up recording three tackles by the end of the ballgame.

Defensive Backs

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    Joe Haden: A-

    Besides being beaten over the top by A.J. Green for a 57-yard touchdown, Haden looked like he didn’t miss a step as he missed the last four games due to a suspension. He finished with three pass deflections and intercepted an overthrown Andy Dalton pass.

    Buster Skrine: A

    Cornerback Buster Skrine played a great bounce-back game after being beaten up by the New York Giants just one week ago. His tight coverage forced a wide throw by Dalton that was intercepted by Joe Haden.

    He also recorded 11 tackles which led the team. After being bullied and pushed off the line-of-scrimmage, he showed some much better toughness in this game.

    Sheldon Brown: A

    Brown had a pretty solid game until the fourth quarter when he blew up a Bengals’ route and picked off Dalton in the process of scoring a 19-yard touchdown. That huge interception and touchdown ended up being the nail in the coffin for the Browns on their first win of the season.

    He also defensed three other passes on the game.

    T.J. Ward: C+

    Ward was out of position in the secondary on several occasions and his lapse in judgment helped Jermaine Greshman take an intermediate slant up the middle of the defense for a 55-yard touchdown.

    Also, Ward wasn’t his normal self in the run defense game, either. He seemed to be put into more coverage situations and that left him away from the ball for much of the game. Ward finished with three tackles.

    Usama Young: B-

    Young’s interception in the end zone at the end of regulation was a fitting end to the first win for the Cleveland Browns in their last 11 tries.

Special Teams

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    Josh Cribbs: A

    A 60-yard punt return by Cribbs resulted put the Browns in striking distance but ended with a three-and-out by the offense. Phil Dawson stepped in and connected on a 41-yard field goal, so his efforts helped put some points on the board.

    Phil Dawson: A-

    Following a Browns interception and subsequent three-and-out, Dawson stepped in and booted another field goal to bring the Browns within one point.

    On the negative side, his fourth-quarter kickoff squeaked out of bounds and gave the Bengals excellent field position at their own 40-yard line as a result.

    Reggie Hodges: B

    Hodges booted a beautiful 57-yard punt that helped shift field position after the Browns failed to do anything offensively.

    Also, with a 10-point lead, he pinned the Bengals inside their five-yard line with a beautifully placed punt.


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    Pat Shurmur: C+

    Shurmur's play calling and decision making was suspect at times but overall he coached a pretty solid game. Some apparent half time adjustments allowed the Browns' offense to move the football more effectively.

    Of course, things always look better for the coach when the team executes. I'm cautiously optimistic that this effort was a result of good coaching.

    Dick Jauron: B+

    Jauron's defense took a step forward with the addition of Joe Haden into the mix. The scheme employed by the defensive coordinator looked to be much more aggressive because of Haden's presence and it paid off as Buster Skrine and Sheldon Brown were able to carry their weight as well.

    Chris Tabor: C

    Tabor's scheme continues to be exploited for big gains in the punting game. It isn't all his fault, though, but he's continuing to punt to return men who are slicing up his coverage teams.



    Mike Hoag Jr. is a Breaking News Team writer with Bleacher Report and also covers the NFL and the Cleveland Browns for the site.

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