Cleveland Browns Midseason Report Card for Every Positional Unit

Stephen SchindlerContributor IIOctober 24, 2012

Cleveland Browns Midseason Report Card for Every Positional Unit

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    Seven weeks into the season and a lot has happened in the Browns world. The organization has reconciled with legend Jim Brown, Jimmy Haslem has taken over as owner, Mike Holmgren has stepped down and the team suffered from suspension to Joe Haden and Scott Fujita. On the field, the Browns, the league's youngest team, is a disappointing 1-6. 

    Cleveland's offense has been significantly more explosive in the passing game, largely due to preseason Rookie of the Year favorite Trent Richardson having been sidetracked by injuries. The defense's ranking, among the worst in the league, has really struggled due to the injury of Phil Taylor and suspension of Haden and Fujita. 

    Here's how each position grades out at the midway point of the season.

Quarterbacks: B

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    Brandon Weeden’s rookie season has been a mixed bag of explosive plays and costly interceptions. At times, he has looked like a poised 29-year-old, while at other times, he looks like an overwhelmed rookie.

    Weeden had a horrific start to the season, throwing four interceptions against the Eagles. He has played two great games against the Bengals, winning one and throwing for a career-high 322 yards in the other. Weeden looked relatively comfortable against the Ravens and Giants defenses, but his untimely interceptions have been his undoing.

    When Weeden is good, he has been very good; but, when he’s bad, he has been very bad. Weeden ranks eighth in passing yards with 1,783, yet his league-leading 10 interceptions is a big reason why he is last in the league in QBR (20.3) and why the Browns have failed to win close games.

    As of late, it does appear that the rookie has progressed well from the beginning of the season. After getting his first win in Cincinnati, the 29-year-old rookie posted his first turnover-less game in a loss to Indianapolis.

    Individual Grades:

    Brandon Weeden: B

    Weeden, despite his mistakes, has instantly made the Browns offense more explosive. He is a significant upgrade over any quarterback Cleveland has had in years.  

Running Backs: C-

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    The Browns rushing offense ranks 30th in the NFL, putting up a measly 79.1 rushing yards per game. The Browns haven't really given their ground game much of a chance, ranking 30th in rushing attempts at only 20.7 per game. Their longest rush of the season was for only 23 yards.

    Cleveland backs have had two runs of 20-plus yards, failing to register any runs of 40-plus yards. The Browns get just 15.9 percent of their first downs running the football, ranking better than only the pass-happy Saints.

    While the Browns running backs haven't been given much of a chance to produce, they haven't done anything with the opportunities they have been given.

    Individual Grades:

    Trent Richardson: C+

    He has shown flashes of why Cleveland traded up to take him, but injuries have been his undoing in 2012.

    Montario Hardesty: C-

    He looks healthy. He has displayed a burst that many assumed would be gone after his knee injury in 2010.

    Chris Ogbonnaya: C-

    A non-factor in the run game but has shown good hands and burst out of the backfield. 

Wide Receivers: B+

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    This is the group that should have Browns fans buzzing. The additions of Travis Benjamin and Josh Gordon have vastly improved the big-play ability of this group.

    Browns receivers currently rank 11th in the league in receptions and ninth in total yards. They have accounted for nine of Cleveland's touchdowns. They have 25 passing plays of 20-plus and have three plays of over 40 yards. This ranks them in the top 10 of the NFL in explosive passing plays.

    In fact, the Browns have two 71-yard touchdown passes this year. The Browns wideouts have also been reliable in getting first downs, with a whopping 87, thus far.

    This group has far exceeded expectations and is certainly the most exciting receiving corps Browns fans have seen in years.

    Individual Grades:

    Josh Gordon: A

    Worth the second-rounder Cleveland gave up. First Browns receiver to have four TDs in four weeks since Braylon Edwards in 2007.

    Greg Little: B+

    Still has a small case of the dropsies but his understanding of the offense and route-running have improved dramatically.

    Travis Benjamin: B-

    His speed must be respected. Look for Cleveland to find more ways to get him the ball.

    Mohamed Massaquoi: Incomplete

    Massaquoi just can’t seem to stay healthy. With Gordon and Little emerging, his days in Cleveland could numbered.

    Josh Cooper: C

    Cooper has proved to be a reliable, preferred option for Weeden.

Tight Ends: C

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    Cleveland tight ends have caught only 33 passes for 303 yards and just one touchdown. In previous seasons, the tight ends have been Cleveland's leading pass-catchers.

    However, the move from McCoy to the strong-armed Weeden has changed the passing focus from the tight ends to the wide receivers. Browns tight ends are averaging over 10 yards per reception, and each has caught a pass of over 20 yards.

    Individual Grades:

    Ben Watson C-

    Not as productive as in previous seasons and his poor blocking is a concern.

    Jordan Cameron C+

    Despite limited statistical productivity, he has shown immense potential and athletic ability. Look for him to get more targets in the second half of the season.

Offensive Line: B+

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    Many were worried about how Brandon Weeden would handle the pressure NFL defenses would bring; however, the Cleveland offensive line has done a great job with consistently providing him a clean pocket to deliver the ball.

    In fact, Weeden has only been sacked 11 times. Of the NFL starters, he is the fifth-least sacked in the NFL. The Browns offensive line is kept from a grade in the A’s because of the inconsistent run-blocking. Browns runners haven’t had many holes, with several plays being stuffed up at the line of scrimmage.

    Individual Grades

    Joe Thomas: A+

    The five-time All-Pro has yet to miss a snap in his six-year Browns career.

    Jason Pinkston: C+

    Showed promise before blood clots in his lungs ended his season.

    Alex Mack: B

    He has struggled with interior run-blocking, especially against the Giants and Ravens.

    Shawn Lauvao: C

    He has shown improvement in pulling plays and screen blocking but still struggles at the point of attack.

    Mitchell Schwartz: B+

    The young rookie has struggled at times but appears to be getting his feet under him. He should be reliable in the second half. 

Defensive Line: C+

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    The Browns are ninth in sacks (18.0), with members of the Browns defensive line accounting for nine of those 18 sacks. Due to the many rotations Cleveland uses, no one player on the defensive line has dominated. In fact, six linemen have recorded at least one sack.

    While pressuring the quarterback has been a strength, the defensive line has struggled mightily in stopping the run. The Browns, allowing 4.5 yards per carry and 133.7 yards per game, have allowed five rushing touchdowns and eight runs of 20-plus yards.

    Phil Taylor’s presence is sorely missed as teams are running up the middle on the Browns 49 percent of the time. According to Football Outsiders, the Browns are worst in the NFL at stuffing the run. This refers to the percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. Cleveland is only stuffing runners 13 percent of the time.

    Individual Grades

    Jabaal Sheard: C

    With only one sack through five weeks, Browns fans are hoping this isn't the same sophomore slump that hit Kamerion Wimbley.

    Juqua Parker: C

    Along with two sacks, the veteran has brought nice depth and leadership to the unit.

    Frostee Rucker: B-

    The former Bengal is a big improvement over Jaime Mitchell. He is stout against the run and already has two sacks

    Ahtyba Rubin: B

    The most underrated defensive lineman in the league has 14 solo tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He has struggled without the presence of Phil Taylor.

    Billy Winn/John Hughes: C-

    These rookies have gone through baptism by fire, with both being thrown into the starting lineup at times this season. They have struggled against the run but have flashed some playmaking ability.

Linebackers: B+

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    The linebacking corps took a big hit when Scott Fujita was suspended for a game as a part of Bountygate. Despite this, the linebackers have performed better than any unit of the Browns defense.

    They have the team leader in sacks, interceptions and tackles. They have helped make up for a defensive line that struggles with stuffing the run and a secondary that has let receivers run wild.

    Individual Grades

    Craig Robertson: B+

    A very athletic player who leads all Cleveland linebackers in tackles and interceptions.

    D'Qwell Jackson: A

    This tackling machine leads the team in sacks, has a pick-six and is the unquestioned leader of the defense.

    Kaluka Maiava: B

    The only good pick of the Kokinis-Mangini era is a reliable, consistent performer.

Defensive Backs: C+

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    This group has had to grow up fast due to Joe Haden’s four-game suspension. Cleveland currently ranks 26th in pass defense, allowing 277 yards per game. The team is second is most passing touchdowns allowed with 15; however, they have managed 10 interceptions, third best in the NFL.

    Quarterbacks are not afraid to attack this secondary, gashing Cleveland for five plays gaining 40-plus yards, which is a big reason why the Browns are the fourth-most thrown against team in the league.

    Individual Grades:

    Joe Haden: B+

    Cleveland’s mos talented defender is attempting to regain his form following a four-game suspension that cost his team dearly. When he is in the lineup, the Browns are a vastly superior secondary.

    Buster Skrine: D+

    Due to Haden’s absence, he has become, perhaps, the most picked on corner in the league.

    Sheldon Brown: C+

    Brown’s pick-six against Cincinnati was nice, but he is just surviving on instincts and guile at this point in his career. It’s time he makes the move to safety.

    Dimitri Patterson: B-

    Patterson has been reliable in coverage and continues to tackle well in the second level.

    T.J. Ward: C

    Ward has failed to really regain his form after essentially missing all of last year. He has struggled as a run defender, but he gets points for playing so soon after surgery on his broken right thumb.

    Usama Young: C-

    How does Usama Young have two interceptions? Based on the eye test, I’d point to Usama Young as the weakest part of the Cleveland secondary. He is very poor against the run, as evidenced by Bernard Pierce trucking over him on Thursday Night Football

Special Teams: B+

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    The Browns are 12-12 in FGs and 15-15 in PATs. Only the Arizona Cardinals punt more frequently than the Browns do.

    Cleveland ranks 24th in the league in punting, with 43.5 yards per punt and has had 12 downed within the 20. Cleveland is allowing over 17 yards per punt return. By far, it's the worst in the NFL. They do have the third-highest return yardage, however.

    Individual Grades:

    Phil Dawson: A++

    No surprise here. The team’s most consistent performer is perfect on field goals this year

    Reggie Hodges: C-

    Dropping an extra-point snap and shanking a punt out of bounds certainly doesn’t help his grade, but he has done a nice job pinning opponents inside their own 20.

    Joshua Cribbs: C

    Cribbs regularly gets good field position but does anyone remember the last time he took one back to the house?

Coaching: C-

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    Jimmy Haslem and Joe Banner will probably clean house and get rid of all these coaches at season's end. 

    Individual Grades:

    Pat Shurmur: C

    Improvement in big plays helps his case, but poor game management and questionable decision regarding straying from Richardson pull his grade down. Against Indianapolis, with Haslem in person, his decision to punt on 4th-and-1 likely decided his fate. He will be gone by the end of the year.

    Brad Childress: B+

    Despite not knowing who Josh Gordon was, he has worked very well on developing the young skill players on this offense.

    Dick Jauron: D+

    Cleveland has gone from a top-10 defense in his first season to a bottom-five unit in 2012. This guy can coach defense, but losses like Taylor, Haden and Fujita have definitely affected his game plans.

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