Chargers vs. Browns: Final Report Card, Player Grades for Cleveland
San Diego got one last shot at coming away with the win. They drove down to the Cleveland Browns' 44-yard line but were unable to go anywhere from there after four-consecutive incompletions ended the game.
The weather was frightful with gusting winds and sporadic rain and that forced the game into a low-scoring and close contest. That presumably favored the Chargers' second-ranked rush defense.
However, Trent Richardson and the Cleveland Browns' offensive line had different plans. Richardson ran for a career-high 122 yards and the Browns moved the ball easily, at times, against the tough Chargers defensive front.
In a game which saw the Cleveland Browns score first, then punt nine consecutive times, it was definitely a close and hard-fought battle by both teams.
Clevelands' defense allowed the Chargers to drive several times into their territory but came up with two fourth-down stops and forced two Nick Novak field goals (43 and 32 yards).
Next up, the Browns will prepare to host AFC North rival Baltimore next week at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Brandon Weeden: C+
Brandon Weeden didn’t play very effectively but did enough during a wet and windy day on the shores of Lake Erie. There were tough conditions and both quarterbacks struggled as a result of the gusting winds.
At one point he missed on eight consecutive passes and almost threw a likely game-losing interception inside the Browns’ 10-yard line.
He struggled again with passes being batted down at the line of scrimmage but also looked like he’s getting more comfortable working through his progressions.
Another added positive is his grasping of game situations. Weeden threw the ball away at times instead of forcing the issue and even took a sack to keep the clock running instead of throwing it away and killing the clock.
Trent Richardson: A
Trent Richardson played an incredible first half after being slowed by a rib injury in Week 7’s disappointing loss in Indianapolis. Richardson ran extremely hard and seldom fell after first contact, finishing with 86 rushing yards on 15 carries and had one touchdown in the first half alone.
His 26-yard touchdown run was the lone spark for the Browns in the first half. He took a hand-off off-tackle and trucked safety Atari Bigby before taking a Shawn Lauavao escort into the end zone.
He finished the game running hard and helped the Browns eat clock. That limited the opportunities for the Chargers and helped them come away with the win.
Richardson set a career high for yardage finishing with 122 yards on the ground.
Montario Hardesty: D+
Montario Hardesty saw limited action in the first half due to the excellence of Richardson. He managed just three yards on two carries which came consecutively in the second quarter.
Filling in for Richardson, again, he fumbled with the game on the line but somehow ended up recovering to save a turnover.
Overall he was very ineffective in his limited relief duty of Richardson who reclaimed the majority of the carries of the Browns’ offense.
Chris Ogbonnaya: C+
Ogbonnaya had first down catch after Brandon Weeden scrambled and found the running back flaring out along the sideline. That catch was a crucial play on a drive that resulted in Richardson’s first-half touchdown run.
The first half wasn’t all bright spots for Ogbonnaya. He dropped a screen pass on a key third-and-7 inside Chargers territory that resulted in a Browns punt.
Josh Gordon: B
Josh Gordon was held in check in the first half due to limitations from the weather and the Cleveland game plan to pound Trent Richardson. He had his chance in the end zone, though, but was pushed off his route by cornerback Antoine Cason.
He made up for it in the second half with a couple of nice grabs. Gordon finished with three catches for 46 yards on five targets. That’s including a big 26-yard catch-and-run that helped shift the field position battle.
Greg Little: C+
He dropped nicely thrown pass by Brandon Weeden to kill the Browns’ opening drive of the second half. On the previous series, Little caught a first-down pass.
He caught just two of the five targets that came his way but both of them went for first downs.
Little also had a key 22-yard first down catch in third quarter that helped save a drive.
While blocking on an outside Trent Richardson run, Little was flagged for holding which put the team in a first-and-20 hole.
Travis Benjamin: D+
Benjamin didn’t do very much and saw little action in this one due to the game situations dictated by the weather. He had no targets on the afternoon.
He lost the handle on a pitch by Josh Cribbs that resulted in a 3rd and 24. The Browns lost 20 yards on the play and missed a big opportunity for points at the end of the first quarter as a result.
Jordan Cameron: C+
Both Watson and Cameron had rough days, both only bring in one catch a piece despite being targeted 4 times each.
Cameron’s lone reception came on a diving effort that resulting in a sliding first-down catch.
Benjamin Watson: C+
Benjamin Watson had a nice run and catch in which he made the first defender miss and accrued a big 14-yard first-down gain.
He also beat a linebacker deep early in the game on a play-action pass play but the ball sailed just off of his finger tips from an overthrow by Brandon Weeden.
Cleveland Browns Offensive Line: A
As a unit the Cleveland Browns offensive line improved dramatically in a game in which they needed to be better than they were one-week ago against the Indianapolis Colts.
Matched up against the NFL’s second-ranked rush defense, the Browns o-line moved Chargers’ defenders and gave Trent Richardson enough holes to rush for 122 yards with a 5.1 yards per carry average.
Penalties were also minimal for the line, despite a false start on John Greco.
The biggest area for improvement of the line needs to be in keeping defenders engaged. Brandon Weeden continues to have defensive linemen jumping and batting down passes as a result.
Speaking of Weeden, he was sacked only twice, with only one true lapse of blocking by his linemen.
John Hughes: B
John Hughes got the start for an injured Ahtyba Rubin and played pretty well in relief duty for the normal starting defensive tackle. He made a big play on the first-quarter fourth down stop that allowed T.J. Ward to swoop in and eat up Jackie Battle and cause a turnover on downs.
Billy Winn: B+
Billy Winn started things out great by falling on top of the Ryan Matthews’ fumble. In the second quarter, Winn kept churning and solid coverage downfield gave him the chance to wrap up Rivers and record the only sack of the game.
He didn’t do very much else, statistically, throughout the rest of the game. He actually recorded no tackles after that second-quarter sack of Rivers.
Jabaal Sheard: B-
Jabaal Sheard did a decent job of closing the edges down but wasn’t nearly as effective as the Browns would hope in getting after Phillip Rivers. He did have one big play in which he blew up the edge and disrupted an end-around in the third quarter. Sheard didn’t make the tackle but the play ended in a six-yard loss for the Chargers.
Frostee Rucker: C
Rucker was a ghost for much of this game. He recorded no tackles and left the game at one point in the fourth quarter with what looked to be a leg injury. Minutes later he returned to action.
Juqua Parker: B+
Juqua Parker had another solid game coming in as a situational pass rusher. He also made a very good stop on a third-down run that ended in a five-yard loss for the Chargers.
Overall, Parker did a good job establishing the edges and made a second tackle for a loss.
Emmanuel Stephens: Incomplete
Stephens left with a neck injury in the first half and did not return.
James-Michael Johnson: A-
Rookie linebacker James-Michael Johnson came to play against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. He’s starting in place of Scott Fujita who was moved to injured reserve and made a strong case that he’ll be a fixture in the Browns defense for years to come.
In the first quarter, Johnson absolutely planted running back Ryan Matthews and jarred the ball loose, resulting in a Browns fumble recovery.
He finished the game second in tackles behind D’Qwell Jackson with 10.
D’Qwell Jackson: B+
Jackson was burnt a couple times by running backs out of the backfield, including a bad one on the Chargers’ final drive of the game.
As usual, Jackson was the team’s leading tackler and made several solid stops. He was in on 14 stops and recorded six solo tackles.
Kaluka Maiava: B
Maiava was in a couple key run stops and played a very active game. He seems to be getting better each week with getting to the point of attack and making plays rather than letting them develop.
The former USC linebacker finished with nine tackles, five of them being solo.
Craig Robertson: C+
Robertson played a limited amount of snaps in nickel sets. He missed a key tackle on Ronnie Brown, letting him get up the sideline for a huge gain on the Chargers’ final drive. He did make up for it with nice coverage on tight end Dante Rosario a few plays later.
Joe Haden: B+
Haden was involved in stopping a few Rivers passes but was more active in run defense. He picked up eight tackles and was all over the field for much of the game.
Sheldon Brown: B
Sheldon Brown wasn’t picked on after having two good games at the cornerback spot. He finished a quiet day with two tackles and nothing much of note to talk about. When a corner has a quiet day, you know he’s doing something right.
Buster Skrine: A
Skrine wasn’t very active throughout much of the game but did step up to record four tackles during his time on the field in nickel sets.
He had the key game-winning pass deflection as he was following his man he turned back and deflected Rivers’ pass causing a Chargers turnover. Cleveland took a knee and walked away with a win after the play.
T.J. Ward: A-
Ward started out the game with a statement play. On the Chargers’ first drive they moved into Cleveland territory and had a fourth-and-one attempt. He came storming in to stuff Jackie Battle and force a turnover on downs.
He also helped in the pass rush effort with an untouched blitz pressure that forced an early Rivers to throw. That pressure resulted in a Chargers punt.
Despite it not hurting the Browns, Ward was beat badly in coverage by wide receiver Robert Meachem. Meachem must have seen the open field in front of him and got excited and dropped the football. There was nobody deep behind Ward and the play would have surely ended in a Chargers touchdown.
Usama Young: B+
Browns’ safety Usama Young made two excellent pass deflections and almost had two interceptions in the process. The first came as Phillip Rivers tried to force a deep throw to Danario Alexander and the second came on a similar decision to target Malcom Floyd with Young and T.J. Ward all over him.
He was active in run support, recording seven tackles because the Browns front-seven didn’t get the job done in that respect.
Phil Dawson: A
Phil Dawson didn’t have an opportunity to test his leg against the swirling winds at Cleveland Browns stadium. But, he did connect on 100 percent (1-of-1) on extra points.
Josh Cribbs: C
Cribbs started out the second half with a 30-yard kick return that was negated by a holding call on Jordan Cameron.
Overall, he was ineffective in the return game and made several questionable decisions by allowing punts to drop inside the Browns 10-yard line and be downed by the Chargers.
Reggie Hodges: D+
Reggie Hodges had a pretty rough day punting, averaging just 39.6 yards on the afternoon. It wasn’t terrible, though, considering the weather conditions.
However, his punt before halftime sailed well into the end zone and allowed the Chargers to mount of a two-minute drill that ended in three points as time expired on the second quarter.
Pat Shurmur: B-
To close out the first quarter, his decision to run an end-around play with the weather as bad as it is resulted in a tragic 20-yard loss to ruin any chances the Browns had of scoring.
Shurmur also deserves some criticism for the huge string of passing plays he called in the third quarter after Trent Richardson had established an effective ground game for the Browns.
Despite those criticisms, Shurmur helped the Browns more than hindered them and kept the game conservative enough to avoid giving the game away.
Dick Jauron: A-
With exception to Jauron's soft scheme during the Chargers' second-quarter drive before half time, he brought the pressure and kept Phillip Rivers rattled throughout the day.
There's still a concern on the edges as teams have been able to run effectively outside the tackles. Whether the issues from this game are a scheme problem or performance one is hard to determine without further review.
Mike Hoag Jr. is a B/R Breaking News Team writer and covers the NFL and the Cleveland Browns for the site. Follow him on Twitter for analysis and updates on the latest news and happenings in the sports world.
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