Browns vs. Steelers: Final Report Card, Player Grades for Cleveland
Cleveland forced eight total turnovers and gave up just one of their own to improve their season turnover ratio to plus-seven.
Lawrence Timmons got the Steelers on the board first, picking off a deflected Brandon Weeden pass and returning it 53 yards to begin the scoring.
After a Cleveland punt, Steelers' running back Rashard Mendenhall fumbled on their first play from scrimmage and the Browns turned it into Phil Dawson's 20th-straight field goal of the season.
Jordan Cameron caught a touchdown toss from Weeden on a third-down play from the Steelers' 5-yard line and Phil Dawson added another field goal to put the team up six points.
Chris Rainey hit a wall of Cleveland Browns defenders on the goal line and then bounced it outside and walked into the end zone to give the Steelers a halftime lead.
Sheldon Brown picked off a Charlie Batch out-route throw to Plaxico Burress and then Trent Richardson took a hand-off 15 yards to give the Browns the lead.
Pittsburgh tried one last-ditch lateral play from its own 20-yard line but the Browns stopped it to escape with the win over their arch rivals.
Brandon Weeden: D+
Brandon Weeden never really settled in against the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. He was hurried and sacked four times and wasn’t able to get comfortable in the pocket. The rookie did show some composure, at times, and made some good throws to his receivers down field. However, the overall body of work is not what the team needs out of its starting quarterback.
The biggest problem with Weeden's game I saw was his continued reliance on his first read. He missed open receivers by locking in on his first target and not even looking in their direction.
On one specific play, Greg Little lined up along with Mohamed Massqoui to the far side of the formation while Josh Gordon was to the near side. Weeden dropped back and never looked off of Gordon during his quick-out route and then he sailed the pass over his head because the coverage read it.
Greg Little ran a 5-yard in route on the other side while the coverage stuck on Massaquoi. Had Weeden even looked in that direction he would have been able to pick up the first down.
His reliance on his primary target also also helps defensive lineman, especially veterans like Brett Keisel, get their hands up to bat passes. That's exactly what happened on his first-drive pass that was deflected at the line of scrimmage and returned 53-yards for a touchdown by linebacker Lawrence Timmons.
Trent Richardson: A-
Richardson had an excellent game running the football against a stout Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense. Some bad play calls set him up to fail on more than one occasion but he worked through it and found his openings along the line of scrimmage.
He finished with just 85 yards on 29 carries (2.9 YPC average) but his 15-yard run in the third quarter ended up being the difference maker. It was a huge play because Brandon Weeden had just put the team at the 10-yard line with a nice pass but a 5-yard penalty moved the ball back to the 15. Richardson took the ball with a head of steam and diced through the second level nearly untouched on his way to the go ahead score.
The thing I liked most about his game on Sunday was that he didn’t give up. He kept plugging and kept fighting on every carry.
Montario Hardesty: B
There’s not much to say about Hardesty in this one. He didn’t do anything to jeopardize his No. 2 role in the Browns backfield. He had just two carries but showed some good burst on a 13-yarder that gave the Browns a big first down.
Josh Gordon: B+
Gordon started out hot, catching everything that came his way in the early running. His extra effort and refusal to go down helped him extend a slant-route into a hard-earned first-down reception.
Greg Little: C
Little was a ghost in the passing game, catching just one pass for six yards on four targets. One of those throws sailed over his head and another was underthrown and nearly picked by the Steelers defender.
Mohamed Massaquoi: B
Massaquoi had several nice grabs, but none bigger than the 17-yarder that put the Browns at the Pittsburgh 10-yard line and ultimately setup Trent Richardson’s go-ahead score.
Benjamin Watson: B+
Watson continued to be a reliable target for Brandon Weeden again this week after starting out slow this season. Once Weeden discovered that reliability he’s turned to him more and more each week. This week, Watson hauled in all three of his targets for 26 yards. Those numbers may not be exciting, but it’s definitely a positive that the rookie QB has someone reliable like his No. 1 tight end to turn to when under pressure.
Jordan Cameron: A
Cameron had just two balls thrown his way but caught both of them, including a 7-yard touchdown reception on third down in the second quarter. He got separation from the coverage which gave Brandon Weeden ample room to fit a pass in between him and the sideline of the end zone.
Alex Smith: B-
Smith had a juggled pass fall to the grass but he likely wouldn’t have made it too far anyway. His blocking was and continues to be excellent from his new H-back/fullback position.
Joe Thomas: B
Thomas wasn’t at his best but held his own against James Harrison and whoever was thrown his way on the left side of the line.
John Greco: C-
Greco was flagged for a holding call and also beat for a sack, along with Shawn Lauvao who tried to help with his assignment.
Alex Mack: B-
Mack was flagged for a holding penalty as well. I don’t think there was anyone on the team who didn’t have a holding call in this one.
Shawn Lauavao: C
Lauvao had an up-and-down game. At one point he was flagged for back-to-back holding calls that put the Browns in terrible field position (3rd-and-31). However, he did have a nice pull block on the run that sprung Trent Richardson on his 15-yard touchdown run.
Mitchell Schwartz: B
Schwartz’s side of the line struggled but he held his own against the physical Steelers’ front-seven.
Frostee Rucker: B-
The Browns’ defensive end didn’t have that big of a game but was solid at holding up his end of the bargain, literally. Rucker set the edge and kept the Pittsburgh Steelers running game contained.
Phil Taylor: A-
Taylor did a good job clogging up the middle of the line of scrimmage to allow his teammates to make plays. The best play of the game, by anyone, had to have been his picture-perfect swim move that allowed him to toss his blocker to the side and get the Browns only sack of the game.
It was his only big play of the game but its impact was definitely felt by the team, and by Charlie Batch.
Ahtyba Rubin: B-
Like Taylor, Rubin had a good game in the middle of the Browns defensive front. His biggest play of the game was perhaps the first play for the team’s defense.
After Pittsburgh went up 7-0, and forced a three-and-out by the Browns, the big man in the middle stripped Rashard Mendenhall on the team’s first play from scrimmage. Cleveland closed the game to 7-3 as a result.
Jabaal Sheard: B-
Sheard may not have registered any big impact plays on the stat-sheet, but the second-year pass rusher was active in disrupting plays. His pressure never quite got there, but the Browns weren’t really able
Billy Winn: A
Winn played in a rotational role but made two of the biggest plays of the game. They came on consecutive plays, too.
He blew up a play in the backfield for a loss and then picked off Batch on the next play after the ball was thrown behind Mike Wallace and popped up into the air by Joe Haden.
Juqua Parker/John Hughes: C+
Parker and Hughes are usually bigger contributors for the Browns D. Parker, especially, had a quiet game in the pass rush, recording no official pressures or hurries on Batch. He’s been the most consistent pass rusher for the team this season.
Kaluka Maiava: C+
Maiava is the guiltiest party on the goal-line stand gone wrong before halftime. Sheldon Brown’s pass interference penalty set the Steelers up at the 1-yard line before Chris Rainey bounced a run off of Maiava, who didn’t wrap him up, and then strolled untouched into the end zone.
He finished with four tackles, two that were solo, for the game.
D’Qwell Jackson: B+
Jackson was active on the field for the Browns, as usual, on Sunday against the Steelers. However, his unit was unable to put tabs on tight end Heath Miller and it almost ended up costing the Browns badly.
Jackson finished with a team-high total for tackles with nine but recorded just three solo stops.
James-Michael Johnson: C+
Johnson was a little harder to judge despite being active on defense. He did have a nice stop behind the line of scrimmage and showed good ability to shed blocks throughout the game. However, the biggest knock on him for this game is his pass coverage ability.
Sometimes it was weak spots in the zone that allowed Heath Miller to get wide open and find running lanes in the Browns’ defense and sometimes it was Johnson trailing behind him on the coverage.
Craig Robertson: B
Robertson played another good game while rotating in with the starting backers. He recovered a fumble and stuffed a Pittsburgh running play for a loss.
Joe Haden: A
Haden’s return to the lineup sparked three turnovers, albeit thrown from third-string Pittsburgh quarterback Charlie Batch.
While the ball was underthrown on his INT, Haden still made a good play on a Charlie Batch fade to Mike Wallace to come down with the interception. He also batted down another and recorded three tackles.
Sheldon Brown: B+
Brown had a couple of huge plays for the Browns defense against Pittsburgh. He was also the victim of a pass interference call in the end zone that set up the Steelers only offensive touchdown of the game.
The veteran CB made up that by jumping an out-route by Plaxico Burress and picking off the pass from Batch.
Buster Skrine: B
Skrine was physical again this week and recovered a fumble as well as racking up four tackles from the nickel cornerback position. He plays much better there, in the slot, than on the outsides against the bigger and faster wide receivers in the league.
Usama Young: B+/Incomplete
Young left the game after sustaining a big hit delivered by tight end Heath Miller on an attempted tackle. He did have a fumble recovery in the first half prior to the injury.
T.J. Ward: A
Ward jarred loose a fumble with a big hit. He also had a circus pass deflection. A Charlie Batch throw to a wide open Mike Wallace fell short of its destination and landed right on top of Ward’s helmet before falling incomplete to the grass.
He also added four tackles from his strong safety position.
Tashaun Gipson/Eric Hagg: B
Gipson and Hagg came on in relief and spot duty throughout the second half after Young left with the injury. They weren’t picked on and held their own. Although, the Steelers didn’t really have the ability to go downfield so their efforts are harder to judge. They played good within the circumstances, though, so that’s encouraging.
Gipson, an undrafted free agent, has looked good in relief duty this season while Hagg, a former late-round pick, was benched this season and spent some games on the inactive list.
Phil Dawson: A+
Dawson connected on his 20th and 21st consecutive field goals to help give the Browns their third win of the season. He’s now made his last 27 attempts dating back to last season.
Reggie Hodges: B-
Hodges had a busy afternoon in a game that was mostly a field position battle throughout. His 10 punts averaged just 38.3 yards but five of them were downed inside the Steelers’ 20-yard line.
Josh Cribbs/Travis Benjamin: B+
The kick return game was basically shutdown. Pittsburgh kicked off just three times on the game and neither of these two recorded a return.
Each broke decent punt returns, though. Cribbs had a 14-yard and Benjamin a 16-yarder.
Pat Shurmur: D-
Pat Shurmur got his first win against the Steelers in Week 12 of the 2012 season. Mark it down. It’s just the second time the Browns have beaten their AFC North rivals in their past 20 tries. But was it Pat Shurmur who did anything to help his team to this outcome?
He consistently made questionable play calls that failed to meet the situation. If Pittsburgh had had Ben Roethlisberger behind center, this game would have ended very differently if coached the same way.
Like in previous weeks, Shurmur was content with his team’s very narrow lead and reverted to a conservative approach. This has killed the Browns all season. They lack the killer instinct it takes to get a lead and then put a team away. That comes from the top down in an organization. It all starts with the guy holding the clipboard and his philosophy and decision making.
The one thing I do NOT have a problem with from Sunday is his decision to punt while leading by six points instead of attempting a long Phil Dawson field goal.
Shurmur is not the future of this team, or any team, as an NFL head coach.
Dick Jauron: B
Jauron deserves some credit for shutting down the Steelers to just seven points offensively, no matter who was behind center. The team’s eight forced turnovers had a little bit to do what that too, so I’m not going to go crazy with praise for him this week. He continued to blitz, even down the stretch, not letting Batch get comfortable enough to even think he had a chance at mounting a comeback.
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