It was a week of change for the Cleveland Browns. They changed their starting quarterback to Brian Hoyer. They changed their starting wide receivers with the return of Josh Gordon and benching of Greg Little. Most notably, they changed the face of their franchise by trading Trent Richardson.
They also changed the typical result of their games by defeating the Minnesota Vikings 31-27.
It’s time to set aside the euphoria of victory and hand out grades for the entire roster.
Brian Hoyer: C+
Making just his second career start, Hoyer had his ups and downs.
Throughout most of the first half, he was quick, decisive and accurate. Coming out of halftime, he looked befuddled and erratic. When it matter most, on the Browns’ final drive of the game, he was electric.
Hoyer finished 30-of-54 for 321 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. If it were not for the turnovers, he would have had a solid “B” grade for his performance.
In the end, the team won its first game and he got his first career victory as a starting quarterback.
Willis McGahee, Bobby Rainey and Chris Ogbonnaya: D-
After the Browns front office jettisoned Trent Richardson to Indianapolis for a first-round pick, it turned to free agent Willis McGahee. While he only had a few days to prepare, his Cleveland debut couldn’t have been what it envisioned.
McGahee rushed eight times for nine yards. While the Browns had 103 total yards on the ground, this trio of running backs accounted for just 48 yards on 14 carries.
Josh Gordon, Davone Bess and Greg Little: A-
The Browns’ most explosive player returned from his two-game suspension and wasted no time taking over the offense. Josh Gordon had 168 all-purpose yards, accounting for 41 percent of the Browns’ offensive production.
Gordon’s route running has improved so much since last season that the Vikings couldn’t keep track of him on the field.
Bess added seven catches for 67 yards, and the best part of Greg Little’s day was that he wasn’t targeted enough to have any type of negative impact on the game. Little will have to earn back the trust of his quarterbacks and coaches after two abysmal weeks.
Jordan Cameron: A
This kid may be a superstar in the making. He had another strong week catching six passes for 66 yards and three touchdowns.
Every time Hoyer was in trouble, Cameron was there to bail him out. I could nitpick some of his blocks, but he is becoming such an elite pass-catcher that it is even getting tough to do that.
Cameron is now a weapon every opposing defensive coordinator must plan to stop.
Joe Thomas, John Greco, Alex Mack, Oniel Cousins and Mitchell Schwartz: D+
While the line turned in its best performance of the season, it still wasn’t anything to write home about. Hoyer had to move out of the pocket constantly and adjust to pressure.
It allowed Hoyer to get sacked three times and hit eight.
In the run game, it gave very little space for the backs to operate out of the backfield. The Browns cannot survive throwing the ball over 50 times a game, and right now they need to.
This unit is still awaiting the return of Shawn Lauvao and hoping he gives it a desperately needed boost.
Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, Billy Winn, John Hughes and Desmond Bryant: B-
Besides the first drive of the game where Adrian Peterson rushed for 28 yards and a touchdown, the defensive line was dominant once again. It stifled the run and forced Christian Ponder to throw the football.
Once the Vikings were in passing downs, it harassed Ponder into bad decisions and turnovers. Four of the Browns’ six sacks came from this unit.
You could tell the return of Rubin from his calf injury helped the team late in the game. The pass rush, which had faded late in previous weeks, stayed heavy until the final whistle.
Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo: B
While this unit played pretty well and Mingo grabbed his second career sack, the big news was Jabaal Sheard leaving the game with an injury. Scott Petrak of the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram reported that Sheard needed a crutch to leave the stadium and head coach Rob Chudzinski called it a knee sprain.
#Browns OLB Jabaal Sheard (knee) left locker room on a crutch. Chud called it knee sprain.— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) September 22, 2013
In the wake of those injuries, Mingo proved he could hold his own on run defense. That was supposed to be the weakness of his game, but he fared well. He logged four tackles and a tackle for loss.
Craig Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson: B-
This unit played very well against the run once again. Craig Robertson is proving that he is a quality linebacker capable of stopping the run on a consistent basis.
The one knock on this crew Sunday was pass defense. Too often they were not falling deep enough into their zones and allowing passes up the seams and over the middle. Robertson did tip the pass that was intercepted by T.J. Ward, however.
D’Qwell Jackson led the team with 10 tackles while Robertson added four more.
Buster Skrine, Chris Owens and Joe Haden: A
Joe Haden was his usual dominant self, but Buster Skrine has been the big surprise. He is quietly having a very solid year, and the secondary is benefiting from the pressure the defensive front is creating.
Skrine, who too often was beat despite having close coverage last season, is learning to finish around the ball. Instead of receivers catching passes over him, he is fighting through their arms and creating problems for the pass-catcher.
The secondary allowed just 4.6 yards per pass and smothered the Vikings receivers. What was once the main worry of the defense is quickly turning into a very reliable unit.
Tashaun Gipson and T.J. Ward: B-
It was another solid game from this unit. This week T.J. Ward was the benefactor of a Craig Robertson tipped pass. That is Ward's job. When there is a turnover opportunity, he must capitalize.
Gipson has above-average coverage skills for a free safety and continues to be a nuisance downfield for tight ends. Kyle Rudolph was only able to muster 28 receiving yards.
I will even show some love to backup safety Josh Aubrey, who was the team’s leading rusher with a 34-yard run on a fake punt.
Billy Cundiff, Spencer Lanning, Travis Benjamin, Bobby Rainey and coverage units: A+
The special teams get a perfect grade for two flawless fakes. The first was a fake punt where Josh Aubrey took the snap 34 yards for a first down. The second was a fake field goal where Spencer Lanning threw a perfect pass to Jordan Cameron for a touchdown.
The coverage units also deserve some love for keeping Cordarrelle Patterson in check on kick returns.
Lanning also had to kick an extra point on the Browns’ game-winning drive because Billy Cundiff sustained a quad injury. He now joins a very small club of folks who have thrown a touchdown pass, punted and kicked an extra point all in the same game.