If there are any teams still in need of a victory, maybe they should just trade their biggest star and start their third-string quarterback. It has worked for the Cleveland Browns.
After defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 17-6 on Sunday, not only are the Browns 2-2 but they have restored optimism to their fanbase.
Brian Hoyer has been surprisingly efficient as the starter, and the coaching staff has put together fantastic game plans in back-to-back weeks.
Before we look ahead, however, let’s look back at Sunday and hand out the roster grades.
Brian Hoyer: A
It would be tough to figure out the last time the Browns had a quarterback play that efficient. Brian Hoyer was 25-of-38 for 269 yards and two touchdowns. What the numbers don’t show is his poise in the pocket, precision touch on passes and steady hand under pressure.
Once again, in the fourth quarter with the game on the line, Hoyer marched the offense down the field for a touchdown. This time it was 91 yards. Hoyer was the MVP of this game.
Willis McGahee, Bobby Rainey and Chris Ogbonnaya: B-
The Browns found a way to get yards on the ground, and that is all that matters. While they were only gaining three yards per carry, it kept the Bengals defense honest.
McGahee was effective enough to allow Norv Turner to commit 30 carries to the run game. That is a season high. Ogbonnaya also caught five passes and did a much better job in pass protection.
The improved blocking on third downs has helped increase the Browns' conversion percentage.
Josh Gordon, Davone Bess and Travis Benjamin: B+
Gordon once again was a dominant force on the outside. He is a mismatch for any cornerback in the league because of his unique combination of size and speed. He legitimately outperformed A.J. Green.
Norv Turner should get a lot of credit for finding a way to get the ball into Travis Benjamin’s hands. He only had one catch, but it was on a bubble screen that resulted in a 39-yard gain.
Now that Greg Little has been removed from the game plan, Hoyer is able to trust his receivers. Little was targeted just twice on Sunday.
Jordan Cameron: A
If Jordan Cameron can stay healthy for all 16 games, he will go to the Pro Bowl. He is currently on pace for 120 receptions, 1,440 yards and 20 touchdowns. That would shatter the record for receiving yards by a tight end.
While those numbers probably are not realistic, his dominance on the field certainly is. Cameron has learned to fight for the football and be more aggressive through his catches.
Joe Thomas, John Greco, Alex Mack, Oniel Cousins and Mitchell Schwartz: C+
The offensive line improved slightly last week but made a huge leap against the Bengals. They are benefiting from Hoyer getting rid of the ball quickly, but the blocking was much better as well.
Hoyer was only sacked three times and hit six.
Shawn Lauvao should be able to return from his ankle injury next week, and the line could take another big jump with his addition.
Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, John Hughes and Desmond Bryant: A-
This unit did not post huge numbers on Sunday but did rattle Andy Dalton all game long. He was never comfortable in the pocket, and it completely shut down the Bengals run game.
It allowed just 63 yards on 20 attempts and made key stops on short-yardage situations. Even though this unit has not been at full strength most of this year, it is still dominating.
Phil Taylor may be one of the most underrated linemen in the entire league. He plays with a mean streak and consistently bullies his opponent.
Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo: B-
The knock on Barkevious Mingo coming out of college was that he couldn’t stop the run in the NFL. That can’t be a knock on him anymore.
In his first full complement of snaps, Mingo lived up to his sixth overall draft pick status, eating up runs and logging another sack.
Paul Kruger is as steady as you can find in the league. While he doesn’t often show up in the highlight reel, he is making it nearly impossible to run on his side of the line.
Craig Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson: C+
It was another great day against the run for this unit. These two led the team in tackles and did a wonderful job of keeping Giovani Bernard in check.
Bernard was held to just 37 yards on the ground and 38 through the air.
The Bengals did take advantage of them in pass coverage quite a bit, however. Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert combined for 92 yards, and a large chunk of that came against Robertson and Jackson.
This will be a common theme against teams with playmaking tight ends. It is one of the few weaknesses of this defense.
Buster Skrine, Chris Owens and Joe Haden: A
Joe Haden finally got the better of A.J. Green. Continuing his push toward the Pro Bowl, Haden made Green’s day miserable and even got the usually even-keeled wideout to lose his cool.
Seven catches for 51 yards is not a good day for Green.
Across from Haden, Buster Skrine is playing very good football. Skrine had another solid day in coverage and even intercepted a tipped pass.
Chris Owens contributed a sack and fumble recovery as well.
Tashaun Gipson and T.J. Ward: C+
This unit has been extremely solid and that continued on Sunday. Gipson is showing that he has ball hawking in his blood with three more passes defended against the Bengals.
Ward and Gipson are becoming one of the hardest hitting safety duos in the league.
They will have to shoulder some of the responsibility of the Bengals’ tight ends success too, though. This was a difficult matchup in pass defense for Ward, and he was picked on a little Sunday.
Billy Cundiff, Spencer Lanning, Travis Benjamin, Greg Little and Coverage Units: D+
Billy Cundiff missing two field goals, one from 37 yards and one from 49 yards, brought this unit's grade way down.
If Cundiff was not 100 percent healthy, then he has an excuse. Otherwise, two missed field goals is a terrible day.
Travis Benjamin was limited to just seven yards in the punt return game, but Greg Little thrived in his new role as kick returner. He had two returns for 60 yards, and this may be how he can help the team most.