Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski
Raise your hand if you had the Cleveland Browns winning three games in a row this season. There should not be too many hands raised in the air.
Despite preseason prognostications, the Browns have won three straight games and find themselves holding a share of the AFC North lead after five weeks. In true Cleveland fashion, however, the excitement always has strings attached.
Brian Hoyer, who gave life to a struggling offense on a winless team, is out for the year and will need ACL surgery. Give credit to Brandon Weeden, who filled in admirably and helped continue the win streak after Hoyer was injured.
Grading the quarterback position should be interesting after the Browns’ 37-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills. Let’s find out who will be proud to take their report card home in this week’s team grades.
Brian Hoyer and Brandon Weeden: B+
While we didn’t see much of Hoyer before his injury, we did see Brandon Weeden rise to the occasion for his squad. It wasn’t always pretty, but when the chips were down, he made the throws that mattered.
Does he hold the ball too long? Sure. Does he rattle under pressure in the pocket? Yes. When he has time though, he makes some pretty throws downfield. The Browns saw enough of them on Thursday night to leave FirstEnergy Stadium victorious.
Previous position grades: D+, C+, C+, A
Willis McGahee: B+
The thing about the running back position on the Browns is that McGahee doesn’t ever have to be dominant; he just has to be relevant. If he can take pressure off of the passing game, the Browns offense will work just fine.
On Thursday night, McGahee rushed the ball 26 times for 72 yards and a touchdown. While that won’t set the fantasy football world on fire, it is good enough to win games for Cleveland in real life.
The most impressive part of McGahee’s day was in the red zone. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner trusted him to carry the majority of the offensive work load, and he delivered.
Previous position grades: C-, C-, D+, B-
Josh Gordon, Davone Bess and Greg Little: A-
It would be tough to ask for much more from this unit than what they did on Thursday night. Josh Gordon was his typical self, catching four passes for 86 yards and a touchdown.
The Buffalo Bills defense did everything it could to take Gordon away from Weeden, however. That’s when Greg Little took over. Little eased the pressure on Gordon with some big-time catches and even more impressive efforts after the catch.
Many people, including myself, have been very hard on Little—and for good reason. We must remember that last year when he thrived, it was as the second receiver next to Gordon. That was also with Weeden as the quarterback. Maybe this could be a resurgence for the young man.
Previous position grades: D, D, A-, B+
Jordan Cameron: C+
This is the first time this season that Cameron’s grade has fallen below an A. He had just three catches for 36 yards and wasn’t really a factor in the passing game.
There are a few reasons for his production drop-off. First, he was bound to have a down game, especially with defenses keying on him now. Second, Weeden was finding Little throughout the game and did not have to look past his second progression.
Hoyer obviously did not trust Little and looked to find Cameron first. Weeden seems to have some chemistry with Little, so that may eat into Cameron’s production just a tad.
Previous position grades: A-, A-, A, A
Joe Thomas, John Greco, Alex Mack, Shawn Lauvao and Mitchell Schwartz: C-
I hate to give the line a terrible grade because some of the sacks were Weeden’s fault. The line is not built to hold off a defensive front for four seconds, and Weeden needs to throw the ball quicker.
Shawn Lauvao’s return definitely gave the big guys up front a boost, though. While it was a little rusty early on, the line steadily improved throughout the game.
The line also deserves credit for finally generating a run game. John Greco needs to start playing better because he has been a weak link the past few weeks.
Previous position grades: F, D+, D+, C+
Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, John Hughes, Desmond Bryant, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen and Armonty Bryant: C+
While it was not the defensive line’s best effort, it was definitely a testament to its depth. The Bills’ running back trio of C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and Tashard Choice was the first to get the better of the Browns on the ground this season.
The Bills are the second-best rushing offense in the league for good reason, but I was surprised at how the Browns were pushed around up front in parts of the game.
When it came to pass rush, however, the Browns defensive front was its typical dominant self. It accounted for two of the Browns’ four sacks on the day.
Previous position grades: A+, B-, B-, A-
Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo: C
While this unit still had a solid day, its grade must drop a little because of the Bills’ success on the ground. At points in the game, the Bills isolated Mingo and ran directly at him. They had great results doing this.
It is tough to differentiate the defensive line and outside linebackers in the run game. They work hand in hand for the most part.
In the passing game, both Mingo and Kruger were creating pressure but having trouble finishing in the backfield. It was a solid game, but it was certainly not their best.
Previous position grades: A-, A-, B, B-
Craig Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson: C-
This was Craig Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson’s worst game of the season. They, too, struggled against the run and had a hard time shedding blocks in traffic. They also had a few missed tackles, which is out of the ordinary.
In the passing game, Bills tight end Scott Chandler and running back Fred Jackson abused them. Before quarterback EJ Manuel left with a knee injury, he was finding ways to isolate the linebackers and gaining yards in chunks because of it.
All in all, for this to be their worst performance of the season and still play solid is a great sign.
Previous position grades: B, A-, B-, C+
Buster Skrine, Chris Owens and Joe Haden: A
This week it wasn’t Joe Haden who carried the high grade for the secondary; it was Buster Skrine.
Skrine might not just be one of the most improved players on the Browns; he might be one of the most improved players in the entire NFL, too. He had another two passes defended to go along with six tackles and a sack Thursday.
The secondary only allowed 120 receiving yards to the wide receivers. While some of that had to do with Manuel’s injury, the Browns secondary is ranked among the best in the NFL statistically for a reason.
Previous position grades: C-, C, A, A
Tashaun Gipson and T.J. Ward: A
This may have been T.J. Ward’s best game as a professional. Besides the interception returned for a touchdown to seal the game, he was an intimidating force all over the field.
Tashaun Gipson continues to make big plays in coverage and also delivered the hit that knocked Manuel out of the game. This duo has quickly become one of the more intimidating safety groups in the league.
Ward’s issue was always health. So far this season, he has remained on the field, and the production has followed. If he can stay healthy, he is in for a big payday this offseason.
Previous position grades: C+, B, B-, C+
Billy Cundiff, Spencer Lanning, Travis Benjamin, Greg Little and coverage units: A+
I wish there was a grade higher than A+ for Travis Benjamin. Anytime you dethrone a legend like Eric Metcalf in the Browns’ record books, it’s a great day.
Benjamin had 179 punt-return yards and a touchdown. He was so good that the Bills cut their punter on Friday. His dominance cost a man his job! Let that sink in.
Sure, there are still kick-return issues, but kicker Billy Cundiff was perfect on the day and Benjamin returned his way into the record books. That equals a perfect grade in my book.
Previous position grades: C+, C+, A+, D+