Midseason Report: Cleveland Browns
November, 6, 2013
By Pat McManamon | ESPN.com
Expectations can define a season. A team that’s supposed to be playoff-caliber that enters the bye with a record below .500 is disappointed. But a team that’s not supposed to win much, that hasn’t won much and that enters a Week 9 bye week one game below .500 is upbeat.
Especially when said team has started three different quarterbacks, lacks a run game and traded its starting running back. Oh -- and lost its first two games. These are your Cleveland Browns, a team that by all convention and logic should be nowhere near 4-5.
But the Browns pieced together four wins in seven games after their losses to start the season, and played one of its most complete games in beating Baltimore on Sunday. Jason Campbell was never expected to be a lifeboat, but he’s played that way for two games. And with a division game against first-place Cincinnati right out of the bye, the Browns have a chance to actually be competitive in the AFC North for the first time in a long time.
This adds up to a better-than-expected start that gives the Browns (remember the expectations) a sold B in the first half.
GRADING THE CLEVELAND BROWNS
|Quarterbacks||Starting three different quarterbacks in nine games seems like a recipe for trouble, but somehow head coach Rob Chudzinski has made it work. Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell have played well, Brandon Weeden has not. And Campbell has put consecutive 100-rating games on his ledger.|
|Running Backs||The fact that the Browns almost beat Kansas City and did beat Baltimore with no semblance of a threat to run, much less actually do so, is an oddity Carl Sagan may need to explain. This team gets everything it can out of a very limited group.|
|Wide Receivers||Josh Gordon is averaging 17.9 yards per catch, Greg Little had his best and most aggressive game against Baltimore and Davone Bess rebounded from a tough game to have a strong one. This group is growing, but it needs to stop dropping passes.|
|Tight Ends||Jordan Cameron has emerged as one of the better young tight ends in the league. He's now drawing a lot of attention from defenses. His 50 catches are the fourth-best total by a Browns receiver, and his 600 yards are the fourth-best by a Browns tight end, both after nine games.|
|Offensive Line||The Browns line is not the most overpowering group, and it is not working with the quickest or most talented backs. But it is effective. Anchored by Joe Thomas, the group gives a consistent effort and usually plays well, and smart.|
|Defensive Line||This unit has been one of the more pleasant surprises. Phil Taylor has grown into an outstanding tackle, and Desmond Bryant has played very well, especially in terms of the pass rush. The Browns have talent at the position, and they have numbers.|
|Linebackers||A big question mark entering the season has been answered: The Browns have the personnel to play the 3-4. Jabaal Sheard has adjusted to outside linebacker well, and Paul Kruger gets better every week. This unit also seems to love Ray Horton's aggressive style.|
|Secondary||Horton raved about the unit's play prior to the Ravens game, for good reason. Joe Haden has been excellent in coverage, T. J. Ward aggressive against the run and in the pass rush. Buster Skrine may be the team's most improved player. This is a young group that should improve.|
|Special Teams||Billy Cundiff has missed only one field goal shorter than 50 yards, and is 5-for-5 from 39 yards out. Punter Spencer Lanning has been very good, with a net average of 39.5 yards. The main disappointment was the injury to Travis Benjamin, which ended his season. Overall this unit has played consistently well.|
|Coaching||It's time to acknowledge that Rob Chudzinski's approach has worked. He has handled the quarterbacks the right way and made the necessary moves when needed. He has gotten his group to respond to his aggressive approach. And he has pushed a lot of right buttons in balancing a private persona with a very calm and noncontroversial public persona.|
WEEK 2 - SUNDAY 9/14 - FINAL
2014 AFC NORTH STANDINGS
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