The Cleveland Browns have turned this article into a nightmare. At 2-2 they have been a bit of a Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde act. First, they were dominated at home. Next they beat up an opponent that was in bad shape going into the game. Week three saw them hang with a top tier opponent only to fall short at the end. All three of those games had a fairly common theme. Excellent defense, good special teams, sluggish offense.
Then came week four. Apparently some of the offense knew that my grade cards had been planned for every four weeks since this season began. They pulled those grades up just a bit in a 40-25 trouncing of the Baltimore Ravens. This game was the first time that the offense looked in sync. Head Coach Freddie Kitchens dialed up a great game plan, and the team executed it for him.
So now that makes the grades a little tough. It looks like some of the early troubles have been ironed out, but I still can’t overlook some of the early tests that they have bombed. These grades reflect their body of work over the first four games. If some of these marks seem a little tough, don’t forget that have plenty of time to pull up those grades before the mid-season grades are released.
Quarterback / C+ : Baker Mayfield earned his plus with a little bit of extra credit this past week. He looked much more himself in the Ravens game than he had at any point in the previous three games. Mayfield’s pocket presence, poise and technique all was much improved from what we saw from him for the first three weeks. Despite his struggles, Mayfield has found yards and that has added up to two wins. Unfortunately, interceptions were the dagger in both losses this season. So right now we have to settle for an average grade. Hopefully, by game eight we will be on the honor roll here.
Running Back / A : While the numbers won’t exactly agree with my grade, I can only grade the group by how they have performed what they have been asked to do. It isn’t Nick Chubb’s fault that many times the run game was abandoned in the first couple games. The unit as a whole has responded when called upon. Chubb’s three-touchdown explosion in the Ravens game gives them a solid A.
Wide Receiver / B : Both Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry have played significantly well this season. OBJ’s one-handed catch versus the Jets is among the top highlights of the season. Landry has been a dependable possession receiver, and yet another player who had an exceptionally good game against the Ravens. If there is anything that has knocked the grade down has been the absence of Rashard Higgins. Damion Ratley has had a tough time filling the shoes of Higgins since he departed in the very first offensive drive of the season. Both Higgins and Antonio Callaway will be added to the mix for the next part of the season, so expect this grade to climb.
Tight End / C- : This grade isn’t 100% performance-based. When the Browns lost David Njoku to injury it left them with Demetrius Harris and Pharoah Brown to fill in. In the Browns offense the tight end is often a safety valve. While Harris and Brown are big-bodied tight ends, they are better suited in blocking roles. This grade was salvaged by the emergence of Ricky Seals-Jones in the game against the Ravens. He looked like the reliable pass-catching option this team has missed most of the season.
Offensive Line / D+ : As Tommy Callahan said in Tommy Boy, “It’s not a grade they like to give out.” Much like the other offensive position groups, the line redeemed themselves a bit against the Ravens. Seeing the unit play well makes it easy to forget the three weeks of penalties, missed assignments, ejections and general chaos this unit found themselves in. Word on the street is that the Browns could also look for help before the trade deadline so that will be a development to look for if the line begins its struggles again.
Defensive Line / A : A top-ranked defense in the NFL has to start somewhere. Unlike the offense, the defense has had good showings weekly. The score against the Titans was misleading due to the three fourth-quarter turnovers. The defensive line has not disappointed. Few teams have run consistently on the Browns. They have also drummed up some timely pass rushes, scaring a poor third-string quarterback to death in the Jets game. They also passed their biggest test of the year, containing Ravens QB Lamar Jackson in their most recent meeting.
Linebackers / B : One of the things that the Browns have done well is keeping the plays in front of them. Even after losing Christian Kirksey to injury Joe Schobert has shown up to pick up the slack. With the defensive line doing their job it makes players like Mack Wilson’s job easier. It’s looking like a good thing that we kept plenty of linebackers after all. Hopefully as the young players continue to get their trial by fire we see even more improvement.
Secondary / B+ : While other units have seen their grade drop due to injury issues, the secondary’s grade is actually up a little due to all of the injuries. Even the patchwork secondary has played very well overall. I think the unit has been a bit underrated because their mistakes have been glaring. It was the big play that killed them versus the Titans. Both of the Rams touchdowns came on poorly defended plays. Those mistakes hurt, but they get put under the microscope when your team loses. It will be interesting to see if they improve once the starting corners return to the lineup.
Special Teams / A- : Austin Seibert has been true since his first pro attempt missed the mark. Fellow rookie Jamie Gillan has filled the punting role as nicely as one could be expected. While not returning much, the aforementioned Landry has been donating his reliable set of hands on catching those punts. My only complaint is that I have seen far too many balls returned out of the end zone on kickoffs. Almost any actual kick return in the NFL results in some form of blocking infraction at this point. It is a disaster waiting to happen, and nothing good has come from returning a kick this season.