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In school, teachers give out a report card for each quarter of the school year. While a lot has changed in the evolution of education and school, this has not. So why not apply that to sports?
After a rough season last year, the Cleveland Browns are 3-1 through the first quarter of this season. After breaking the over .500 mark for the first time since 2014 and being at this record for the first time 2001, Cleveland fans have been cautiously celebrating.
How are they really looking? Did they make the grade? Let’s find out:
Head Coach: B
Cleveland finally has a head coach that seems to know the team’s strengths and how to maximize them. When Kevin Stefanski left his post as offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, along with him came their zone run scheme. So far, it’s fit their offense like a glove.
The heavy run use and subsequent play action calls have really played off of what this team did last year. That has been a bread and butter type style for years that coaches in the past have seemingly went away from.
So if he’s been so great, why didn’t he get a B+ or an A? Simply put, growing pains. In his first game, it seems like he tried too hard to make a statement rather than put his stamp with the offense. Instead of seeing the schemes that they practiced, they ran more of the air-raid plan that didn’t work last year.
It also seems like he may take his foot off the gas too early at times. While defensive coordinator Joe Woods hasn’t done a bad job, the pass defense has been suspect at times. When the defense allows teams to mount come back opportunities in garbage time, the offense needs increased urgency.
All of that said, for a rookie coach, he’s already done a good job. It takes a special kind of person to out two head coaches who have appeared in Super Bowls. Cleveland may have finally found something…but lets see if he holds up.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield: B
Half Backs Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt: A-
Wide Receivers Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr, KhaDeral Hodge: C+
Tight Ends David Njoku, Harrison Bryant, Austin Hooper: B+
Offensive line: A-
This team looks drastically different than last year. Instead of having the tenth most pass attempts, Cleveland is 22nd. As said before, they’re running the ball more effectively. When they do pass, it’s not to gain huge yards but rather to see if the defense is biting on the run, to keep them on their toes.
Mayfield is still missing open receivers at times and does need some work on reads but not as much as last year. He looks more comfortable in the pocket, he’s making better plays and smarter plays than anything he forced last season. If he can clean it up, they’ll be more dangerous.
The offensive line gets the gold star, though. Adding right tackle Jack Conklin and drafting left tackle Jedrick Wills has made all the difference. Add to it that right guard Wyatt Teller is looking like an All-Pro and this line has been better than most in the league.
If Mayfield can clean up some of the throws and the tight ends can provide a little more production, we may be looking at the best Browns’ offense in years. The big test will start next weekend as Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb will be out for around six weeks.
Defensive line: Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi, Sheldon Richardson, Olivier Vernon: B+
Linebackers: Sione Takitaki, Mack Wilson, B.J. Goodson, Malcolm Smith: B-
Defensive Backs: Denzel Ward, Tavierre Thomas, Terrence Mitchell, Andrew Sendejo, Karl Joseph: C-
The defense has been a bit suspect. Yes, they have caused the most turnovers in the NFL, which is back on track from Gregg Williams’ final year as Cleveland’s defensive coordinator. They’ve even shut down the run: they’re allowing an average of less than 100 yards per game, good enough for fourth in the league.
The problem is, they’re third to last against the pass. While some of this is due to having key starters like cornerback Greedy Williams and safety Grant Delpit out, most of this is due to a lack of production from the safeties. Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph have had moments but they’re not performing at a high level. Sendejo specifically has been liability with wide receivers breaking coverage.
Cornerback Terrence Mitchell has stepped in nicely and Denzel Ward has looked better each week. Tavierre Thomas hasn’t looked good in the slot, so expect some improvement when Kevin Johnson gets back to a faster speed. Overall though, the secondary needs to communicate better. The personnel, other than Thomas and possibly Sendejo, isn’t the problem. It’s the fact that none of them seem on the same page most games.
The front seven is fine for the most part. While Vernon arguably could be replaced with Porter Gustin for a better result, they’ve done well to stop the run. The linebackers are performing better than expected but it only goes so far as Mack Wilson tries to get on the same page following his injury.
This team will be tested through the air a healthy amount against Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Las Vegas. If they can put it together, these are winnable games. However, the defense is going to need to step up.
Final Grade: B
There’s work to do, there’s learning to do, but it’s not bad. Fans are talking about “it’s just the Washington Football Team” or “it’s just the Cincinnati Bengals” and how those aren’t impressive wins. However, every win is a big win, especially since Washington actually challenged the division favorite Baltimore Ravens.
Last year Cleveland didn’t live up to the hype but this year they seem different. This may be the best team we’ve seen from them in a while. If they can build on this 3-1 start, they may taste their first playoff appearance since 2004.