Cleveland Browns: Grades from the horrendous loss to the Bengals

Dec 11, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson yells to the officials during the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns fell to the Cincinnati Bengals 23-10 on Sunday. Where did it all go wrong? Each position group is graded based on their performance.

It was an unprecedented sort of afternoon for the Cleveland Browns, as they became the first team in NFL history to take two consecutive bye weeks. Sleepwalking through their 23-10 defeat at the hands of Cincinnati, Hue Jackson and company rolled over and quit against a poor and beat up Bengals team.

In their best remaining chance to salvage a win, the Browns decided to play one of their worst games of the year. After the first half, the game was over. Like usual, Cleveland teased fans with a bit of a run in the second half, but could not stop the running game to stay in it.

As a result, they find themselves staring 0-16 in the face. With opportunities to win games fading, they better figure out what went wrong on Sunday fast. Monday will be a critical yet not enjoyable day for the Browns, as they break down the game and try to move forward from it.

As a forewarning, the following grades are not pretty. We try to give the Browns the benefit of the doubt, but there is no benefit and a whole lot of doubt after what we saw at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday.

Ranked on a letter grade scale from A-F, each major position group is assessed based on their performance in this game only. No other factors are taken into consideration.

Dec 11, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) gets hit by a Cincinnati Bengals player during the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Bengals won 23-10. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback: F

It was nice to have Robert Griffin III back, until the game actually started. While he provided mobility that the position has not brought the Browns in ages, he also showed a great deal of rust.

This was evident in his final stats, miserable in so many ways. Completing just 12 of 28 pass attempts, Griffin threw for 104 yards. He also threw an interception on a flea flicker play in which he decided to throw the ball into triple coverage.

On the ground, Griffin proved to be a much different quarterback. Trying to revive a career built on escape ability, the 26-year-old carried the ball seven times for 31 yards and a touchdown.

But more indicative of his performance than any individual stat was Griffin’s failure to put the ball on wide open receivers on multiple occasions. Missing receivers in the flat and over the middle, his 16 incompletions are not all a credit to strong defense. In fact, most came as a result of a combination of inaccuracy and drops. It was a very sloppy afternoon in this regard.

Of course, Griffin wasn’t put in the most ideal situations. Field position set up the former Baylor Bear to fail. But he himself was the one who followed through, and failed.

Dec 11, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson (29) runs with the ball during the second half against the against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Running Back: D

The sad truth is, it was actually a very successful afternoon statistically for Cleveland rushers. Isaiah Crowell averaged over 11 yards a carry, taking it 113 yards on ten carries. Duke Johnson also got involved, with 24 yards on six attempts and a 21-yard catch and run.

However, it wasn’t all pretty for these two. Most of this yardage came against a much less aggressive defense in the second half. Also, both Crowell and Johnson had their share of drops coming out of the backfield.

Pass protection was another area this unit struggled in. It was a valiant effort, but blocking some of Cincinnati’s top pass rushers was ultimately a lost cause. This led not only to the three sacks Griffin took, but also to some premature throws before routes could materialize.

All in all, it was a struggle for Cleveland running backs. But unlike past weeks, they actually got involved in the offense after a sluggish start. So, there’s something to build on.

Dec 11, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Corey Coleman (19) runs with the ball after a catch as Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (27) defends during the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Bengals won 23-10. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Wide Receivers: F

Even in an ugly game, the lack of production from the receiver group stands out. The leading pass catcher in this group was rookie Corey Coleman, who gained 26 yards.

Besides Coleman, Andrew Hawkins got in on the action with a reception which went for four yards, and star Terrelle Pryor never got past the parking lot with only one reception for three yards.

Doing the simple addition, the wide receivers accounted for 33 yards on the day, despite being targeted a total of 15 times. Not surprisingly, this is a season low.

To make matters worse, it’s not like this unit did anything else to aid the team’s quest for victory. They didn’t block well on the outside, mostly because there were not many outside runs, and they didn’t help out their quarterback when needed. Rashard Higgins had a drop, and neither Pryor nor Coleman made the difficult catches they had opportunities to make.

For a team that likes to throw the ball, it would be a good idea to throw to more than two receivers. It would also be nice to have multiple receivers catch more than one pass. For obvious reasons that need not to be explained further, this group failed to do their job in Sunday’s game.

Nov 27, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Austin Pasztor (67) and center Cameron Erving (74)during the second quarter between the Cleveland Browns and the New York Giants at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Giants won 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Line: F

What we saw in Sunday’s game from the offensive line is about what we have come to expect. It is no secret that the line is just not talented enough to compete at the NFL level with their current personnel. Still, this doesn’t excuse a very poor game they had against a tough Cincinnati defensive front.

John Greco‘s absence was costly in this one, as the Browns were forced to send a double team to the right side. Cameron Erving, Austin Pasztor, and even Joe Thomas were physically beaten up in this one, clearly overmatched by Cincinnati.

Unlike past weeks, the line’s struggles were covered up somewhat by Griffin’s ability to get out of the pocket and extend plays. However, their poor play was just as costly even if it didn’t appear to be, given the importance of a clean pocket to the deep passing game the Browns were trying to spark.

Run blocking started to open up some lanes later in the game, but it was not nearly consistent enough. Without the confidence to run the ball early in the game, the Browns aren’t even trying to hide the fact that their offensive line is horrible.

To be fair, this unit is doing their best with what they have. It is good experience for these young players to have opportunities that they really don’t deserve. Maybe Cleveland will use these games to find a diamond in the rough on their current line who will contribute in future years. But as far as this week is concerned, it was the type of performance fans are getting used to seeing from their offensive line.

Dec 11, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns tight end Gary Barnidge (82) makes a reception while getting tackled by Cincinnati Bengals free safety George Iloka (43) during the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Bengals won 23-10. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Tight Ends: F

There is good news and bad news for Cleveland tight ends. The good news is that Gary Barnidge led the team in receiving Sunday afternoon. The bad news is that he was only able to muster 27 yards in three receptions.

It was a very normal day for this group. Barnidge came through with several grabs, but the tight ends served as little more than statues on the field when blocking.

For an offense that uses formations with two tight ends frequently, they aren’t using these two spots efficiently. Blocking does not seem to be in their vocabulary, and their receiving is limited.

Seth DeValve was the other tight end who played a significant amount, and Randall Telfer contributed on special teams. Dan Vitale, who can be thrown in with the tight ends, made a name for himself in this one by dropping a pass on the goal line when he was wide open and ready to go in for a touchdown.

In future weeks, the Browns will have to ponder whether or not their use of tight ends is benefiting the team enough to continue. Judging based on this week, they won’t need to think too hard.

Dec 11, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) runs with the ball as Cleveland Browns defensive end Jamie Meder (98) chases during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Line: F

Simply put, Cleveland was manhandled up front by Cincinnati’s offensive line. Their defense did nothing to stop the Bengals’ rushing attack, or to muster any pressure on Andy Dalton.

The numbers say it all, as Jeremy Hill torched the Browns to the tune of 111 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. What makes this worse though is just how much the offensive line dominated Cleveland, creating holes even in predictable running situations.

Due to the Browns’ inability to stop the run, they were never in any position to rush the passer. This is because the Bengals were always ahead of the sticks and away from third-and-long situations. All of this stemmed from the physical beat down up front, as Cleveland’s defensive line was not a factor in the game.

Highlighting this group’s afternoon was Danny Shelton, who quietly made seven tackles. But no other player on the line made more than three, which is never going to be enough. Plus, since they were pushed back all afternoon, they didn’t even contribute to any other plays made by the rest of the defense.

Dec 11, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) runs the ball past Cleveland Browns inside linebacker Christian Kirksey (58) during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Linebackers: D

Cleveland linebackers were never given a chance on Sunday, as they were forced to deal with Cincinnati’s running game as well as their air attack. With no help whatsoever from the defensive line, stopping Jeremy Hill was up to the linebackers. Also, since the secondary had a hard time against the Bengals’ sizable receivers, they were asked to help out in pass coverage.

Lost in all of the chaos was the lack of opportunity to muster up any pass rush. This was due to the fact that the team’s best pass rushers, the linebackers, were occupied in other efforts. This isn’t really their fault, but it does serve as a missed opportunity for them.

The only Browns’ linebacker who had a solid game was Jamie Collins, who has already indicated that he doesn’t want to be part of the team’s long-term solution. His 15 tackles led the team, with the next closest player only recording seven.

Demario Davis and Emmanuel Ogbah also got in on several defensive stops, but were beat on two reverses to Cincinnati receiver Tyler Boyd. Ogbah performed well overall though, finishing with 1.5 sacks, a tackle for loss, and three quarterback hits.

Christian Kirksey, the most consistent linebacker on the team this year, was held to just three tackles. This isn’t good enough for a defender on the field as much as Kirksey is.

Hopefully, the linebackers can bounce back, something they are certainly capable of doing. After all, this isn’t the group the team should be most concerned about. This doesn’t excuse the fact that they simply did not get the job done though.

Dec 11, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd (83) runs with the ball after a catch as Cleveland Browns cornerback Jamar Taylor (21) makes the tackle during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Secondary: F

It wasn’t a very active day for the secondary, to say the least. The Bengals likely didn’t have to pick on the secondary as much as they did in order to coast to the victory. With only 28 pass attempts in 70 plays, the unit had very few chances to seize.

When the ball was put in the air though, the results did not bode well for Cleveland defenders. Andy Dalton completed 20 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns, a very efficient performance. Despite not having A.J. Green to deal with, the Browns still couldn’t solve Tyler Boyd, Tyler Eifert, and Brandon LaFell.

Joe Haden led the secondary in tackles, and Jamar Taylor was not far behind. However, most of these plays came after demoralizing receptions, including six third-down conversions which went through the air.

The first two drives were especially disheartening for this unit, as Dalton threw wide open short pass after short pass, controlling the clock and wearing down the defense.

Nobody got beat deep for the Browns, as Cincinnati’s longest completion went for just 18 yards. But they were beat consistently, unable to come up with a momentum swinging play.

Dec 11, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden (23) waits to receive a punt in a near empty stadium during the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Special Teams: F

Unfortunately, this is not a very hard grade to give. The special teams unit earned every bit of their failing grade, and did nothing to avoid it.

Every kick and punt return on both sides was a new opportunity for a Cleveland debacle. Ricardo Louis took four kick returns for 61 yards, averaging just over 15 yards. He even took two out of the end zone and was stopped short of the 20 both times. Even worse, the Browns committed a penalty on each of these returns pinning them inside the 10-yard-line.

Haden didn’t have any better of a day fielding punts. This is because he didn’t field any punts. In fact, he let two go over his head, one which was downed at the 1-yard-line, leading to an interception and eventually a Cincinnati touchdown. Looking completely lost and lacking confidence in the return game, Haden contributed to a special teams failure for the ages.

Alex Erickson was able to return three punts for 47 yards, drastically changing field position. Considering the fact that the Browns had zero punt return yards in an almost equal amount of opportunities, the Bengals used special teams to their advantage.

Would a better game from the special teams have given the Browns the victory? Probably not. But it is very hard to measure just how much this unit harmed the team, as horrible field position plagued them all afternoon.

Dec 11, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson hug after the game between the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Bengals won 23-10. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Coaching: F

In the NFL, so much comes down to preparation. And in the end, this is precisely why head coaches are paid so much.

Coming off of a bye week, Cleveland was not prepared in so many ways. This is unacceptable, and reflects directly on the coaching staff.

This was evident when the Browns were penalized for illegal formation twice, when they couldn’t get a play called and had to use a timeout because Pryor was arguing with Griffin, and when there were miscommunications in the passing game which wasted downs. All of this comes down to preparation, which the Browns apparently did none of in the two weeks leading up to this rivalry matchup.

It was good to see a slightly more balanced game called by Jackson, as well as a gutsy fourth-down call deep in Cleveland territory. This is what the Browns need to do if they are going to steal a win, because obviously, they aren’t going to the traditional way.

It would be a good start though to prepare the right way, and have the team ready to play. With the Browns coming out the way they did, they were in an insurmountable hole. Clearly, coach Hue and his staff did not have the team in the right mindset and did not motivate them to come out in a very winnable game.

“Well, you know I gotta look at the tape,” Jackson told the media after the game. Maybe, just maybe, if coach Hue looks at the tape for long enough, it will suddenly change and the Browns will have beaten the Bengals. With the way everything is going, that’s probably the team’s best hope.

The roster can be horrible. The front office can even make some absentminded moves. But what infuriates fans more than anything is when the team that they spend their hard-earned money on is not ready to go in front of their home fans coming off of a bye week.

In the end, this reflects negatively on the coaching staff. Jackson seems to have lost this team, as the players are mentally checking out. If he wants to avoid the worst season in NFL history, this better change fast.

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