Rookies playing a huge role in Browns' streak
BEREA, Ohio — A big reason the Browns won their third game in a row was due to the contributions of rookies. Pat Shurmur was asked if it was the confidence they’ve gained or the opportunity to show their skill set.
“It’s probably a combination of both,” Shurmur said. “When they have the confidence and opportunity and when those two meet they have the chance (to make plays).”
There was probably no bigger play in the win over the Chiefs than from rookie Travis Benjamin, who broke off a record-setting punt return of 93 yards for a touchdown to jump start the Browns.
“I talk about our young football team and we have 72 starts by rookies,” Shurmur said. “The next closest is around 44. Some young players have distinguished themselves.”
Shurmur knows when young players are making plays, it bodes well for the future. He’s not surprised they have been performing well in the second half of the season.
“When you’re breaking in a bunch of young guys, first and foremost, they’re learning how to play,” he said.
Here are some of the players who had big contributions in Sunday’s win over the Chiefs.
Trent Richardson (first-round) — Richardson rushed 18 times for just 42 yards with two touchdowns. He caught a pass for nine yards. Despite averaging just 2.3 yards per carry, Shurmur isn’t concerned.
“I’m not concerned at all (about his average),” Shurmur said. “He got into the end zone and that’s what is important.”
Richardson tied Jim Brown for the franchise's rookie record with nine touchdowns and has 10, overall.
Brandon Weeden (first-round) — Weeden was 17-of-30 for 217 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. His QB rating was 79.4. He also picked up a first down when he rushed for 15 yards early in the game. Weeden held on to the ball too long on a couple of occasions and was sacked three times. He didn’t have a great game but didn’t turn the ball over and managed the win.
“I double check (the stats sheet) to see if it says ‘win’,” Shurmur said. “First, that’s the most important thing. I don’t spend too much time looking at stats. I have a pretty good idea on how a player played. I then look at it on tape. The most important to me is decision making, accuracy and protecting the ball.”
Mitchell Schwartz (second-round) — Schwartz continued his solid play helping the offense put up two rushing touchdowns. He also provided Weeden with plenty of time to throw. Weeden was sacked three times, but most were coverage sacks.
Josh Gordon (second-round supplemental) — He caught 8 passes for 86 yards and had a 10.8 average. He had a long reception of 18 yards. He was targeted 12 times and continues to make plays on third down.
John Hughes (third-round) — Hughes had three tackles and a sack for an 8-yard loss on Brady Quinn. He also had a quarterback hurry and a tackle for loss.
James-Michael Johnson (fourth-round) — Johnson started a strong side linebacker and had two tackles and a special teams tackle.
Travis Benjamin (fourth-round) — Benjamin made the most of his opportunities and he had the biggest play of the game in returning a punt 93 yards for a touchdown. He also picked up a first down on a double reverse for 15 yards.
Billy Winn (sixth-round) — The young defensive lineman continued his productive play with three tackles and a quarterback hurry.
Tashaun Gipson (UDFA) — Gipson had the game's only turnover as he intercepted a tipped pass by Sheldon Brown and returned it 23 yards to the Chiefs 13, setting up a field goal by Phil Dawson to make it 20-7. Gipson also had two tackles with a pass broken up beside the interception.
Craig Robertson — Robertson is technically not listed as a rookie because he was on the practice squad at the end of last season. However, Robertson made a couple of big plays, including pasting Dexter McCluster just short of a first down on third-and-9. Robertson finished with five tackles and 2 tackles on special teams.
“That was a big play and Craig did a nice job,” Shurmur said. “He played very well throughout the game, but that was one play that was obvious.”
Schwartz says the rookies have worked very hard in practice and it’s paying off.
“I think everyone has done a good job of coming along,” Schwartz said. “The biggest thing with us one guys is starting with practice. You’re not going to just show up on game day and be successful.”
This week, Robert Griffin III is slated to come to Cleveland to face the Browns. However, his status is uncertain because he suffered a knee strain late in the game.
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said he hasn’t ruled Griffin out.
“It is a grade one (mild),” Shanahan said in his Monday press conference. “I’m not ruling him out (for this game).”
Shurmur said the Browns can’t worry whether Griffin will play.
“We have to prepare for their offense,” Shurmur said. “We cannot stop the preparation worrying about who is going to play.”
Shurmur said he believes the Browns have learned how to win games.
“What I’ve learned from this team is we can finish a ballgame and find a way to win a game,” he said. “We didn’t do that when we started 0-5.”
Shurmur added he takes a lot of joy seeing the players reap rewards.
“What’s most satisfying to me is to see these guys near the end of the game and in the locker room truly enjoying victory,” he said. “It becomes intoxicating and it drives you to do it more.”
Shurmur stayed true to his mantra of not worrying about his future.
“I’m not worried about any of that,” he said. “I’m not worried about saving my job. I’m just doing my job.”
Shurmur said he felt that WR Greg Little had the best game of his two-year career. He caught four passes for 69 yards, including a long of 34 yards. He also took a pitch from the backfield for 17 yards to set up a score.
“He caught the football well,” Shurmur said. “When you watch the game he’s a physical guy and rattles around there blocking well. I thought he had a pretty good game. He had production.”
Shurmur said when the officials called a penalty on the Browns’ No. 46 he had a good response.
“I told the official that number is retired,” he said. “There’s some interesting discussion sometimes. That happens a lot, but the fact the number was retired was a funny thing.”
Don Fleming wore 46 and the Browns retired it close to 50 years ago.
Shurmur was asked what kind of response he gets when he’s out in the community lately with the Browns winning streak.
“I don’t get out much,” he said. “I guess you can say it’s been varied. Sometimes, what people say to you (in person) is different than what they would say when their names not attached to it. For the most part, it’s along the lines of ‘Keep working, keep grinding.'”
Shurmur admitted one of the reasons he challenged the ruling that WR Josh Cribbs was down on the one-yard line on the Wildcat option was because he was hoping Cribbs would get into the end zone.
“I wanted Josh to get a touchdown and it’s never a guarantee (to score),” Shurmur said.
The Browns lost the challenge and RB Trent Richardson scored on the next play.