Supplemental Potential

In summer of 2012, a buzz began to surround the NFL Supplemental Draft. Following the previous year, when fomer #1 recruit in the nation Terrelle Pryor had been selected by the Oakland Raiders, another player with enticing physical gifts and a chequered past was demanding the attention of NFL front offices. Standing at 6’ 4” and 220 lbs, Josh Gordon looked like a hand crafted NFL wide receiver. And he could run too. The issues came with his route to the NFL. Like many Supplemental Draft participants, it was not smooth. Trouble began with a failed drug test early in his sophomore year and, after starring in Baylor’s downfield offense, he failed another and was suspended indefinitely. A transfer to Utah followed, where he sat out the year and then attempted a transfer to Houston, then the Supplemental Draft. A peripatetic route punctuated by mistakes.

It was clear that whoever drafted him would need to make sure they knew what they were getting. The Browns attended his workout at the Houston Texans facility prior to the Supplemental Draft, and followed it up by being the only team to bring Gordon in for a visit. There had been some murmurs that he could be selected highly, but there was still widespread surprise when the Browns spent a second round pick on acquiring him. The move was met with criticism, and the Browns were accused of being “desperate” and that the pick was a “waste”. The front office was seen to be banking their future on a kid who had played one real year of college football and had severe disciplinary questions. Even Gordon was surprised by the selection.

There were those who believed in Gordon though. His former coach at Baylor, Art Briles, called the selection “a bargain” and his former quarterback, Robert Griffin III, reportedly pushed hard for the Redskins to draft him. Respected analyst Matt Waldman was one of Gordon’s most vociferous early proponents, describing him as “a raw Terrell Owens and Demaryius Thomas” and that “his potential could be as limitless as Calvin Johnson”.  Thus there was a divide between those intoxicated by Gordon’s physical prowess and those who had read of his prowess of intoxication.

Gordon was not expected to be a big contributor his rookie year. With the Supplemental Draft in July, he joined well into the offseason, two months behind the other 2012 rookies. Although he practiced at Utah, he had not played competitive football since the 2010 college season. Fellow wide receiver Greg Little had similarly sat out his last year in college and showed potential as a rookie, but was inconsistent as he adjusted back to full-time football and averaged only 40 yards per game. It became clear though that Gordon was a different level of prospect. He impressed in training camp, displaying his size, speed and hands.

Gordon finished his rookie year the Browns’ leader in receiving yards and TDs, whilst barely scratching his potential. As the third-youngest player in the NFL, he managed to physically dominate against NFL defenses. His speed and fluidity have blessed him with a natural ability to create separation and he showed that ability consistently as a rookie. He started the year relatively quietly as he worked his way into the rotation. As the year progressed he showed his immediate value as a deep threat as he used his speed and size to get on top of defenses. He showed this against the Giants in Week 5 when he had a 62 yard TD and followed it up against the Bengals in Week 6 with a 71 yard TD grab.

Gordon’s speed is deceptive. His long stride can make it appear effortless, and like he is moving slower than he is. Waldman compared his stride to that of Michael Johnson, the Olympic champion sprinter. Johnson was obsessed with technique as a sprinter, intent on having no wasted movement. Gordon’s similarly smooth style of running led to all 5 of his TDs in his rookie year being from at least 20 yards out. Like Johnson it often seems like Gordon is running at a different speed from his competitors. At top speed it’s doubtful he can be caught, but there is more to playing wide receiver in the NFL than pure speed.

Like most rookie WRs, Gordon took time to transition to the NFL. Young wide receivers often struggle facing higher quality players, more physical DBs and more complex defenses. In addition, they are often asked to do more. Few, if any, wide receivers enter the NFL able to run a complete route tree.  Brian Billick has called it one of the toughest positions to transition to in the NFL. They can no longer rely purely on their physical gifts to perform. Gordon had his own early struggles with press coverage. Against the Eagles in his NFL debut he repeatedly allowed Nnamdi Asomugha to get his hands on him and jam him at the line of scrimmage, disrupting his routes. By his breakout game in Week 5, he had begun to get the hang of press coverage.

Against the Giants he started to display proper technique for beating press, delivering a jab across the body of the DB and not opening his body up to them. It was still relatively inconsistent at that point, but by Week 13 it was natural to Gordon. He put up season highs in receptions and yards, posting 6 receptions for 116 yards and 1 TD. The ability to beat press coverage coupled with his speed resulted in many big gains over the year. He posted 9 games with a reception of 20+ yards, including 8 in a row, and 3 receptions of over 40 yards. By the end of the season he had used little more than his speed and physical ability to take the top off of opposing defenses and give the Browns the deep threat they had lacked for several seasons.

gordoncomparison

(click to enlarge) On the left at the top Gordon is jammed at the line by Asomugha; on the right at the bottom he is displaying proper beat press technique on Corey Webster. The pass went for an incompletion against the Eagles and the pass against the Giants went for a touchdown 

Unfortunately before the start of his sophomore NFL season, the other element to Gordon showed its head. He was suspended for 2 games for violating the NFL’s Substance Abuse rules, leaving the Browns short their burgeoning #1 WR and Gordon one strike away from a season ban. This led to several swirling rumours as to the new Browns front office’s commitment to the young wide receiver. Trade rumours surrounded Gordon for weeks, and he addressed them better than anyone could have hoped, dominating the competition and growing as a player.

In his first game back he posted career numbers against the Minnesota Vikings, going off for 10/146/1. The most important development he showed against the Vikings was the ability to make catches in traffic with DBs draped over him. He also showed surprising elusiveness for a receiver of his size, taking one screen 30 yards and an end around 22 yards, displaying very good YAC ability for a receiver of his size. As the season has progressed, he has taken on the weight of being Cleveland’s #1 receiving option and has continued to develop as a player. It seems in the last few weeks that Gordon is beginning to learn the nuances of the position and rely less on pure physical skills.

One of Gordon’s main issues early in the year was based on contesting deep passes against DBs and working back to the football. This led to effort questions regarding Gordon, and was most prominent against the Packers in Week 7. With the Browns down 11 in the 4th quarter, Brandon Weeden heaved up a pass to Gordon on 4th down. Gordon failed to work back to the ball and highpoint it and Davon House broke up the pass, ending a key drive for the Browns. However in Week 13 against the Jaguars the light came on. On the first offensive play of the game for the Browns, Brandon Weeden hurled the ball deep under pressure to Gordon down the sideline. Gordon worked back under the DB, highpointed the ball and secured it for a 42-yard completion.

(click to enlarge) On the left Gordon fails to work back to the ball and Davon House breaks up the pass; on the right he works back and highpoints the ball for a big completion. The first break-up ended the drive, whereas the reception led to a touchdown

(click to enlarge) On the left Gordon fails to work back to the ball and Davon House breaks up the pass; on the right he works back and highpoints the ball for a big completion. The first break-up ended the drive, whereas the reception led to a touchdown

Another new aspect to Gordon’s game has been his use as a redzone target. The flipside to the stat that all of his touchdowns in his rookie year came from 20+ yards was that it showed his lack of impact as a redzone receiver. During his rookie year he only caught two passes from inside the opposition’s 20 yard line. Through 10 games he has 4 this year and added a touchdown from the goalline against the Steelers in Week 12. He got on top of Ike Taylor and beat him to the back pylon to catch the fade from Brandon Weeden. To be considered one of the best, this is an area Gordon will have to continue to develop if he wants to compete with Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant.

Gordon is still far from the finished product and there are still areas that need work in his game. He can still improve his route running and tighten up his breaks. He is still learning the route tree coming from a system in Baylor where most of the routes he ran were screens or fade routes. Matt Bowen noted that he did his damage against the Jaguars running the dig and the fade, and he only really runs slants, crosses and comebacks outside of those. He also still has a few effort questions to answer. He has played exceptionally hard in the last few weeks in challenging circumstances, but he has been being fed the ball in these games. In his worst game this season against the Packers, in which he had only 2 receptions for 21 yards, it seemed like he became frustrated with tight coverage and lack of touches and did not seem to give full effort. He has to prove he can play consistently hard when the game is away from him.

Josh Gordon has begun to show he can be a star in the NFL and he is only just starting to learn the nuances of the position. Larry Fitzgerald once said that he was content being good, until Kurt Warner taught him to want to be the greatest. It seems Gordon faces a similar decision; his is a rare case of truly being as good as he wants to be.

Quick Fifth Down: Jacksonville Jaguars @ Cleveland Browns

Five Bad

1. Joe Haden giving up a big TD peeking in the backfield again

2. Giving up 32 points to Chad Henne and the Jaguars O

3. Lack of defensive pressure

4. Alex Mack snapping the ball over Weeden’s head for a safety

5. Allowing the Jaguars to march down the field for the winning TD

Five Good

1. Willis McGahee averaging over 4 ypc on 14 carries and a TD

2. Josh Gordon destroying secondaries and records

3. Jordan Poyer showing some game returning punts

4. Joe Haden picking off another pass

5. Entertaining offensive football

FIfth Down: Cleveland Browns @ Cincinnati Bengals

Five Bad

1. Second Quarter

The Browns were up 13-0 and cruising going into the second quarter. They’d driven down the field once and picked off Dalton twice, one being returned for a TD. It looked like they were on their way to a big win and a step towards the playoffs. Everything then went very very wrong. They gave up 31 unanswered points as the Bengals partially blocked a punt, blocked another and returned it for a TD, picked off Campbell in the Browns half and returned a fumble for a TD. Another 3 points before the half after a Browns failed drive was just one more mocking nail in the coffin.

2. Campbellosion

At some point Jason Campbell had to revert to the mean. He’d been playing lights out football, throwing for 555 yards and 5 TDs to no INTs. On Sunday he reverted way past the mean. It seemed like he was blinded by Cincinnati’s D. He was completely unable to find receivers further than 8 yards down the field, retreating into his shell and holding the ball too long and consistently checking the ball down to Chris Ogbonnaya and Fozzy Whittaker. The 19 play 0 point drive near the end of the 4th summed up his day.

3. Not So Special Teams

The Special Teams collapsed completely against the Bengals. Once a strength with Spencer Lanning’s punting and Travis Benjamin’s returns, it cost the game on Sunday. The punt protection broke down and the Bengals got their hands on two punts, both leading to touchdowns. They also gave up a 27 yard return at the end of the half leading to another 3 points given up. The Browns also struggled returning punts and kicks, managing just one good return in the bad weather. They comprehensively lost the field position battle.

4. Too Many TDs

As well as struggling on 3rd downs this season, the Browns have also given up the highest percentage of TDs in the redzone per attempt in the NFL. It was the case again on Sunday as Andy Dalton threw 3 TDs, despite only putting up 93 yards in the air. Both trips to the redzone resulted in TDs for the Bengals, as well as another from the CLE 25 to Jermaine Gresham, who again bundled his way through Browns tackles to the endzone. The Browns are currently 17th in points allowed per game making them pretty much squarely middle of the pack. If they can tighten up their redzone D, it will be another step towards becoming an elite defense.

5. Turnovers

Turnovers win football games. Therfore, they also lose them. The Browns intercepted Andy Dalton twice on Sunday, capitalising on those turnovers to the tune of 10 points. On a normal day that would be a step towards a big win, but Sunday was no normal day. Jason Campbell threw 3 interceptions and Chris Ogbonnaya added a fumble, which the Bengals converted into 14 points themselves. The Browns don’t really have anyone to blame but themselves for the loss Sunday.

Five Good

1. Running

The Browns actually managed to find some production from their running backs against the Bengals, and not only in the pass game. Chris Ogbonnaya had 8 carries for 69 yards, and Fozzy Whittaker added 4 for 20 yards. Ogbonnaya had the Browns longest carry by a running back since Peyton Hillis in 2010, running for 43 yards in the 1st quarter. It seems that Willis McGahee has finally been taken off primary carries and served mostly as a short yardage back against the Bengals. It will be interesting to see if Ogbonnaya and Whittaker can keep up their production when they get the chance to carry a larger load.

2. Jabaallin’

Despite posting no sacks against the Bengals, the pass rush had a fairly productive day. They consistently pushed the Bengals’ Oline back into Dalton and pressured him into bad throws. Amongst them Jabaal Sheard had a very good game. He displayed a mixture of power and technique in the pass rush whilst displaying his usual skills against the run. At one point he pancaked Bengals TE Jermaine Gresham on a bull rush. He played with an unbridled ferocity which the Bengals struggled to contain.

3. Tank Job

The Browns turned to second-year linebacker and Special Teamer Tank Carder when Craig Robertson went down and he stepped in capably. Less of an athlete than Robertson, he flashed good instincts against the Bengals. He played the run well, taking on blocks and picking his way through the traffic to seek out the ball carrier, tackling soundly. He finished second on the team in tackles on the day with 7 (2 solo). Robertson is questionable for the Steelers and if he misses the game, Carder has an opportunity to gain himself more playing time.

4. Third Down D Turns Up

3rd down defense has been a big struggle for the Browns but they managed to turn it around against the Bengals. They forced the Bengals into 15 3rd down situations, and the Bengals managed to convert only one, the TD to Mo Sanu on a blown coverage. Despite the nature of the game and the result, the Browns D had a relatively strong game overall. They stopped the Bengals explosive playmakers, contained them in the run and the pass, and limited them to 3.8 yards per play overall. On another day, things could have gone differently for the Browns.

5. All Pro Joe

Once again, Joe Haden came out on top against a top receiver.  AJ Green had only 2 receptions for 7 yards and was basically a non-factor against the Browns. Although it’s obviously not all down to Haden, it’s becoming a running trend that big name WRs have bad days when they come up against him. Haden added two picks, one returned for a touchdown, proving that it’s a bad idea to take your chances in his coverage. He should be on his way to his first Pro Bowl, and potentially also All-Pro recognition for his strong play this season.

Fifth Down: Cleveland Browns @ Green Bay Packers

That kinda day

Five Bad

1. Finley TD

The Browns started the game incredibly sluggishly and were down quickly. In under 3mins they were down by 7, and it was ugly viewing. Aaron Rodgers slung a quick pass to TE Jermichael Finley and he danced his way through four limp attempts to bring him down into the endzone. It was a bad start caused by poor fundamentals and you can guarantee that everybody involved heard about it from DC Ray Horton.

2. Weeden

As the weeks have gone by, the play of shellshocked QB Brandon Weeden has gotten worse and worse. He has become a caricature of all his faults. On Sunday it took him until his 5th attempt to get a completion, and then he was immediately picked off on his next one. He continued to hold the ball for an age, taking three sacks against a depleted Packers pass rush, patted the ball before every attempt, couldn’t look off his first read at all and even repeated his insane underarm pass attempt from the week before. With Josh Campbell getting the start in KC, it’s likely this was Weeden’s swansong in a Browns uniform, barring injury.

3. Gordon

I would always preach caution when it comes to accusing someone of not working hard, but it certainly seemed that Gordon was disinterested at best during Sunday’s game. He only managed 2 receptions for 21 yards in the contest, having several passes broken up in his face, including one key breakup on 4th down when it seemed his did give full effort in contending for the pass. It has been a difficult season for the young WR, dealing with suspension and caught in a swirl of trade rumours. He has done a good job concentrating on his football and producing on the field, so one Sunday off is forgivable. Hopefully he can collect himself and move on, and get back to doing what he does best.

4. Imbalance

The Browns continued to be pass-heavy against the Packers, despite the struggles at QB. They went down 14-0 in a hurry, so having to pass to catch up is forgivable (especially considering the difficult situation at RB), but there were times when the Browns did not put themselves in a position to succeed. On  Weeden’s first interception, the Browns threw twice on 3rd and short instead of playing the percentages in running it up the gut. All in all, Weeden had 43 pass attempts compared to just 19 hand offs (and two further wildcat plays from Marqueis Gray that went nowhere).

5. 3rd Downs

They continue to be the Browns kryptonite on both sides of the ball. The Browns went 7-18 on 3rd downs on offense, compared to the Packers going 7-13. The Browns are currently struggling to extend drives and keep the D off the field. On defense, they can’t regularly stop the opposition on third down to get off the field. Either of these is enough to lose you games, together it’s difficult to get in position to win one.

Five Good

1. Cameron

Jordan Cameron continued to develop his reputation as one of the best young TEs in the league. Slightly quieter since Brian Hoyer went down with an ACL, he still managed to impress against the Packers. He had a joint team-high 9 targets (though many came in garbage time) and pulled off a good TD grab when Weeden rocketed the ball at him in the redzone. Most impressive was his ability to be strong at the point of attack. One of the main knocks on him in the offseason was his habit of coming up empty-handed under pressure, but he put paid to that against the Packers as he repeatedly made grabs whilst draped in defenders.

2. Oline

It has been a mixed bag along the Oline this season. They started disastrously, improved when Hoyer came in, then became shakey again with Weeden under centre. Sunday however was probably one of their best performances of the season. They managed to maintain a clean pocket for an extended period and opened up a few lanes for McGahee and Obie. Although they were facing a weakened Packers pass rush, it at least gives them a good building block heading into the ominous matchup with Kansas City and their pair of ferocious pass rushers, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.

3. Pass rush

The pass rush has struggled a little bit against teams getting the ball out quickly, but did a good job bringing pressure on Aaron Rodgers. Although they only came up with one sack, they gave the Packers’ Oline a very difficult challenge, forcing them to resort to underhand measures to contain the Browns’ front 7. The Packers were called for holding three times, and the refs missed at least that number again, including one trip/hold on Jabaal Sheard that probably should have been called a Safety. The front 7 is almost fully healthy as Billy Winn and Quentin Groves return from knocks, so the Browns will hope they continue to bring the heat.

4. Run B-Rabbit

After his explosive plays as a punt returner and occasional rusher, there has been a loud clamour for the use of Travis Benjamin on kick returns due to the Browns’ problems at the position. They have tried several players, most recently Greg Little, to no avail. With the Browns down late in the game, the coaching staff gave Benjamin a shot at making a play. He proceeded to show off his elite speed as he took the ball 86 yards down the field and was only stopped from taking it to the house by Packers CB Micah Hyde. The coaching staff have said they don’t like using the slight WR on the more physically demanding position of kick returner, but Benjamin has shown he can take it all the way if needs must.

5. Fozzy Bear

Overshadowed somewhat by Travis Benjamin taking his first kick return of the year back 86 yards almost for a TD was the impressive play of rookie Fozzy Whittaker in the role. The Browns have very much struggled to find a kick returner but it seems like they may have found their man in Fozzy. He took all 3 kick returns past the 20 and had 103 total yards, his long being a 56-yard return. He also looked functional in the offense and made a good catch on a slant for a first down. It will be an important addition if he is able to give the Browns some stability at kick returner and maintain his ability to put them in good field position.

Fifth Down: Detroit Lions @ Cleveland Browns

Five Bad

1. No Pass Rush

Pretty much

The Browns only came up with one sack on the day, courtesy of Craig Robertson on a blitz. They struggled to get much pressure on Stafford throughout the day, as the Lions managed to beat the Browns with clever gameplanning to slow up the rush. Much like the Dolphins in Week 1, the Lions used a series of quick passes and dumpoffs to Reggie Bush to stop the Browns’ fearsome front 7 from bringing the heat. There were still a few guys missing, notably Jabaal Sheard, but the team is looking as healthy as it has been this year for Sunday. Ray Horton has also noted the need to improve.

2. Reggie Bush

After a relatively tame end to his career as a Saint, Reggie Bush is back on track in Detroit following a good year in Miami. His ability as a runner and a receiver caused a huge problem for the Browns on Sunday. The Browns’ impressive run D still mostly contained Bush, but gave up another big play of 39 yards on the ground. This led to a TD for Bush on a screen pass that got the Lions quickly back in the game after halftime. Craig Robertson struggled all day to contain Bush, and he finished with 125 all-purpose yards and a TD, terrorizing the Browns in the second half.

3. Fauria

Three receptions, three touchdowns. Joseph Fauria was an absolute matchup nightmare for the Browns and it seemed like they didn’t know how to stop him. At 6’ 8” he’s a massive target, and they tried various ways to stop him without any success. Johnson Bademosi, Craig Robertson and TJ Ward all took shots at covering the huge TE and all failed to stop him. The first (and maybe the second) time the Lions pulled off this move in the redzone could be forgivable but by the third time, the Browns players had to know that he was the likely target and they still couldn’t make a play. One of the most frustrating aspects on the day.

4. Second half meltdown

Once again the Browns went into the break looking good, and once again were on the back foot early in the second half. Unlike against the Bills, the Browns failed to right the ship and hold on, giving up 24 unanswered points after having led by 10 at the half. The D managed to come up with a few plays, but had trouble getting the Lions off the field on third down, and the O completely stopped functioning. This unfortunately coincided with the Lions getting into their groove and they ran away with the game in the second half. The second half flatness has been duly noted and HC Rob Chudzinski inserted a halftime into practices this week in an attempt to remedy the problem.

5. Worst pick ever

The Browns finally managed to get some offense going with 6:04 left in the 4th quarter. Down 7, they were driving down the field to tie the game and potentially send it into overtime. Passes to Gordon and then Benjamin earned the Browns their first consecutive first downs since halftime, and another pass to Gordon set them up with 1st and 10 at the Detroit 44. With the offense looking its most coherent since half time, Weeden dropped back to pass. He looked off Gordon coming open on the dig, pump faked to Ogbonnaya, drifted back in the pocket as pressure came, and then…

Five Good

1. First half

The Browns played half a good game against the Lions. The offense was humming along and the defense held the Lions to only 7 points. OC Norv Turner did a very good job putting Weeden in a position to be successful. He moved the pocket and rolled out Weeden, splitting the field in half and making it easy on the struggling QB. The Oline did a good job of keeping the pressure off Weeden and limited Ndamukong Suh and the ferocious Lions front 4 for the most part. The D was exceptional in the second quarter and allowed only one first down to the Lions. They just need to play a complete game.

2. Josh Gordon

Gordon continued his progression as the Browns’ #1 WR. Whilst teams have managed to limit Jordan Cameron following his red hot start to the season, Gordon has consistently produced from week to week. He had 7 receptions on 9 targets for 126 yards and an average of 18 yards per reception. His size and speed have made him a legitimate downfield target, and all of his TDs have come on receptions of 20 yards or longer. He’s currently on target for 75 receptions for 1287 yards, which would make him the Browns first 1000 yard receiver since Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow in 2007. The next step in his development is to improve as a redzone target.

3. Run stopping Ward

Although the Browns struggled to stop Reggie Bush, they did a decent job containing him on the ground. They are yet to allow a 100 yard rusher, and although they gave up the big play to Bush, they held him to 2.4 yards per carry without that 39 yard run. A big part of this has been Ward’s ability as a box safety. Expected to play a big part in the pass rush, his impact in the box has come more in the run D. He has excelled in coming up to the line and plugging lanes, and finished Sunday with 11 total tackles and one for a loss.

4. Gipson

Along with #2 CB, FS was one of the positions of concern coming into the season. Like Buster Skrine, Tashaun Gipson is starting to look like he could fill the position. A former special teamer, Gipson had shown an ability to come up and tackle in the open field. As a starter, he has shown an ability to cover the deep middle of the field. Horton’s high pressure system can put a lot of weight on the secondary and so far Gipson has stood up to it. He has displayed great range covering the deep middle of the field and recorded his second INT of the year, picking off a tipped pass by Buster Skrine. It’s likely he could have a couple more on the season if they hadn’t been broken up by eager teammate Joe Haden.

5. Creative Playcalling

Norv Turner and Rob Chudzinski have been cracking open the playbook in recent weeks to good effect. On Sunday the biggest play came from a Benjamin end-around, getting the ball in the hands of one of the most explosive players on the roster. They ran some clever plays in the endzone, giving Weeden easy throws to open receivers for TDs. It was refreshing to have a playcaller that knows how to work players open outside of slant routes or quick outs. They also got creative, running the inverted veer with Swiss army knife player MarQueis Gray. For a further look at their creativity, check out Chris Pokorny’s breakdown on Dawgs By Nature.

Fifth Down: Buffalo Bills @ Cleveland Browns

Five Bad

1. HoyIRmania

He gone

The biggest negative on Thursday night was the loss of hometown hero Brian Hoyer. Playing in his first prime time game for the Browns, he started well and was only a Josh Gordon drop away from a probably touchdown. Just a few attempts later, he escaped the pocket and ran, but failed to get down quick enough to avoid Kiko Alonso. The hit resulted in a torn ACL for Hoyer and an abrupt end to his promising season. He is expected to be ready for OTAs in 2014 and Chud has said he’s “relying” on Hoyer, so it’s unlikely this is last we’ve seen him.

2. Heavy legged Willis

It became clear during the game that Willis McGahee is still working his way into football shape. He hadn’t played since breaking his leg last season and spent the entire offseason without a team. He provided more than he had in previous weeks but failed to crack 100 yards on 26 carries. Most noticeable was his lack of burst. He did manage to find a seam occasionally, but lacked an extra gear when he had green field in front of him. The vision is still there for McGahee, the question remains as to whether the legs are.

3. Cold as ice

Brandon Weeden spent the week maintaining the belief that the Browns are still “his team” and that he was “preparing as if he was the starter”. Coming off the bench, it looked like these words were little more than sentiment. In direct comparison with Hoyer, Weeden looked slow and ponderous and his first two throws resulted in throwaways. Before he got into the game, it seemed like his weaknesses were dialled right up, as he struggled through his reads and held on to the ball for an almighty time, resulting in a costly sack in the redzone.

4. Rush D dented

The Browns D kept up a solid performance against one of the top rushing offenses in the NFL, but did take a couple of hits and look slightly less infallible as it had in recent weeks. On obvious run downs, they maintained their stout front but gave up more yards on delayed runs. They gave up their biggest play on the ground of the year, as rookie Barkevious Mingo (usually a good edge setter) lost contain on the play and CJ Spiller bounced the run to the outside and took it 60 yards to the house. All in all, the Browns ceded 3 rushing TDs. It was still a solid performance, but below the very high standards they had set this season so far.

5. Returns

Kick off returns continued to be a problem against the Bills. The Browns are still trying to find a reliable kick returner after trying a few different players at the position. Greg Little unwisely ran back two kicks and barely got them to the 10 yard line, before being replaced by Bobby Rainey whose first kneel down was met with a cheer from the crowd. They signed Fozzy Whitaker prior to the game against the Bills and have Dennis Johnson on the Practice Squad, so it’s probable we will see more players tried at the position as the Browns try to find a reliable guy.

Five Good

1. Weeden steadies

After a very shaky start, Brandon Weeden gradually found his groove. He went 13/24 for 1 TD and most importantly no turnovers. He managed to keep the Browns on track and guided them to the win over Buffalo. He has always been a rhythm passer and improved as the game went on, throwing with better timing and accuracy as his confidence rose. Most notably he hit two big pass plays, first to Greg Little deep to move the offense into the redzone and then hitting Josh Gordon in single coverage for the TD. A commendable more than stellar performance, Weeden did enough for the win and heads into the game against Detroit with a little wind under his sails.

2. Skrine steps up

We have been spoiled by Joe Haden’s rapid adaption to the NFL. In reality, young CBs take their lumps in their first years in the league (even first rounders) and Skrine has been no stranger. Browns fans were surprised when he was named starter opposite Haden after his struggles on the outside in his NFL career so far. On Thursday, he finally lived up to his athletic potential. Consistently looking back for the ball, he had two big pass breakups and flashed quick feet mirroring route breaks and used his stellar speed to bring down EJ Manuel for a sack after the Bills QB had escaped the pocket. If he can keep up this level of play, he might solve one of the few problems in the Browns D.

3. A wild run game appears

It might not have been pretty, but the Browns finally managed to get the ground game up to a functional level. Willis McGahee scored the Browns first rushing TD of the year five games into the season and although they only averaged 2.8 yards per carry, they managed to move the ball well enough to win the time of possession battle and give Weeden enough of a platform to lead the Browns to victory. In previous weeks it has all been on the QB, but if the Oline can continue opening lanes and McGahee can get his NFL legs back then it will be a big boost to the offense.

4 Run rabbit run

Travis Benjamin honed his speed chasing rabbits back in Florida, and he made the Bills look like Elmer Fudd. He used his blazing speed to break Eric Metcalf’s 20 year old punt return record, returning 7 punts for 179 yards and one touchdown. His 79 yard TD return swung the game back towards the Browns and ignited the crowd (including huge blocks by Josh Aubrey and Eric Martin). It’s a wonder how Benjamin wasn’t returning punts all last season as he is beginning to look like one of the most dangerous returners in the league. He was so good on Thursday that he got Shaun Powell cut.

5. Bryant II

It was a difficult offseason for Armonty Bryant. The seventh round pick was arrested for a DUI, following legal trouble at East Central University his final year. This led to questions over whether the Browns should cut the rookie. Ultimately the Browns gave him a second chance, and he repaid it against the Bills. Having come into the rotation earlier in the season due to injuries, he gained extended playing time when Desmond Bryant left the game with a high heart rate. He recorded his first sack in the NFL, fighting past two players to take down QB Jeff Tuel. It was clear to see how much the moment meant to him.

Fifth Down: Cincinnati Bengals @ Cleveland Browns

Five Bad

1. Sputtering run game

Hometown hero brings it home

The Browns struggled again to get anything going on the ground, meaning the Browns were again pass-heavy on O. It wasn’t quite the 54 attempts in Minnesota, but again Hoyer was asked to carry the load. There were a few glimpses of potential, as Ogbonnaya and McGahee managed to find the occasional seam, but it seems like a poor running game is going to be an ongoing issue with this team. At some point it’s going to cost them.

2. Penalties

AFC North games are always a bit ragged and this one was no different. They gave up 5 penalties for 80 yards including a big pass interference call and negated a batted pass with another personal foul. The Bengals were pretty much unable to get anything going on offense, so failed to take any real advantage of the free yards, but on another day the Browns might not get away with being so ill-disciplined. It hasn’t been a big problem so far, but it’s something the coaching staff won’t want to see more of.

3. Cousins still struggling

Oneil Cousins really owes Brian Hoyer at least a free dinner. Thanks to Hoyer’s penchant for getting the ball out quickly and calmness with players in his face, Cousins is getting away with a lot more than he should have. Make no mistake, Cousins hasn’t particularly improved from his weeks 1 and 2 disasters, the Browns are just managing to work around it. He was facing very tough competition, but Cousins still found himself repeatedly pushed backwards, beaten for speed and generally outmatched against the Bengals and only Hoyer’s quick release saved him from the wrath of the Dawg Pound once again.

4. Lack Gordon

After his big game against Minnesota, all eyes were on budding superstar Josh Gordon. He turned out to be more of a secondary player than the workhorse WR he was the week before. He finished with a respectable 71 yards receiving off 9 targets and did not see a lot of the action. Whether it was a matter of the scheme the D was playing or the coaches and QB going with the hot hand in Cameron, they could have done with getting Gordon a few more touches, especially as the O was stuttering in the 2nd and 3rd quarters.

5. Skrine blind

It was a very up and down day for Buster Skrine. He had some moments where he covered well and tackled soundly, and also came up with a big interception in the 4th quarter. However, he still struggled with some basic play. In my opinion he has the ability, as well as rare speed, to be a solid corner in the NFL but he really needs continue to work on fundamentals. He gave up a huge PI as he did not turn to look back at the football (Skrine is a repeat offender at this) and committed a stupid personal foul when the Browns had the Bengals inside their own 20. He can be a good player, but it’s important that he plays smarter.

Five Good

1. Lockdown Joe

Joe Haden is playing with a ridiculous swagger right now, and with good reason. He is yet to give 100 yards receiving or a TD to any of the #1 WRs he has faced through 4 weeks of the season, and his masterpiece came on Sunday. He held AJ Green to 51 yards and no touchdowns in a signature lockdown game. Haden’s talent has always been self-evident, but he has yet to manage to put together a completely elite season. Right now, he’s playing like an All-Pro.

2. Hoyermania is running wild

The Browns offense is looking smooth and efficient with Brian Hoyer under center. He had another good game against the Bengals, improving on his debut performance. He displayed better ball security than against the Vikings, throwing no picks, and looked serene under pressure from the Bengals’ vaunted front line. He threw a number of good touch passes and had a very polished game, finishing off the Bengals with a 91-yard fourth quarter touchdown drive to seal his first win in front of his home crowd. That’s got to feel good for the childhood Browns fan.

3. Cameron is the real deal

It’s getting to the point where Jordan Cameron is reaching ‘uncoverable’ levels. It’s not good to crown players on small samples, but Cameron has shown four weeks of excellence. He caught 10 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals as carried the passing attack throughout the game. He dominated Taylor Mays on his TD grab, showing great body control as rose up to catch the back shoulder fade from Hoyer before getting both feet in for the score. Cameron now holds the Browns’ record for the most catches through 4 games by a TE (30) and looks to just be getting started.

4. Mingo free

Jabaal Sheard missed the game against the Bengals with a knee injury, handing Barkevious Mingo his first NFL start. The rookie kept up his strong play so far, playing every defensive snap and recording a sack for the third straight game. He’s now the first rookie since Tommy Kelly in 2003 to have a sack in each of his first three games. He did more than rush the passer though. He had a PBU negated by Skrine’s penalty and also held up well against the run. The Bengals clearly favoured running to his side, but Mingo did not give up much ground and Cincinnati only managed 89 rushing yards on the day.

5. Top of the division

With their second win in as many weeks, and against a big divisional rival, the Browns find themselves now in the unfamiliar position of being tied for first in the AFC North. The division looks up for grabs as both the Bengals and the Ravens struggle with offensive issues, and the Steelers are becoming an afterthought at 0-4. There is a buzz about the team, and they have the opportunity to go into undisputed first place by beating the Bills on Thursday. Here we go Brownies!

Fifth Down: Cleveland Browns @ Minnesota Vikings

Five Bad

1. Groundless game

Quite a way to start your Browns career

Many noted the effect that Norv Turner has had on RBs in his NFL career but we are yet to see it in Cleveland. The Browns’ new supposed #1 RB Willis McGahee went for 9 yards on 8 carries, though it will likely take him a little while to shake off the rust. Ogbonnaya had one large run and Bobby Rainey showed more than he had at KR, but the Browns’ inability to get the ground game going is a legitimate concern at this stage. Better Ds than the Vikings’ will take advantage of the current one-dimensional nature of the Browns’ O. In addition, lack of a run game will mean less time of possession and more time on the field for the D, which is beginning to get a little stretched by injuries.

2. Benjamin’s punt returns

It was feast or famine for Travis Benjamin with his punt returns on Sunday. The 2nd year WR lit up the preseason with his returns and is always a threat to take one for 6, but had a bit of a rough time of it against the Vikings. He showed his ability on one return of 28 yards, but also lost several yards trying to reverse field on a return in the first quarter. The worst play came when he muffed a punt in the second quarter which was recovered by Vikings, and he was very lucky not to be adjudged to have fumbled the ball after catching it at the second attempt, which would have cost the Browns a TD. The return game has been somewhat troublesome so far in ’13 and better execution is needed.

3. Hoyer picks

Hoyer had a very good game against the Vikings, but he will be the first to tell you that 3 picks is far too many. One was the product of getting hit as he threw, but the other two were ugly. He failed to recognise the Vikings playing Cover-2 and Harrison Smith as he threw to Gordon on a curl, and was picked off by Chad Greenway as he forced the ball to Jordan Cameron over the middle. He seemed to make decisions pre-snap on where the ball was going and failed to adjust, causing turnovers in these circumstances. The Vikings did score a TD off of one pick, but contrived to turn the ball back over to the Browns on the two other occasions Hoyer threw an interception. Better teams won’t be so wasteful.

4. Offensive second half

Interception, punt, turnover on downs, interception, punt, punt, punt. The Browns did not make pretty viewing for the majority of the second half. They managed 7 drives for a total of 112 yards in 26:39 of play. During that time the Vikings managed to score 10 points to regain the lead despite a less than stellar offensive performance themselves. The offense managed to get it together in the final 3 minutes of the half to put together a 55 yard drive for the go-ahead TD, but for most of the half it was looking like it would be the third consecutive game in which the Browns led at halftime only to lose.

5. Ponder rushes

One of the more surprising stats from Ponder’s rookie year was his redzone efficiency, ranking #1 in the league, in part due to his athletic ability. He hasn’t quite kept that level of play in the redzone up, but remains a threat on the ground, and he showed off that ability against the Browns. He accelerated into the endzone twice on Sunday, after being left unaccounted for by the Browns D. Having it happen once was frustrating, but having it happen twice was negligent.

Five Good

1. Gordon’s Alive

Josh Gordon returned from suspension and quickly reminded everybody of what they were missing. He went off for 10 receptions for 146 yards and a TD, plus a further 22 yards rushing on an end around. It was the kind of dominant WR performance that has been absent from the Browns since Braylon Edwards’ career year in 2007. Gordon looked uncoverable against the Vikings and flashed rare elusiveness for a WR of his size. His performance was so good that he grabbed the headlines over Jordan Cameron, who only caught 3 TDs on the day. It is becoming clear that he has the ability to be one of the very best receivers in the NFL, he just has to prove that he has the mentality.

2. Sacks o’ sacks

Pass rush has been a perennial problem for the Browns, but it is beginning to seem like it’s one that has been solved. Eight different players on the Browns have recorded at least one sack, and they managed 6 in total against the Vikings. Barkevious Mingo got his second sack in as many games, with Phil Taylor, Billy Winn, Desmond Bryant, Jabaal Sheard and John Hughes joining him in the boxscore. They also added 8 quarterback hits. The pass rush has been so effective rushing 4 and 5 players that we are yet to see TJ Ward used much as a blitzer, a player that had been expected to feature heavily in the pass rush.

3. Hoyermania

Hoyer did throw 3 interceptions, but he also threw for 321 yards and 3 TDs, achieving just about as much as anybody could have hoped for from the St. Ignatius grad. He had a stellar first half in Minnesota, going 14-23 for 174 yards and 2 TDs, to Josh Gordon and another to Jordan Cameron on a beautiful throw. His big moment came later, when with 3:21 left in the game he drove the team 55 yards down the field and won the game with another TD pass to Jordan Cameron in the back corner of the endzone. He ran the offense efficiently, got  the ball out quickly and came up in the clutch, despite being asked to do more than he could have imagined in his first start for the Browns.

4. Lanningmania

“[They] said I threw it like a girl”. Spencer Lanning’s TD throw wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done. Named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, he became the first player since 1968 to punt, kick a PAT and throw a TD pass. He was much more than trick plays on Sunday though, punting for a 46.8 average, including a nice 56 yarder. In his first season as a starter in the NFL, Lanning has largely improved the quality of the Browns’ punting.

5. Victory Monday!

The first win of the season is always a sweet one, and this one was all the sweeter due to the context. The Browns had endured accusations of tanking all week after they traded former 3rd overall pick Trent Richardson for a first round pick. The team came out and played like it had something to prove, playing with focus on offense and a swagger on defense and won a game that they were not expected to win. The Browns FO got themselves a big FU win and the fans got a well-deserved Victory Monday.