Panning for positives after a lackluster win

Browns CB Denzel Ward takes his interception 61 yards to the house. (Richard/AP)

Last Sunday, the Cleveland Browns secured their sixth win of the season by defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 27-19.

At 6-7, the team is still mathematically in the playoff hunt, although their odds are not good. A win is a win, but Cleveland’s performance was disappointing, even at this stage in the season. Overall, the team did not play nearly as well as they’re capable of, but there were some bright spots.

Baker Mayfield was not one of them. He finished 11 of 24 for 192 yards and two interceptions. A third pick was wiped off the board after a review found defensive pass interference. Mayfield was inaccurate all day long, a very disappointing performance against an awful defense after he had strung together seven solid outings against some good ones.

This was despite taking only one sack, as the offensive line had perhaps its best pass blocking day of the season. Had Mayfield been playing any other team, he wouldn’t have been nearly good enough to win.

Once again, Nick Chubb carried the Cleveland offense. He has been the team’s most consistent player this season, and Sunday was no different. After gaining just six in the first half, he finished with 106 rushing yards on 15 carries. Cincinnati is the NFL’s worst rushing defense, so this was a very confusing decision by Freddie Kitchens. But the game plan improved in the second half, aided by Chubb’s 57-yard scamper.

Jarvis Landry had another solid game, hauling in four of his seven targets for 76 yards. He is now five yards shy of 1,000 for the season on just 69 catches. This is the best year of his career, thanks in large part to the attention that Odell Beckham Jr. draws away from him.

Speaking of Beckham, he caught only two passes for 39 yards, another disappointing outing for the superstar wide receiver. Before the game, it was reported that he had been dealing with a sports hernia since training camp. And after the game reports were that he wasn’t happy in Cleveland. Whether he feels that way or not, it’s just more unnecessary drama to a season filled with endless negative story lines.

TE David Njoku returned to the field for the first time since Week 2 and caught one pass for four yards. He also had the ball pried out of his hands on a very odd play that was ultimately ruled an interception, and he gave up a sack on his only protection snap.

The offensive line gave up a total of just five pressures, an excellent number. Four starters finished with a pass block grade of more than 80, per Pro Football Focus. That’s the good.

The bad is that despite playing the worst run defense in the league, the line, once again, was terrible when run blocking. Four of the five starters had a run block grade below 56. Run blocking has been an issue all season (more than pass protection), which makes the fact that Nick Chubb leads the NFL in rushing yards all the more impressive.

The one Browns lineman who graded out well in both pass and run blocking was RG Wyatt Teller. He finished with a 76.2 overall mark, 88.2 in protection, and 69.2 in the run game. It’s still just one game against a 1-12 team, but it’s encouraging nonetheless. If Teller can prove he is a good long-term option, it would be a massive help to the team moving forward.

Speaking of helping the team, right tackle Chris Hubbard was unable to play due to an injury. So Kendall Lamm saw his first action since getting hurt after three snaps at left tackle in Week 1 in relief of the ejected Greg Robinson. He had a solid outing, with a 71.2 pass block grade, higher than all but two of Hubbard’s games this season.

Despite the financial investment Cleveland currently has in Hubbard (at least until the off-season when he can be cut for little dead money), Lamm has been and is the better player. He should remain in the starting lineup if the team is concerned about protecting their QB.

DT Sheldon Richardson had another good game, collecting his third sack of the season en route to a 77.4 overall grade. Richardson has earned at least a 75 overall grade in five of his last six games. Although he hasn’t been as effective a pass rusher as the Browns had hoped, he’s been a great influence on the locker room and a massive upgrade over Trevon Coley.

Rookie safety Sheldrick Redwine was Cleveland’s highest-graded player on either side of the ball at 82.7. He played all but ten snaps, making a big impact both in run support and in coverage. With how lost he looked in the preseason and early in the regular season, it’s extremely encouraging to see him develop to the point of being a significant contributor now. It will be up to him to prove he can keep up this level of play.