ReFo: Browns @ Panthers, Week 16
With the Chargers’ win on Saturday night, the Cleveland Browns were eliminated from playoff contention prior to their game and left to play spoiler versus the Carolina Panthers. For the second consecutive week, the Browns ran less than 50 offensive plays as Carolina dominated the time of possession. The Panthers sustained long drives early on which kept Johnny Manziel and the Browns’ offense on the sidelines. Manziel’s second start was cut short as he left due to injury after just 16 plays and the offense was handed over to Brian Hoyer once again. The offense finally found the end zone for the first time in weeks, but their 13 points still wasn’t enough to secure a win.
On the other side of the field, Cam Newton returned to the lineup less than two weeks after his car accident and did not seem bothered by his injured back. It was an average day passing for him, but as usual he did a great job of extending plays with his feet, picking up first downs, and ultimately did enough to help the Panthers win.
The loss guarantees the Browns a last place finish in the AFC North for the sixth time in seven years despite having the chance to finish at .500 with a win in Week 17. Meanwhile, the Panthers’ third-straight win kept their playoff chances alive and they can clinch the NFC South with a sub-.500 record by defeating the Falcons next week.
Here are a few notable individual performances from each team.
Cleveland Browns— Performances of Note
Scott Solomon, OLB: +5.9
Breakdown: Solomon was called up from the Browns’ practice squad on Saturday and found himself on the field for 26 plays on defense. He didn’t do much in the limited amount of time with the Buccaneers early in the season, but we saw a different player on Sunday. He showed great quickness as a pass rusher as he picked up a strip-sack and four hurries on just 12 pass rushes while also making a couple stops in run defense. It will be interesting to see if he can duplicate his success in the final game of the season.
Signature Play: 3Q 0:33. The Panthers run away from Solomon, but his great burst off the line allows him to chase down Jonathan Stewart in the backfield for a loss on 3rd-and-5.
Pierre Desir, CB: +0.3
Breakdown: It was a mixed bag for the fourth-round pick who started in place of the injured Joe Haden. He gave up six first downs including the one via penalty, but was never beaten too badly as the six catches he allowed only went for 61 yards and 14 yards after the catch. He did have two impressive pass defenses that did help offset the first downs allowed.
Signature Play: 4Q 7:22. Covering fellow rookie Kelvin Benjamin, Desir gets just enough of his hand on the ball to prevent the catch and touchdown.
Chris Kirksey, ILB: +2.3
Breakdown: Kirksey did not play as much as he had in recent games, but he still had a run stop among a few good plays in run defense.
Signature Play: 1Q 11:11. Kirksey quickly gets upfield for contain but is actually able to take down Stewart for a loss on 3rd-and-3. The 6-yard loss moved the field goal attempt back to 49 yards which ended up being wide right.
Carolina Panthers — Performances of Note
Jonathan Stewart, HB: +1.6
Breakdown: Stewart has had issues with injuries again this year, but he has quietly been one of the more underrated backs when on the field. Stewart eclipsed 100 yards rushing for the second time in three weeks and had a season-high 65 yards after contact.
Signature Stat: With 52 missed tackles forced this season, Stewart’s 74.3 Elusive Rating is second to only Marshawn Lynch.
Charles Johnson, DE: +2.8
Breakdown: Johnson started the season off slow and many wondered how the loss of Greg Hardy would affect his performance. However, Johnson has played as well as any 4-3 defensive end as of late and continued his hot streak with another good performance on Sunday. In addition to a batted pass, Johnson picked up a sack, two hurries and had a quarterback hit nullified by penalty.
Signature Stat: Since Week 12, Johnson’s +17.4 overall grade is tops among 4-3 defensive ends.
Thomas Davis, OLB: +2.9
Breakdown: Davis continues to be one of the best 4-3 linebackers in the league, particularly in coverage. He did it all this this game, however. He allowed just one catch for 8 yards in coverage, picked up two hurries on six pass rushes, and had a tackle for loss against the run.
Signature Play: 4Q 4:10. Covering Josh Gordon out of the slot, Davis stays with the wide receiver on the crossing route to make a near-immediate tackle to force fourth down on the Browns’ final drive.
PFF Game Ball
Jonathan Stewart’s success on the ground was a huge factor in the offense’s success as whole and earned him this week’s game ball.
Follow Matt on twitter: @PFF_MattC