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Posted by Aug - 10 - 2014 0 Comment
After a long off-season of upheaval, drama, ballyhoo and hype, the 2014 Cleveland Browns finally took the last night in Detroit against the Lions, giving Browns fans and media types alike much to dissect and debate after a 13-12 Lions win. Final scores in week one of the NFL preseason rarely mean much, and this contest was no exception. In what Browns head coach Mike Pettine described as a “typical preseason game” in his post-game presser, there were plenty of things on all sides of the ball to both be excited and concerned about – each with a fair amount of moderation. There were a myriad of story lines entering last night’s game, none more compelling than the much debated quarterback competition. While that story will continue to unfold and be discussed ad nauseum, there were several other aspects of the game worth discussing as well. So here are some notables from last nights’s preseason opener.

Tackle somebody!

If there was one consistent aspect among all defensive units last night, it was shoddy tackling. While it is understandable to a degree given that to this point in camp there hasn’t been much taking guys to the ground, even in pads, it was somewhat alarming to see the Browns veteran laden first team defense struggle bringing down Lions’ running backs and receivers. Head coach Mike Pettine spoke to that early in his post-game presser, which makes sense when thinking that such a lackluster defensive effort would not sit will with the long time defensive coordinator. It likely goes without saying that significant attention will be paid to that in the film room this week, and hopefully not be as prevalent next week in Washington.

Running back competition

Despite the fact that the Browns leading rusher last night was Johnny Manziel (6 car., 27 yds.), both Ben Tate and Terrance West showed why the Browns running game should be vastly improved in 2014. Tate pretty much came as advertised, collecting 25 yards on 6 carries for a 4.2 ypc average. His experience in OC Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme was evident as Tate made several decisive moves and ran the ball hard through the hole. While he did put the ball on the ground towards the end of his night, a fortuitous bounce allowed the Browns to maintain possession.
West, meanwhile, showed that while he has some learning to do about running decisively and confidently through the line at this level needs development, he does have some of the skills necessary to be a starting running back in the NFL. Despite only averaging 2.2 ypc against mostly Lions backups, he showed some of the impressive burst and strength often seen in his time at division 1-AA Towson. West did hesitate at time hitting the hole behind the Browns second team offensive line, but part of that could be placed on said line as it struggled with both run blocking and pass protection as the game went on.
While early results speak to Tate maintaining his position as the Browns top back, there is good reason for the optimism shared by Browns staff and fans alike for West, the running game this season as well.

Meet the new hands, same as the old hands

If the Browns are looking for someone to step up in the potential absence of Josh Gordon this season, that receiver did not make himself known in Detroit. Drops continue to plague Browns receivers, including Gordon who dropped what should have been a touchdown on a pass from Brian Hoyer on the Browns second offensive series of the game. Veteran FA addition Miles Austin dropped a well thrown ball from Hoyer as well earlier in that drive, one that ultimately ended in a field goal. Another Browns free agent signing at wideout, 12-year vet Nate Burleson, sat out nursing a hamstring injury, along with TE Jordan Cameron who is dealing with a shoulder injury.
Andrew Hawkins, RFA signed from division rival Cincinnati, had a catch and run for 15 yds and was missed on the second of Hoyer’s high throws to the left side of the field, mitigating his opportunities to make an impact while on the field. This is an area of significant concern regardless of the outcome of the Gordon situation. A lengthy suspension of Gordon will only magnify the impact of what seems to be a perennial issue for the Browns.

And at quarterback…

While a deeper take on the ongoing quarterback saga that has besieged the Browns 2014 preseason will be discussed in its own proper article, last night’s display from both candidates was a mixed bag, shaded slightly towards optimism for most observers. Brian Hoyer returned to competitive play on the field for the first time since October of 2013. Even Johnny Football has played in games since then.
The ACL injury that ended Hoyer’s 2013 season didn’t seem to have much effect on him last night as he looked mobile and unconcerned about the knee during his stints on the field. However it did appear that some rust still clings to him, exemplified by the two missed throws to Gordon and Hawkins. He was also undermined by the aforementioned drops by Gordon and Austin, and did make some solid, decisive throws at times. All said, Hoyer’s night was largely unremarkable positively or negatively. Perhaps the most that can be taken from it was that his surgically repaired knee seems fine, and he did not turn the ball over. Chock those up in the plus column.
Manziel meanwhile, whet the Browns fans’ appetite for more despite an inauspicious 3-and-out on his first series of the game. Clearly as the game progressed so did his confidence, and he made a number of solid throws from the pocket. After taking an early hit that seemed to stick with him for a few plays and required a check out on the sidelines from the team’s medical staff, Johnny Football became more productive and entertaining as his time continued. A long scamper for a first down that ended in a well executed slide (lesson learned from his previous running attempt) showed that his talents displayed at Texas A&M can be effective in the NFL. However he also found out the hard way that defenses at this level are much faster than the SEC, and learn very quickly to adapt to one’s tendencies.
Each QB showed enough to make you want to see more of them, yet not enough to confidently say one has a stranglehold on the position. Here is hoping that next week’s Monday night contest in Washington provides some definitive direction as to whom will be under center for that first snap in Pittsburgh September 7th.

Final takeaways and talking points

Lastly, here are a few points to chew on as the Browns head towards game two of the preseason against the Washington Redskins next Monday night:
  • The Browns special teams was itself a mixed bag of results, allowing numerous long returns on the night, starting with the opening kickoff. This is not indicative of a Chris Tabor led group, and something that has to be remedied before the season starts. While there was likely a large percentage of guys out there on coverage teams that were simply getting a look-see from coaches, some guys only hope of making the roster is a strong showing on special teams. If performances like last night continue throughout the preseason, there will be a crop of new insurance agents this fall with some nice Browns workout swag.
  • It appeared that by and large, the first year coaching staff executed the routine of getting plays and players in and out of the huddle without issue. This is not insignificant as the prior two staffs had issues with both not only in the preseason, but as the regular seasons progresses. This is important as a team looking to make continued progress cannot have the little things such as a time out taken due to a play calling delay or a 12 men in the huddle penalty derail drive momentum. By all appearances this first-year staff worked fairly well together in their first full dress rehearsal.
  • If the Browns have to start someone beyond the 6th offensive lineman on this roster, they are in trouble. The second and third team O-lines struggled mightily with the Lions backups on defense most of the evening in both run blocking and pass protection. Despite that, Manziel was able to improvise and show some promise. This fact alone would cause one to want to see him with the Browns starting O-line, one which did very well in both aspects of Kyle Shanahan’s offense against a highly touted Detroit front seven. But once the starters were on the bench, the Browns offense showed that while there was depth added at many positions, offensive line doesn’t appear to be one of them.
  • If you are a defensive back in the NFL and you have hands (like physically have a set, not an inference to ball catching skills) you need to keep them to yourself. Period. At least until the preseason is over, and the over officiating of the NFL’s 5 yard contact rule subsides. Not just in Detroit but across the league, DBs were getting flagged for the slightest of contact beyond the 15 foot buffer zone from the line of scrimmage. Frustrating for all involved, hopefully this is just another case of NFL refs going too far to make a point in the preseason. All that said, Leon McFadden did himself no favors last night as he continues to struggle to be remotely effective at the NFL level. To say he’s not likely to make the final 53-man roster is probably accurate. To say that he isn’t going to survive the first round of cuts may not be risking much either.
Categories: Cleveland Browns, Featured

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