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Monthly Archives: August 2013

Browns @ Bears – Review of Preseason Game #4

Review of Browns @ Bears– Preseason Game #4

The exhibition season came to a close with the Browns pulling out an 18-16 victory over the Bears.  In a less-than-great contest, there were drops, turnovers, and missed assignments.  But that is to be expected when reserves play a majority of the contest.  Outside of a Bears’ offensive lineman, there were no major injuries during the contest – and after cuts tomorrow, both teams can finally gear up for the regular season.  But for now, let’s take a look back at what occurred at Solider Field.

Offense:  With Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell both sitting this one out, it was the Brian Hoyer show for the Cleveland Browns’ offense.  The veteran did an adequate job against backups, going twenty-four of thirty-five for 307 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions.  He definitely did not unseat Campbell as the second-string signal caller though.  I hope this game proves that he can fling it downfield, but he just has to do a better job at picking his spots.  He’s still got a good deal of work ahead of him – but maybe he can be a starter one day.  Fortunately the regular season is now quickly approaching and Weeden will have a chance to vastly improve upon his 2012 campaign.

I have no doubt the Browns will seek out a viable backup running back to Trent Richardson this weekend.  Outside of a serviceable Chris Ogbonnaya (who is the starting fullback), Jamaine Cooke and Brandon Jackson did very little to impress in Chicago.  The duo had just thirty-three yards on a combined seventeen carries.  I would be surprised if both made the roster, and there’s a solid chance that both will not be with the Browns soon.  With all the injuries, I am not shocked that running plays were few and far between, but if you want to remain on the roster you have got to get it done when your number is called.

Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin were the only two first-teamers to play; both performed well with Hoyer at quarterback.  The former Baylor wide out lead the team with seventy-seven yards, including a forty-five yard catch and run.  With his two-week suspension beginning on Monday, I hope he stays focused on playing his best football.  David Nelson had a team-high four grabs, but was targeted ten times.  He limped off the field at one point and appeared to be slow at times.  I have been pulling for this guy all camp long, but I feel he is not over his ACL injury and his days with the Browns are close to ending.  Tori Gurley had three grabs for fifty-six yards, he is big and fast but he will likely be caught up in the numbers game.

The trio of tight ends (Brad Smelley, Kellen Davis, and Dan Gronkowski) each contributed in this contest.  None were dominant – all catching one or two passes – but Gronkowski was able to find the end zone.  Only one will likely remain with the roster; the veteran Davis is the likely option but Smelley’s versatility (lining up at fullback from time to time) could make the final cut a difficult process.  The offensive line had a pretty solid outing for the Browns; Hoyer was only sacked once in his thirty-five drop backs.  The starting five (or six, with the rotation at right guard) is pretty much settled at this point, hopefully a few of these backups can make the team and provide depth.

Defense:  Three of the four defensive lineman will make this roster – Billy Winn, John Hughes, Brian Sanford, and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen.  After Sanford was unsuccessfully traded, it would appear that he has the longest shot of being a member of the Cleveland Browns.  To his credit, he had the best stats on Thursday night; collecting three stops and slowing down the Bears.  I can still see a trade in the works with one of these guys for either a running back or maybe a guard.  Overall, the Browns surrendered 118 yards on the ground.  This is rather disappointing but will be dismissed quickly if they shut down the Dolphins’ running backs beginning September 8th.

The only linebacker, who will see significant action this season, and played on Thursday, was veteran Quentin Groves.  The former Arizona Cardinal had a solid game (which was to be expected) – tallying two tackles, a sack, and a hit on the quarterback.  If Mingo misses time this season, Groves is the next man up on the outside.  Early on, the drop-off between the two may be negligible – that could change if the former LSU star plays up to his #6 overall draft status.  All three inside linebackers played well for the Browns; L.J. Fort lead the team with seven tackles, a half of a sack, and a quarterback hit.  Tank Carder had three stops and defended two passes, while James Michael-Johnson had five tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown.  I believe two of these three will make the final cut – initially I thought Fort and Carder were shoo-ins but maybe Johnson’s play might put him ahead of Carder.

Leon McFadden continued to look like a rookie inside Soldier Field.  The cornerback gave too much ground and allowed Jordan Palmer and Trent Edwards to look like viable NFL quarterbacks.  I know he will have his growing pains (and fortunately it was only preseason), but I hope he gets better this season – and quickly.  Johnson Bademosi was active in the safety spot; the former Stanford athlete had five stops and was around the football frequently.  I do not know whether Akeem Auguste will survive cuts, but the rookie had six tackles on Thursday.  He’s fighting an uphill battle, but it’s comforting to see him out there making an impact.

Special Teams:  The back injury to Shayne Graham gave way to Spencer Lanning pulling double duties at punter and kicker.  He missed an early field goal but ended up kicking the game winner late in the contest – I am confident he will hold off Colton Schmidt to be the starting punter.  At kicker, both Brandon Bogotay and Graham have sustained injuries.  I am uncertain of who they will keep, but I have a feeling they will go with Graham (provided they do not sign a free agent).  Jamaine Cook did not return kickoffs well; I would have like to have seen someone else battle with Johnson Bademosi for that spot in the regular season.  Hopefully he or Buster Skrine can be consistent in returning kickoffs far.

Coaching:  The offense was pass-heavy and comprised of mostly shorter tosses by Hoyer.  Chud and the coaching staff did what was expected – see who can play and get out of the game without major injuries.  Horton’s vanilla defense produced three sacks, and now the time has finally come to see the unit attack from all angles regularly to disrupt signal callers.

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Posted by on August 31, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Preview of Preseason Game #4 – Browns @ Bears

Browns @ Bears – Preview– Preseason Game #4

It’s the preseason finale Thursday night in Chicago as the Browns face off against the Bears. These two teams have matched up against each other in the exhibition season for the last few years. The starters will see maybe one series, but there’s a chance some will not suit up. After the first round of cuts, rosters become (relatively) final on Saturday. While this may not be the most exciting contest of the season, I am certain I will have a good time watching it inside Soldier Field.

Offense:  Fans are not going to see anything new to sway their opinion on Brandon Weeden during this contest. The signal caller will head into the regular season on a sour note and will have to prove himself when he squares off with the Dolphins. Jason Campbell should fare well in this contest; the veteran has done a good job against reserve players so far. After a few decent games, Brian Hoyer only had four attempts and tossed a pick-six against the Colts. I would like to see what he can do in extended time; if he wants to have a shot at being the quarterback for the Browns one day then playing well on Thursday would be a good starting point.

A steady dose of Jamaine Cook will likely be the norm for the Browns’ game plan. The recent re-signed back will be given an opportunity to win a gig on the fifty-three-man squad. I think the team will keep him, assuming Dion Lewis goes to IR and they release Owen Marecic. Brandon Jackson, who has had his moments this preseason, may take a few carries as well. Will Chris Ogbonnaya take some carries at running back this contest? The veteran has been very versatile and can absorb hits between the tackles. The aforementioned Marecic is the big question mark; he appears to have fallen out of favor with this regime. Playing mostly special teams puts you in a spot where you have to fight against many just to remain on the roster.

This is the contest where Josh Cooper will put his finishing touches on an unexpected, encouraging exhibition season. The wide out has surged ahead in the race to play behind Little, Gordon, Benjamin, and Bess. If nothing else than to see how healthy he is, I really hope David Nelson plays most of this contest. He has great size (6-5 and 217 lbs.) and has shown an ability (in Buffalo) to be a dependable receiver. I have liked Jordan Norwood in the past, but the Browns have acquired several talented athletes so the former Penn State wide out was deemed expendable. Outside of some excellent acrobatic Jordan Cameron catches, the tight end position has been underwhelming. Gary Barnidge and Kellen Davis will both make the team and will be on display in Chicago. I do not envision big things from either however.

Sometime diamonds in the rough are found in the final preseason game; the Browns will employ a multitude of offensive linemen this week. Both the young (like Jarrod Shaw) and experienced (like Rashard Butler) will take the field. I look forward to the coaching staff determining who can be excellent candidates to provide depth upfront. Campbell and Hoyer will likely take a few sacks, but that is to be expected when the offensive line consists of five guys who do not play regularly beside one other.

Defense:  Due to his recent back issues; veteran Desmond Bryant has been limited thus far in the preseason.  I hope he is healthy enough to start Thursday – if he is, I would like to see him play a series or two to knock off “some of the rust”.  Two of the reserve members I will focus on during this contest are John Hughes and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen.  They will be on the field a majority of the time, and I anticipate both proving to be solid contributors.  Hopefully they can watch what Ahtyba Rubin was doing wrong last week (rushing up the field and over-running plays), and execute smarter to be in better spots to stop the Bears’ offense.

This should be an interesting matchup for the outside linebackers.  With several first and second teamers hurt or inactive, the Browns may field a few players who will not end up on the final roster.  I highly doubt that Tank Carder, Justin Cole, or Tommy Smith will be so impressive to earn a regular rotational spot with this defense.  L.J. Fort and James-Michael Johnson will see a fair amount of time in the inside spots.  Fort will definitely make the team, if for nothing else to be a part of special teams.  They must be dominant in tackling; if they cannot do that on Thursday then they should not be with the Browns.  I had hope and promise last year for Johnson, but I would be surprised if he survives final cuts.

The secondary will face fewer throws (from reserve quarterbacks) this week.  I hope Tashaun Gipson and Johnson Bademosi see several reps at safety, while Buster Skrine and Leon McFadden should be on the field at cornerback.  These four should hold their own, as they will not be facing the starters – if they struggle, then concerns will increase significantly.  Following these members, Josh Aubrey (recovering from a hand injury) and Akeem Auguste will be active.  I feel both will be on the final roster but not as integral members of the defense; that could change if injuries or extremely poor play occur.

Special Teams:  After the dismal performance last week, the Browns’ special teams must get back on track against the Bears.  The punting and kicking games have been good-to-very good; consistency is starting to be seen.  However, the coverage units have been looking poor – both the schemes and personnel should be re-evaluated in practice.  With Devin Hester likely sitting out, the punt and kickoff teams should limit the Bears’ returns.

Coaching:  This will be the last, tedious preseason game called by Chud and Ray Horton. Running plays (for both teams) will be more prevalent than other contests – both want a speedy matchup with few injuries. With many reserves playing, I anticipate strictly more of a base defense for the away squad. There’s no way Horton will tip his hand now, especially without Paul Kruger or Barkevious Mingo on the field.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Preseason Game #3 Review – Browns @ Colts

Browns @ Colts – Review – Preseason Game #3

Boom…that’s the sound of the Cleveland Browns falling back to reality.  They entered Lucas Oil Stadium with high hopes and left failing to execute in multiple areas.  Fortunately, it was only preseason and not every person had a poor performance – but it looks like there’s sizeable room for improvement.  The team never found the end zone and scored only on a couple of long field goals.  The Browns’ defense had its problems defending Andrew Luck, and the special teams gave up a few big plays as well.  That said, the Browns will (hopefully) look very different in its season opener in two weeks.

Offense:

The first real pressure put on Brandon Weeden this season proved to be too much for the signal caller; the quarterback was never comfortable and more than struggled.  He completed less than half his throws (twelve of twenty-five) for only 105 yards.  The team’s longest gain was only twenty-five yards through the air; one can take that one of two ways.  Either Weeden was not comfortable with deeper options during this contest, or the game plan centered on completing shorter routes.  I’m pulling for the latter, as the former might lead to similar problems in the regular season.  Though playing subpar, at least no interceptions were thrown (although a few were close).  I hope Weeden gets a great learning experience from this game and does not repeat this performance.  Jason Campbell took three sacks, but his yards-per-completion was nearly double that of the starter.  Again, this team could be in trouble if he has to play in extended time – but there are worse quarterback situations in the league.

Trent Richardson ran hard, but not very effectively.  Granted, the Colts may have focused on stopping him, but he was able to pick up a few yards each carry.  I am glad he made it through the game healthy, and I can’t wait to see the types of plays Chud and Turner call for him in the fall.  The entire rushing unit was unproductive, which is expected in the preseason – but I am still a bit alarmed.  The injuries to Montario Hardesty and Dion Lewis really hurt this team; after Richardson (who needs to do a lot more to be great) the Browns do not really have a long-term solution.  I hope the running back spot is not a problem this year, but I am skeptical at this point.  I like Chris Ogbonnaya more and more and the fullback spot – he made a couple nice blocks and still knows how to catch.

None of the starting targets for Weeden had a stellar game; Josh Gordon finished with two grabs for twenty-four yards while Greg Little had three receptions (for twenty-eight yards) and suffered a costly fumble.  The wide out that likely made the team is second-year receiver Josh Cooper.  The college teammate of Weeden got open and picked up a couple of first downs in the second half.  Jordan Norwood and David Nelson did not play – I would be surprised if either finished on the final roster.  Cordell Roberson lead the Browns in receiving yardage; he has been making plays given an opportunity.  The worst-case scenario for him (I feel) is a member of the practice squad – I would like to see him get a crack with the team but barring injury that probably will not occur.

The starting offensive line for the Browns did not allow a sack – they might have been the only bright spot of the offense.  Joe Thomas’s holding penalty in the first half may have halted a drive that lead to a touchdown.  Penalties are going to occur, but they just seem to hurt the Browns’ offense a great deal.  They must clean this up if the offense wants any kind of success.  Oniel Cousins and Garrett Gilkey were able to hold down the right guard spot; neither were exceptional but they were not dominated either.  The line is the key for this offense – if they underperform then the entire unit will fail and a long season will ensue.

Defense: 

The duo of Billy Winn and Phil Taylor lead the way for the defensive line.  They combined for nine tackles and helped slow down the Colts’ running attack.  Ahtyba Rubin nearly had a sack and was active during pass rushes.  Not getting to Luck really hurt the team; the Stanford product lit up the Browns when given time to make smart decisions.  I envision John Hughes will make more of an impact in the coming weeks – the veteran did not accumulate a great deal of stats on Saturday night.  Allowing 149 yards rushing is a bit alarming; typically teams do not run the football well in the preseason.  The home team did, however – this has been a problem for the Browns for many years and they must improve here quickly.

With Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo sitting out of the contest, veteran Paul Kruger had a fine performance at outside linebacker.  He notched the team’s only sack and was always around the football.  I look for big things from him in 2013.  Quentin Groves did not impress me as a fill-in starter; he will be used in certain situations and that’s where he will likely be most effective.  Inside, D’Qwell Jackson had five tackles and one for a loss; he has been very dependable all year long.  Craig Robertson had a decent game; he got burned in coverage a few times but was good in run support.  The linebackers for the Browns, while not the team’s strength, are much better than they’ve been in some time.

The rookie Leon McFadden was given the starting job opposite Joe Haden (for this contest) and struggled a lot.  I understand he covered veteran Reggie Wayne, one of the league’s best, but he allowed the Colts to march down the field with ease.  The coaching staff put him in situations to give a cushion, so passes were completed with little-to-no resistance.  Haden and Buster Skrine defended a few tosses well – the corners were far from perfect but still made some plays.  I was rather disappointed with T.J. Ward.  He seemed to be out of position a few times, especially during long gains by the Colts.   Tashaun Gipson had an excellent interception but a somewhat quiet outing otherwise.  The secondary had its question marks coming into the season, and unfortunately they are far from answered.

Special Teams:

I thought Johnson Bademosi did a decent job at kick returns; ideally I would like a little more yardage but he could have been worse.  Spencer Lanning had (outside of two early punts) a fantastic game.  The Browns look smart in keeping him as the punter on the roster.  The long punt return allowed was upsetting as a Browns’ fan – the special teams were up-and-down last year and they need to be much better in 2013.  So far, the coverage units are not holding up their end of the bargain.  Shayne Graham had a solid game at kicker – it will be a tough call between him and Brandon Bogotay.  I would be in favor of the youngster, but I understand going with the proven veteran.

Coaching:

Keeping Brandon Weeden under center and limiting him to shorter throws are two things that do not play to his strengths.  I think this coaching staff knows this, but they were determining expectations for the season.  I liked Ray Horton’s use of pressure on defense – it was not overwhelming but it is something that will be utilized effectively.  Game plans have been boring so far, but that will change soon with excitement following.

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Browns @ Colts – Preseason Game #3 – Preview

Preseason Game #3 – Browns @ Colts – Preview

Following a pair of fine outings at First Energy Stadium, the Browns finally hit the road during the 2013 season.  This week’s opponent should present a great test, as the Colts are coming off a playoff appearance last season and performed well in their recent preseason game (against the Giants).  Granted the atmosphere will not be a great as a regular season matchup, but hopefully the offense can be in sync and do their jobs amidst the acoustics of Lucas Oil Stadium.  The “dress rehearsal” could be the final time some players don the orange and brown, while others may make it hard for the coaching staff to finalize the depth chart.

Offense:  There’s really no place to go but down for Brandon Weeden; the second-year quarterback is lighting it up in the preseason.  Completing eighteen of twenty-five throws for 229 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions is remarkable, but fans  (while feeling great) may want to temper some enthusiasm.  Hopefully he can continue this when teams game plan against him next month, but saying regular season football is different than preseason is a huge understatement.  A key point of optimism for Browns’ fans is that Weeden has not turned the ball over yet – this was not the case last preseason.  If he can continue to protect the football and make smart decisions, then the team will be in a great position to win many games.  Jason Campbell has also been excellent as the backup, I look forward to him keeping it up and providing veteran leadership on the sidelines and in the locker room.

The rash of recent injuries to the running back position may cause the coaching staff to “take it easy” during the remainder of the preseason.  This refers to limiting running plays and employing multiple backs during contests (and therefore reducing the number of carries for each athlete).  Trent Richardson might just play a series or two once again, just to keep him prepared for the speed of the game.  Brandon Jackson is now the second-string rusher; I look forward to him making the most of his opportunity in 2013.  Will Miguel Maysonet and recently re-signed Jamaine Cook make the team and possibly even contribute?  If they want to surprise a few, excelling in Indianapolis is imperative to survive final cuts.  Chris Ogbonnaya seems to have a firm grasp on the fullback spot; second-year player Owen Marecic had a tough 2012 season and might be on his way out.  He must make great strides if he wants to remain with the team.

I love the way the coaching staff is getting many wide receivers involved in the passing game thus far.  The team is not relying on just one player or two and it could pay off in September (and going forward).  Opponents will have a difficult task in determining how best to shut down the Browns’ passing attack; double teams and press coverage could work on one wide out but others can prosper as a result.  The drops from last season aren’t as visible in 2013, and I hope that catching “catches on”.  One player who has not been active yet is veteran David Nelson.  However, there is a chance he sees action on Saturday – I would love to see how he is healing from his ACL injury (and bone bruise) and determine whether he can be a cog in the receiving corps.  The Browns acquisition of the University of Florida star could be great if he fills in and performs well during Josh Gordon’s suspension.

It’s next man up after two injuries to offensive guards this season (Lauvao and Pinkston), and the primary beneficiary is rookie Garrett Gilkey.  The order is tall, but he is surrounded by some of the finest offensive linemen in the league.  If the health of the unit remains in tact, the Chadron State product can be an unlikely (at one time) opening day starter.  The Browns’ offensive line has become similar to how many view referees – not being noticed is a good thing.  I foresee multiple rotations and different combinations of athletes playing together upfront these final two contests – injuries and poor play happen.  Weeden has been upright so far in the preseason, and I anticipate this translating similarly in the fall.  Last year, the running attack could have been a bit better – improvement is needed at opening holes for backs to run through.  Both undrafted rookies (Braxston Cave and Chris Faulk) are coming off injuries, but I believe at least one will make the final roster to provide depth.

Defense:  The duo of Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin have been dominant in the two preseason games; it’s free-agent acquisition Desmond Bryant’s turn to show why the Browns signed him to start at defensive end.  Primarily stopping the run and forcing action to the other part of the field is what I would like to see from Bryant.  With the depth upfront, I did not believe Ishmaa’ily Kitchen had a good shot at making this team.  However, he has been playing well and is in line to be a part of the fifty-three-man roster.  Armonty Bryant is coming along in his rookie season; the front office will likely keep him over a veteran due to his breakout potential.  I find it interesting that John Hughes and Billy Winn have not been mentioned much this offseason, they appear to be doing a good job but it’s hard to gauge how the staff feels about them.

With Barkevious Mingo being held out for precautionary reasons, Quentin Groves will get more snaps on Saturday night.  As a member of the second unit, the former Arizona Cardinal has been getting to the quarterback and making tackles.  I want to see how he does against a signal caller like Andrew Luck and his starting offensive line.  In pass coverage; the Browns must prepare for tight end Coby Fleener and running backs Donald Brown and Delone Carter.  All three are excellent pass catchers and provide a good challenge for the Browns’ linebackers.  Craig Robertson has done well in this area, but I would like to see what L.J. Fort and James-Michael Johnson could do.  Johnson made his way onto the defense last season, but has struggled to duplicate success in 2013.  He is in jeopardy of getting released if he cannot prove himself to the coaches; the Colts game might be his final opportunity.

Chris Owens’ play quieted down many critics questioning the Browns’ cornerback situation.  He shut down a few receivers for the Lions; there is a chance that he and Buster Skrine can be a pleasant surprise for the team.  Along those lines, a pair of undrafted rookies has stood out these past few weeks.  With T.J. Ward out, Josh Aubrey has held his own at strong safety, while Akeem Auguste has been physical in a reserve cornerback and special teams role.  Both are on track to make the team, and I like seeing many options for Ray Horton’s backfield.  Johnson Bademosi switched positions to safety, but he may be relegated to spot duty or a special teams returner (at least initially).  I hope Ward comes back healthy and plays up to his capability, but as is the case with the cornerbacks – there are others who are hungry and have yet to give me reason to fear them being out there.

Special Teams:  This will be the next opportunity for a player to win the kick returning duties; perhaps Johnson Bademosi, Buster Skrine, or a long shot can get consistent production there.  Will Travis Benjamin obtain double duties in punt/kick returning, in addition to being a wide receiver?  The team may not want to overuse the University of Miami speedster, so I expect to see multiple returners during the next two games.  I thought Brandon Bogotay had a good outing last week, but Shayne Graham will get his chance to win the kicking job.  If T.J. Conley is healthy enough, he will probably be the punter against the Colts; however he will be looking for work if he cannot get on the field.  Spencer Lanning has been dependable this year and seeks the full-time punting duties. 

Coaching:  Chud has made many different play calls for Brandon Weeden in the passing game.  There’s little left to prove; the quarterback has shown an ability to hit the under/crossing routes, dump offs to backs, and the deeper sideline routes.  I know the coaches have some tricks up their sleeves, but fortunately they are saving them for a few more weeks.  The same is true for the defense; the unit is winning the battle at the line of scrimmage but they are not rushing the passer consistently.  I can’t wait to see a few guys coming off the edge, sacking quarterbacks, and forcing fumbles.

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Lions @ Browns – Preseason Game #2 – Review

Review of Preseason Game #2 – Lions @ Browns

It was a great performance once again for the Browns, albeit a costly one.  The team dominated the visitors to the tune of 24 – 6, with the starters leading the away squad at one point by seventeen.  As is prevalent in the NFL, a few members of the Browns could not finish the contest healthy – including offensive personnel like Jason Pinkston, Gary Barnidge, and Dion Lewis.  Also lost were rookie Barkevious Mingo and kicker Brandon Bogotay; the rest of the preseason will hopefully provide opportunities for others to step up in the absence of others.  Nonetheless, this outing may have gotten the notice of a few national pundits that this team can be better than expected.

Offense:

After a solid game last week, Brandon Weeden followed up with another dynamic performance.  The signal caller hit on eight of his twelve throws for a pair of scores and no turnovers.  Granted he was not perfect but a few passes were placed only where the receiver could catch them.  This included a deep route to Josh Gordon and a couple of higher lofts to Jordan Cameron.  The starting offense was efficient, did not lose the football, did not commit a penalty, and stood up to defend their teammate following another Ndamukong Suh late hit.  Obviously, they still have yet to face a team that game plans for the offense with a complex defensive scheme, but I am excited to see what can happen in the regular season.  Jason Campbell had a nice game too, going twelve of fourteen for 106 yards and a score.  He appears to be pulling away from Hoyer and seems to be a reliable backup in the league.

It was a great sight with Trent Richardson on the field running hard.  The back had a couple nice carries and finished the game with a five-and-a-half yard average (and more importantly unscathed).  The same could not be said for Dion Lewis; the University of Pittsburgh rusher had a good outing (including a thirty-one yard carry) but left the game with a broken fibula.  He will miss at least a good portion (if not all) of the regular season, and that really hurts the depth of the running back position.  With the Montario Hardesty injuries (thumb and knee), Brandon Jackson could become the main backup, while Miguel Maysonet’s chances to make this roster could improve significantly.  The Browns can ill-afford any more injuries to this spot and will likely play it safe the final two preseason games.

Josh Gordon looked like a number-one wide receiver for the Browns; he lead the team in targets and yardage (and tied with receptions).  The thirty-four yard play was a thing of beauty, and I loved to see him secure the pass.  I cannot wait to see what kind of season he has under this coaching staff, but this outing could cause concern regarding the remainder of receiving options.  Greg Little and Travis Benjamin only had one grab each for a combined twenty yards while Davone Bess was invisible – I hope these three can be included more in future offensive game plans.  With Jordan Norwood and David Nelson inactive, Cordell Roberson and Josh Cooper each contributed in the contest, with three receptions for thirty-five yards between the two.  The Colts’ game next week is the final chance for those on the fringe (of making the team) to make an impression with the coaches before first cuts.

This is the type of performance Browns’ fans were hoping to see from tight end Jordan Cameron.  It’s no secret that both Chud and Norv Turner have had success getting production from this position, and the USC product is in line to be their next break out performer.  He notched a twenty-seven yard reception and found the end zone twice.  His ability to jump up and grab passes out of the sky was on display.  Being in the spot where it’s either a catch or an incompletion was something not seen last year (as evident by the multiple interceptions).  I hope this performance was not an aberration and he continues to be involved in the offense on a frequent basis.  Kellen Davis had one catch and Gary Barnidge left the game with a shoulder injury.  Cameron looks like the only playmaker here, let’s hope he keeps it up.

After Shawn Lauvao’s ankle injury last week, Jason Pinkson was re-inserted into the starting lineup.  During the Lions game, the guard also had an ankle injury and could not finish (it seems like he may only miss a few weeks with a sprain, however).  What was once an area of depth for the Browns could become one of concern.  Rookie seventh-round pick Garrett Gilkey now has a difficult task of transitioning from Chadron State in 2012 to potentially starting in the NFL in 2013.  I give him a ton of credit, he seems like a hard worker and a great guy but I would not be surprised if he struggles this season (at least initially).  The Browns may have to adjust their play calling a bit this season based on the personnel upfront.  Again, the offensive line cannot sustain any further injuries if they want to be successful this season, but hopefully several members are getting repetitions in practices and preseason games in case they are called upon this fall.

Defense: 

The defensive front completely mystified the running attack of the Lions; the visitors could only muster fifty-one yards on twenty-one carries.  There were multiple contributors on the Browns’ line, including the three starters (Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, and Desmond Bryant) who got a stop each.  Several reserves (i.e. Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Billy Winn, and Armonty Bryant) also produced on Thursday night.  This trio combined for three tackles and had the only sack of the night.  Depth and strength upfront will be a constant, and I am glad to see this unit has not been struggling at all.  I understand teams will employ different blocking schemes in order to reduce the Browns effectiveness in the regular season, but I’m confident they can match the intensity and defeat their counterparts.

As will be the case many times in the regular season, the 3-4 defense put linebackers in position to make tackles.  The two team leaders in this category were L.J. Fort (with six) and D’Qwell Jackson (with five), while Craig Robertson and Jabaal Sheard combined for seven stops.  In the passing game, the tight end trio of Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria, and Michael Williams finished with five grabs for a measly thirty-six yards.  Whether it was not in the Lions’ game plan or the linebackers did an excellent job, this area was clearly ineffective.  The Browns will face some stellar tight ends this season (like Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert, and Kyle Rudolph to name a few), and I look forward to seeing how the Browns’ linebackers can matchup with these exceptional athletes.  As far as injuries go, it appears that Barkevious Mingo’s bruised lung is not serious and fortunately he should be able to return by the season opener.

Not having Calvin Johnson available for the Lions was a huge blow to the visiting offense and took a great deal of pressure off the secondary of the Browns.  As a result, Matt Willis (I’ve never heard of him either) was the leading pass catcher at the wide out position with three receptions for eighteen yards.  The Browns were untested and performed the way the coaching staff and fans expected.  Chris Owens held down the other cornerback spot beside Joe Haden by not allowing a deep gain and making three tackles.  Buster Skrine and Trevin Wade each had solid performances with a pass breakup and four combined tackles.  Rookie Josh Aubrey has surprised many by filling in well for T.J. Ward; the undrafted athlete does not seem to be overwhelmed by the spotlight and always appears to be near the football.  As of now, the secondary has given fans few reasons for concern – even with reserves getting a fair amount of playing time.  This may change in a few weeks, but I have confidence they are much improved from last season’s poor secondary.

Special Teams:

The Dion Lewis injury hurt the kick return squad, as now an unproven returner will have to fill the void.  It could be a number of players including Johnson Bademosi and Buster Skrine, but I do not anticipate it being a huge drop-off.  Status quo for Travis Benjamin, who will make some special plays as a punt returner this season.  I thought Brandon Bogotay (pre-groin injury) and Spencer Lanning each played well enough to win their respective jobs.  I anticipate T.J. Conley and Shane Graham getting all the action next week at punter and kicker – we could have definite answers at those two spots following first cuts.

Coaching: 

Deeper throws is what the team had not attempted in the preseason, and that’s exactly what Chud dialed up on Thursday.  It was pleasant to see Weeden feel a million times more comfortable in this offense and completing passes downfield.  With Lewis out, the type of plays being called could alter a bit (assuming they primarily stick with Richardson and Jackson).  Defensively, Horton put the team in spots to prevent big plays.  That could change next month with all of the blitzing, but right now I am not as worried about the secondary being one-on-one with wide receivers as I would have been a few weeks ago.

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Lions @ Browns – Preseason Game #2 – Preview

Preview of Preseason Game #2 – Lions @ Browns

Alas, the Browns and Lions renew their storied preseason rivalry known as “the Great Lakes Classic” (or the GLC).  These two franchises have met each preseason over the past eleven years, with the winner garnering an extremely heavy trophy of a barge.  Being the second game of the exhibition campaign, the starters will play a bit more than last week – leading to a better representation of the regular season and possible, future expectations.  The final home game before the regular season opener is the next opportunity for the Browns to work on a few things and determine how best to fill out their roster.

Offense:  Last week, Brandon Weeden was able to hit open targets against a base defense.  He will see something similar again, except instead of slants, quick outs, and dump offs, I hope the signal caller employs a few posts, drags, or fades.  Granted, I do not anticipate these longer routes to be run regularly, but facing an opposing defense would be a good test to see if Weeden’s accuracy has gotten better from 2012.  Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer’s playing time will decrease from the last outing; one could surge ahead in the backup role with exceptional play (Hoyer has intrigued me to this point).  Fortunately, both have avoided a poor mistake or turnover – let’s hope that continues.

Will this be the first preseason contest for Trent Richardson?  I am in the camp that supports him getting a few repetitions on the field – Dion Lewis was the starting back against the Rams but did not have multiple carries between the tackles (where more contact is made).  I would like both a few runs and receptions out of the backfield from the University of Alabama product.  My expectations for Lewis were met last week; I feel confident in the rusher during the regular season.  If Montario Hardesty is healthy enough to play, I would prefer he get the bulk of touches during the contest.  The coaching staff needs to figure out what to do with the former second-round pick, and he is running out of opportunities (he is on the outside looking in, in my opinion).

It’s rather safe to assume that Travis Benjamin is more than dependable in the return game – he must still make a few strides to replicate that statement as a wide receiver, though.  The athlete may not be asked to run every single pattern, but as long as he runs them crisply and is in the right spot, then he can become a permanent fixture for the offense going forward.  The team converted their third downs well last game (nine of sixteen), and this trend needs to continue.  Finding Davone Bess on the field should be paramount, in addition to seeking out other reliable targets to move the chains.  The health of David Nelson and his inactivity is providing an opening for a wide out to seize; I feel Josh Cooper is currently in the lead, but either Jordan Norwood or someone else could make a few big plays against the Lions and vault himself into favor with the coaches.

Entering the season, the tight end spot has been a question mark (in terms of receiving output).  After last week, little has changed to quell reservations by the fan base.  Perhaps Chud is determining the best way for Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge to routinely defeat outside linebackers and cornerbacks and come away with a reception.  I do not think Chud needs to strictly call plays that center on the tight end position, but ones that make them work to get the ball from Weeden.  Neither of these targets will be the number one option on a given play, but when Josh Gordon and Greg Little see double teams or rolled-up coverage, someone must be responsible to allow the offense to move the ball effectively.

Defense:  There has been very little to complain about regarding the Browns’ defensive line – up to this point.  Several members have made an impact one way or another, and I do not envision this changing in the coming months.  The starters will not have to play a whole lot (see Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant last contest), assuming they are in regular season form by September 8th.  Three guys I will focus on are Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, John Hughes, and Armonty Bryant.  Not all are guaranteed roster spots with the team, based on the depth at the position group.  If Bryant does get cut, I have no doubt he will be on the practice squad.  Hughes is more than likely to make the roster, and solid play can only help this.  I hope Kitchen can remain with the team but I feel he may have some work to do before he is a part of the fifty-three-man squad.

Since the number of blitz packages is limited in the preseason, coverage skills and keeping with receivers should be a priority for the linebackers.  Craig Robertson looked stellar in coverage last week; I really feel confident in saying he is locking down the inside linebacker job opposite D’Qwell Jackson.  L.J. Fort is a reserve player who may be relegated to special teams, but he has tough competition there will Tank Carder.  I see him landing on the roster and have hope the undersized athlete from Northern Iowa can be a cog in this defense.  The acquisitions of Quentin Groves and Barkevious Mingo will prove to be huge for this team – both have (already) displayed a determined ability to rush the passer.  Rotating multiple defenders with different moves will disrupt passing attacks in 2013.

Many younger athletes got to see playing time, in the secondary, facing the Rams.  Akeem Auguste, Josh Aubrey, Kent Richardson, and Abdul Kanneh are a few of the names who were active.  It’s rather difficult to speculate (at this point) which of these members will contribute on defense, whom are special teamers, and which will not make the team.  This jumble will likely sort itself out over the next few weeks, as some athletes step up while others falter.  With Leon McFadden out due to a groin injury, one member could be in line to steal a dime/reserve spot with this defense.  I feel the safety spots are solid with Ward, Gipson, Bademosi, and Slaughter, but health concerns make coaches think twice about grooming another rookie into that role.

Special Teams:  The return games do not have to prove anything further (to me) this preseason; Benjamin is bona fide in bringing back punts, and Lewis will succeed at kickoff returns.  Avoiding turnovers is the name of the game, and that’s really all the Browns should focus on (and anything extra should be appreciated).  The kicking and punting competitions should heat up on Thursday; consistency is the key.  Both punters have had it, but Spencer Lanning looks to be ahead.  The same cannot be said for kicking field goals; I want one of the two (Bogotay/Graham) to approach perfection during attempts, but that’s not the case just yet.

Coaching:  Without showing their hands, the staff must attempt to try some new formations and play calls.  They may not be prevalent in the regular season, but if they are successful – the Browns might utilize the tactics in the fall.  In regards to special teams, Chud may not be as aggressive (i.e. kicking instead of going for it on fourth down) as he would be normally.  The same is true with Horton on defense, but he is focused more on evaluating personnel than the number of sacks the starters can get. 

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Review of Preseason Game 1 – Rams @ Browns

Rams @ Browns – Preseason Game #1 – Review

Well, things looked better than advertised for the Cleveland Browns in their preseason opener.  The home squad did not commit a turnover (while forcing three), and limited their penalties when the starters were in the contest.  All said, it was a good starting point for the franchise – hopefully they continue to keep it up and improve during the 2013 campaign.

Offense:

Brandon Weeden looked light years ahead of where he was a year ago in Detroit.  Granted, that is to be expected from a second-year pro versus a rookie, but it’s nonetheless comforting.  The signal caller completed ten of his thirteen throws for 112 yards and a score.  There was little-to-no pressure and the defense was simple, but if the offensive line can give him a few seconds in the regular season then the passing game should be magnificent.  Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer each had solid outings; Hoyer completed a twenty-six yard touchdown late in the game, while Campbell was on target (missing just one attempt).

Not having Trent Richardson available last year would have been extremely detrimental to the Browns.  While it’s not something the team hopes for, the play of Dion Lewis (so far) gives supporters belief that there is another solid option for the running attack.  The former Eagle flashed his speed and had several nice runs and receptions, including finding the end zone on one occasion.  With Montario Hardesty out due to an injury, Brandon Jackson was the next rusher in the contest.  He played decently – averaging just less than three yards per carry on eleven attempts (along with five catches for twenty-two yards).  Remaining healthy could be his key to finding his way on the roster.

Weeden definitely spread the ball around to multiple receivers; Josh Gordon, Greg Little, and Josh Cooper each came away with a pair of receptions.  Davone Bess only had one grab for seven yards, but it came on third down.  This area was a disaster for the team last season – Bess was traded for in order to be a reliable third down option.  Plays like the one he made on Thursday should excite fans.  Cordell Roberson might be a long shot to make the final roster, but his deep touchdown grab could give him a better opportunity with the coaching staff.

The tight end position only made a few plays but continued to be involved in the football game.  Jordan Cameron hauled in a thirty-yard toss and (unintentionally) volley balled a throw to Greg Little.  In the regular season, these passes must be secured as past history has shown us that the bounces do not always go the Browns way.  Reserve tight end Gary Barnidge made a grab for seven yards – I anticipate Chud employing this position more in the regular season, but it appears there is still room to grow.

Defense:

Phil Taylor’s forced fumble and Billy Winn’s enforcing hit highlighted the play of the defensive line.  The unit (obviously) had a conservative game plan and did not face a top-tier running attack, but the group played well.  The defense surrendered less than one hundred yards on the ground and did not allow a rushing touchdown.  Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Armonty Bryant, and John Hughes each came away with three stops while Brian Sanford notched a sack.  I really like the depth at this part of the roster and feel rather confident the front three can be productive during the regular season – regardless if they are starters or reserves.

The linebackers had a quiet night; that is to be somewhat expected in August, but hopefully not so in September on.  The tackle and sacks totals will increase when Ray Horton dives into his defensive playbook.  On Thursday, only Quentin Groves and Barkevious Mingo were able to get to the quarterback.  Mingo was tripped on his play, and the Browns accepted the penalty, which negated the sack.  I look forward to seeing Paul Kruger harass opposing signal callers, but I understand the decision to sideline the proven veteran.

Buster Skrine had a couple of nice plays against the Rams – he looks like he has improved from the penalty-prone athlete he was last season.  The corner recovered the Taylor forced fumble, made a pass breakup, and was efficient in coverage.  I thought Trevin Wade had an up-and-down outing – the University of Arizona star had four tackles, defended a couple passes, but gave up a deep catch which set up the Rams first touchdown.  With multiple players out in the secondary, Johnson Bademosi stepped up.  The second-year safety came away with four tackles and appeared to always be near the football.  He and Tashaun Gipson might be pleasant surprises in the secondary this year.

Special Teams:

Well, Travis Benjamin did it again – the University of Miami speedster returned a punt for the Browns’ second touchdown.  I am one of many who miss Josh Cribbs, but Benjamin’s play is making the transition a bit easier.  Spencer Lanning may have taken the lead in the punting department – each had two attempts, but Lanning’s kicks went a combined ten yards further than T.J. Conley’s.  It’s hard to judge the kicking game so far.  Shayne Graham made his only field goal attempt of forty-one yards, while Brandon Bogotay made a twenty-five yarder but missed a longer attempt over fifty yards.  This battle will more than likely go all preseason long.

Coaching:

I know it’s only an exhibition contest, but the coaching staff looks much improved from last season’s leaders.  The offensive play calls put playmakers in the best spot to succeed.  Whether it was a quick out, a dump off to a running back, or a deeper out, I liked what I saw.  Ray Horton is somewhat handcuffed this time of year, but there’s little doubt that the defense will create multiple headaches for opponents.

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2013 in NFL Season