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.
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.
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.
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.
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.