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.
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.
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.
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.
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.