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.
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.
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.
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.
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.