Browns @ Redskins – A Preview of Preseason Game #2
Well it’s not the regular season, but at least the Browns finally get to be on TV for the whole world to see. Many (namely ESPN) will conjure up comparisons and debate as to who is the better quarterback – Robert Griffin III or Johnny Manziel. As ridiculous as that sounds, especially because Manziel has only played one exhibition game in the NFL, it will be a focal point of the broadcast – especially during slower points. I really want to see a couple guys “break out of their shell” in this contest – provided they get a shot.
Offense: Amazingly, the Browns only attempted three passes over twenty yards in last week’s contest. I get the staff doesn’t want to “show opponents” their tendencies or drain their signal callers of confidence, but a longer heave once in a while wouldn’t hurt. Manziel cannot run six times in about twenty-five plays during the regular season; I would be surprised if Shanahan and company gave him the green light to freelance on Monday. As far as Hoyer goes, I would like to see a couple of misdirection routes in this contest. He has proven an ability to “look off” defenders – it is time to dust this off, especially if he wants to start on September seventh.
I have a ton of confidence in the abilities of Ben Tate and rookie Terrance West to carry the workload on Sundays. West appears to be the better receiver at this point, but Tate is no slouch in this department either. As alluded to previously, I really want to see what type of athlete Isaiah Crowell is. Can he spell both backs on occasion, or is he a diamond-in-the-rough bruising rusher? Four years ago, Peyton Hillis broke out in the second exhibition game – then had a great regular season. I wouldn’t be upset if that happened again (sans the Madden cover and all the negativity that followed).
Perhaps the coaching staff was hiding the wide receivers and focused the passing game around fullbacks and tight ends against the Lions. It’s unlikely, but these wide outs cannot drop the football under any circumstances. They simply don’t have the kind of offense to overcome those (at least right now). It’s time now for Anthony Armstrong, Charles Johnson, and Andrew Hawkins to step up and become reliable targets. I know it’s not going to happen overnight – but the wheels should be in motion by now.
The zone-blocking scheme is still fairly new to the guys upfront, so I am hoping they can place an emphasis on this versus the Redskins. With the likes of Alex Mack and Joe Thomas, veteran leadership should be a plenty on the offensive line. Joel Bitonio and John Greco can fill in the gaps as well. The type of hit Greco put on the Lions definitely gets the juices flowing and makes be believe this gang can be something they haven’t been for many years – nasty.
Defense: Armonty Bryant and John Hughes’s solid performances really give me hope for the defensive front in 2014. I hesitate to ask, but could they be too deep? They can only put four (but usually three) guys on the field at one time, however there are at least seven viable members in this group. Of course there will be attrition through sixteen games (and maybe more), but this group appears to be fine right now. Monday’s game should include many rotations of the defensive line, while determining which three (or four) play best with each other.
The Browns’ linebackers have almost completely transformed into some fast guys who can cover in passing situations. This describes Karlos Dansby, Barkevious Mingo, Chris Kirksey, and Craig Robertson. I really struggle with Paul Kruger’s role in this defense; he is a talented athlete, but is not quick enough to keep up with the opposition. He could be relegated to “running downs” a.k.a. second down and long or third down and less than three. It’s sad to think this (considering his massive contract) but if he can lock down running backs, then he will have done his job admirably.
I am eager to hopefully see Justin Gilbert take the field for the Browns. He has been praised highly from the media in practice, as one of the guys who excelled the most when the pads went on. Gilbert will not line up against Pierre Garcon or Desean Jackson, but he will still face some talented offensive targets. Buster Skrine has been playing well in camp and didn’t disappoint last week – if he has a great game on Monday, the veteran might hammer down the “other” cornerback spot. Two safeties I will have my eye on are Tashaun Gipson and Jim Leonhard; will the former continue to build from a reasonably well 2013 campaign and can the latter be more than a coach in the huddle?
Special Teams: I hope Billy Cundiff isn’t our MVP this season (no offense, I hope he does well), but instead of four field goals I want to see four PATs. Spencer Lanning has been as reliable as he was in 2013; I figure that to continue as well. Marginal returns should occur for the Browns in this matchup, as they (smartly) continue to let Travis Benjamin heal for a few more weeks.
Coaching: Hopefully coach Pettine won’t get shortchanged the way he did last week in Detroit. The coach’s challenge of a blatant fumble recovery by his squad was not overturned early in the game. If that’s the worst to happen, it will have been a solid outing. Pettine has been great at bringing pressure, especially on third down. Hopefully he can get many new guys involved in the party.