Preview of Preseason Game #3 – Rams @ Browns
With the newly crowned starting quarterback in Brian Hoyer, the Browns take the field against a young and improving team in the St. Louis Rams. Hopefully the change of scenery can help the home team, who has looked extremely lethargic in their first two exhibition games. I am definitely looking forward to this contest, mainly to forget about the last one. Let’s break it down…
Offense: Now that the veteran got the nod for the season, hopefully the Cleveland native can take some deep breaths and simply relax. Hoyer has missed several throws against the Lions and Washington, whether they were too high or just ahead or behind of the intended target. It’s imperative he nails down his timing in this contest; I would be surprised and disappointed if he did not. As far as Manziel goes, I just look for progress in the rookie. He has taken measures to improve as a passer but the execution was still lacking. Hopefully Saturday’s game is a stepping-stone.
I firmly believe Ben Tate knows what he’s doing and will perform on Sundays. That being said, other runners should get a bulk of the carries versus the Rams. Terrance West should see around fifteen touches in the first half, and then the battle between Isaiah Crowell and Deion Lewis should ensure after halftime. That leaves Chris Ogbonnaya and Edwin Baker left to duke it out (for a roster spot) late in the contest – there’s a possibility that neither makes the final roster.
I am about ready to throw my hands up with this receiving unit, Josh Gordon included. I know it is preseason, but no wide out (along with Jordan Cameron) looked like they wanted to play last week. I’m calling for a simple “catch the ball and hang on to it” philosophy in this contest. It is simple and rather obvious but also a vital step in the growth process for this unit. Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin, and Charles Johnson are three guys I want to see remarked improvement from preseason games one and two. Having Nate Burleson active would be ideal as well, as the savvy veteran has yet to suit up in the exhibition season.
Mitchell Schwartz can redeem himself from the poor performance against Washington. However, going against Chris Long and Robert Quinn are not going to make it easy – but if he can hold his own, then there’s hope for the right tackle. On the interior, I am anxious to see how the three starters push back Michael Brokers and rookie Aaron Donald. The offensive line can show how tremendous they are – but they have to work hard to keep the backfield clean for Brian Hoyer and company.
Defense: Status quo should be the norm for the defensive line; the only question should be which guy steps up for the group. Desmond Bryant’s injury is a bit worrisome (a wrist surgery), but other guys are filling in tremendously. Personally, I’d like to see Billy Winn and John Hughes early in the contest to see if they can continue their solid play. Of course Armonty Bryant has stood out during the exhibition season, and if he can figure to be a staple in the run defense – then his role should continue to expand.
With Craig Robertson balling out last week, it is Chris Kirksey’s turn to try to steal some playing time. It is unlikely he will be a starter (at least early on) but the former Iowa linebacker can still see the field this year as a member of the defense. Darius Eubanks will be one guy I will have my eye on, as he is the leading candidate to spell Karlos Dansby. There may be a slight drop-off (in play) from the longtime veteran, but I’m pulling that it is not a large one – for the defense’s sake. The trio on the outside has been unimpressive so far. Mingo must play smarter and use his speed to his advantage, while Kruger and Sheard need to get involved in more than just situational pass rushes.
The secondary might as well use those gloves Pettine put on them (a few weeks ago) for this matchup. Penalties are now easy to come by, and the Browns must make sure they are not committing multiple infractions. Buster Skrine will once again sit this one out, so it’s up to Justin Gilbert to gradually improve and become a starter. I enjoyed Donte Whitner’s physical play since being acquired via free agency. However, his coverage skills have not been the same – Saturday would be a fine opportunity to be a factor against the pass. Tashaun Gipson secured an interception last week in his first game in 2014. The safety must continue to get acclimated to the game before September seventh; I have confidence in this.
Special Teams: Nothing needs to be done differently by the kicker and punter, as both are reliable. As long as the coverage units tackle well and do not surrender a block – then I am content with those areas. The return game has become interesting, with Travis Benjamin playing last week and hurting his ribs (albeit, a minor injury). Could the tides be turning for a new kick and punt returner?
Coaching: Now that Hoyer is the man under center, let’s see some smarter coaching decisions. He is not a zone-read quarterback, so there’s no need to see those (until Manziel plays). Hoyer can throw the ball all over the field – a demonstration of that would be nice. They may be more run-heavy in the regular season, but expectations for that part of the offense are pretty much known. I want to see more passes by the Browns in this contest.