Preseason Game #3 – Rams @ Browns Review
Well, at least the team took a few steps forward in this contest. The starting offense found the end zone, while the defense was able to get to the quarterback multiple times. However, like the two previous contests, the Browns could not find a way to get the victory. Fortunately, this game does not count, but let’s take a look at what happened…
Offense: Well, he didn’t look like the second coming of Tom Brady, but at least Brian Hoyer finally led a drive that resulted in a touchdown. The veteran had a marginal performance (frankly, I’m being nice), which also included a poorly thrown interception and a fumble lost. Whether it was by design or not, the quarterback was limited to shorter throws in the open field. One thing I did like seeing was his ability to throw away passes instead of forcing them into coverage. Manziel did not fare too much better against the backups. He ran in a score but avoided a costly turnover. The growing pains for the quarterbacks continue, hopefully the duo gets better faster.
This was not a contest for running backs (which I successfully predicted). The team only toted the football fifteen times for thirty-two yards. Tate and West both ran hard in limited time. It appears that Deion Lewis might have the edge at third-string running back for this roster. I would understand if that’s the way the team goes, as Lewis is a smaller rusher whose speed gives opposing coaches something to think about.
Initially I was a bit surprised by the benching of Josh Gordon, who was suited up to play. Coach Pettine referenced his injury that held him out – but I wonder if it was due to Gordon’s loafing last week (or that news possibly arrived about his suspension). The wide receiving corps was unspectacular, which has been the norm since training camp. A couple drops and missed connections were present, but at least Andrew Hawkins secured a fine grab for a score. I firmly believe Taylor Gabriel will make this roster; the rookie flashed a bit of speed in the return game and made a couple nice catches.
The offensive line had a difficult task against the opposing front of the Rams, but held up fairly well. The running game had lanes to move – on the few attempts that occurred. Hoyer and Manziel were both under pressure a couple of times but that is to be expected against a defense like the one they faced. The downfall of this offense will not be due to the five guys up front – if the signal caller and his targets do not get on the same page, Spencer Lanning could have a tired leg by mid-season.
Defense: Unfortunately, the defensive line took a few steps back on Saturday night. They could not make some impactful plays like they have done the two games prior, but they were still relatively solid. The held opposing rushers to fewer than forty yards on the ground (individually), but several guys had a few, sizeable dashes. Armonty Bryant actually got the starting job, filling in for the injured Desmond Bryant. The second-year pro had a pair of tackles and put a hit on the quarterback. My confidence in this group could not be any higher and for good reason. If Pettine puts them in position to pressure quarterbacks, then the defensive front has a shot to be great.
Chris Kirksey saw what Craig Robertson did last week and tried to outplay his linebacker counterpart. The rookie led the team with seven tackles, had a pass defended, and made a magnificent interception and return. I have been more than impressed with his play and cannot wait to see him over the course of the season. Karlos Dansby highlighted the team’s only sack for the Browns. Paul Kruger was able to build off of last game’s performance – with three tackles and a hit on the quarterback. Zac Diles also came away with three stops; he continues to prove to be a rotational guy in this defense.
No Joe Haden or Buster Skine for this secondary made defending the pass a bit more difficult for the Browns. Thankfully, they were not flagged a million times for defensive holding or illegal contact – so there’s a bright spot for the secondary. Rookie Justin Gilbert had an up-and-down performance, having Haden alongside should more than help reduce his burden. Leon McFadden had an opportunity to display that he can be a nickel or dime cornerback with the defensive unit, but surrendering a few receptions did not help his cause. In my opinion, he is in danger of making this final roster.
Special Teams: There were multiple ho-hum performances by Spencer Lanning and Travis Benjamin, which is not the worst thing. Taylor Gabriel continues to impress, with a sixty-eight yard kickoff return. I have high hopes for the rookie and would like to see him with the football in his hands in the fall.
Coaching: The play calling in this contest is what fans should likely expect in the regular season. Pettine and Shanahan dialed up short, quick passes to help out the quarterbacks and receivers. Most were completed while there were also a few drops, but I anticipate these plays will be installed to set up deep bombs starting in a few weeks. I noticed a few unsuccessful blitzes with multiple guys coming off the edge; those should be ironed out before September seventh.