Browns vs. Bears – a Preview of Preseason Game #4
Now that the rosters have been trimmed to seventy-five guys, with little surprise cuts (maybe Anthony Armstrong or Edwin Baker), it’s time for teams to get their final looks in before the regular season begins. Once again the finale is against the Chicago Bears; a game with many reserves and backups fighting to make the team. While not the most exciting contest ever, let’s take a glimpse into the matchup…
Offense: Brian Hoyer will get about a quarter to get his final preparation as the exhibition campaign winds down. He must continue to improve from last week’s game; it’s only going to get harder from here on out. I anticipate the veteran finding the end zone once (in three drives), a three-and-out, and a mediocre drive ending in a punt. It won’t be enough to appease many fans, but it’s better than what’s been going on recently. Manziel might play through the third quarter. His running ability cannot be questioned; however, I would like to see several deep tosses by the rookie. No one has succeeded in “hitting” these, why not Manziel here?
The release of Baker leaves Chris Ogbonnaya and Isaiah Crowell to possibly battle for the final running back position. The former has excelled on special teams, and the latter can latch onto the practice squad if released. With the three top backs (Tate, West, and Lewis) all but locked up, there’s little drama in this position group. Will Ray Agnew become a member of the roster? Or will MarQueis Gray be a tight end/fullback and leave an extra spot open for another athlete?
Could Taylor Gabriel be more than a special teamer for the Cleveland Browns? I would like to see the rookie perform as a receiver and feel he will get that shot on Thursday. Charles Johnson has been extremely disappointing so far in camp; perhaps he can turn some heads. I’m really trying to get excited for this group but like many NFL insiders, the odds that the Browns’ wide outs are even average are fairly long. As mentioned earlier, a nice deep completion would make me feel better – even if it’s short lived.
Depending on which quarterback gets the nod in the second half; this might be a run-heavy game for two reasons. First, it will be a good test to see if any guy is able to play in the NFL. Secondly, running the ball consistently will eat up more clock and get both teams closer to the regular season on an expedited pace. There won’t be a great deal to take away from this contest, especially for the offensive line. Hopefully Ray Farmer knows which guys should be kept for the fall.
Defense: Thursday’s contest should be one where the Browns can flex their muscles, in terms of depth on the defensive line. While the Bears will employ unreliable offensive linemen in the second half, the home squad could trot out athletes like John Hughes, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, and Billy Winn. Despite multiple rushes, I would be surprised if the Bears were able to move the ball on the ground with ease. Pettine should dial up some four-man fronts, to not only force the opponent to pass but also to see which members can adapt to different in-game situations.
This should be an excellent opportunity for Zac Diles and Justin Staples to get some playing time. Assuming both are on the roster, they will primarily be on special teams in the fall – but injuries or inconsistent play by starters could change things up. Tackling was extremely poor in last week’s contest; they must turn it around this week. All the better if the backups can do it, if one guy has a chance to stand out he must take advantage.
The secondary continues to be in flux, with injuries to Joe Haden and Buster Skrine (albeit minor). Justin Gilbert and Leon McFadden should start out on the outside. I previously wondered about the status of the latter last week, but with many athletes sidelined, it appears that McFadden should be afforded another opportunity with this club. I thought Josh Aubrey was underrated in the 2013 campaign. He and Johnson Bademosi should be lined up a majority of the night in the safety positions. Each are young and hungry, but neither are guaranteed a roster spot.
Special Teams: Pretty much all of the spots are secured for the Browns in the kicking and return units. The only exception is that Taylor Gabriel could possibly steal some returns from incumbent Travis Benjamin. The real key in this contest is to avoid silly injuries – especially during kickoffs.
Coaching: As previously mentioned, this play calling will probably be bland and largely run-oriented in the second half of the contest. But why not try from some home runs for Hoyer and Manziel? Neither have really attempted any fade nor go routes for intended targets. Realistically it will likely more of the same – quick, boring throws to the outside. The positive side is that once this game is over, it’s time to look forward to the regular season!