Review of Game #1 – Browns vs. Redskins
It was nothing flashy, but a respectable outing by the Cleveland Browns. The starting units held their own against the visitors and were beneficiaries of a few costly mistakes early. Overall it was a solid starting point for the 2015 campaign. Let’s review what went down at First Energy Stadium.
Quarterback – The game plan for the offense appeared to be, “take what the defense gives you”. No matter if it was Josh McCown or Johnny Manziel under center; the Browns were content in dumping shorter routes as opposed to attempting longer throws. McCown ushered a seventy-five yard touchdown, while Manziel ran in a score as well. There’s quite a bit of room to grow, but not a terrible start for this duo.
Running Back – I believe this position will be extremely deemphasized during all of this exhibition season. This is probably for the best, as there is little to gain, while the threat of injuries loom large. That said, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West had a pedestrian performance in this contest (Crowell’s biggest play might have been a tackle on special teams). I am not too concerned about this group right now – but improvement will be needed in the coming weeks.
Wide Receivers – McCown hit a few of his targets early on – that was the hightlight of the receiving game for the Browns. Brian Hartline made some nice moves in open field, while Travis Benjamin got open and advanced the ball. The duo combined for five grabs, tops for all guys in the first half. I would still like to see the whole group be available (including Dwayne Bowe and Terrelle Pryor) but that might not come for some time.
Tight End – Not a tremendous amount of output by the tight ends. Gary Barnidge, Jim Dray, and Rob Housler could not secure a catch with the first and second units. However, rookie E.J. Bibbs had one reception for five yards – leading the group when most of the starters were playing. I expect the team to utilize this position group in the regular season, which athletes and how many targets is the question.
Defensive Line – Danny Shelton led the unit that held the Redskins in check when rushing the football. It was not until the backups went in when the orange and brown struggled in stopping their opponents on the ground. Other that that, it was a quiet night for this group (which is not surprising). There were zero designed edge rushers and nothing to confuse their opponents. Hopefully we will get more of a look at this group next Thursday.
Linebackers – It was somewhat quiet by this unit as well, at least early on. The trio in the inside was solid in making plays when given the opportunities. All three had key stops in the first half of this contest. Only Paul Kruger’s hit on Robert Griffin III was noteworthy by the outside linebackers – the rest was forgettable. Without Barkevious Mingo available, Scott Solomon could not stand out as a viable replacement. However, next week is another opportunity for the veteran to make his mark.
Secondary – The absences of Joe Haden and Pierre Desir were felt early and often. Justin Gilbert was picked on during the first two drives of the Redskins. Aside from Pierre Garcon getting behind him and dropping an easy pass – Gilbert looked decent in coverage. He’s got to improve tremendously (and fast), but I suppose this game can be a stepping-stone for the second year pro. Tashaun Gipson made a few nice plays at safety; I am glad he picked up where he left off in 2014.
Special Teams: Forcing a pair of turnovers early, successfully making a field goal, and having decent returns on kickoffs and punts all occurred by the orange and brown. That’s about all you can ask for in the first game of the preseason. I envision necessary growth by this unit during the regular season.
Overall, I am content that the Browns can build from this performance. They were not great, but much better than they have been in years past in exhibition openers – and ahead of their counterparts (at least when the starters were playing).