Review of Browns @ Buccaneers – Preseason Game #3
I must admit I did not what to expect from the Cleveland Browns in this contest. They faced an apparent inferior team, and the starters dominated the home team. Outside of a few possible concussions, this was a tremendous outing for the club. I cannot wait to see what they can do in the coming weeks. However, let’s look at last night’s contest first.
Quarterback – Facing pressure or not, the Josh McCown displayed a great ability to get the football out of his hand quickly. His passes were not always on target, but they were close enough were only the receiver could secure the grab. It was mostly dink-and-dunk play calls, but if they work and the end result is a score – keep ‘em coming. I loved seeing McCown’s competitiveness during this contest, but diving headfirst is something that I wish he would not do (especially during the preseason – and on multiple occasions).
Running Backs – It would appear that the three-headed monster was finally unveiled in Tampa. Whether it was West, Johnson, or Crowell – the guy behind the quarterback was effective in this contest. In addition to some solid rushes by the second-year pro, watching Isaiah Crowell catch and run was a sight to see. This part of the offense was sorely needed in 2014; this only makes the unit even more dynamic. That was a scary moment seeing Johnson leave his feet (and getting drilled) during a pass reception. That cannot occur this year, and could lead to a possible huge injury.
Wide Receivers – Travis Benjamin and Taylor Gabriel each hauled in nice gainers early in this contest. Instead of a sideline fade (like last week), the Browns tossed some quick hitters and under routes for the speedy targets. That’s all I wanted to see in this contest – seeing McCown put his guys in the best position possible to succeed. Brian Hartline’s touchdown was a thing of beauty; the wily veteran knew where to be in the end zone and got both feet down before going out of bounds. My confidence in this unit continues to build, and executing in their proper role is key for the upcoming season.
Tight Ends – An extremely quiet outing for this position group; as Jim Dray’s two short receptions were the only noteworthy play from the starters. I have a feeling that consistency from the tight ends (receiving-wise) will not occur this year. Some of this is due to the game plan, which is to be expected in this chess game known as the NFL. However, if the wide receivers and running backs can pick up the slack, then there should be few worries.
Offensive Line – For the most part, the five guys upfront dominated their counterparts. McCown stayed relatively clean, and holes were available for all three running backs. Avoiding infractions and free rushers to blow by them is a must – and fortunately that is what the Browns’ line achieved. The incorrect penalty called on John Greco (for a chop block) killed a potential scoring drive; hopefully the calls will go more to the team’s favor during the regular season.
Defensive Line – There’s the run defense that Browns’ fans and coaches were looking for. Winning the point of attack is critical in this league; hopefully this is a sign of things to come for the orange and brown. I really liked what I saw from veteran Desmond Bryant. The defensive end had a pair of sacks during the first quarter, as well as multiple pressures on Jameis Winston. It was not all rosy for this group, as Doug Martin scored on a large rush in the second quarter. That should give the group enough fire to resist complacency.
Linebackers – Just another game for veteran linebacker Paul Kruger – it seemed that he was always around the signal called once the team dialed up a blitz. Scott Solomon was relegated to more of a run stopping role, which he did an excellent job of doing the dirty work. The key stop of the third and one was amazing, and it all started with Solomon pushing through the Buccaneers’ offensive line. It was a relatively quiet game for the guys on the inside, they were not exceptional but they were not blown off the ball either.
Secondary – Charles Gaines playing in the first quarter – and intercepting Jameis Winston (along with several nice pass break ups)? With K’Waun Williams and Justin Gilbert injured, the rookie made his case to be included with the first team defense. I was encouraged from what I saw, and want to see what he can do early in the contest next week. I noticed one play where Joe Haden came crashing off the edge during a corner blitz. It was unsuccessful, but those types of plays should work (as I have faith that the remaining secondary can cover opposing wide outs).
Special Teams: Now, that wasn’t so hard – was it? Travis Benjamin channeled his 2013 self, by taking the first punt of the game back for a touchdown. I don’t expect to see this on a regular basis, but long gains and threats of a touchdown can finally give this unit the respectability that was missing last year. Now Carey Spear got a shot to shine for the kicking gig – and made the most of his opportunity (with a nice field goal and solid kickoffs). Hopefully the coaching staff can choose the correct kicker for this team.