Despite the Cleveland Browns’ reserve defense giving up the go-ahead touchdown to Kellen Moore and the Lions in the waning moments of the game, the team had a very impressive showing overall. The Browns would go on to lose the game 12-13, but the defense was stout the majority of the game, and the offense was able to move the football up and down the field. Unfortunately the inability to score points in the red zone carried over from the intra-squad scrimmage to the first preseason game.
A very knowledgeable coach once told me, the more field goals you kick, the closer you are to losing the game. That saying certainly rang true for the Browns against the Lions Saturday night. With that said, the Browns enjoyed encouraging performances by multiple players on both sides of the football.
Brian Hoyer had a couple of passes that sailed over the heads of his receivers; however, he had a very good outing as a result of his quick release and decision-making. I have consistently underscored Hoyer’s ability to get rid of the football at the top of his drops; and his decisiveness and anticipation have been evident since the first day of camp. Hoyer went 6/14 on the night for 92 yards.
Johnny Manziel put together a very good night as well as he looked more comfortable going through his progressions. Manziel also did a better job of getting the football out of his hands more quickly on three-step drops, and hitting receivers in the first window.
On occasion, he did pass on what many would label as simple throws, only to take off and run. However, it’s difficult to complain about him taking off and running when those runs move the chains. In order to preserve his body, I’d like for Manziel to learn to take the check-down throw. Manziel finished his night 7/11 with 63 yards through the air, and 27 yards on 6 rushing attempts.
Reflecting on his first preseason action, Manziel said, “It was a good start,” he said. “You have to start somewhere and set a foundation. I got my feet wet, got my first preseason game under my belt.”
More importantly, head coach Mike Pettine said of the two quarterbacks,
“They both did some things more suited to their skill set,” Pettine said. “I think Brian was high on a couple throws. I think he would want those back, and he threw a couple other nice balls in there. Then I thought Johnny did some nice things from the pocket, and when he got out, he created a little bit as well.”
It will be interesting to see which quarterback lines up to start in the second preseason game against the Washington Redskins. By all accounts, it will likely be Johnny Manziel.
Ben Tate appeared to find his rhythm as he located a cutback lane, and was able to exploit it for a gain of eight yards. Tate combined burst, explosiveness as well as vision that frankly has been intermittent throughout camp. If Tate continues to perform at this level he will certainly be a formidable opponent for AFC North defenses.
Terrance West continues to push Ben Tate for the role as the Browns’ lead running back. His combination of quickness and vision are second to none on the Browns’ roster; and the offensive line doesn’t need to hold blocks very long in order for him to get into the second level of a defense. His pick-slide motion at the line of scrimmage, combined with his lateral agility, and ability to finish runs, allow him to maximize yardage.
While MarQueis Gray, Josh Gordon, Willie Snead, Jonathan Krause, and Miles Austin all contributed their fair share of dropped balls, they also made positive plays on the day, along with a few other wide receivers. Charles Johnson caught a ball from Johnny Manziel for a 15-yard gain, and flashed the long speed that has many Browns fans excited about the young wide receiver. It is evident that Johnson has exceptional long speed, but quickness in and out of breaks, and awareness after the catch are areas for opportunity for him.
Taylor Gabriel continues to build a strong case to make the Browns’ 53-man roster as he finished the night with three receptions for 30 yards. Gabriel and Manziel have been building a great rapport with one another during practice and it’s transferring to live game situations. Look for Gabriel and Manziel to continue to build on their connection through the remainder of the preseason. Gabriel consistently gets separation and is being rewarded for it as he was targeted seven times on the night.
This is the most talented Browns’ defense since their return in 1999, and they should absolutely have their best season on that side of the ball in 2014. It is imperative to have a defensive front that can generate pressure with three or four players, and the Browns are certainly capable of doing just that. Phillip Taylor, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, John Hughes, Armonty Bryant, Ahtyba Rubin, and others made their presence felt tonight. There has never been a time where the Browns defensive front has had this much talent, and this much depth.
The linebackers looked very good tonight as well. Paul Kruger, looked good getting pressure on the quarterback. Karlos Dansby displayed outstanding pass run instincts playing the screen exceptionally well, nearly came away with an interception. Craig Robertson looked very good disengaging from blockers, utilizing one arm instead of two to create space between he and the blocker to make a play on the ball carrier. Robertson also did well in coverage.
Christian Kirksey is a player that will become a household name before long. Kirksey has outstanding range and athleticism, which enables him to flow to the football with ease. His ability in coverage will prove to be an asset as the season goes along. He successfully covered the Lions first-round draft pick Eric Ebron twice. The addition of Kirksey makes the Browns defense multiple, as he possesses the ability to play all three downs.
The secondary had a solid evening as well as Josh Aubrey continues to impress with his ability to break up passes and close down on underneath routes. Pierre Desir’s play was similar to the intra-squad scrimmage in the sense that he regularly forced the action elsewhere. Some will look at the underneath routes that he didn’t close down on and say he had a bad game. With that said, even pro-bowl cornerback Joe Haden failed to close on an underneath route early in the game. Desir is improving with each snap and he’s been impressing teammates and coaches since day one of camp.
Isaiah Trufant is still the nickel corner, but that will likely change once Justin Gilbert returns from injury and Buster Skrine moves into the slot. What was seen in the first preseason game is commensurate with how Trufant is utilized in practice. The Browns have an entire package built around him. It will be interesting to see if he’s still being cast in the same role once the regular season begins.
Donte Whitner had a very good showing, as he’s always been very good in run support. He appears to be the enforcer in the middle of the field that will make the opposition think twice about throwing in his direction. I look forward to seeing what he has to offer in coverage.
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