Monday, Aug. 18, the Cleveland Browns will travel to Landover, Maryland to play their second preseason game against the Washington Redskins. The offense will look to cap off drives by scoring touchdowns as opposed to kicking field goals, and the defense will attempt to improve upon their stellar play.
Much has been made of the battle for the starting quarterback position between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel since the advent of training camp. At the conclusion of the first preseason game against the Lions, it was widely speculated that Manziel might get the start in the second preseason game against the Redskins. Browns’ head coach Mike Pettine put an end to those rumors Thursday, Aug. 13 when he named Brian Hoyer the starter:
“It’s just something right now where we are comfortable with Brian going out there to start the game. […] I think it’s a little overblown as to who the starter is going to be. The key component, as I’ve stated earlier this week, is that we are going to balance the reps. We will play it a little by ear as it goes on, we haven’t truly decided as far as the rotation but the goal is, for when we look at the stat sheet at halftime, that they both have the same amount of repetitions and hopefully they both get a good amount of work.”
With news that Redskins Head Coach Jay Gruden might only play his starters in the first quarter, Pettine said:
“I’ll reach out to Jay before we head down there, but his plan is his plan. It’s his football team, and if we have to make some adjustments to get the matchups we want then we will.”
Hoyer will indeed start Monday’s exhibition game against the Redskins, but expect Manziel to get his fair share of snaps with the starters.
There’s another position battle heating up in Cleveland and it’s at the running back position. Ben Tate has flashed starting ability, but has been inconsistent in camp, which has left the door open for rookie Terrance West to steal a few quality carries from the veteran.
When asked if he’d like to see West take reps with the first team against Washington, Pettine said,
“The other position rotations we’re going to discuss that, but that’s one I would like to see him out there as well. More so, going against a first defense than necessarily with our first offensive line, but that’ll be good work for him.”
Isaiah Crowell is also coming off of a solid week of practice and could make an impact in the second half of the game.
The wide receiver corps has been much maligned and rightfully so. With embattled wide receiver Josh Gordon still awaiting ruling on his appeal, Travis Benjamin returning from injury, and a host of veteran wide receivers who have been inconsistent throughout camp, the Browns desperately need someone to step up.
Andrew Hawkins has been the most impressive player at the position on a day-to-day basis, but will line up primarily in the slot this season. If Charles Johnson can get in and out of his breaks more quickly, he might become the dynamic wide receiver on the flanks the Browns so desperately need. Rookie Taylor Gabriel has been a force to be reckoned with this camp, and looks to carry that momentum into the second preseason game. Joe Haden gave Gabriel a ringing endorsement when he said:
“He’s very, very fast, very explosive, and he’s smaller, but he has really good hands; usually the faster dudes will catch the ball with their body. And he’s a very good route runner, very, very fast and he uses his hands really well. So I like him the most [out of the young wide receivers].”
Once Gabriel enters the game, Manziel will look for him early and often as they are beginning to build a wonderful rapport with one another.
The Browns’ defensive front will have their hands full and will need to strengthen their communication, practice greater eye discipline and maintain gap integrity against the Redskins. Jay Gruden has been known to use a lot of pre-snap shifts, and misdirection to keep teams off balance, and that likely won’t change in their matchup against the Browns.
Gruden has implemented gap-blocking schemes at each of his coaching stops, but the Redskins have had success with the zone-blocking scheme the past two seasons. Gruden has said he will combine the two systems, which will be a great test for the Browns’ defensive front in the run game. It will be equally imperative for the front three to continue to occupy blockers so that the linebackers can generate pressure and obstruct throwing lanes. Ishmaa’ily Kitchen and Jacobbi McDaniel have been especially impressive in this area.
The Browns’ linebackers will be charged with quickly disengaging from blockers who reach the second level as well as setting the edge in the run game. Rookie Lache Seastrunk led the Redskins in their previous preseason game with 63 yards on 12 carries. It is paramount that the Browns funnel him inside once he hits his initial hole to stop him from utilizing his speed to bounce runs to the outside. The linebackers will also be challenged in coverage. They will be responsible for the athletic Jordan Reed if he is fully recovered from an illness that kept him out of practice for a few days. Christian Kirksey should flourish when asked to carry tight ends through the seam, and running backs to the second level, as dropping back into coverage is certainly a strength for him.
The Browns’ banged-up secondary will also have their hands full as the Redskins wide receiver corps is finally healthy, and expected to play against the Browns on Monday night. DeSean Jackson (knee) and Pierre Garçon (hamstring) will likely be lining up across Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert as the Browns have lost Buster Skrine to a thumb injury that might require surgery. The Browns will also be missing Isaiah Trufant in their nickel packages as he has been ruled out with a knee injury. Rookie cornerback Pierre Desir has also been ruled out of tonight’s game with a knee injury.
Many will watch the game solely for their interest in the Browns’ quarterback battle, but the abovementioned names are outstanding talents in their own right. This preseason matchup between the Browns and the Redskins should be exciting to watch from the first, through the fourth quarter.
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