The Cleveland Browns sustained their second preseason loss (24-23) in a sloppy matchup against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. The Browns’ defense played well, despite missing key players in their secondary. However, their offense again failed to match their effort.
Many tuned into Monday night’s preseason game to watch Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel claim the position of starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. Unfortunately, many where thoroughly disappointed when they combined for just 9/22 on passing attempts and 81 yards and one touchdown off of a Manziel shovel pass to running back Dion Lewis.
As illustrated by the numbers, both quarterbacks were relatively inefficient and out of sync with their wide receivers the majority of the night. Manziel did a much better job taking the check-down throws, but his night was marred by inaccuracies with what many would refer to as high-percentage throws.
If Manziel cleans up his footwork and firmly plants his back foot, his accuracy could improve. With that said, improving his accuracy might prove to be easier said than done being that his footwork is exactly the same in practice compared to games. To be fair, the offensive line committed a few penalties and allowed some a-gap penetration early in the game, but seemed to give the quarterbacks time in the pocket as the game progressed.
Additionally, the Browns’ first-team wide receivers had difficulty creating separation, and hardly put forth an effort on the scramble drill. The wide receivers did a fine job stalk blocking when the Manziel broke outside contain, as well as on outside runs by the running back. However, their primary job function is to gain separation on defensive backs and catch the football. The Browns’ first-string wide receivers failed to achieve that on Monday night.
Third-string quarterback Connor Shaw entered the game late in the second half, and made a few very nice throws to lead his team to a fourth-quarter touchdown. Shaw exercised his mobility in the pocket, and showed off his improved pocket presence by climbing the pocket and finding wide receiver Jonathan Krause on a key first down. Shaw also showed outstanding touch and accuracy on two throws to rookie wide receiver Taylor Gabriel who looked to be the only Browns’ receiver outside of Andrew Hawkins to consistently gain separation.
Shaw eventually led his team to a touchdown completing a 45-yard Hail Mary touchdown to tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi. Shaw’s touchdown throw helped the Browns close to within one point of the Redskins, but they would fail to convert on the two-point conversion, which would’ve given the Browns the lead.
The running back battle was more entertaining than the quarterback battle by far and Ben Tate picked the appropriate time to have his best performance to date. Tate found cutback lanes and was very decisive in choosing his rushing lanes. He also did an exceptional job running behind his pads and finishing runs when contact was inevitable. Tate gained 51 yards on just 10 carries. While Tate had a very good night statistically, he should look to preserve his body and avoid unnecessary contact as opposed to merely lowering his shoulder and initiating the contact.
Terrance West might not have had a ton of rushing yards on the evening but he once again demonstrated the ability to consistently create his own rushing lane behind the line of scrimmage when there was nothing there. West maximizes yardage on the majority of his carries, as he is very light on his feet. Despite being a heavier back at 225 pounds, he has change of direction akin to a smaller running back.
Outside of the Browns banged-up secondary giving up big plays in the second half, the Browns defense had an exceptional outing. The Redskins turned the football over twice in the first half, and one of them came by way of a Robert Griffin III fumble, as running back Alfred Morris failed to corral a routine pitch.
The other turnover was an interception by Griffin as he felt pressure up the middle and was forced to throw off of his back foot. Joe Haden closed the gap on DeSean Jackson and stepped in front of him for the interception. Safeties Tashaun Gipson and Jim Leonhard would soon add interceptions of their own. Leonard’s interception was of the pick-six variety. Rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert had a very solid game as he showcased his athleticism and ability to locate the football. Gilbert knocked away a potential touchdown from Redskins’ wide receiver Ryan Grant
Defensive Highlight of The Night
The Browns sent a message to the league with their four-down goal line stand against the Redskins. The Redskins ostensibly could not get movement on the Browns’ defensive front, which was an encouraging sign. The Browns will be tough to contend with in the trenches this season. With Phil Taylor, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Ahtyba Rubin and John Hughes clogging up rushing lanes, the Browns are the furthest thing from porous up front.
The linebackers played well overall scraping/ shuffling along the line of scrimmage and getting to the ball carrier without a lot of wasted movement. On one play in particular, the Browns linebackers did over pursue allowing Morris to cutback and pick up a first down. The Browns defense has routinely done well against one-cut-and-go running backs such as Morris, but will need to be more disciplined when facing backs like LeSean McCoy and Reggie Bush who make a living exploiting cutback lanes. This was no more apparent than when Lache Seastrunk got in the game and cut back against the grain several times to pick up positive yardage.
Seastrunk finished the night with 35 yards on just 7 carries. While the Browns’ linebackers in the game at the time consisted of reserves such as Zac Diles, Jamaal Westerman, Tank Carder and Justin Staples, the discipline flowing inside out to the football should remain the same throughout the entire linebacker corps.
The Browns have the talent on defense to hang their hat on, but if they are unable to generate offense, they’re going to encounter the same problems they did just a season ago. A lack of continuity on offense puts a tremendous burden on the team’s defense. Irrespective of talent, (and the Browns have a lot of it on the defensive side of the ball) they’re going to get tired at some point.
When a defense is constantly on the field, they’re going to surrender points due to a lack of rest, and time necessary to make adjustments. If the Browns don’t fix their problems on offense, it could be a long season in Cleveland.
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