The Cleveland Browns' 19-17 victory over the Detroit Lions was not the most ideal preseason game you could ask for, and it feels good that the team was able to get a win under their belt. What really counts during the preseason are the individual performances of the ~90 players on the roster to see which of them will make the 53-man roster, and which of them will be starting or key contributors on gameday. My complete game review of the Browns vs. Lions game is after the jump.
|CLEVELAND BROWNS (1-0)||GAME #1||
DETROIT LIONS (0-1)
PRESEASON GAME 1 - CLEVELAND BROWNS VS. DETROIT LIONS (COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)
- Awarding the Game Ball: WR Travis Benjamin - I pretty much made Benjamin an afterthought in my training camp previews because I did not feel he was going to receive immediate playing time (after all, not many fourth-round picks do). Benjamin looked solid in the two practices I went to, and his performance against the Lions was very encouraging. When Brandon Weeden went deep on his second pass of the game, Benjamin's speed was on display to get past the cornerback and made a nice catch for 34-yard gain.
One thing I love seeing are receivers who are willing to get right in the mix and throw a block on a defender to help spring one of their teammates. On a swing pass to Brandon Jackson near the start of the second quarter, Benjamin came from up the field to deliver a shoulder into one of the two defenders pursuing Jackson from the side. Sure, it didn't "blow the defender away," but it did the job. Benjamin added another catch, almost had a deep connection with McCoy on a flag route, and showed a nice little burst on his first kickoff return.
- Goat of the Game: S Ray Ventrone - At the beginning of the second quarter, Ventrone (who is now sporting long hair this season) had a chance to down a great punt by Reggie Hodges at the two-yard line. Instead, he botched it by losing control of the ball as he tried to grab it, resulting in a touchback. On the Lions' next offensive series, he took what appeared to be a terrible angle to the running back, contributing to a 33-yard scamper by running back Keiland Williams. To make matters worse, he tackled his own teammate, cornerback Dimitri Patterson, in the process of whiffing badly at Williams. That is what presumably caused Patterson to leave the game with an ankle injury.
- Back of the Line, Gordon: I have seen Josh Gordon three times now, and I have yet to come away impressed. Sure, he is "big and physical," but I want to make sure the guy can catch the ball and not be a detriment to the offense. He was forced into action a little earlier in the game due to the head injury suffered by Mohamed Massaquoi, and he didn't look ready. He dropped a pass that hit him right in the hands.
He did a terrible job coming back to a pass thrown by Weeden that should have resulted in an interception. He also did not seem to adjust well to a high throw by McCoy in the second quarter. Gordon was targeted three times and didn't come away with a reception. If we're going based on camp performances alone, I think the Browns have to consider giving more reps to Benjamin than Gordon until he shows some more consistency.
- Brandon Weeden's Day: I laugh/cringe at the reports that seemed to crucify rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden after his debut against the Lions (so, please note that much of this is not directed at the DBN audience). It's the preseason, folks. You can't get so hyped about Weeden, watch the front office invest a first-round pick in him, and be so fickle about his first live-game action. Let's look at what happened, versus just glancing at the stat line.
His first two completions were spot on. He wisely threw away one screen pass, and threw another one poorly. He looked confident in what he was doing, and the biggest "rookie mistake" to me seemed to be the interception on third down when he tried to hit Greg Little. This guy isn't going to be some Pro Bowler from Day 1; he may have the leadership skills of a veteran, but he still needs to adjust to the NFL like any other "rookie." I can't wait to see how Weeden improves upon his mistakes and delivers against the Green Bay Packers this Thursday.
- In Defense of Mitchell Schwartz: When I originally viewed the game Friday night, I was pretty disappointed in right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. Upon further review, I am going to take back a lot of my criticisms toward him and pass some of them along to Shawn Lauvao. First, even though the officials flagged "No. 72" for a false start, my slow motion replay shows Lauvao being the first guy to jump.
I am far from an expert on what an offensive lineman should do after they receive tight end help, but on the play Weeden "fumbled," it looked like Jordan Cameron's attempt at pushing the defensive end actually hurt Schwartz' chances of stopping the pass rush. It didn't help matters that Lauvao got beaten by his guy on the play. On the next series, when Weeden had to roll out and throw the ball away on a third down, Schwartz had two guys thrown at him again because Lauvao was beaten right off the snap. Sure, Schwartz did not play a perfect game (especially when I look over and see Joe Thomas stonewall his opponents), but it wasn't like we had an Oniel Cousins out there.
- Norwood Steps Back Into Contention: I never stopped being a fan of wide receiver Jordan Norwood, but I started casting doubt in his roster odds because he has been a virtual non-factor in training camp. I changed that stance after seeing his performance against the Lions. Just like last year, he showed that he can make defenders miss more than any other receiver on the team. After the game, Pat Shurmur finally offered an explanation as to why he hasn't been as active in camp this year:
"I thought [Norwood] played well," Shurmur said. "He’s been hampered by a back injury during camp, so I didn’t know what to expect from him tonight, but he was out there, took a bunch of reps and made some plays, so that was good."
I would love to see Norwood start getting some more reps with the first- and second-team offense. I know Josh Cooper also had a pretty good game, even though all three of his catches came just shy of the first-down marker on third down. Between Norwood and Cooper, I still favor Norwood.
- Tight End Threats: Between the Family Fun Night and the preseason game against the Lions, some of the team's best plays on offense have come from the tight end position. Jordan Cameron led the team with 2 catches for 58 yards. He had to leave from a back injury, but he didn't look to be in too much pain as he walked to the locker room. Evan Moore showed how he is still a key safety valve target for any quarterback who is in the game. Even though I'm still listing him as a fullback, Brad Smelley looked the part when he backed up on Seneca Wallace's rollout to score the team's first touchdown. Even Dan Gronkowski has some nifty receptions late in the game.
All of that came with Benjamin Watson not even playing in the game. The tight ends were a disappointing unit a year ago considering their expectations, but for all of the attention the wide receivers are getting, Cameron and Moore can be dynamic threats for Weeden.
- Backup Quarterbacks: After Weeden, both Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace played their A-games. I appreciated the competitive spirit that McCoy showed despite not being considered for the starting role this season, and his ability to scramble and make something out of nothing is one of the reasons I was a fan of him a year ago. Wallace isn't going to stun anyone at this stage of his career -- he had a typical performance that showed why he's a good backup.
The quarterback I really wanted to see among the backups was Thaddeus Lewis. He delivered big time, leading the team to a touchdown-scoring drive and then a game-winning field goal drive. I can definitely see why Rams fans were excited about this guy in the past. Granted, one game isn't a small sample size, but I appreciated the command of the offense he seemed to have, making adjustments and even running a little bit of the hurry-up offense.
- Mediocrity on the Ground: Obviously, it was a downer to not have Trent Richardson available. When healthy, he has the potential to single-handedly change how opposing teams are going to defend the Browns. None of the running backs had enough carries for me to really draw a firm conclusion about them. In terms of running the ball, I'd probably rank them in this order: Chris Ogbonnaya, Montario Hardesty, Brandon Jackson, and Adonis Thomas. When you factor in receiving, add bonus points for Jackson and Ogbonnaya. I was not very fond of how Thomas ran the ball; he seemed too tentative behind the line of scrimmage.
- Haden Shows Up Early: How about I talk about the defense for a little bit now. Cornerback Joe Haden was challenged on a quick slant on 3rd-and-1 in the Lions' first offensive series, and he knocked the pass away. He was challenged very much after that, if at all. His fellow starter, Sheldon Brown, did a nice job notching the team's first interception of the preseason after some pressure by defensive end Emmanuel Stephens.
- Check Marks for Trevin Wade: Every year, there is a young cornerback who I try to become a big fan of during the preseason. In the past, that player was Coye Francies, even though he never panned out during the regular season due to injuries. This year, I knew it would come down to either James Dockery or Trevin Wade. So far, the early advantage goes to Wade. Wade finished the game with three tackles, had tight coverage, and knocked away two passes. It came against the second- or third-teamers, but you have to start somewhere. I don't think Dockery was terrible, but his performance did not stack up to Wade's.
- Safety Play: It was encouraging to see T.J. Ward be aggressive early on with his tackles; it reminded me of the plays I saw at the beginning of Ward's rookie season. I don't think we saw Ward or Eric Hagg tested in coverage very much, although I did enjoy watching Hagg come back on one play to knock a pass away from tight end Brandon Pettigrew over the middle. I thought undrafted free agent David Sims did a pretty good job. He saw a significant amount of playing time, and had the impressive one-handed interception to seal the game. Upon further review, it looks like he is the guy who forced a fumble (that the referees did not catch) in the second quarter with a nice hit. He also seemed to get to the ball quickly on run plays. He led the team with four tackles and had a pass deflection.
- Torn Up Against the Run: Heading into the game, I wasn't very concerned about the Browns' giving up a lot of yards against the run. I expected it. How could you not expect it when Frostee Rucker, Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, D'Qwell Jackson, and Chris Gocong were out? The team will have to deal with Taylor and Gocong being out long-term, but those other three guys will help out tremendously. After that, you hope to plug-and-play with the rest of the reserves. I admittedly need to take a closer look at what John Hughes and Billy Winn did individually. My impression is that they showed some good things, but there was so much rotation going on between plays that I need to make sure I'm thinking about the right players.
- Nuggets About the Linebackers: I though Scott Fujita played at a little higher level than I expected him too. Given that Chris Gocong is out for the year, Fujita might be sorely missed for those first three regular season games, because I did not see anything unique from James-Michael Johnson, who played strongside linebacker with the second-team defense. Benjamin Jacobs played middle linebacker with the first two units and did not stand out. Craig Robertson played weakside linebacker on the second-team defense and looked pretty good. I really liked what L.J. Fort did, particularly because of his special teams play.
- Special Teams Tackles: The Browns had four special teams tackles against the Lions, with one each coming from LB L.J Fort, LB Benjamin Jacobs, LB Quinton Spears, and WR Owen Spencer.
- Gunners and Roles on Special Teams: The Browns used cornerbacks Buster Skrine and James Dockery as their gunners on punts in the first half. In the second half, they tried cornerbacks Jonathan Bademosi and Tashaun Gipson. Safety Ray Ventrone was the guy who would drop back on punts to be the front line blocker for Travis Benjamin in the first half, and safety Eric Hagg played that role when Jordan Norwood returned punts. On kickoff returns, the upbacks were either FB Owen Marecic or TE Alex Smith early on.
- Poor Officiating: I hate the replacement officials. They were missing obvious calls to the point where I have a new appreciation for the regular NFL officials. The offensive holding call on wide receiver Josh Gordon was particularly disturbing. The fumble by Brandon Weeden should have been a forward pass, and the Browns forced a fumble that wasn't noticed. The lead official said "hold" instead of "holding" on one play, which is something I've never hear from an official. I believe they also said the time incorrectly for the play clock. There were too many other little things, but cumulatively they distract from the quality of the game big time.
- Brownies: I liked the decision to go for two points. ... It was nice to see the "accurate" Jeff Wolfert redeem himself with a game-winning field goal. ... There have been a lot of mistakes or missed plays by WR Owen Spencer. ... I still haven't seen anything overly impressive with FB Owen Marecic. ... WR Josh Cooper's one-handed catch was sick. ... Neither team was very good on third down. ... WR Joshua Cribbs did not play as far as I'm concerned, although he may have played at least one snap, according to NFL's Gamebook. ... I was stunned to hear how clear head coach Pat Shurmur sounded at halftime when WOIO interviewed him. ... Bernie Kosar was well-worth listening to again, from blasting officials to calling out coverages and chastising players from beginning to end. ... As of Saturday night, the Cleveland Browns had the most total yards of offense from the first week of the preseason.
Up next, the Browns will take on the Green Bay Packers, where the starters will probably play most of the first half.