Take a look at the following opening-week preseason performances by Browns quarterbacks since 2010:
- 2010: Jake Delhomme, 6-of-7 for 66 yards.
- 2011: Colt McCoy, 9-of-10 for 135 yards, 1 touchdown.
- 2012: Brandon Weeden, 3-of-9, 62 yards, 1 interception.
- 2013: Brandon Weeden, 10-of-13 for 112 yards, 1 touchdown.
Aside from when Weeden was a rookie, we've seen some pretty decent performances. As we later found out, statistical performances by Jake Delhomme, Colt McCoy, and Brandon Weeden weren't very indicative of how well things were going to go in the regular season.
That is why I decided to change my outlook heading into this year's preseason -- sure, it would have been nice to see Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel toss a bunch of touchdowns, but you can't expect such perfection in a quarter's worth of action. I don't envy head coach Mike Pettine, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains for having to choose a winner between the two quarterbacks, because you can make a legitimate case for both guys.
The quarterback battle wasn't the only thing I paid attention to on Saturday, though. Let's get to my first complete game review of the year.
PRESEASON WEEK 1 - CLEVELAND BROWNS VS. DETROIT LIONS (COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)
- Goat of the Game: RB
One fumble doesn't change my personal opinion of Lewis, who I think can still be a great change-of-pace receiving back for this team. Heck, even RB Ben Tate had a fumble with the first-teamers, and it kind of went under-the-radar because we recovered the ball. Lewis' fumble came at a time where Cleveland could have taken command of the game, and roster bubble players have a much less room for error.
- We were on the verge of seeing the Browns put together their first touchdown-scoring drive of the game in the third quarter. QB Johnny Manziel had just scrambled for a first down on 4th-and-1, and on the next play, Lewis tried to do a jump cut through the line on a running play and had the ball poked away for a fumble and a turnover.
- Awarding the Game Ball: DE Armonty Bryant - When I looked at the Browns' roster this offseason, I pinned Bryant at the 7th defensive lineman. Although I liked what he brought to the table in limited action last season, my thinking was that with a new coaching staff in place, he might not have a secure spot, especially if an undrafted free agent steps up his game. Boy, was I wrong or what.
Bryant finished the game with two quarterback hits but showed an impressive burst of speed that is just as dynamic as what I've seen from OLB Barkevious Mingo. The way he closed on backup QB Dan Orlovsky on a 3rd-and-1 play to prevent a completion is the type of finish that will warrant him receiving regular season reps in those situations.
- Linebackers Who Can Cover: This offseason, the Browns signed ILB Karlos Dansby and drafted ILB Chris Kirksey to improve the quality of coverage at the position, and it was certainly on display against the Lions. Kirksey helped defend two passes through the air, including one down the sideline, earning him a +2.3 coverage grade from PFF. Even ILB Craig Robertson, who struggled in coverage a year ago, did a good job distracting a Lions running back on a pass over the middle. For the moment, though, I want to showcase two plays involving Dansby.
In the screenshot above, the Browns bring a lot of defenders up to the line on 3rd-and-7 of QB Matthew Stafford's only drive of the game. There are two safeties back and out-of-the-picture. The Browns are going to bring a blitz from a defensive back at the top of the screen. To fill the void in coverage, Dansby is going to drop toward the middle to cover the tight end.
OLB Paul Kruger gets good penetration, allowing a free lane for the defensive back. Dansby, on the far left side of the screenshot, is covering his man well enough to where Stafford has to chuck the ball out of the end zone, forcing Detroit to settle for a field goal.
- Dansby's Seen it Before: Sticking with ILB Karlos Dansby, he recognized a screen pass during the game and nearly intercepted the pass.
Dansby is the played I circled above. He is going to initially come forward as part of the pass rush.
Dansby spots the screen and puts on the brakes.
He immediately gets into position to intercept the pass, to the point where the running back grabs on to him to prevent it. The officials originally threw a flag for offensive pass interference, but picked it up because the ball was thrown behind the line of scrimmage, so the contact was legal. Dansby looked a little shaky with some of his tackling, but I liked the early instincts against the pass.
- First Offensive Play: What is cool about going to so many training camp sessions is that you basically get to see the Browns run some of their basic practice plays during a preseason game.
QB Brian Hoyer and the Browns opened with a simple route. At the top of the screen and closest to Hoyer is TE Jim Dray. As you can see, the coverage is well off of Dray.
As soon as he takes the snap, Hoyer is committed to throwing the ball to Dray, who picks up four yards on the play.
- Big Plans for MarQueis Gray: If we are going off of the first game only, then FB MarQueis Gray is going to be a significant part of the offense this year. I envision him being utilized in a role that would have been somewhat suitable for WR Joshua Cribbs back in the day, except that the coaching staff actually values Gray as someone who will see maybe 50% of the snaps per game.
We actually got to see quarterbacks get the ball to Gray in this game, as opposed to last year when it became a running gag that the ball would always sail 20 feet over his head despite being open. Besides that, though, Grey's blocking on carries by RB Ben Tate made me all-the-more impressed.
I only took one screenshot of the play above, but Grey is going to meet the cyan defender in the hole, aiding Tate's ability to pick up 8 yards on his first carry of the game.
Two plays later, Grey is going to cut down the defender on the end of the line. He has the quickness to get over there right away.
If you strain your eyes, you can see Grey eliminating the defender from the play. Tate only picks up a yard here, but Grey proved he can play a versatile role and be used both as a receiver and a blocker.
- Hoyer A Little High: Nobody can deny WR Josh Gordon on the dig routes. I was amazed last year when teams continued allowing him to have one-on-one matchups in those situations, and that's what we had here.
WR Miles Austin is in the slot, running a deep pattern to clear out the middle of the field for Gordon, who is at the top of the screen. FB MarQueis Gray goes toward the sideline to occupy the underneath coverage.
QB Brian Hoyer has a good pocket, but he uncharacteristically misses, throwing the ball well over Gordon's head. More times than not, Hoyer makes a good throw here, so I think a takeaway you have to make is that he had good protection and still recognized the best place to go with the ball.
- Hoyer Right on Target: This is the type of consistency I've come to expect from Hoyer.
On his third drive of the game, WR Josh Gordon is at the top of the screen. He's going to be running a slightly shorter dig route than he did earlier in the game. The play itself is very similar, except that the receiver who runs deep down the middle is now at the bottom of the screen.
Once again, Hoyer has a beautiful pocket to throw from. He will thrive off of this type of protection.
Bang -- there is the throw, right on target. I'm already getting spoiled thinking that we will have Gordon at our disposal this season. If Gordon's not available for an extended period of time, I don't know who tries to fill that void in the offense.
- The Attention Gordon Commands: Sticking with Gordon, remember the play in which QB Brian Hoyer rolled to his left and threw a perfect pass to WR Miles Austin?
Austin was facing a one-on-one matchup down the field. As Hoyer was rolling left, WR Josh Gordon was running a shorter pattern. Look at the amount of defenders who are swarming his way, vacating the open spot for Austin.
From this freeze frame, you would have thought Austin caught the ball, but he didn't.
- Good Sell & Quick Release by Hoyer: When the Browns put QB Brian Hoyer in for QB Brandon Weeden last season, one of the first things we noticed was that Norv Turner put in the WR screens and quick passes, because he knew how quickly Hoyer could make up his mind and get the ball out.
On this play, Hoyer sells a fake to the running back, which has the defense chasing RB Terrance West. All in a smooth motion, Hoyer has the ball darting out to (again) WR Josh Gordon, who picks up 10 yards and a first down.
- Can't Place the Ball Any Better: Facing a 3rd-and-goal, QB Brian Hoyer went for WR Josh Gordon again.
That's a tough throw, but the ball placement by Hoyer is perfect. Gordon couldn't come down with it, but when you look at the comfort level Hoyer had as the game went on, I don't see how he did anything to lose the starting role.
- The X-Factor of Johnny Manziel: I've been impressed with how quickly QB Johnny Manziel has learned to stay in the pocket compared to the beginning of camp. However, if Manziel is going to beat out Hoyer, it will be because the coaches believe his threat of taking off and running is the right fit for what they want to do offensively right now.
On Manziel's first drive, a 3rd-and-1 read-option keeper did not work. In the third quarter in a different scenario (1st-and-10), it does work. The FB, Ray Agnew, will occupy the defender with the arrow. The circled defense is presumably the guy who Manziel is reading.
The defender bites for RB Terrance West, and Manziel takes off for a nice gain of 8 yards. Despite the lack of points, Hoyer and Manziel both looked like they could lead the team. I was in favor of Hoyer starting heading into this camp, though, and he hasn't done anything to lose that lead in my book.
- The Phantom Blocking: We're all obsessed with fullbacks here, right? Well, this play involving FB Ray Agnew stood out to me, because it resulted in a three yard loss for RB Terrance West right after Manziel's opening run.
First off, yes -- we know the second- and third-team offensive lines were not good for the Browns. As such, we see two unmarked defenders break through immediately. Agnew can't stop them both, but he needs to get in the way of one of them to give West a chance.
Instead, and this is one of the oddest things I've ever seen, Agnew is doing jump cuts and sprinting through the open hole as if he's the running back with the football. He lets both defenders go by, and West is taken down for a loss of three yards.
- Notes on Roster Bubble Players: Here are a couple of thoughts on potential roster bubble players who I have not already discussed:
-WR Jonathan Krause - I'm sure he just didn't see the ball, but when the opportunities are far and few between, it's the type of thing that will get his name listed in the first batch of roster cuts.
-WR Willie Snead - Although he got open in practice, in my mind, I always kind of thought "Brian Robiskie" to myself, meaning not impactful enough on game day. I hate to judge him on one game, but that's what I saw -- he became invisible when everything was at full speed.
-WR Charles Johnson - Johnson did turn it up a notch when the lights came on. It's still a limited sample size we're going off of, but I wouldn't mind him being sprinkled in for a few more reps this week. How do you find the reps, though, if WR Nate Burleson along with WR Travis Benjamin?
-WR Taylor Gabriel - He looked good not only on special teams, but for his small size, he didn't seem to be at a disadvantage catching the ball in traffic. Johnson and Gabriel improved their stock with this game.
-ILB Zac Diles - The Browns need a fourth inside linebacker, and Diles would figure to have the early lead. Granted, he was pedestrian, but that might be enough to win the gig.
-OLB Justin Staples - I still view Staples as a tweener -- I'm not really sure what position he is suited for. We saw him have a big game to start last year's preseason, only to fade over the rest of the weeks. He started with a good game again this year, so now he needs to build off of that.
-CB Leon McFadden - Fans who have been reading DBN for years know that I am a bit of a sucker for defensive backs who play tight coverage in the preseason. I'm talking about guys like CB Coye Francies and CB Trevin Wade. This year, that guy is apparently CB Leon McFadden. It was disappointing to see so many flags thrown on him for defensive holding, but I don't fault him for trying to play aggressive. I understand that the officials are trying to be more strict with their calls, but come on, that interception he had was a thing of beauty, and Mike Pettine gave him props for it after the game too.
-CB Pierre Desir - Yikes! The coaching staff has said that Desir has made progress in camp, but he was clearly in a funk for his first career NFL game. I'll gave him a temporary pass -- maybe the "big stage" caused it. However, the stage gets even bigger next week on Monday Night Football, and if Desir tackles as poorly as he did on Saturday, then he's going to be "red-shirted" on the inactive list for awhile.
- Preseason for the Officials Too: This was not a good preseason performance for the officiating crew. I already mentioned the fumble call they blew on the kickoff, but there were more problems. The Browns were given a poor spot on at least one play that should have netted a first down. Mitchell Schwartz was called for hands to the face, while we watched the defender doing the same exact thing to Schwartz. MarQueis Gray took a shot that is the very definition of a "defenseless receiver," yet no flag was thrown.
Ah, it wouldn't be the NFL if we didn't start bitching about the officiating, eh?
- Special Teams Tackles: There were seven special teams tackles by the Browns with one tackle each from RB Chris Ogbonnaya, FB MarQueis Gray, WR Anthony Armstrong, WR Taylor Gabriel, S Jim Leonhard, S Jordan Poyer, and CB Leon McFadden. Armstrong's hit on special teams forced a fumble, but the officials blew the call on and field and on the replay.
- Snap Counts on Offense & Defense: If you missed them, here are the links to our snap count trackers for offense (link) and defense (link). On offense, RB Isaiah Crowell did not see any reps; he only played three snaps on special teams all game. RB Chris Ogbonnaya also did not see any reps on offense. On defense, S Jordan Poyer saw a lot of reps due to S Tashaun Gipson (knee) sitting out, and ILB Craig Robertson played well into the second unit.
- Brownies (Part 1): The backup offensive line play for the Browns was pretty bad. ... OLB Paul Kruger was on fire in terms of pass rushing to start the game. ... The Browns pulled off a lot of defensive back blitzes on third down, making me think I was watching Ray Horton's defense again. ... TE Jim Dray started the game with TE Jordan Cameron out. ... QB Tyler Thigpen was way too errant with his throws, so maybe we'll see QB Connor Shaw get a crack at things soon. [Update: Thigpen was waived and QB Rex Grossman was signed since I wrote this]
- Brownies (Part 2): RB Chris Ogbonnaya had an awesome tackle on a punt return, as did SS Donte Whitner on a first-down catch by a Lions receiver. ... With OG John Greco getting all of the first-team reps at right guard, he figures to have the early advantage there. ... RB Terrance West seemed to have good instincts on his runs, or at least better instincts from our last drafted running back (Trent Richardson). ... K Billy Cundiff showed why the team doesn't need another kicker in camp, going 4-of-4 on field goals. ... WR Marlon Moore shot out like a cannon on one kickoff return attempt.
Up next, the Browns take on the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football. Keep it tuned to Dawgs By Nature for our coverage leading up to the game!