As Browns’ reporter Nathan Zegura said on Friday evening, the “Hue World Order” has begun.
The first chapter looked a bit strange, as the Cleveland Browns lost to the Green Bay Packers, 17-11, in a sloppy game of football.
Highlights occurred every so often, but the overall product looked a bit ugly, as one should expect for the first of four preseason games.
Either way, welcome to another season of Browns football.
As we did last year, we’ll have 7 Talking Points after every Browns game. Apologies for the delay, as I had tickets to the Cleveland Indians game last night. (I’ll get the joke out of the way here: The Indians’ offense scored more than the Browns did as a team.)
When reading these, keep in mind — This is one preseason game. We can’t make an absolute judgments based on this one game.
Without further ado, here are your 7 Talking Points:
1. The first-team offense produced mixed results. Fans have some reason for optimism, but also reason to be fearful.
The first offensive play of the preseason was the best for the Browns, as Robert Griffin III connected with Terrelle Pryor for a 49-yard pass play. Then, RG3 botched a handoff with Isaiah Crowell and threw a pick near the goal-line, in part due to a bad route by Gary Barnidge.
Despite the two poor plays, RG3 looked alright, handling the pressure in the pocket well. The Baylor product didn’t try to do too much, and didn’t place himself in harm’s way.
The offensive line looked alright, as the left side of the line, Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio, performed well, but Spencer Drango and John Greco didn’t block well on the runs. Cameron Erving also didn’t do much. As a result, Crowell looked tentative on his run, though Duke Johnson did have a nice 11-yard burst to the outside. Johnson might start seeing more of the big carries later on, but it’s far too early to tell now.
Finishing off with the wideouts, Pryor enjoyed a phenomenal start to the preseason. Besides the catch, Pryor ran good routes and didn’t make any big mistakes.
Lots of room for improvement, but not an awful start to the preseason for the offense.
2. The first-team defense did its job, but not all that well. With several of the team’s playmakers out due to injury, the Browns defense simply looked boring.
At this stage of the preseason, the top compliment you can give to the Browns’ defense is that compared to last year, the run defense is nowhere near as porous. Eddie Lacy opened a couple nice rushes during the first drive, but the Browns soon down.
In my estimation, the defense looked much better with Jamie Meder at nose tackle than it did with Danny Shelton in the game. Meder had the safety, though no one blocked him, so don’t give him too much credit, though his better play came on rushing downs. Meder was a preseason superstar last year, so we can’t read too much into this.
Without Joe Haden, the secondary looked overmatched, missing tackles left and right and showing overall poor form. Miscommunication also plagued the Browns early on, especially when the first teamers subbed out for the second teamers.
3. Ray Horton didn’t use a completely bland defense, showing us some of his deeper philosophies. The Browns will likely blitz this year, especially on third down.
Horton has made no qualms about blitzing, especially in his previous tenure with the Browns. Sometimes it works, but other times it backfires in a big way.
The most successful blitz of the night might have been a double A gap blitz that forced Packers QB Joe Callahan out of the pocket. The Browns’ blitzers penetrated the pocket with ease and caused a broken play.
On the flipside, the Packers threw numerous screen plays at the Browns, which worked most of the time for two reasons — over aggression and missed tackles. Cornerback Jamar Taylor missed an important tackle on a Jacob Abbrederis wide receiver screen in one notable example.
However, Carl Nassib did make a nice play on a screen play in the second quarter, preventing a lengthy gain for the Packers.
Obviously, defenses are vanilla in the preseason, but we saw a glimpse of Horton’s defensive philosophy.
4. Cody Kessler is definitely a third-string quarterback. The rookie showed flashes, but also looked like a rookie.
As far as quarterback goes, Josh McCown is better than RG3, and both are worlds ahead of Kessler.
Kessler’s first pro throw was a bullet to Rashard Higgins for a touchdown, but Kessler ran out of the end zone, out of confusion, two plays later. As a quarterback, you have to be aware of where you are on the field.
Kessler also looked tentative in the pocket, taking too long to release the ball on several plays.
This point isn’t to say Kessler will never be successful, but our first meaningful glimpse shows us the youngster isn’t quite ready.
5. The Browns need to focus on tackling technique in practice. Hue Jackson has placed an emphasis on more physical practices, but his defenders don’t tackle well.
Every preseason, the Browns start off sloppy from a tackling perspective, and today was no different. The Browns missed many tackles, especially with the second teamers in the game.
The biggest offenders of the bad tackling were the Browns’ defensive backs. Instead of attacking and wrapping up, the Browns’ secondary often dove at the feet of the wideout or running back, hoping the Packer would gently fall to the turf. Sometimes the Packer surrendered, other times, the ball carrier sidestepped the tackle attempt and moved on.
The Browns have plenty of time to improve and work on tackling, but that’s an area the club should focus on immediately.
6. Emmanuel Ogbah flashed his talent in a big way with the second teamers. Much has been made of Ogbah’s transition, but the rookie already looks well-adjusted.
In the second half, the defense, especially the secondary, didn’t show us much. Except for Ogbah, who scurried all over the field, making plays left and right. Ogbah finished the day with a team-high six tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, and two quarterback hits.
Even on plays in which Ogbah didn’t record a stat, the Oklahoma State product looked good, sealing off the edge or occupying a couple blockers.
Ogbah earned time with the first-teamers with his impressive play. The question now becomes, ‘Can Ogbah perform with the big boys on the first team?’ Hopefully Horton and Jackson give Ogbah the opportunity to answer that question.
7. The special teams unit looked great and horrible at different times. A turnover and a field goal evened out in a strange day for Chris Tabor and the gang.
The Browns will likely see a continuation of last season at special teams, where the unit makes a great play now and then, and a disastrous one at bad times. Raheem Mostert fumbled a kickoff following Meder’s safety, granting the Packers great field position. But on the flipside, Patrick Murray booted a 46-yard field goal that might have been good from 50 yards out or more.
Based on his kick, Murray might have a chance to beat out Travis Coons, which might be a nice upgrade. This will be a situation to monitor throughout the next three preseason games.
Also on the positive side, Andy Lee showed no rust, averaging over 51 yards per punt on four kicks. The veteran might again be a bright spot for the Browns on special teams this year.
The kick coverage and blocking on kickoff and punt returns looked average, but that’s another aspect that isn’t set in stone.
That’s it for our first talking points article of the season. Stay tuned to DBN this week for more coverage of the Browns as we approach cutting time.