Author’s Note: For newcomers, Seven Talking Points is intended to provide Browns fans who couldn’t see the game with things to talk about at the watercooler in the morning. And for those who watched, the article is intended to provide you ammunition to prove you’re a smarter football mind than your fellow officemate. Enjoy!
The quarterback position was the central focus entering the Browns’ first preseason game.
Brock Osweiler started the game with a whimper like a backup, and DeShone Kizer looked like a starter in orchestrating two touchdown drives and the game-winning score.
Yes, it’s one game, and no, I’m not endorsing a rookie as the opening day starter. But Hue Jackson had to like what he saw from his rookie and from his young team in the squad’s 20-14 preseason opening win over the New Orleans Saints.
The Browns’ defense flashed talent and skill in the first game of the Gregg Williams Era, while the offense did enough late in the game to win. Unlike last season, the Browns have something to build on moving forward.
1. Brocket Man
Brock Osweiler did not impress in his first appearance in a Browns’ uniform. The quarterback looked rusty in playing with the first team.
Osweiler received plenty of reps with the first teamers, but did not start off the preseason on a positive note. Osweiler was not on the same page as his wideouts on the first drive, throwing an out route while his wideout ran a deep route along the sideline.
Besides the miscommunications, Osweiler did not connect on his first three intermediate throws. Granted, his receivers did not help him out, as Seth DeValve saw a ball sail just through his fingertips early in the second quarter. Even still, Osweiler didn’t look good on anything besides short throws. That’s not to criticize the former Texan’s arm strength, but his accuracy was not there early on.
To his credit, he did throw the ball well on short throws, showing some zip. The offense’s failure to score during his time on the field lies squarely on the shoulders of Kenny Britt, who dropped one pass and failed to drag his feet on another potential score. You expect more out of a veteran, even in the first preseason game.
Stats don’t matter in the preseason, but Osweiler finished 6-of-14 for 42 yards.
2. Lesser linebackers
The Browns’ linebackers did not play well as a unit on Thursday evening. While fewer linebackers appear on the field at one time under Williams’ scheme, the ‘backers still play an important role.
Beginning with the starters, Jamie Collins performed well in limited time. The former Patriot stuck a couple of Saints, showing solid form on his tackles.
Christian Kirksey provided mixed results. On one play, Kirksey was sucked in on a block and allowed a big gain. On another play in pass coverage, he turned away a pass.
Tank Carder, typically a special teams linebacker, will have a chance to win a starting job in the preseason. Carder did not do himself any favors, missing chances to make plays. On the other hand, his competitor, Joe Schobert, played well.
After losing weight in the offseason, Schobert looks lean and mean. He planted a Saints running back and led the defense well as the middle linebacker. The Saints struggled to run the ball, and couldn’t punch the ball score into the end zone.
Personally, I like Schobert – a solid, hard working guy made of the same stuff as Joe Thomas. But Schobert has plenty more to prove before he wins anything, including a roster spot.
On a side note, Ladell Fleming drew some cheers from fans after absolutely planting Ryan Nassib into the ground late in the fourth quarter.
3. The struggle continues
Cameron Erving did not make his case for the final offensive line spot on Thursday. Sans Joe Thomas, the blindside looked shaky with Erving playing.
For the first year of Cameron Erving’s career, we blamed Mike Pettine for placing him at too many positions. Last year, we said Erving needed time to develop. This year, it’s make or break for the third-year pro. No more excuses for the former first round pick.
Erving looked slow on the left side on pass protection, nearly allowing a pair of sacks. Granted, Erving will not play left tackle this season. However, you can’t allow a defensive end to stream around you, whichever side you’re working on. His footwork does not look quick enough to be a starter in the NFL. We expected more progress out of Erving. But again, it’s still early.
In the same vein, Shon Coleman was called for a sloppy penalty, and didn’t block like an All-Pro on passing plays. However, the Browns did run several successful running plays behind him.
We’ll continue to keep our eyes on the right tackle position as the preseason continues, but neither player has won the job yet.
4. The Gregg Williams Effect
Yes, defenses will be vanilla in the preseason, but we sniffed a whiff of Williams’ philosophy on defense. Williams’ men showed aggressiveness and toughness, particularly in the first half.
One noticeable difference was easy to see. The Browns lined up with four down linemen on every play except for the occasional third down and long.
The front seven looked notably improved with fewer chances for the team’s developing linebacker corps to be exposed. Even still, Christian Kirksey failed to shed blocks on run plays and Tank Carder missed some tackles. On the other hand, Jamie Collins and Joe Schobert played well.
In coverage, Williams’ secondary disguised coverages well. On one play, the Browns showed a Cover 0 (one-on-one coverage) before dropping into Zone Cover 2. The Saints missed a chance on a touchdown due to a dropped pass in the end zone, and Ibraheim Campbell went down early. Even still, count the first week as a success for the secondary.
Another harbinger of positive tidings? The defense’s strength on third downs. Until Solomon Wilcots jinxed the Browns on the ABC broadcast, the Browns stopped the Saints on their first five third down chances.
Williams also played a defense far more aggressive than a typical preseason game. Williams called a host of blitzes, surprising and effective. Hopefully the blitzes do not reveal schemes Williams plans to use in the regular season, or else the Steelers will watch film and figure out how to hold off the Browns’ blitz schemes before Week 1.
Personally, I think Browns fans will like Williams’ effect on a talented young Browns’ defense.
5. Fatally flawed front no more
The Browns’ defensive line looks much improved already. We didn’t see much of Myles Garrett, but the rookie and the rest of the defensive line played well.
Garrett did not play for long, but showed quickness and athleticism during his limited time. And even more impressive, his linemates played quite well, especially the interior linemen.
Danny Shelton occupied two blockers on several plays and pushed through to make the first tackle of the game. He’ll be expected to play a big role this year. Jamie Meder bull rushed his foe on the offensive line and forced a sack. Trevon Coley forced a fumble that set up the Browns’ only score in the first half.
The team’s ends played fairly well, also. Carl Nassib recorded a fumble that Coley forced and showed quickness, albeit against the second teamers. Despite strange penalties on the team’s linemen, the team’s front seven stood strong in the third quarter to keep the Saints out of the end zone. The Saints experienced lots of trouble running the ball throughout the night.
The team’s interior linemen will play an increased role with Williams’ different defensive scheme with 4-down linemen. Let’s home the team’s defensive linemen continue to perform well.
6. Catch the ball
The Browns’ wide receivers struggled mightily. The team’s wideouts dropped pass after pass.
Rannell Hall, Josh Boyce, Ricardo Louis, Kenny Britt, and Seth DeValve all let passes slip to the ground on a disappointing day for the team’s receiving corps.
Corey Coleman might have been the lone bright spot. The second-year playmaker hauled in several passes and showed athleticism in dodging would-be tacklers. And most importantly of all, Coleman stayed healthy.
Hall dropped a pair off passes to hurt his case to make the team, but did snatch a nice catch on a DeShone Kizer throw. Boyce also grabbed a toss from Cody Kessler, but also mishandled a ball in the third quarter.
Seth DeValve, the Browns’ Princeton-educated tight end, fumbled the ball on a screen play after initiating contact with a Saints’ tackler.
Perhaps Kenny Britt’s performance was the most disappointing. Britt dropped a potential touchdown pass and didn’t touch both feet inbounds in the end zone. Sure, it’s the first game of the year. But a veteran such as Britt should be able to touch down both feet in that situation, especially when the defender isn’t draped on top of you.
On the brightside, Richard Mullaney and Jordan Payton hauled in deep throws late in the game.
7. The youngster outplays the veterans
DeShone Kizer performed quite well with the second teamers. It’s key to note that Kizer faced the Saints’ backups, but Kizer’s first impression was a resounding one.
Kizer showed hints of all the important tools for a quarterback. Kizer showcased his big arm on a beautiful deep ball to Mullaney, nearly leading to a Browns’ touchdown. His legs came into play on a scramble and a successful read option. Precision on short throws also helped, as Kizer threw bullets to his wideouts on slant routes across the middle.
Kizer also demonstrated poise in the pocket, especially as the game continued. The rookie learned from early mistakes, figuring out that throwing the ball away on a broken play isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Even more impressive, Kizer found an open receiver after seeing pressure in his face. Kizer’s footwork while maintaining his vision downfield shows why he could succeed as a signalcaller in the future.
Kizer’s best throws, besides his long bomb, came on throws near the sidelines. A nice comeback route sparked a drive late in the fourth quarter before a pair of penalties on the offensive line pushed the Browns back to a 2nd and 24.
On some throws, Kizer locked into one receiver, but did scroll through his progressions on several throws, including a clutch 20-yard pass on a 3rd and long situation before the two-minute warning. Then one play later, Kizer unleashed a “Holy Buckeye” type of throw on 4th and 2, finding Payton for a touchdown even with a defender in his face.
As always, preseason stats mean little, but his statline of 11-for-18 with 164 yards and 1 touchdown isn’t a bad start.
That’s what Hue Jackson was looking for in his quarterback and his team in the preseason opener.