It’s just a preseason win, but it’s still a win for the Cleveland Browns. For an organization that finished 1-19 last season, they’ll be the first to admit they wanted and needed to win their preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints.
While some of what we should take away from the win is diminished by the fact that most of the game was played against backups, the team’s offensive and defensive philosophies were implemented successfully throughout all four quarters. And those approaches, and some heroics by rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, were enough to beat the Saints on this early August Thursday evening.
Here are 10 things I think after the Browns’ first real football of the season.
- Myles Garrett belongs in the NFL, and he’s probably going to be a star. Garrett’s speed and power were both apparent in his NFL debut, and he flashed a spin move that he turned into a collapsing pocket. Look, if you’re discouraged he didn’t record a sack in his first NFL playing time, then you weren’t paying attention. Garrett clearly looked like he belonged, like he’ll make a difference for the Browns defense. He was consistently pressuring the Saints backfield and pushing blockers into the quarterback, or the developing play. He looks like the real deal, and he’s only 21 years old.
- Cameron Erving does not belong at the tackle position, and maybe not on the Browns roster at all. I’m not going to waste too much time talking about the flaws in Cameron Erving’s technique, his poor balance, or anything else that makes him a liability on a football field. The results, to this point, have been proof positive that he’s just not adapting to the NFL game. Can he be “hidden” in the interior of the offensive line, where he’ll be playing against bigger and presumably slower athletes? After last year, we know the answer to that is no.
- Gregg Williams’ influence is apparent by the way his defense plays for him. The Browns defense was flying to the ball, amped up the entire night, and more aggressive than we have seen in a long time. They played passionately and would not give an inch near the goal-line after an 11-play, 67-yard drive that would have broken their spirit in the past. They stuffed the Saints and got the ball back instead. It’s one game, but Williams’ defense played as advertised and his players are seemingly buying in.
- The Browns have no easy way forward with their quarterback competition. All three quarterbacks had their good moments, and their struggles, in what amounted to somewhat of a stalemate if you factor in the situations each played in as well as the competition they played against. Brock Osweiler got the start, showed off his big arm — including three separate overthrows — and threw what should have been a touchdown to Kenny Britt. He was, though, generally ineffective at leading his team to first downs, starting the game with three three-and-outs. Cody Kessler, while somewhat more effective, was limited by game situations. Stephone Anthony stunted and had a free path to him for a sack to end one drive, another ended at halftime after his throw sailed out of bounds, and his first drive would have ended in a touchdown throw if not for a pass interference call. Matt Dayes ran the ball in for the Browns’ first score of 2017 on the next play. DeShone Kizer was up third and received the rest of the playing time, with Kevin Hogan not recording a single snap. Kizer was generally good, showing off his strong arm, mobility and ability to stand tall in the pocket to deliver strikes despite being hit during his throwing motion on a couple plays. But he did struggle, too, as most rookie quarterbacks do, on a few plays after his primary read was taken away. He didn’t sense pressure quickly enough and was sacked three times and put himself in a couple more situations that could have been sacks but he was able to escape. Overall, the three quarterbacks played about as good as we’d expect. Kessler was limited the most of the three, Osweiler played with the first-teamers — and against the Saints backups — and wasn’t able to put any points on the board, and Kizer struggled but was effective, looked sharp and ended up winning the game. It was a tough night to judge the context of each’s performance, so we’ll see in the coming days how coach Hue Jackson manages each quarterback’s snaps in practice and how he approaches the quarterback competition heading into next week’s matchup against the New York Giants. It’s not an easy decision, at all, but I’d lean more towards Osweiler and Kizer at this point because of their arm talent and demonstrated ability to make all the NFL throws.
- Matt Dayes will have a role this season. The smaller but powerful and shifty running back made quick and precise cuts through his offensive line and earned every inch of his 17 yards from scrimmage. His one-yard touchdown was a great example of his vision and ability to quickly plant his foot to change directions.
- Kenny Britt didn’t come to play, or isn’t what the Browns need him to be. The Browns lost big-bodied receiver Terrelle Pryor in free agency and Britt was brought in to fill his shoes. In his first game action, Britt was bullied by a Saints defensive back on an end-zone fade route that went untouched, and he also failed to get his second foot down on what looked like a perfectly placed touchdown throw by Osweiler. Britt needs to be the guy to make those plays for the Browns.
- Trevon Coley and Nate Orchard shined on the defensive line. Coley’s name was called frequently, but it was his quick penetration that stood out the most. He strip-sacked quarterback Garrett Grayson and had another tackle in the backfield. Orchard finished with an opportunistic half-sack, and probably could have had another if I was scoring the game, but he was flying off the edges and chasing down the quarterback during his entire time on the field. It was a good showing for a young player, drafted by a previous management team to play a different position, who was thought to have been on the bubble to make the team’s final roster.
- Brien Boddy-Calhoun is an absolute player in the NFL. Calhoun stuffed a would-be touchdown on a 4th-and-goal try, and was in on the previous two stops from the three-yard line. For some reason he played nearly three full quarters, but it’s good we got to see just how much of a playmaker he can be in the secondary. Maybe he petitioned Williams to play as much as possible?
- Ricardo Louis backs up the talk he’s received from his coaching staff. Wide receivers coach Al Saunders said over that summer that Louis is a “different guy” from last season, and we saw that guy for the first time against the Saints. Louis was shifty and looked like he added some power during the offseason. His speed coupled with an ability to make plays after the catch could be big for the Browns offense, especially if Britt struggles in that area.
- Tank Carder and Desmond Bryant are probably in the most danger of anyone on the roster of losing their starting spots. Carder wrapped and lost hold of rookie running back Alvin Kamara, allowing him to scamper for a 21-yard run that set up the first Saints field goal. He was also clueless in coverage, and his poor zone drop would have led to a Saints touchdown had receiver Ted Ginn Jr. not dropped the easy score. His competition, second-year linebacker Joe Schobert was also pretty impressive in his debut at middle linebacker. He logged a sack and was generally playing effectively and in position for his limited time on the field. Bryant was getting driven out of his gap assignment for the first few plays he saw action. His lapses helped the Saints gash the Browns up the middle, giving us flashbacks of the team’s porous 2016 run defense. Coley has been getting some first-team snaps at training camp, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see that trend continue after watching Bryant struggle like he did.