Cleveland’s first-hand whiff of the preseason came to an end on Monday evening, with the fumes bearing tidings of bad football but some positive tidings for the Browns.
The hosts came out with a narrow 10-6 victory over the New York Giants at FirstEnergy Stadium, with some of the Browns’ young players cultivating excitement among the fans.
The contest also showed why the team is still not there yet, especially at the quarterback position. The Browns still have two games left in the preseason, though, giving the front office more time to evaluate its roster and young talent.
1. Not Brocking and Rolling
Given the chance to cement himself as the starting quarterback, Brock Osweiler did anything but. The former Bronco and Texan looked off in the first quarter.
Sure, it’s a preseason game and a small glimpse, but Osweiler did not play well. He threw high on numerous occasions, both on completions and incompletions. His statline was 6-for-8 for 25 yards and an interception, which doesn’t fully tell the story.
Osweiler did not complete a pass over 10 yards, keeping it to short throws, rarely reading more than one receiver. Even so, his accuracy was off, as Osweiler lofted throws even on short passes on the boundary. Throwing high is killer for a quarterback. That’s how passes get picked off in the NFL, and it nearly happened a second time for Osweiler.
Which leads us to his official interception. Osweiler’s release is known to be too long, and he showed why that’s deadly. The Giants sniffed the pass coming, deflected the ball at the line of scrimmage, dropping the ball into the hands of the enemy. It’s not just a small problem like accuracy being off in one isolated game. Osweiler’s form scares me.
2. The Chosen One looks human
DeShone Kizer looked more like a rookie against a better Giants’ defense. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
At just 21, Kizer is the youngest active signalcaller in the NFL. It should surprise anyone that the rookie is not ready. Kizer has potential, but against a defense playing its starters, Kizer did not perform well.
As a rookie, one of the toughest aspects to adjust to is not the X’s and O’s, but arranging 10 other men and adjusting to opposing defenses on the fly. Kizer did not do well in this area, leading to a delay of game penalty and a false start on an incorrect snap count. These are the things that don’t necessarily show up on a statsheet, but hurt nonetheless.
Hue Jackson called some deep passes tonight to see how Kizer would adjust. Kizer responded by hesitating and holding onto the ball too long, which resulted in one sack and throwaways. Kizer also scrambled out of the pocket on an ill-advised play, forgetting to slide. Kizer was also intercepted early in the third quarter, though it was overturned thanks to a Giants’ penalty. He finished 8-of-13 for 74 yards.
Kizer could still be The Guy down the road. I want to see more out of him. But his time is not here yet, even though Osweiler looks like Osweiler.
3. Gregg’s G-Men
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ defense attacked the Giants and held Eli Manning at bay. Yes, Manning is not the Manning of old, yet the defense attacked and tackled well, holding Eli to 3 points.
One thing I always look for in the preseason is tackling ability. Sloppy tackling sets bad habits and sometimes shows a lazy mentality. For the most part, the Browns did not exhibit either, limiting the Giants’ yards after the catch and first contact.
Joe Schobert enjoyed an exceptional performance for the second straight game. The linebacker tabbed several tackles while lining up as both a lineman and a backer. On one blitz, Schobert found the opening in the Giants’ line and snuck into the backfield. He’s showing why he deserves a spot at linebacker.
Speaking of linebackers. Christian Kirksey played particularly well. Kirksey flashed his speed and athleticism and made some tackles.
The team’s recent draft picks played well, too. Carl Nassib registered a sack, as did Myles Garrett. The Browns’ defensive line as a whole played well.
And of course, how can you forget Jason McCourty. The former Titan stripped a Giant wideout of the ball, setting up a short Kizer sneak for a touchdown. McCourty and the Browns’ play-through-the-whistle mentality needs to continue.
4. Oh no, Joe!
Joe Haden produced a subpar performance, adding fuel to the fire for his critics. Haden was one member of the Browns’ defense who did not play well.
It’s no secret that cornerbacks do not age well. Haden is starting to show his age, even though I’ll always have a small spot for him in my heart thanks to his Cleveland pride and hard play in his early days.
Haden played late into the second quarter, yet did not improve as the half continued. Haden was beat on one-on-one coverage on a few occasions, and showed hesitation in attacking the ballcarrier on running plays.
And don’t let Briean Boddy-Calhoun’s hit on Odell Beckham Jr. distract you from the fact that Haden got burned on that play. If not for Boddy-Calhoun, OBJ is scoring on that play.
Haden better start earning his keep soon, or young guns will take his spot.
5. Hot Peppers
Jabrill Peppers showed why some are raving over him. Peppers’ play will not be hotly discussed, especially since one of his big plays was called back. But Browns fans should be excited about him.
Peppers received the opportunity to return punts on Monday, and did so with remarkable athleticism. Peppers showed off a juke move or two, evaded tacklers, and burst into open space.
Even more impressive is Peppers’ ability to use his blockers to his advantage. On one of his two lengthy returns, Peppers utilized one of his blockers to spring a gap and some room to run. That can be a rare talent for a rookie.
Peppers did not make a big impact on the defensive side of things, but it was exciting to watch Peppers with the ball in his hands. Hopefully we’ll see more from Peppers in the next couple games, especially on defense and maybe a little on offense.
6. Mistakes, mistakes
The Browns made several avoidable mistakes, which will need to be corrected. The preseason always features mistakes, but the timing of the errors cost the Browns.
Early in the contest, the Browns began to drive deep into Giants’ territory. But suddenly, a poor holding call pushed the Browns back and crushed the drive.
The problem occurred again on Peppers’ nice run, as mentioned above. Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor yelled at Deon King for it on the sidelines, as the call cost the Browns beautiful field position.
Yet again, the Browns were penalized in costly fashion on a fun Duke Johnson run. The culprit was Kenny Britt, who looked less than great last week. Britt’s seal block sprung Johnson, but Britt hooked the defender too much, taking back a positive run.
Other small problems appeared throughout the game, including false starts and holding penalties. These can be correctly, but poorly timed penalties have been a hallmark of the Browns, and need to be corrected before the Browns can be taken seriously.
7. Unsung heroes
Several young Browns players shined under the lusterless lights of FirstEnergy Stadium. We note the performances of Matt Dayes and Dan Vitale in particular.
Two of the Browns’ young backs looked great. Dayes continues to show the value of a chip on your shoulder, shaking off would-be tacklers and gaining yards after contact time and again. In the first three quarters, Dayes hauled in 5 catches for 29 yards, mostly off screen plays.
Speaking of screen plays, Vitale looked like a bowling ball with the rock in his hands. The fullback rumbled down the sidelines behind his blocks, nearly forcing his way into the end zone. Alas, Vitale likely won’t touch the ball much this season, but the big man did well in his primary role – blocking.
Vitale paved the way for Johnson and Dayes in the contest, even though the offensive linemen did not play as well. Vitale deserves a spot as a utility knife of a fullback.
Kenneth Olugbode also deserves kudos for calling off a blitz as the middle backer, leading to a Boddy-Calhoun interception to thwart a Giants’ drive into the Browns’ red zone.
As a whole, many of the Browns’ youngsters looked solid. It’ll be interesting to see how the roster shakes out in the next couple weeks.