Just as the Indians’ offense came alive late in Saturday’s game at Progressive Field, the Browns’ offense came through with a late comeback orchestrated by Kevin Hogan.
The Browns pulled out a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 13-9, in a sloppy game played in increasingly rainy conditions. Bright spots did come through, including DeShone Kizer, even though the rain did dampen the feel of the game.
Without further ado, here are your talking points for the “dress rehearsal” preseason game.
1. DeShone Kizer plays like the QB1
The newly picked starting quarterback played quite well for the Browns. It’s one preseason game, but Kizer played quite well.
Take preseason games with a grain of salt, so don’t call Kizer the savior yet. The Buccaneers also held out a significant number of starters.
However, Kizer made several pro throws that should excite Browns’ fans.
Kizer showed precision on passes at the sidelines, typically some of the hardest passes for a quarterback to make. Kizer added zip to his throws, but not too hard for his receivers to catch on a wet night in Tampa Bay.
Besides Kizer’s impressive mechanics and beautiful arm, his ability to throw in the clutch show signs of readiness for the spotlight. The Notre Dame product completed 3-of-4 passes on third downs in the first quarter, including one third-and-long throw. On one 3rd and 6, Kizer audibled at the line of scrimmage to a play with three wideouts running fly routes, scrambling to give time for his receivers to come back, and tossed it to Corey Coleman.
And that one pass Kizer didn’t complete? It squirted through the hands of Kenny Britt, who has had a disappointing preseason. Kizer completed a couple more throws on third down in the second quarter, too, though he was picked off after a Corey Coleman was intercepted on a phantom pass interference call. Kizer does have to work on not locking onto a wideout.
Kizer finished 6-of-18 for 93 yards and an interception, but Kizer performed way better than his stats.
Let’s see some more of this kid. He’s going to be fun to watch.
2. Attack, attack, attack
Gregg Williams allowed his front seven to pin their ears back and attack Jameis Winston. It’s surprising to see a team show so much in a preseason game.
Since I’m not an NFL coach, I can’t judge Williams’ decision to blitz frequently. But I don’t think I’m mistaken in questioning the idea.
The Browns have shown a number of blitzes in the preseason, from front seven to secondary blitzes. Williams dialed up another double corner blitz, with Joe Haden and Jamar Taylor coming from the edges.
On the plus side, the blitzes worked quite well. The Buccaneers failed to convert on their first seven third downs, due to the Browns coming after the quarterback. Two of those plays resulted in clutch sacks for the Browns. Speaking of, Derrick Kindred’s excellent deflection on 3rd and 10 turned away a Bucs’ touchdown at the end of the first half.
What do you think of the blitzes? Should the Browns have played a more vanilla defense? Either way, the Browns’ defensive performance was rock solid, especially on crucial third downs.
3. Chemistry with Coleman
Corey Coleman shined with Kizer as his quarterback, seeming to connect well with the rookie.
Coleman has dealt with injuries and problems in his early career, but the second year player thrived with Kizer. Coleman found openings and Kizer got him the ball, seeming to look to the Baylor product as his top or first option.
Coleman made several wonderful grabs, including a slick reception on a third and short deep in the Browns’ territory. Coleman looked particularly adept near the sidelines, creating small windows for Kizer and then using his sure hands to haul it in when Kizer tossed it his way.
At the same time, Kizer must be careful not to lock into Coleman. Other teams will adjust and place their best cornerback on Coleman, forcing Kizer to either throw into coverage or to look at other options quickly.
Coleman’s talented counterpart at tight end, David Njoku, did not play as well. Njoku dropped a pass, did not run crisp routes, and didn’t block well. It’s still early, but it looks like Njoku needs some work, though he did have a nice run off a tight end screen.
4. Turnovers kill
The Browns’ offense drove down the field and looked promising, but turnovers limited the offense’s production in the first half.
One of the turnovers fell upon Kizer’s shoulders. The rookie failed to look off the secondary, leading to the Bucs’ secondary to read the throw and get hands on the ball.
The other had two culpable parties – Duke Johnson and J.P. Holtz. Johnson ran the ball on the right side, dragging along a defender. Then, Holtz’s hold threw a player right at Johnson’s arm, allowing the Bucs to strip the ball and take away a promising Browns’ scoring opportunity.
These kinds of turnovers need to be eliminated. Freak turnovers will happen, but these types of mistakes can and should be eliminated. Hue Jackson expressed his frustration at halftime with the errors, so the offense likely received a talking to at halftime.
The offense did receive the short end of the stick, however, as the offense’s average starting field position was its own 11-yard line.
5. Yes, he is for real
I’ve written this before, and I’ll say it again – Joe Schobert is legit. The second-year player was all over the field on Saturday evening in the first half.
With Tank Carder suffering a season-ending injury, Schobert has been handed the keys to the defense as the middle linebacker. Schobert maneuvered the car well, showing poise as the playcaller, successfully audibling on a key third down play at the end of the first half.
Schobert’s tenacity and quickness to the ball also showed. Schobert often met the ballcarrier at the point of attack or held his own in zone coverage. Schobert did struggle when the defensive line buckled, but the second-year player performed well as a whole.
Christian Kirksey also enjoyed a great day, finishing with six tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack, and one quarterback hit. Emmanuel Ogbah performed well in limited duty, notching a tackle and a noteworthy sack.
6. Get off me!
The Browns’ running backs ran the ball with authority on Saturday evening. From Isaiah Crowell to Duke Johnson to Matthew Dayes to Terrance McGee, the Browns’ backs thrived.
The Browns have made no qualms about wanting to run the ball this season. Hue Jackson wants to set up the pass with the running game.
Healthy again, Crowell made the start at running back. Crowell carried the ball 11 times for 40 yards, pushing through holes when given gaps to work with by the offensive line.
Duke Johnson did well with limited carries, dashing for 43 yards on three attempts, including a 37-yard scamper. Johnson shrugged off would-be tacklers and showed determination with the football. I’ve always been a fan of Johnson, and I’ll continue to be if he keeps running like he does.
Matthew Dayes continues to be a pleasant surprise for the Browns. The NC State rookie showed off a dynamic spin move on a hapless Buccaneer on a forceful run, one of his three carries for 13 yards. The 30th running back selected in the 2017 NFL Draft, Dayes plays with a chip on his shoulder, with a blue collar style that fits right in here in Cleveland.
Late in the contest, Terrance Magee showed off some skills, juking out a Buccaneer linebacker to pick up extra yards. Magee probably won’t make the roster, but he can make things happen in space.
Through three quarters, the Browns had 91 yards on 18 carries, solid numbers for a game in which the passing game was the main focus of the Browns’ coaching staff.
The numbers might have been even higher with a healthy Joel Bitonio in the starting lineup, too. That’s exciting.
7. Unsung Hero of the Game
P Britton Colquitt. The seasoned punter did quite well for the Browns on Saturday.
With the offense in a sluggish state, the Browns called upon Colquitt frequently. Through three quarters, the Browns had to utilize Colquitt four times. On those four punts, Colquitt averaged 50 yards per punt, his longest being 53 yards.
Colquitt stayed composed inside his own end zone early in the fourth quarter, even with in the stinging Tampa rain. His lengthy punt was partially negated by a Buccaneer return, but his contributions did prevent Tampa Bay from having even better field position.
Speaking of, Cody Parkey played well, connecting on two field goals (one from 47 yards), while Zane Gonzalez missed a field goal.
Picking a punter signifies something else, too – the Browns’ second and third teamers did not perform well. Cody Kessler showed little in the rain, his offensive line penetrated the line of scrimmage often, and the secondary looked open for business.
Penalties also made the game ugly in the later stages of the game. James Burgess received a costly 15-yard penalty early in the fourth, setting up a Tampa Bay field goal with 9:07 remaining.
On the plus side, Kevin Hogan played decently in garbage time, leading the team on two scoring drives, including the game-winning touchdown drive. Maybe his late-game effort will earn him a role with another team.
Regardless, only one more preseason game to go.