For the third year in a row the Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers squared off against each other in the third game of the preseason. It’s been a delight for me all three years as it’s allowed me to attend a Browns game in person three years in a row (I am a Tampa resident). As such, I got the chance to see our guys in action LIVE and in person which provided my own sort of “All-22” perspective. I tried to capture some of it in order to share that vantage point with you which hopefully can be edifying in some way here.
In the interest of full disclosure, the Buccaneers have always kind of been my “other” team. I lived back and forth between the two areas for various portions of my life (including the last decade). As such I have a bit more than a passing knowledge of the Bucs’ general situation, though ultimately it’s fairly nothing compared to what it is with our (r)orange helmets. Whenever the two teams play, the Bucs’ become like any other team playing the Browns.
However, this is preseason. Yes, the third game is the “dress rehearsal”, and it’s not completely unimportant given that the starters typically do (and did) play a good portion of the game - and certainly much more so than in any of the other preseason games. So, yes I want us to win all the time, but in preseason I never care nearly as much about that as I do about no-injuries and examining traits of the players both in prominent new positions and those fighting for those final few roster spots. From that standpoint I came away feeling pretty good about this game overall, and much more so than about the outcome.
Before we get to that, let’s look at the story lines:
Storm Clouds Gathered And Delivered
Chris reported prior to the game that conditions could be problematic for gameplay at the scheduled time. About an hour before kickoff there was close lightning and squall like conditions for about fifteen minutes.
Then, as happens down here, it suddenly stopped and after a few minutes was reduced to a light drizzle. By the time kickoff arrived there was fairly light rainfall for most of the first half - but nothing that should have been too problematic to play in, at least not until the second half.
DeShone Kizer’s first ever start
While it hasn’t been officially officialized, there seems to be a pretty common expectation that Kizer’s having been named the starter for this game means he WILL be the opening day starter week one versus Pittsburgh. Many felt like he would have to basically fall on his face in order to lose the job. While I don’t know if that is the calculus, I do know that that didn’t happen.
So far this summer it has looked pretty good on the defensive side of the ball, having been taken under control by new DC Gregg Williams just this year. However that’s been practice, against a Brees-less Saints, and vanilla Giants last Monday. Thus, the matchup with the high-powered Buc offense in the dress rehearsal was a pretty good test. At very least, it looked like we more than held our own.
The Kicking Battle
It would seem that both Zane Gonzalez and Cody Parkey legitimately have a shot to win the kicker gig, and both have looked very good all summer. With it being so close, this game was good test under inclement conditions.
Another part of this which is interesting to me personally is that either seem like pretty significant upgrades over Buc Kicker Nick Folk, who is left after the team summarily dispatched former 2nd round pick Roberto Aguayo. It really wouldn’t surprise me if whoever doesn’t make the roster for us ends up replacing Folk after the roster cut-down day. We’ll see soon enough.
We won the game 13-9. Kevin Hogan engineered a long touchdown drive late in the game and Tyrone Holmes sealed the deal by stripping Ryan Fitzpatrick on the Bucs’ last gasp. To me these things are almost afterthoughts in light of the more significant aspects highlighted above. I therefore will focus on the things that seemed most important to me, in no particular order:
This guy needs to be starting. He’s just everywhere, and right off the jump he was in the holes making plays. Great looking progress from year one to year two so far.
There was one play that, upon reviewing the TV version doesn’t look like people got a good view of what happened. It was a 3rd down pass play, and Garrett just absolutely wrecked his man with a spin move and clobbered Bucs’ QB Jamies Winston as he was about to throw. While he wasn’t a terror all night, he definitely made his presence felt on that play. I continue to be very, very satisfied with the choice to draft him.
To the extent that you can put much stock into preseason performance, I think it’s time to get excited about this kid. It’s popular to lament just how utterly terrible our WR’s are (and to be sure, Kenny Britt didn’t do much to impress), but I hope it was as apparent to everyone watching just how sensational Coleman was on Saturday night.
Perhaps most importantly, it looked like he has developed a rapport with Kizer. Oh and I don’t know how good an angle you got to see, but that offensive pass-interference penalty on the 3rd down conversion looked to be grade-A B.S. from my vantage point (which was on that side of the field).
So first and foremost, I have been enthusiastically pro starting Kizer and pretty much have been since OTA’s. I would have been had he not shown much of what he has in his time at the helm this preseason. That he has shown said-ability only solidifies it in my mind even further. I think he both should be the starter and will be the starter, and really does appear to be the best QB on the roster presently IMHO.
I don’t care what his stats were: he commanded the offense and looked comfortable doing what he was doing. Being a rookie I think he looks VERY good overall, and while I’m not expecting miracles I would like to give him all the attention at the position. As someone mentioned quite accurately to me not long ago: he’s got the goods.
What really jumped off the field to me in watching him dropping back, going through his progressions and making his throws: he absolutely most definitely is a tick slow, as really any rookie typically is. However, what was encouraging is that the line basically gave him all the time in the world, which can help account for being a tick slow.
The idea is that as he progresses, he’ll get up to speed, and that process gets accelerated with him playing. If his rookieness can be offset to some degree by our very good OL (and they did look very good against the Bucs) then it seems like the perfect situation to let him learn in. On balance, the decision making wasn’t terrible, and the passes were mostly on target. He continues to show that he doesn’t shy away from going deep.
The interception wasn’t great, but it he was trying to make a play on third and long. It’s not the type of play I’m going to worry about (especially since it was a really good play made by the defender). He probably would have led a touchdown drive in the second quarter if not for Duke Johnson’s inopportune fumble.
While I still am for the idea of making Pittsburgh guess on who will be our opening day starter, I am much more now desirous of just naming Kizer the starter, permanently. I’m more than fine with putting up with whatever his rookie mistakes are going to be, and I’m convinced he won’t get wrecked by starting too soon. If he can look like he does now after Brian Kelly got done with him last year, he’s mentally tough enough to handle starting, come what may.
To some extent you do need to take the weather conditions into consideration, but even with that it was an overall solid performance yet again by Gregg Williams’ squad. Aside from the players mentioned, the interception by Jabril Peppers down by the goaline is more good progress to report for him. Derrick Kindred looks improved from last year. Christian Kirksey and Emmanuel Ogbah both looked formidable in their roles as well.
It appeared to me that we were getting fairly consistent pressure on Winston, but that he was able to get out of it often with his quick release. He’s a good QB, but that pressure’s going to work against less-substantial opposing QB’s. It got home a few times.
Also particularly noteworthy to me was how Tampa’s first team offense stayed in after halftime and went up against, essentially, our 2nd team defense. It took a review but our guys kept the Bucs out of the end zone, and that’s a pretty big win for the 2nd team unit. Conversely, we were all-2’s after halftime.
Hard to say if there was any real traction in the kicking battle, as both kickers made FG’s and consistently drilled kickoffs out of the end zone. Zane Gonzalez did miss one but it was from about 55 yards with a not insignificant drizzle.
My gut remains Gonzalez, but really we’ve got two pretty good guys to choose from here, and this position seems to be one that Money Ball is proving you can address effectively without expending significant resources.
One Last Thing
Life is about choices, kids:
About that, sparse though it was - looked to be pretty decidedly in our favor in terms of fan composition. This was also the case when the Tribe played the Rays at fabled Tropicana Field two weeks ago in a game I attended (and won by the Indians).
I think this is going to be a tradition, as I found another guy that made this same mistake last year.
All in all, pretty good night for our guys I think. No real injuries, and solid performances by key people. Does winning this game ultimately matter for much in the grand scheme of things? Most probably not, but our young QB looked capable and our revamped D continues to impress. It’ll be interesting to see how coach Hue Jackson handles both situations going into the fourth and final preseason game, Thursday against the Bears.
Who Do You Want To Be The Browns’ Starting Quarterback On Opening Day?
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