You were probably too busy watching Ohio State struggle against the Hoosiers in Indiana, but the Cleveland Browns finished the preseason at 4-0. The Browns dominated the Chicago Bears in every facet of the fourth preseason game, winning 25-0.
The undefeated mark means little in the grand scheme of things. A year from now, or even a day from now, no one will care. But it shows the Browns aren’t mailing it in, and that the Browns might have a little more depth than in the past. At the very least, it was more pleasant to see the Browns win four preseason games than to lose four.
The final game of the preseason is the least important of the four, yet storylines did play out on Thursday. Roster spots and livelihoods were at stake.
If you were smart and watched Ohio State play, here’s what you missed:
1. Competent Cody: Kessler posted a solid effort in the final tuneup, though his flaws came to the fore. Kessler makes for a good backup, but will he beat Hogan?
Cody Kessler looked uncomfortable in the pocket early in the contest. The former starter hesitated in the pocket under pressure and took off on a run up the middle. Kessler appeared gunshy in the pocket, turning away from pressure and releasing the ball early in the face of pressure.
The Browns also called a designed run for Kessler, which ended with a Bears player emphatically dumping Kessler to the turf.
To Kessler’s credit, his offensive line did not do well by him. Zach Sterup allowed his opponent to breeze by him on the outside to pressure Kessler. Shon Coleman committed a poor holding penalty early in the second, wiping away a nice Kessler first down scramble. The Bears also blitzed some, setting up lengthy third down tries for the Browns.
Even still, while the Browns didn’t score at first, the Browns managed five first downs before the hosts could get one. Kessler did find the end zone on a back-shoulder throw with 2:34 left in the second. The nifty 27-yard toss will go a long way to earning him a roster spot.
On the other hand, Kessler did not end the first half well, taking a sack with under a minute left in the half and underthrowing Jordan Leslie with 16 seconds left. Kessler’s continued showing of lack of deep arm strength exhibits the reason why Hue Jackson chose DeShone Kizer as the starting signalcaller.
Kessler’s day ended after the first half, finishing 11-of-19 for 144 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions.
2. Hogan’s a hero in the preseason: Kevin Hogan played well in the second half. But the question remains – Did he do enough to win a roster spot?
Last week, Kevin Hogan turned heads by leading the Browns’ offense down the field in the rain. This week, Hogan continued to show why he could come from behind to steal Kessler’s backup gig.
Hogan appeared comfortable in the pocket and showed an ability to read the field. On one play late in the third, Hogan went through his progressions and scaled the ladder in the pocket before finding a wide-open Randall Telfer. The tight end easily stepped into the end zone, granting the visitors a surprising 19-0 lead following the 51-yard touchdown connection.
Hogan notched another touchdown on a beautiful touchdown pass to Jordan Leslie, making it a laugher with 11:11 left in the contest.
That’s the kind of pass that can win you a job. Poise amidst pressure and ability to scale through progressions are signs of maturity in a young quarterback, and tough to find.
Receivers will not be as open in Week One as they are in the preseason. Even still, Hogan’s ability to scroll through his options and his arm to find receivers deep gives him an advantage over Kessler.
3. Front seven shows up da Bears: The Browns’ defensive line and linebackers performed well in the final preseason game. In the past, the Browns have shown sloppy tackling and poor play. Not tonight.
The Browns defense looked solid, especially in the first few drives. James Burgess found his way into the fold on several early plays, helping the Browns to stuff the run early on.
The defensive line did its part, too. Karter Schult, Caleb Brantley, and Larry Ogunjobi seemed to be in the backfield every play of the first quarter. Thanks to the front seven’s effort, the Bears could not manage a first down in the first quarter.
Tyrone Holmes also separated himself with his play on the line, especially on running plays. The second-year player out of Montana chased down Bears running back Jeremy Langford from the backside on one play, showing off his speed from the weak side.
In the first 30 minutes, the Bears could only gain 18 yards on 14 carries. As a unit, the Bears notched just 63 yards of total offense in the first half. And in the first 20 minutes of the second half, the Bears tabbed -2 yards.
The Browns’ relentless pursuit of the quarterback and ballcarrier did not stop in the second half. Three Browns’ defenders held a meeting with Connor Shaw in the end zone with 4:17 left in the third, with a safety the first item on the agenda.
Sure, the Bears don’t have many playmakers on their second-string offense, but the Browns’ tenacity and tackling in the running game deserve kudos.
4. Running to Dayes-light: Matthew Dayes looked excellent for the Browns on Thursday night. Dayes look like he could contribute significantly this season.
Matthew Dayes ran the ball with authority, as he’s done all season. The rookie has carried a chip on his shoulder all preseason, showing why the Browns made a nice move in selecting him as the 30th running back in the draft this season.
Dayes has quite the first step off the edge. Once Dayes finds the edge, his first step forward is impressive. As a result, Dayes breaks upfield quickly and can build up a head of steam quickly.
A perfect example occurred on a pass from Kessler to the flat. Dayes turned his head from the ball to upfield very quickly and turned on the booster jets before the Bears could touch him.
Dayes is dangerous with speed, too. The youngster is not easily tackled, as the NC State product has plenty of moves in his arsenal. Dayes can make you look silly with a slick juke or a wicked spin move.
In this writer’s humble opinion, the Browns should keep Dayes as the third running back. Dayes has a bright future, especially with all of his ball skills. However, Dayes did exit the game late with an injury.
5. No room to run: The Browns’ secondary held the Bears’ offense in check, limiting the Bears’ receivers in space. Chicago’s early draft pick, Mitch Trubisky, did not have a chance against his hometown team.
The Bears’ first round draft pick did not have any chances to make any plays against the Browns’ offense. Trubisky finished 2-of-4 passing for a mere 10 yards, finding no open receivers on passing plays. And when Trubisky did find a target, the Browns’ secondary pounced immediately.
The Browns’ backup defensive backs tackled quite well, showing quickness to the ball. The secondary prevented extra yards after the catch, stopping several potential first downs.
Connor Shaw did not fare much better than Trubisky, finishing the first half with 5-of-9 passing for just 35 yards.
Several members of the secondary enjoyed solid games, but the hit by Kai Nacua sticks out as one of the top players of the night. The BYU rookie absolutely nailed a Bears receiver on a pass across the middle, stopping the wideout in his tracks. Nacua did the same midway through the third, causing the Bears’ wideout to drop the ball and preventing a possible first down.
6. The struggle is real: The Browns’ wide receivers continue to struggle. The Browns might have to trade for a wideout or find one on the waiver wire.
The Browns’ struggles at wide receiver have been well-documented during the preseason. Corey Coleman has performed well and remained healthy, but beyond him, the Browns don’t have much, as even Kenny Britt struggled mightily in three preseason contests.
Ricardo Louis dropped a pass in the early stages of the game near the sidelines on a high, yet catchable, pass from Kessler. Jordan Leslie also made a frustrating drop in the first half, later leading to a Browns’ punt.
The frustration at the position stems not necessarily from a lack of talent, but a lack of production. For example, Leslie made a wonderful, one-armed grab over the middle and even avoided a hit, helping out Kessler on a wonderful play. However, his impressive grab across the middle makes his drop more exasperating. If Leslie can make acrobatic catches, he should be able to make the easy ones.
Despite the frustration, Leslie does have potential, especially after the catch. Leslie has moves, and can dodge out opponents, including on a 21-yard fourth quarter touchdown catch. Rannell Hall also grabbed a nice back-shoulder reception and evaded his foe before dashing into the end zone for the first points of the game.
Rasheed Bailey also hauled in a pair of Hogan passes, even after taking a breath-taking hit after catching the ball. Bailey might not make the roster, but he has some guts.
7. Kicker battle: Zane Gonzalez might have a “leg up” after a lengthy field goal in Chicago. The Browns will have a tough decision to make when taking care of cuts.
If you tuned in on Thursday for the kicker battle, you’re either a liar or a crazy passionate fan. Either way, the plot thickened, as Gonzalez did well in the preseason finale.
Gonzalez beamed a 53-yard no-doubter field goal through the uprights, granting the Browns a double-digit lead in the second half. Gonzalez won the Lou Groza Award at Arizona State, and demonstrated his leg on the lengthy 3-pointer.
However, Gonzalez bonked an extra point off the post in the fourth quarter, showing obvious frustration on a kick that will place doubt in the coaches’ minds.
Cody Parkey earned serious consideration last week with a nice game against the Bucs, but the Browns’ decision will be a tough one.
With that, we finally complete the regular season and finally look forward to real football.