The Cleveland Browns rebounded on Thursday night to post their second victory of the preseason, a 5-0 defeat of the Philadelphia Eagles.
The score may indicate otherwise, but it was far from a boring night at FirstEnergy Stadium, although it did leave the club and its fans with some questions just a little more than two weeks away from the season opener.
Here are three quick takeaways from the game.
The defense is evolving into something special
The Browns are starting to see the payoff of a young group of players performing in the same defensive system for the second consecutive year.
Defensive end Myles Garrett was unstoppable as he spent almost as much time in the Philadelphia backfield as starting quarterback Nick Foles. Garrett had two sacks and helped contribute to one of the four turnovers the Eagles committed on the night.
The defensive front seven remains extremely energetic and are going to be a handful for opposing offenses this fall. The secondary, even though it was missing starting safety Damarious Randall for the entire game and starting cornerback Denzel Ward for most of it (more in him in a moment), also got in on the fun, helping to limit the Eagles to 162 passing yards and picking up an interception from Briean Boddy-Calhoun.
The turnovers are something the team has been emphasizing, Boddy-Calhoun told clevelandbrowns.com:
“If you want to win in this game, you have got to take the ball away and keep them in check on offense. Every single day in practice we emphasize this. In the secondary, we try to get at least two to three (turnovers) a day, so we know that the key to winning is taking the ball away.”
It may have only been a preseason game, but this defense is finally going to be fun to watch this season.
The offense was out-of-sync
It may have just been one of those nights, or it could be a sign that the situation is not as optimistic as wide receiver Jarvis Landry believes, but the Browns offense just looked off all night long.
At first glance the running game looked to be decent as Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb combined to rush for 91 yards and average 4.3 yards per carry.
But 33 of Hyde’s 45 yards came on one carry, as did 21 of Chubb’s 46 yards. Now those obviously count, but take away those two runs and Hyde and Chubb combined to rush for just 37 yards on their other 19 combined carries.
The passing game was not much better, as Landry finished with just three receptions on 10 targets, and the quarterback trio of Tyrod Taylor, Baker Mayfield and Drew Stanton combined for just 120 passing yards while taking four sacks.
Complicating matters was Taylor injuring his left (non-throwing) wrist when he landed on it awkwardly. He missed two offensive series before returning to the game, but never seemed right.
Which calls into question why the Browns put him back in the game, especially sine Taylor on the sidelines gave Mayfield some unplanned playing time with starting offense.
Which also leads us to our final takeaway.
Ward leaving the game after the opening series with a back injury and Taylor doing something to his wrist are the top-of-mind problems for the Browns right now.
But the team dodged a couple of major bullets when right tackle Chris Hubbard missed a few plays after having a player roll up the back of his leg. Likewise, Mayfield could have been seriously hurt when his head bounced off the leg of left tackle Shon Coleman on a sack.
Luckily that was not the case, as Hubbard returned and Mayfield is reportedly going to be fine.
The team won’t know for sure about Ward and Taylor until further tests are done, but it would not be a complete surprise if one or both of them are out for at least a little while.
In Taylor’s case that is a problem as the last two games have shown the offense is nowhere near being one that looks ready for the regular season. And that puts head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator in a bind with next week’s final preseason game.
Normally the starters would sit out the game, but since they still need work, especially on offense the temptation will be strong to put them out for a few series against the Detroit Lions.
But that also puts them at risk for injury, and as good as the Browns have looked at times through the preseason, it has also become clear that their is a pretty significant drop off at some positions once the starters are on the sidelines.
It is a big decision for Jackson, one that could have ramifications once the regular season comes around.