Sorry this post is so late. My brother-in-law was in town this past weekend, so I didn’t get a chance to watch the Browns last preseason game until he flew back to Denver yesterday. I did, however, make that Broncos fan sit through a Buckeyes game on Saturday and an Indians game on Sunday, so all in all it wasn’t a bad sports weekend. 🙂
Anyway, here were my thoughts about the game…
I was relieved by the defensive play. It looked much more settled in than during the third preseason game. I can honestly say I am entering the season confident in our strategy and our depth. A few people in particular stood out to me during the game:
1. Chris Kirksey just continues to impress each week. He is such a natural tackler, always taking the right angle and coming into the tackle with great momentum, that he really doesn’t look like a rookie at all. What a great addition to this defense during the draft.
2. Jim Leonhard might be old in football years, but he still has some juice left in the tank. I know we brought him in because he’s a veteran in Pettine’s system, but in the last two games he managed to intercept one pass and bat down another. I legitimately like him as our backup strong safety.
3. Justin Gilbert still isn’t ready to start. He plays off his man too far, missing easy tackles, which led to a big Santonio Holmes touchdown on Thursday night. There’s a lot of talent there, but it still needs developed and honed. All in all, I really hope Buster Skrine is ready to start on Sunday.
The offense looked better. Not perfect, but better. And that was a relief. There are definitely still problems—The Browns without Josh Gordon are a weak receiving team. There’s just no getting around that. But on Thursday the Browns showed just how much their run game has improved since last season, and here’s a clue: the difference can only be measured in light years. Ben Tate is a solid veteran back who looks confident and comfortable in OC Kyle Shanahan’s zone block scheme. And while he did fumble the ball once, rookie Terrance West continues to show that he can be a real battering ram, especially on short downs. But it was Isaiah Crowell that had the breakout evening, with 13 carries for 103 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown run. It should be noted that Crowell’s running was helped by great blocking by another undrafted free agent rookie, FB Ray Agnew. Between the two of them, Crowell and Agnew may end up being the best proof of Ray Farmer’s offseason genius… only time will tell.
On another note, only time will tell whether Johnny Manziel will continue to improve. He made some smarter decisions on Thursday, with some efficient sliding on run plays that likely made RGIII jealous. He flashed that Johnny Manziel brilliance once or twice too, and it was very exciting. But he also threw some very, very inaccurate passes and turned over the ball once on a fumble. Moreover, he would have had two turnovers, but the Browns got one back on a penalty by the Bears. Overall, he looked like an inconsistent rookie with a lot of potential. For now, I’ll be glad to see him on the bench learning from the vets.
Brian Hoyer, on the other hand, came out for the first offensive series of the game and reminded everyone (FINALLY) why he’s the Browns starter. That first drive on Thursday with Hoyer at the helm wasn’t flashy. But Hoyer went 6 of 8 for 69 passing yards, and the 85-yard drive was capped off with a touchdown run by Tate. I don’t know about the rest of you Browns fans, but I will take “boring” (aka clinical, run heavy) offense every Sunday if it means more wins.
I suppose I should mention that Billy Cundiff had a great night. He went 4 of 4 on field goals, including a nice 47-yarder. I guess I promise to stop comparing him to Phil Dawson for the foreseeable future.
Also… HEADS UP… The Browns finalized their roster for Sunday and their practice squad today, so stay tuned for a post on that later…