What mattered most about the Browns preseason game against the Saints–winning–might seem like it should have mattered the least. After all, preseason wins don’t count. But the Browns are still an extremely young team that lost 15 games last season, so the confidence that comes from winning matters.
Let’s look at who in particular should be feeling confident going into tonight’s game against the Giants:
Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey make up the undisputed core of the Browns linebacker group heading into this season, and their tenacity and talent were on full display against the Saints. While Tank Carder started at the middle linebacker position, however, it was Joe Schobert who stole the show. Back in his comfort zone playing the Mike linebacker in DC Gregg Williams’ 4-3 scheme, Schobert flew around making tackles, tipping a pass, and getting a sack. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Schobert earn the starting role this season if he keeps up the good work.
But it wasn’t just Schobert. The entire Browns defense looked like an upgrade over last season, both in talent and attitude. While the run defense still gave up some big plays, it looked improved, especially by the contributions of rookie Myles Garrett and a reinvigorated Nate Orchard. The pressure in the backfield, both against the run and the pass, came from multiple sources including Orchard, Schobert, Trevon Coley, Trey Caldwell, Ladell Fleming, and on my favorite play of the game–Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Boddy-Calhoun was responsible for several big tackles, but my favorite came on 4th and goal, preventing a touchdown and returning the ball to the Browns offense. It was an excellent example of the Browns much-improved goal-line defense, and it was the type of hard-nosed playmaking we should expect from a defense led by Gregg Williams.
The most exciting addition to the Browns offense since last season appeared to be rookie QB DeShone Kizer, who threw two huge, beautiful passes–one for a touchdown–and showed good pocket awareness and poise in his first NFL game. Despite the exciting outing for the rookie, I would urge cautious optimism by Browns fans: Kizer was playing against the Saints’ third and fourth string defenders, and there were still some decisions and passes I’m sure he would like to have back. It will be interesting to see how he performs with the second-string offense against the Giants.
Kizer, however, wasn’t the only offensive bright spot. WR Ricardo Louis looks like he’s made a jump from last season, with improved route running and ability to hang onto the ball. Richard Mullaney, the second year player out of Alabama who entered the NFL undrafted and has already bounced from the Texans to the Cowboys to the Browns, had 70 receiving yards against the Saints, including a 52-yard touchdown reception. And Matthew Dayes, the second to last player taken in the 2017 draft, looked like a great addition to the Browns’ already talented RB corps, scoring his first NFL touchdown.
Yes, the young players looked good, but I was disappointed in some veterans: WR Kenny Britt failed to haul in a touchdown pass after multiple decent attempts by Osweiler to get it to him in the endzone. Cam Erving (playing LT for Joe Thomas) still struggled both in run blocking and pass protection, in addition to racking up several penalties. Brock Osweiler was underwhelming, but you have to ask how much his lack of chemistry with the first-string receivers contributed to that situation. I am excited to see if another week working together in practice helped.
Overall, it looked like the Browns improved during the offseason. And even though preseason wins don’t count, they are nice–both for the players and the fans. Let’s see if they can get another one against the Giants.