The Cleveland Browns opened up the 2015 preseason with a 20-17 loss to the Washington Redskins on Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium. Things weren’t all doom and gloom from the ‘dawg pound.’ There were some very encouraging things to take away from this game, but there is still plenty to work on as the Browns get ready for the regular season.
Josh McCown only played one series but he certainly made quite a first impression to Browns fans. McCown was a perfect five of five for 33 yards and a touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin. The scoring drive was aided by a defensive pass interference penalty but getting in the end zone is what McCown wanted to do.
“Flip (offensive coordinator John DeFilippo) called an excellent game,” McCown said. “He had a great gameplan and we thought at walkthrough and the things we talked about were just with a new coordinator you don’t know exactly what they are going to do. To come out and just worry about us and how we execute things, I was really proud of that of our guys. Everybody just went about our business the way we have throughout training camp, and we were able to move the ball down the field and score.”
“He took what he’s done in the meeting room, the practice field and he took it to the game field,” head coach Mike Pettine said. “He was poised, focused. He was into it. Even after that series, the whole rest of the game, he had the ear piece in, he knew the call, taking the mental reps on the sideline. He just showed tonight that he’s the ultimate professional”
Johnny Manziel replaced McCown and showed some good things in his first game of year number two. Manziel went seven of eleven for 42 yards and also had a 12-yard touchdown run in the secomd quarter. What impressed me about Manziel’s performance was his decision making. The best example was on an incomplete pass. Manziel would get outside to the left as he was nearing the sidelines and not seeing a receiver open, Manziel threw the ball out of bounds where last year he may have run out of bounds for a loss on the play. Manziel also got rid of the ball quickly on a couple of throws which was something that didn’t happen as much in 2014. These are small steps but it’s an improvement over last year.
“It’s way different. This isn’t my first rodeo like it was last year,” Manziel said. “It was a little bit of a whirlwind last year. I don’t want to forget about the first game against Detroit (last year), but it felt a little slower, I felt a little more comfortable and I did some good things. I want to improve and make some more out of those drives. I don’t think we were very good on third down. It was the first one and we have got a lot of ground to build on from here. I think it was good.”
In my observation, Connor Shaw and Thad Lewis didn’t do enough to move ahead of Manziel for the backup quarterback job. Shaw may have thrown for the most yards in the game, but he was only five of ten passing. Lewis wasn’t sharp late in the game and missed wide receiver Vince Mayle which resulted in an interception to all but end the Browns chances for a come from behind victory.
The defense was so so against the Redskins. While they were a little bit better against the run, they still allowed a big play to Alfred Morris which kept a Redskins scoring drive alive. Justin Gilbert who started for Joe Haden, who was held out of the game, didn’t get off to a good start as he was beaten badly by former Mount Union Purple Raider Pierre Garcon. Lucky for Gilbert, Garcon dropped the deep pass from Robert Griffin III or it would have been as easy touchdown.
Even after just one preseason game there is no doubt in my mind the Browns made the right selection in Danny Shelton. While he may have only been credited with one tackle, Shelton made a big impact on the defense. Shelton was getting good penetration in the pass rush and was plugging up some running lanes against Morris early on in the game. Plus you have to like it when Shelton wears a lava lava during pregame warmups. It appears to be the new fashion trend for members of the Browns.
If the Browns want to be a running team then Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West have to be better then they were on Thursday night. They combined for just 16 yards on eight carries. A two yard per carry average is awful at any level of football, especially in the National Football League. Performances like that aren’t going to make the Ray Rice talk go away anytime soon.
“I think it is premature to talk about that,” Pettine said. We are comfortable with where our room is. We just want to get those guys back and see what we have. I know a lot of people have ‘connected the dots’ given his circumstances and ours, but it is too early to talk about it. We have a plan. It is a long preseason. Obviously, Terrance coming off the injury and Crow probably having too heavy a load at practice, I am not going to hit the panic button after the first preseason game about our run game. We will be fine.”
Brian Hartline looks like a terrific addition to the Browns receiving core. The Canton native and former Ohio State Buckeye caught three passes for 30 yards in his limited minutes. I can’t wait to see him with a healthy Dwayne Bowe in this offense.
“It was special. I think it is special for the 2015 Browns, and on a personal note, it was special for me,” Hartline said. “It was a great honor and privilege to be out here in front of these fans. You can feel the passion. We are excited for this year.”
The Browns decided to hold all pro left tackle Joe Thomas out of the game following his leg injury suffered on Monday. Rookie Cameron Erving made the start in Thomas’ place and played a majority of the game. Erving’s versatility made him an ideal candidate to replace Thomas. Erving did get called for a holding penalty but it was a good debut for the Browns other first round pick.
“I keep an open mind to a lot of things,” Erving said. “I feel like it’s making me a better player, being able to change my mindset from being a right guard to a left tackle. It’s been pretty good. I haven’t really had any big setbacks as far as going and doing or as far as knowing what’s going on, but I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job. It felt good. I can kind of relate it back to when I was in college, when you play that first game, no matter who it is. It was fun. I had a great time. It’s been something that I’ve dreamed of for a long time so just being able to suit up in a Browns uniform, it’s like a dream come true.”
The Browns came away relatively healthy. Only wide receiver Marlon Moore left the game early with a rib injury. Pettine was both pleased and a bit disappointed with his team’s performance.
“I thought we did some good things,” Pettine said. “Some sloppiness late in the game. I was pleased we didn’t have our first penalty, I think, it was early in the fourth quarter, ended up with three for the game. Also, it just a credit to some of the guys that got extended [reps] because the injuries we have. It was tough having 18 guys not dressing. I thought we had some guys that took probably more snaps than they should have, and they battled through it. It was good some coaching moments that come out of it, and hopefully, we can gain some momentum from this moving forward.”
The Browns will return to practice on Saturday in Berea. Sunday they leave for St. John Fisher college in Rochester, New York for two days of practice against the Buffalo Bills. The Bills then come to Cleveland for preseason game number two next Thursday.