The Cleveland Browns hosted the Buffalo Bills in week two of the 2015 NFL preseason on Thursday night in front of a national television audience on ESPN. I’m not sure what the people in television land witnessed because I have not watched the game broadcast yet. What I observed from the front row behind the west end at FirstEnergy Stadium for the most part I did not like. While I will not reveal my Cleveland Browns season prediction for a couple of weeks yet, the numbers I have in mind are starting to look pretty realistic based on what I have seen so far this preseason.
If this game doesn’t describe the meaning of a preseason game then nothing will. Just take a look at the final score, 11-10. How often do you see a team in the NFL win a game by only scoring 11 points. By the way if you are reading this and didn’t watch the game, Buffalo beat Cleveland 11-10.
“Did some good things, did some bad,” Browns head coach Mike Pettine said. “Didn’t make enough plays at the end, was disappointing.”
“I was talking to (Head Coach Mike) Pettine and I said somebody was going to hit a three-run homer to win that thing, and we did,” Bills head coach Rex Ryan said. “We’ll take it. It’s great to be on the winning end of it.”
This was one ugly game to watch no matter if you in the comfort of a recliner chair in front of a television or in the seats at FirstEnergy Stadium. Everyone involved with the game on the field are clearly still in preseason mode. That even includes referee Clete Blakeman who had trouble with his microphone so we had to read his lips when he was making a call.
This was a snoozer of a game in the first half. The teams went into halftime tied at 3. The score remained 3-3 heading into the fourth quarter. I remember when these teams battled back in the 2009 season. The final score was 6-3 Browns that day. I was really starting to think that might be the final of Thursday’s game. It was close, but at least both teams found the end zone in the final quarter.
Johnny Manziel capped off an eleven play 96 yard drive with a beautiful pass to Cleveland native Shane Wynn for a 21-yard touchdown giving the Browns a 10-3 lead with 9:59 remaining in the game. E.J Manuel would answer Manziel with under two minutes left. On fourth down and goal from the 14, Manuel hits Andre Davis in the end zone. Bills go for two and Manuel hits Bronson Hill for the conversion to give Buffalo the lead and ultimately the win.
Manziel had another good game on Thursday night. Manziel was 10 of 18 for 118 yards and a touchdown with 19 yards rushing on three carries as well. For a second straight preseason game, Manziel’s decision making was better, a sign that he is continuing to grow in his second season. Let’s not forget that Manziel was playing against second, third and fourth string players and not the guys who made the Bills one of the best defenses in the NFL last season.
“Yeah, I think a 96-yard drive is better than the 30-yard drive we had last week so that was better,” Manziel said. “I felt like things were slowing down still. I was able to make some protection calls and get our guys lined up. I think we played a little bit faster. I think we opened up our playbook a little bit more and to do that and not have a lot of bust not have a lot of miscommunication, I think that’s a positive sign, especially for some of the young guys.”
As for the starting quarterback, Josh McCown, his performance was not good at all. McCown who played the entire first half was just seven of ten for 57 yards with a pair of interceptions, on throws that should not have been made.
“Not good, not good,” McCown said.. “Two turnovers, felt like other than that, other than those two plays, threw the ball well and did the things I wanted to do with the football but those two plays. Can’t have turnovers. Outside of the pocket, especially one of the things, and I’m glad it happens in preseason ball is we see in the league, pin these guys deep so we have a third-and-long at midfield and got outside and just tried to make a play, tried to keep that drive going and fit one in there to (TE) Gary (Barnidge) and the ball gets knocked up in the air and turned over. Throw that one out of bounds, let (P) Andy (Lee) pin them deep and let our defense go to work so we’ll move on from that one. Obviously, not the standard I want to play at, but inevitably in this game, there is adversity and you’re going to have things that happen, mistakes. I thought as a group we responded well, got down there and got three points so that was good, but certainly not the standard of where we want to be.”
The running game was a little bit better than in week one against Washington, but it’s still a concern especially if the Browns want to be a running team when the season gets underway for real. Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell both recorded a run of over 10 yards, but their combined total of 56 yards on eleven carries is still not going to get the job done.
The starters in general were not great on both sides of the ball. The offensive line had their problems against the very talented Bills defensive line. One play that stood out to me was on a Marcel Dareus sack of McCown. Alex Mack got beat badly by the Bills nose tackle and there was nothing McCown could do but take the sack.
The defense had some issues getting off the field on third down early on. The Bills would march down the field on the opening drive of the game and use over nine minutes of the opening quarter. Lucky for the Browns, Buffalo’s kicker Dan Carpenter hit the right upright on a 46-yard field goal attempt and the Bills come away with no points on that drive. Pettine wasn’t too pleased with the performance of his starters
“Just OK. We flashed some things but disappointing,” Pettine said. “We should have been three-and-out on defense and had a major technique error on the first third down that extended that drive. Just a lot of near misses. This is a game of little details, and I don’t know if in the first half we were detail oriented enough. To me, it’s going to be good tape, lots of good defense. We’d like to think that these are going to be, at the end of the year, two of the better defenses. We knew points were going to be at a premium. You have to make sure you’re dialed in, alignment assignment.”
Four guys who really played well for the Browns on Thursday night were Manziel, Shane Wynn, Xavier Cooper and Paul Kruger. Along with catching his first NFL touchdown in the fourth quarter, Wynn also had a terrific punt return late in the game that could have clinched a win for the Browns. Too bad it was called back on a penalty during the return. The Browns would have to start that next possession on their own 14 yard line instead of at the Bills 14 yard line.
Kruger would get a game ball from me if I had one to give out. Kruger was terrific with five tackles, three of them solo, two tackles for loss and a sack. Cooper was also terrific during his playing time in the second half. Cooper recorded a pair of sacks of Manuel, one of them when he came in completely unblocked. I don’t think the rookie will get an easier sack in his NFL career than that one.
“I thought we had moments where we played extremely sound, especially against the run,” Kruger said. “Being able to put it together on third down, and especially third and long. It’s nice to have a couple plays when you can just put it to bed and end the drive. To have those third downs converted on us was frustrating, but it’s good for us. That’s what these games are for – making strides and seeing where we need to improve. It’s going to be really valuable to see where teams are able to take advantage of us and really just try to make that effort in the next couple weeks to correct those.”
“Coach Jimmy (defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil) always says, ‘Don’t try to force anything, the play is going to come to you.’ I’m just playing my position,” Cooper said. “I’m just landing in the right spot at the right time.”
Cooper may have been in the right spot but as a whole, the Browns are not as they fall to 0-2 on the preseason. There is plenty that needs worked on before the dress rehearsal for the regular season on August 29 in Tampa Bay against top overall pick Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers. Hopefully the Browns will get some of their injured players like Joe Haden, Terrelle Pryor and Dwayne Bowe back on the field for that game as they have nine days to prepare.