Football is finally back! As another year is beginning, I would like to give a shoutout to all the Cleveland Browns fans out there and ensure them that this year is finally their year. I promise you. They wouldn’t let you down again. This is it. I swear.
I’ve found that every time I make predictions in the preseason, they usually end up being proved wrong many, many times. We all know how it turns out. That being said, I do have some thoughts after watching the game and I think, as always, there were some notable positives and negatives. Here I discuss my five biggest takes from the Cleveland Browns first preseason game against the New York Giants Thursday.
1. Finally! Cleveland may have found some QBs
Cleveland’s quarterbacks shined in Thursday’s game. Tyrod Taylor looked more comfortable at the helm than any player in recent memory. Though he only played two drives, he was poised, confident, and appeared to be a natural fit in the Browns system. Taylor finished his playing time completing 5 of 5 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. While Taylor certainly looked like an experienced veteran, #1 overall draft pick Baker Mayfield definitely didn’t look like a rookie. While I admittedly was disappointed with the pick, Mayfield has worked hard and proved he has what it takes to play in the NFL. Mayfield played through the 3rd quarter and completed 11 of 20 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns.
Mayfield certainly did better than I personally expected and I hope he continues to develop and improve. That being said, I still firmly believe quarterbacks should not start their rookie season unless absolutely necessary. With the Browns history of throwing quarterbacks to the wolves and hindering their development, I certainly hope the team allows him to progress and learn under the tutelage of Taylor. Letting Taylor command the team this year and further working with Mayfield will help the team in the short- and long-term.
2. Penalties: Beating a dead horse
I would just like to apologize. Every year I say the Browns need to limit their penalties. It is a constant complaint of mine and yet, the team never seems to hear my advice. I don’t know. Again, I know it’s the preseason where more penalties are expected, but the team never seems to work those out for the regular season. Too many drives are hindered on offense or extended on defense due to a complete lack of discipline and dumb mistakes. The Browns started off the game with two unsportsmanlike penalties (for taunting) to start the game, one of which allowed for a Giants field goal. Cleveland amassed 141 penalty yards on 13 penalties. That is simply unacceptable. Penalties may not have as much impact on a game like turnovers do, but they certainly have a large impact when a team is penalized as much as the Browns.
3. Speaking of which…
The Browns need to be able to limit turnovers in order to win games. Several of the Browns games last year were lost by 10 points or less. Not having turnovers and allowing the opposing team to turn those mistakes into points could have prevented a winless 2017 season. The team did fairly well with this and didn’t turnover the ball in the first half. However, a muffed punt in the third quarter gave the Giants the ball in Cleveland territory. This lead to a touchdown and Cleveland’s lead was reduced to 13-10. While it may not be terrible in the preseason, these are the kind of mistakes that can swing the momentum of games into the opposition’s favor. It is imperative that the team works to reduce these mistakes to ensure they hold on to games and win games they are meant to win.
4. On the defense
The Browns defensive backs certainly showed they are the biggest weakness on the team’s defense. They played deep coverage most of the game and the Giants were able to get some longer passes on them. Overall, they didn’t look that strong in coverage and had trouble tackling receivers in time. On a brighter note, save for a couple of long runs between the tackles, the Browns front seven did a superb job of shutting down the Giants run game. Their young defensive line and linebackers seem to be developing well and are a strong asset to the team. I continue looking forward to watching the likes of Myles Garrett, Emmanuel Ogbah, Christian Kirksey, and others have a huge impact on games and be a solid wall in shutting down the run game and getting sacks.
5. Passing succeeded, running struggled
The receiving corps worked well with the quarterbacks and were able to show they have what it takes to make big plays for the offense. I am excited for tight end David Njoku (2 receptions, 46 yards, 2 touchdowns) to continue getting better and I think this will be a breakthrough year for him if the team utilizes him the way they should. Additionally, until the future of Josh Gordon is determined, Jarvis Landry is the primary standout veteran on the receiving end. Not only did he do well, contributing 2 receptions for 36 yards, but his young counterparts stood out as well especially Rashard Higgins, who had 4 receptions for 66 yards, and Antonio Callaway, who managed to catch 3 receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown.
While the young receivers looked promising, the Browns running game was sub-par. One thing Hue Jackson has wanted to do since arriving in Cleveland is run the ball well and he has not really been able to do that well as a whole. As a team, the Browns only managed to gain 50 yards on the ground in 33 attempts against the Giants. That’s an average of 1.5 yards a carry, which is far-below average, or what I would consider “piss-poor.” The running back group seemingly has a decent amount of talent with both veterans and young guys, but that failed to be evident in Thursday’s game. Cleveland will definitely have to get their ground game up and running if they want to achieve a more balanced attack in their offense.