I know most fans disregard the preseason as nonsense and many don’t give much credence to how teams perform. Yet, there are others, like myself, who have been starving for football for so long they will take anything they can get. Additionally, while the preseason may not be the most memorable time of the year and games may not in fact matter all that much, they still provide knowledge into a particular team. While the preseason may not be a useful tool for projecting the upcoming season on a macro-scale, it does provide insight as to more specific aspects of the game. Here are my five biggest takeaways from the Cleveland Browns first preseason game against the New Orleans Saints Thursday night.
P.S. Hue Jackson won his first preseason game as a head coach in Cleveland, 20-14. That’s promising, right?
1. Quarterback Spot Far from Clear-Cut
While I initially stated Cody Kessler deserved to be starter heading into camp, I understand how a veteran (with a high salary) gets the starting job heading into the preseason. Brock Osweiler played very well in this game; but so did Kessler and DeShone Kizer. This game shows that the starting job at the quarterback position is not clear cut like it was last year.
Last season, it was fairly obvious from the get-go that Robert Griffin III was going to be the starting quarterback. Kessler, after all, ran out of the endzone for a safety in his first preseason game. However, Kessler has improved greatly since then and the experience he gained throughout the year is palpable. Against the Saints, each quarterback showed their ability to evade impending defenders and escape the pocket when need be. Additionally, they showed the ability to make good passes down the field.
While Kizer’s stats make it look like there is a clear choice, he had a couple of long passes down the field that definitely helped his stats. Each quarterback had their moments where they didn’t set their feet or made a bad decision, but they all looked capable of earning the starting position. If tonight is any indication for what remains of the preseason, there won’t be a definitive starter at the position until Week 1.
Stats: Brock Osweiler- 6-14, 42 yards; Cody Kessler- 5-10 yards, 47 yards; DeShone Kizer- 11-18, 141 yards, TD
2. Looking Forward to More Myles Garrett
I was most hyped to see Myles Garrett play. I have been consistently hearing about his potential to be elite and how much he has been impressing coaches during training camp. Garrett had a good first game and he did well getting off the line. He showed his tremendous speed in a play where he pressured Saints’ quarterback Garrett Grayson late in the first quarter. While Garrett wasn’t necessarily awe-inspiring, he had a sufficient game. I look forward to him getting better as the preseason goes along and I don’t think there is any inclination of him reverting to a lower level. He has an uphill trajectory and I look for him to continue on that path.
Stats: 1 Solo Tackle, 1 Tackle for Loss, 1 Quarterback hit
3. Hey Guys, Penalties Are Bad
I honestly can’t remember watching the Browns where penalties weren’t a major hindrance to the team’s success. This year appears to be no different. If anyone can remember a time in recent history where they weren’t flag-happy, please comment. But in all seriousness, it seems that Cleveland is never disciplined enough to avoid critical penalties.
Compared to the rest of the league, the Browns actually didn’t do that bad with penalties last year. They had the sixth least amount of penalties in 2016: 95 penalties for 736 yards. But it just feels like the penalties they do get always occur at the worst possible time.
I know it’s the preseason. I know that’s one of the things that typically—and hopefully—gets worked out by the end of the preseason. Yet, it never seems to fully work its way out in Cleveland. Maybe this year can be different. But after tonight’s game, it appears the Browns could still be hurt by penalties in crucial moments.
Stats: 12 penalties for 72 yards
4. Young Talented Receivers Need To Catch The Ball
The Browns have a lot of young talent at the wide receiver position, but too many seemingly good passes went incomplete. While the receivers did manage to make some good receptions throughout the game, there were too many passes left out there to be completed. Hopefully, this can improve as training camp goes on. There is so much talent at the position, it will be a competitive free-for-all as to who will make the final roster cuts. Richard Mullaney, Josh Boyce and Rannell Hall all made some nice places throughout the game, but they all dropped or missed some nicely thrown passes that should have been caught.
Stats: Richard Mullaney- 2 receptions, 70 yards; Jordan Payton– 1 reception, 45 yards, TD; Josh Boyce- 2 receptions, 35 yards; Rannell Hall-2 receptions, 34 yards; Team-22 receptions, 41 targets.
5. Defense Is better—Especially In The redzone!
The Browns struggled defensively last year. While there is a lot of talent on defense, most of the issues can be attributed to the team’s youth and lack of experience. The Brown have even more talent this year and with players like Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib having a year of experience under their belt, I think the defense will only continue to get better as the year(s) go on.
The Browns did alright defensively as there were times they held the Saints to minimum yardage on multiple drives. Then there were other times that the defense allowed New Orleans to march right down the field and into scoring range. However, Cleveland was most impressive in their staunch defense on their own side of the field, including the red zone.
Cleveland stopped two Saints drives and held them to field goals and did not allow any fourth down conversions in the game. While they let the team drive down the field a few times and did allow a touchdown and two-point conversion, the defense seemed to step up their game when they had their heels on the goal line. If they can continue to hold their ground while in the redzone, I look for Cleveland’s defense to surprise a lot of people as well as help the team win some games.
Also, I have to point out how impressive Briean Boddy-Calhoun looked in tonight’s game. He was all over the field and appeared poised to be a contributor if he keeps up this level of play. He finished the game with 4 total tackles (3 solo) including 2 key tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Additionally, Cleveland won the turnover battle which is not something they were able to do that often in recent years. The Browns managed to record zero turnovers while forcing two turnovers from the Saints.
Saints Stats: Redzone Scoring- 1-3; 4th Down Conversions: 0-2; Sacks Allowed- 5-25 yards; Tackles for loss allowed- 7
Next preseason game: New York Giants at Cleveland Browns on August 21 (ESPN) at 8 P.M.