Review– Exhibition Game 4

1.Bambi Meets Godzilla II. If you have never seen this epic film, I encourage you to slide over to YouTube and burn the 90 seconds required. The complete list of Cleveland Browns who started both game 3 (the dress rehearsal, when teams play their regulars like it’s a real game) and game 4 (when everyone gets time off):

  • WR: Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin
  • T: Joe Thoma, Mitchell Schwartz
  • G: Joel Bitonio, John Greco
  • C: Alex Mack
  • QB: Brian Hoyer
  • TE: Jordan Cameron
  • RB: Ben Tate
  • NT Ahtyba Rubin
  • ILB: Karlos Dansby, Craig Robertson
  • OLB, Meowkevious Mingo
  • CB: Justin Gilbert, Leon McFadden
  • S: Tashaun Gibson, Donte Whitner

That’s 18 out of 22 starters. The complete list of changes:

  • FB: MarQueis Gray (game 3) replaced by Ray Agnew (game 4).
  • DE: Phil Taylor (RE against St. Louis) and Armonty Bryant (LE) switched sides against the Bears.
  • LB: Jabaal Sheard replaced Paul Kruger on the strongside.

The starting corners in Pittsburgh will not be Leon McFadden and Justin Gilbert, because Joe Haden (and possibly Buster Skrine) should be back. Otherwise it was your 2014 Browns. (If Desmond Bryant ever returns, he might replace Armonty Bryant).

The complete list of Chicago Bears who started both games 3 and 4:

  • {Crickets}

The only regulars who played were the punter, kicker and long snapper. The only guy who might end up playing much for Chicago was WR Santonio Holmes, whom the Bears signed on August 14th and played so they could see if he had anything that might help..

So if you want to shout Hoodley-DOOOO!!!! and get all warm and fuzzy, be my guest. When I’m watching the #1 team’s pick throw a 27-yard pass to a 12-year veteran (Nate Burleson) against the third string of a defense that tied for 30th in points allowed last year, I’m not going to squeal like a little girl and wet myself the way Jim Donovan did.

2. Sandblasting a cracker. Were you impressed by the way the Browns dominated– how they seemed to wear the Bears down?  They got 29 first downs 445 yards and held the ball for 34:55. Of their 11 drives:

  • 7 ended with a score– an eighth ended with them driving.
  • 6 went for 50 yards or more– a seventh went 42.
  • 3 drives held the ball more than 5 minutes– 2 that did not ended after Cleveland scored a touchdown.

There’s a reason for that. The Browns used 32 different players on offense– the Bears used only 14 defenders– 6 linemen, 3 linebackers and 5 defensive backs.

The Cleveland defense seemed fresh because it used 29 players against the Bears 17 offensive players.

It is true that Chicago coach Marc Trestman doesn’t believe in rotating players. In last season’s 38-31 win, he used only 15 players on offense and 17 players on defense– less than the Browns on both sides of the ball.

It’s still an astonishingly small number. Last week, Jeff Fisher used 36 players on offense and 33 on defense. Most coaches will pull players out just to keep them from overdosing on their own adrenaline. Or, if they have players they need to decide about, they’ll keep rotating them.

Trestman behaved as if he had nothing left to learn about hie roster. Still not impressed with him as a coach. Mike Martz had the same approach– obsessed on the offense and the rest of the team gound pound sand.

3. Fullback sighting. It was good to see that Agnew seems to have taken command, It’s long past time to stop screwing around with Gray. I understand the fascination– they see him as an H-Back (a guy who line up at either fullback or tight end, giving the club immense flexibility). But he was a quarterback in the Big 10 in 2012, a tight end in Norv Turner’s system in 2013 and he looked completely lost in Mike Shanahan”s offense

If the Browns simply play someone who knows how to lead-block on runs and pick up a blitz– as opposed to some guy they’re imagining that they can convert– the offense will be measurably improved. The nice thing about a fullback– especially in the backfiled on passing plays– is that he gives you some room for error.

The way this franchise behaves, you’d think a fullback required a first-round pick. They grow on trees– especially if you don’t expect them to run with the ball or catch many passes. But last year they used Chris Ogbonnaya. The year before Alex Smith.

Before him, Owen Marecic– who could block like a fullback, but couldn’t run, couldn’t catch, committed penalties and turnovers… and missed some blocks. He’s best known for (a) being part payment for Julio Jones and (b) not being on the field when Pat Shurmur called a fullback run. You have to go back to Lawrence Vickers in 2010 to have one.

4. My Wild Guess. I haven’t seen it reported, but I’m going to guess Kyle Shanahan scripted the first drive. The Browns looked more poised and confident than they have all pre-season. They were getting the plays off faster; everyone seemed to know what he was doing. Plus, his dad used to do it– a trick he learned from his days with the 49ers.

5. The Rex Grossman era begins {SIGH…} I’ve been trying to think of ways to describe how bad Grossman is to people who never say him play. But the game provided the best example. Grossman has been working in this offense, under Kyle Shanahan since 2009– in 2009 with Houston, and in Washington from 2010-13. He was playing against scrubs– with players who have started for NFL teams. Yet he threw 5 whole passes (completing 4, for 80 yards and a 135.4 rating) before he turned back into the Rex Grossman fans know and loathe.

And now he’s been cut– even though the odds are (given Hoyer’s knees and Johnny Football’s erratic play) the Browns will need a third QB. I assume Cleveland figures nobody else will be crazy enough to pick him up. Probably a safe assumption.

It’s impossible to explain how bad a player Grossman is. The one season the Bears won with him was the year Devin Hester scored 5 TDs on kick returns– and another on a blocked field goal– while Ron Rivera’s defense scored 3 more. Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson both ran the ball well, so the Bears could run 503 times and throw only 514 The Bears forced more turnovers (44) than anyone else, so despite Grossman’s 8 fumbles and 20 intercept,ions (against only 23 passing TDs) they went 13-3.

Given the way Hoyer and Johnny Football looked, he’ll probably end up playing at some point this season, This does not bode well for the Browns.

6 Johnny Jamboogie’s rough night. Not being a college football fan, I have no idea what happened. After a perfect throw to Gary Barnidge (who demonstrated why my nickname for him is “Clank”), he threw only 5 more passes that were decent (on one throw WIllie Snead helped him).

The scramble and 27-yard throw to Burleson on the busted play was offset by a bunch of bizarre decisions. On three occasions, re ran toward the pursuit– not away from it.

And people want to see him play against Pittsburgh? Seriouisly?

7.  The Dream Team: Connor Shaw, Isaiah Crowell and Taylor Gabriel. Paul Zimmerman, who produced the best NFL coverage in history, once wrote a column after the NFL career of Clint Longley (who won a game for the Cowboys in dramatic circumstances) ended. He said the path to a Cinderella story had three stages:

  1. Have a good game.
  2. Have one after you’d raised the fans’ expectations.
  3. Have one when opponents were trying to stop you.

Brian Sipe is an example of a player who went all the way. Kelly Holcomb is a guy who reached step 2 and then faltered. These there guys represent different levels of decisions:

Gabriel: Well, of course he makes the club. He caught 10 passes for 128 yards (do I need to divide that for anyone?) on 13 targets in four games. He’s the only guy who’s looked good four times.

He’s 5’8″ and 167 pounds, so the odds of him being special (or even surviving a season) are pretty low. Travis Benjamin (who’s missed 10 games in two years) is 5’10” and 174. Still, if you’re going to keep six receivers… Miles Austin, Nate Burleson, Andrew Hawkins, Benjamin… then it’s him, Marlon Moore, Charles Johnson and Willie Snead

Snead is the only one who did anything– plus Gabriel can return kicks.

Shaw: The hero of the Washington game didn’t play at all against St. Louis and didn’t throw a pass against the Bears. That’s usually a sign that the team hopes to cut you and sneak you onto the practice squad– so they don’t want you doing anything else that might make opponents notice.

Of course it does mean that all the arguments for him begin and end with his play in garbage time of game 2, against the third string defense of a team that went .

He could turn into Brian Sipe, but there is absolutely no reason to believe he will.I’d prefer to see him play than Rex Grossman, because he has some chance to succeed… but that’s the faintest praise imaginable.

Crowell: Sorry, but I’m not climbing on this bandwagon. The list of alternatives to him were:

  1. Ben Tate: The only back who’s ever done anything in the NFL; he’s gone 22-89-1 in pre-season
  2. Terrance West: The #3 pick and phenomenally productive in college. But he wasn’t in the BCS division, and he’s played miserably: 31-83 (2.7 yards), no scores and a fumble. If he weren’t the #3 pick, you’d cut him based on how badly he;s played.
  3. Dion Lewis: People talk about him like he’s a proven veteran, but his career totals are 36 rushes for 171 yards and 2 scores, and 3 catches for 21 yards. He had 12 carries for 30 yards; 5 catches for 16 yards.
  4. Chris Ogbonnaya: Whose career totals in Cleveland are
    1. 130 carries for 604 yards (4.6 a carry) and 1 TD rushing
    2. 95 catches for 695 yards (7.3 a catch) and 2 scores receiving.and 

I have no problem putting Crowell on the team over Lewis, I can even justify choosing him over Ogbonnaya, whom we know isn’t going to going to dazzle the league.

But let’s get real here. he got 2 carries for 3 yards against Washington– then 13 carries for 102 yards and a score.The Bears were dead last in rushing average last year, and he played against the scrubs.

He has ability– he also lacks character. Crowell failed a drug test at Georgia and got charged with two felony counts of possession of a firearm. Armonty Bryant made it past his mistakes… but Puff Gordon didn’t. 

The thing that’s depressing is that people even noticed Crowell. Had Tate or West performed as the Browns had hoped, people would be talking about them. But Crowell is the only guy who looked even mildly exciting

8. Ray Farmer and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Draft. That’s not what I think of the draft– it’s the title of a wonderful children’s book by Judith Viorst. But it’s disturbingly close to how the six players the Browns chose played. There are maybe two players in this crop so far:

  • The #1 pick, CB Justin Gilbert, showed some coverage skills, but he was giving huge cushions and didn’t tackle. He could put it all together very quickly, but the decision to pass up Sammy Watkins or Khalil Mack looks like a colossal mistake,
  • Johnny Jamboogie has made a few good plays– and  might have looked better with help from the receivers. But his rating (76.7) is an accurate assessment of his play. 80.0 is average. What he’s done effectively is scramble.
  • Terrance West looked so awful that if he weren’t the #3 pick, he would have been cut. Pierre Desir got lit up, and didn’t tackle. He also made it based on his draft status, not his play.

G Joel Bitonio has looked productive. LB Chris Kirksey has run all over the field, playing good pass defense and wretched run defense. He’s also small. But I’m not impressed by high-motor guys in pre-season… there isn’t anything you can say about Kirksey that you couldn’t say about Craig Robertson, James-Michael Johnson or Emmanuel Acho. 

All these guys have ability, and you could see any or all of them put things together quickly– or make continuing progress and look a lot better by the end of the year. Doesn’t look good now, though.

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