Review– Exhibition Game 1 (Washington)

Opening Statement

Can I be excused from writing about this game?

Why? What was so wrong with it?

Because (a) the Browns sucked wind pretty hard and (b) there is probably nothing to be gained from discussing what happened.

They only lost by three points, Geoff.

A fact which is entirely unimportant. What matters is how they played. Which wasn’t well. Can we just put this off for a week until game #2?

I saw a lot of positive things.

I didn’t.

To be fair, the first exhibition game is never very helpful in learning about a team, because the majority of snaps go to players who won’t be on the team in September. The leaders in plays for the Browns on Thursday were:

Offense Defense
Player Snaps Player Snaps
Cam Erving, T 49 Ibraheim Campbell, SS 49
Michael Bowie, T 43 Johnson Bademosi, FS 41
Vince Painter, G 40 Charles Gaines, CB 40
Karim Barton, G 36 Justin Gilbert, CB 37
Josh Lenz, WR 30 Tank Carder, LB 33

The only one of the 10 who will play any amount of snaps during the regular season– assuming that things go well for the Browns– will be Cameron Erving. Since he was filling in for Joe Thomas, watching him wasn’t all that helpful. He’s a big guy who moves well… which you kind of assume, since he was taken in teh first round.

If Cleveland is playing Ibraheim Campbell, it would mean Donte Whitner (only 1 tackle, but only 18 plays) got hurt.

If Josh Lenz is playing, it means Dwayne Bowe (who didn’t play) Andrew Hawkins (1 target, no catches, but only 12 snaps) or Brian Hartline (3 catches on 3 targets, in 9 snaps) is hurt or has played poorly.

If any of those other guys plays, it means something has gone seriously wrong.

What about Justin Gilbert?

I expect him to miss most of the year, because the Browns will have to commit him to a psychiatric hospital. Clearly last season’s “personal problems” were some type of hallucination. If Gilbert thinks (as he told the media) that he played a perfect game, except for one play, he’s delusional.  When Mary Kay Cabot feels comfortable ripping you, it’s a clear sign that you’ve played badly.

Gilbert played badly enough that, if he’d been taken in the fourth round last year, he’d be in real danger of being cut. He had one tackle and no tips. That’s not the sort of output you want to see if you’re on the field for 56% of the game.

It took him some time to settle in.

You mean it took some time for Washington’s first-string players to exit the game. Gilbert played badly. And had Pierre Desir been healthy, Gilbert might not played at all.

I really don’t want to talk about this game.

Well you must have liked the two scoring drives.
The Browns looked really sharp.

Maybe you need to get a bed next to Gilbert.

1. On the one drive where Josh McCown played, they took 9 plays to move 75 yards. That would be impressive, except that 35 came on an iffy pass-interference penalty. It looked to me like McCown had overthrown Travis Benjamin to the point where he would not have caught the ball if the defensive back not hadn’t gotten tangled up with him.

On the other eight plays, the Browns gained 6 yards on 4 runs (1.5 a carry) and 34 yards on 5 passes. And 12 of those 34 yards came on one play.

2. On the other ‘drive’, the Browns took over on the Washington 36 after the punt returner fumbled. They had a free play on a penalty that moved the ball 14 yards, then Washington blew a coverage, leaving Johnny Rehab alone to run it in.

To give the quarterback credit, he didn’t do any celebrating– much less his gesture– when he went in. That’s a good sign; I’ll give him some points for maturity. But other than that run– and the 14-yard pass to Hartline against Washington’s second-team defense– he did nothing impressive

And he had a drive before it and there after it to demonstrate competence. The best you can say is that he wasn’t a train wreck

But didn’t you think–

I didn’t think anything was good, OK? If you want my honest opinion, here it is:

  1. When opponents complete 20 of 28 passes for 223 yards (8.0 yards per attempt, when you round up), for a rating of 94.8, nobody playing pass defense had a good day.
  2. Similarly, when the opponent also rushes 37 times for 151 yards, with three guys averaging 5.3 yards or better, your rushing defense sucked rocks.
  3. If you rush 19 times and gain 45 times– and the only players averaging more than 2.5 yards a carry were your second and fourth-string quarterbacks, your running game stunk out the joint.
  4. When you throw 30 passes and gain 154 yards (5.1 yards per pass) and your first-string quarterback averages 6.8 yards (7.25 is average), then your passing game sucked.
  5. Cleveland’s offense was sacked 5 times and intercepted 1 time. It also fumbled, but recovered it.
  6. The defense had 1 sack, no interceptions, and 1 fumble– which came only after a reversal. (The other fumble was produced by kicking teams coverage and/or a punt returner error.)
  7. Cleveland had only 2 plays travel more than 20 yards; both were accomplished in the third quarter– garbage time–  by Connor Shaw.
  8. Washington had 4 plays travel 20+ yards: 1 in the first quarter, 2 in the second and 1 in the third.
  9. Not one of the three quarterbacks who will have to step in after McCown tanks played well enough to engender confidence.
  10. Cleveland had (it appeared, after watching the game three times) more first-string players against Washington’s second-team, whereas Jay Gruden didn’t have any first-team players beating on the Browns’ scrubs.
  11. I still had to listen to the village idiot, Solomon Wilcots, babble nonsense. And the sound quality and camera work was appalling.

Well it’s only the first exhibition game.

Which is why I wanted to not say anything about it. Other than Johnny Manziel not doing his dance, the high points were:

  • #4 pick Vince Mayle catching a nice pass for 23 yards.
  • The new offense not producing a slew of unforced errors.
  • Both veteran punter Andy Lee and rookie kicker Carey Spear (technically. he was in the Eagles’ camp last year) looking good.
  • Xavier Cooper getting a sack on a play where Washington blew a block.

Pretty thin gruel for 60 minutes. And all of that is wiped away by Alfred Morris gaining 42 yards on 8 carries.

The defense stopped him when it counted.

No, Robert Griffin (4-8 for 36 yards) stopped Washington. He had a hideous game, looking like he was still trying to recover from his injury woes. He didn’t show any quickness and threw only one good pass. Other than Ryan Grant (who caught three of his four completions, including the one good ball), Griffin looked like he had never seen any of his teammates until that day.

Based on how poorly Washington looked, Gruden will be lucky to survive the year. He has a former head coach (Bill Callahan) on his staff. Plus, Perry Fewell took over a 3-6 team and had them at 3-4. “Baby Dan” Snyder has got to be frustrated; since he won’t fire himself, it’ll be the coach or GM Bruce Allen.

The defense let Morris run for more than 5 yards a carry.

They had a lot of new faces.  Plus, they were
shorthanded, with Barkevious Mingo out.

Now there’s a statement you don’t hear everyday: “We’d have better run defense if Barkevious Mingo played.” Mingo is to run defense what Donald Trump is to Cinco de Mayo celebrations.

And the amount of roster turnover shouldn’t matter, because every defense teaches run defense the same way:

  1. Stay in your lane– do not let the runner or the blocking scheme take you away from your assignment.
  2. Fight the blocker off, so you force the play inside or (of the ball comes to you) make the tackle.
  3. When the ballcarrier comes to you, move in front of him, engage before he can change directions, lock your arms and drive him to the ground.

By far the most common failing with the Browns’ defense is that it never follows rule #1. Someone leaves gaps in the alignment that the ballcarrier can (and does) run through.

The second most common issue is failure, due to lack of speed, to follow rule #3– get to the runner quickly.But following close behind it is the inability (due to lack of strength or desire) to fight off blockers, as rule #2 requires.

The Browns alternate between:

  • Veterans with the strength and discipline to play run defense, but not speed.
  • Rookies with the speed, but no strength– who get faked out easily.

New DE Randy Starks appears to be a plus, though his legs are clearly going. New NT Danny Shelton has both strength and speed, though he seemed confused. New (to the starting lineup) LB Scott Solomon managed to be both active and attentive to detail.

On the downside, CB Tramon Williams doesn’t play good run defense and both DE Xavier Cooper and LB Nate Orchard proved to be every bit as bad against the run as advertised. Gilbert still won’t tackle. And it looks like both LB Karlos Dansby and SS Donte Whitner will be a step slower.

You can’t expect them to go all out in an exhibition.
They need to conserve their energy.

I thought that was why the regulars only play one or two drives– to conserve energy. And they’ve never gone half-speed before.

I think you’re just overreacting. It’s still early.

Which is why I didn’t really want to go into detail. There’s nothing negative you can say that anyone will accept. We’ll just have to see what happens in game two.

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