Review: Exhibition Game #4 (@ Chicago)

2015, my 45th season following the Browns, is proving to be a season of firsts. Last week I saw an Exhibition Game that was a “must-win.”

I know I haven’t posted it. Still working on it.

Then in game #4– normally a nothing game– I had the most depressing performance I have seen in a meaningless game since the Browns lost 20-19 to the Eagles in 1984.

That game took place in the era when teams played starters during the exhibition season, so they would be ready when the season began (rather than resting everyone and looking sloppy in the first 2-3 games). Cody Risien blew out his knee diving to recover a fumble and missed the whole year, ensuring that QB Paul McDonald would play behind a line too old to protect anyone.

A list of the things that went wrong in game #4:

1. Thad Lewis stunk out the joint. In 2012-13, Lewis appeared to be a player who could maybe step if your starter went down and not send your season up in smoke.

  • Going 2-4 in six starts wasn’t great– but he was playing for the Browns and Bills.
  • The 81.4 rating was just above average… though it was offset by the 4 INTs and only 5 TDs .
  • He was sacked on 10% of his pass attempts– but both Colt McCoy and E.J. Manuel were getting killed too.

But if Connor Shaw were still healthy, Thursday’s loss was the sort of performance that would have gotten Lewis cut. He’s 30 years old, in his fifth season on a roster, and playing against the Bears’ scrubs. Yet he did nothing well.

A. He threw for 100 yards on 20 attempts– an appalling 5.0 yards per pass. The NFL average is 7.2 per attempt.

B. Lewis reduced what little value that had by standing in the pocket like a zombie and getting sacked 7 times for 40 yards lost.

Lewis seemed to be under the impression that throwing the ball away– or trying to run away from defenders– was poor sportsmanship. If you use Net yards per pass– which adds sacks to attempts and subtracts yards lost from yardage– he gained 60 yards on 27 attempts– a whopping 2.2 yards (the average is 6.4)

I’d explain exactly how bad that is, except that my unfinished piece on game #3 has a long discussion of it. Let’s just say that 2.2 yards a pass is XFL caliber play– and if you do that during the season, you might as well change your jersey name to “He Hate Me.”

C. Lewis threw an interception (returned for a TD) and fumbled the ball (set up a 42-yard field goal).

Lewis’s appalling play has terrifying implications. Josh McCown will play himself out of a job long before the bye week. Looking at the schedule, the Browns probably will be 1-2 against the Jets, Titans and Raiders… at which point they hit a run of good teams: Chargers, Ravens, Broncos, Rams, Cardinals, Bengals and Steelers.

McCown might lose the job by the Rams game– and he’ll be under fire long before that.

The Browns claim that Johnny Manziel has had elbow problems since high school, that they knew all about it and the injury is no big deal. ESPN’s Pat McManamon called BS on that, which I would tend to believe.

Jeremy Fowler filed a report claiming one NFL source told him that Manziel was red-flagged for elbow issues. I heard that report as well– but the guy who mentioned it to me said Mike Lombardi was the source.

Since Curly is still mad at the Browns for firing him, I’d pay about as much attention to that as I do to Lombardi’s scouting results.

Elbow injuries are serious. NFL quarterbacks do not normally get them. Like high-ankle sprains, they do not go away quickly– and if you’re being hit, they won’t go away at all. It means Manziel, even if he is sober as a judge and has memorized the playbook, is likely to play poorly. Assuming that he can play at all.

Which means the third QB will be playing. If that is Lewis, the Browns can expect to lose every game. He hasn’t looked even remotely close to being able to even hand off the ball and throw dinks this year.

2. Terrance West was awful. Again. This is your #3 pick from a year ago, playing against the opposing team’s scrubs. Getting 9 carries and producing 35 yards (3.9 yards) doesn’t impress. The pass he caught for 16 yards was nice (it was his only target), but 51 yards on 28 snaps (nearly half of the 58 total) is breathtakingly bad.

In the previous three games, he had 78 yards on 22 carries (3.5 yards) and 3 catches for 11 yards.

If you want to look on the bright side, I guess you could say he didn’t look good in exhibition season 2014, and he had an OK rookie year. Except that he gained less than 4 yards a carry and less than 6 per pass.

West looks like a Trent Richardson clone– no consistency, no explosiveness and no production.

3. Dwayne Bowe’s non-performance. Bowe’s last really good year was 2011, when he caught 81 passes for 1,159 yards (14.3 per catch) and 5 scores. Since then, catches, yardage, yards per catch and TDs have been dropping every year.

He’ll be 31 in two weeks– about the point when a receiver who produces entirely with speed (not by running great pass patterns or with great hands) starts to fold. He’s missed at least one game in each of the last there years. Plus, a team with a winning record let him go and no team with a winning record wanted him

So the Browns sign him and he misses the first three games. Then he gets 24 snaps against the rump end of the Bear defense, and produces one completion and eight yards.

Solomon Wilcots, doing his best to support a fellow mediocrity, tried to exonerate Bowe by blaming the amount of pressure on the quarterback. On two replays, he pointed out that Bowe was trying to go deeper, while Lewis was scrambling.

The notion that a receiver should break off his pattern and come back to help the quarterback never occurred to either man.

What was truly distressing about the game was Wilcots’s repeated assurance that Bowe would make the final roster, no matter how ineptly he played.

So at least part of the year will be spent trying to figure out if McCown and Bowe are “missing connections” because:

  • Bowe is still getting in shape.
  • The two veterans are “not on the same page” because they haven’t been able to work with each other.
  • Bowe is over the hill.
  • McCown sucks.
  • Some combination of the above

What happened to having to earn the job?

4. Terrelle Pryor not catching passes. This is bad on two levels. First, he looks like a guy who has never played receiver, which means he is likely to be another wasted roster spot. At least for a while.

The second distressing thing was seeing him take direct snaps, making it look like maybe the Browns are bringing back the Wildcat– and that head coach Mike Pettine (a Rex Ryan protege) inherited his bosses task for quarterbacks who shake and bake.

When McCown loses his job, if Manziel’s elbow drags him down and if Lewis looks as bad as he did, the odds are, we’ll see Pryor out there at QB. Which will be a disaster, because the guy can’t play.

But Offensive Coordinator John De Felippo used to be Pryor’s coach when he was in Oakland– and he clearly thinks Pryor can help. And the locals won’t mind– witness Tom Reed gushing about him and dumping on Josh Lenz.

5. Ibraheim Campbell being a day late and a dollar short all night. When I assessed the #4 pick, I said that the rap on Campbell was his failure to diagnose the play quickly and get to the ball in tome to make a big play

He’s been proving that report right all through camp. It’s as if he’s been playing on 7-second delay. Last night, both running backs and receivers got by him before he could figure out where they were going.

6. The general dearth of eptitude. Usually game fours produce a few players who stand out or make plays. Other than Lentz busting his hump– and the pitched battle between Tank Carder and Hayes Pullard for kicking teams gunner– nothing looked impressive.

About all we can do is see who gets cut, who gets picked up and pray that the Browns are better than they’ve looked so far.

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