Cleveland vs Washington: Browns Preseason Week 2 Game Preview
Monday Night Football's national spotlight puts an even greater focus on head coach Mike Pettine's comments from Friday.
#browns Pettine said he's "hopeful" he can name his starter for season by Tuesday.— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) August 15, 2014
Much is being made of the coaching staff deciding to give Hoyer the start over Manziel against the Washington Redskins, but Pettine said that Manziel will still get quality playing time with the first team, according to The Chronicle-Telegram's Scott Petrak:
Johnny's going to get reps with the ones.
Just to me, the factor of starting the game I think is a little bit overblown in this situation because we're going to try to balance the reps with the ones, It's a little overrated who trots out there for the first time.
The Browns defense should be put to the test both on the ground and through the air.
Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III is a weapon unto himself and is going to have impact wide receiver targets Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson at his disposal. Alfred Morris is the dynamite running back and will surely give Cleveland's front seven all it can handle.
Browns Preseason Week 1 Recap
Johnny Football Mania invaded Detroit as the Cleveland Browns fell 13-12 to the Lions last Saturday.
Brian Hoyer started for the Browns and went 6-of-14 for 92 yards. When Hoyer left the game so did the starting offensive line.
Johnny Manziel was 7-of-11 for 63 yards and appeared to get more comfortable as the night wore on. Manziel was also the leading rusher for Cleveland, picking up 27 yards on the ground.
That's troublesome for the Browns' rushing attack especially when it came to Terrance West. The rookie did have a long of 10 yards, but he averaged just 2.2 yards per carry, running primarily behind the O-line's second unit.
Starter Ben Tate saw limited action, getting six carries for 25 yards.
A slew of penalties and sloppy tackling on defense was both surprising and concerning for the orange helmets since the D has looked superior to the club's offense throughout training camp.
Converting in the red zone and scoring touchdowns in general must be a focus on Monday for a Browns offense that has struggled putting up majors no matter which QB has been under center.
News and Notes
Don't worry Johnny Football fans, the boy wonder hasn't lost his swagger.
"Yeah, that's not saying I'm not ready or I won't be ready,'' he said. "I don't want that taken out of context, it's just right now in my second preseason game, I'm not ready to go out and start Week 1 because there's a lot of time left until that point. For me, there's plenty of weeks left to learn to get adapted to the speed and then if I was the starter for Pittsburgh in Week 1 you have to be ready. (courtesy of cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot)
Browns top first round pick will get the start
The overshadowed eighth overall selection by Cleveland in this past May's draft, Justin Gilbert, is over a nagging groin injury and will get the start in Washington Monday night.
#Browns CB Justin Gilbert on starting opposite Joe Haden Mon at Wash: "It's like a dream come true playing next to a great guy like that."— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) August 16, 2014
That's it...everyone give me a lap!
Head coach Mike Pettine is all about competition, but was not impressed in an altercation at practice between right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and linebacker Justin Staples on Saturday.
#Browns Mike Pettine disappointed in fight, hence the sprints: Went a little too far. Outside of realm of being good teammates.— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) August 16, 2014
To send a message that this type of behavior was unacceptable, the coach made the entire team run sprints.
(Updated Monday Aug. 18)
The Browns have potential long term injuries to a pair of would be key contributors.
Defensive end Desmond Bryant's wrist and cornerback Buster Skrine's thumb could be more of a serious issue than first thought.
#Browns HC Mike Pettine said wrist surgery for DE Desmond Bryant is still a possibility. Getting second medical opinion.— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) August 16, 2014
#Browns HC Mike Pettine said team will probably know today whether CB Buster Skrine will need thumb surgery.— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) August 16, 2014
Below are a list of injuries as of August 16 and the likelihood of each one playing Monday.
(Courtesy of ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi)
Skrine's unfortunate thumb ailment opens the door for this year's eighth overall draft pick, Justin Gilbert, to seize the other outside cornerback starting spot opposite Joe Haden.
Gilbert's size and natural athleticism makes him a more natural fit on the outside than Skrine. If the rookie can impress Monday night and earn the starting job, it would allow Buster to move to inside coverages where his speed and lack of height are more suited.
Selected in the fourth round this past May, Pierre Desir needs as many reps as possible as seen by his struggles in the preseason game last week in Detroit. It's disappointing that his knee injury will keep him out of Monday's action.
This Browns defensive line is so talented and so deep that it is the one place the club can afford a missing body. However, Bryant was a stud in 2013 before his heart issue limited him and he was having a solid camp too.
Bryant's absence likely means more live action for his unrelated namesake Armonty Bryant.
The sophomore has a nose for the quarterback and a strong outing versus the Redskins might translate into him becoming a regular in the defensive rotation.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
In preseason games the conversation is built more around internal competition rather than who to watch out for in an opponent.
Let's break down a few of the positional battles to keep an eye on Monday in Washington.
Inside Linebacker: Craig Robertson vs Christian Kirksey
The rookie Kirksey really started to turn heads once the pads went on in training camp.
Following practice on Aug. 6, as reported by clevelandbrowns.com staff writer Kevin Jones, head coach Mike Pettine commented:
'If you were an observer at practice and didn’t have a roster, you wouldn’t think he was a rookie,' said Pettine of Kirksey. 'He’s great on the practice field, he asks the right questions. He’s been very engaging in the meeting rooms. He really leans on Karlos [Dansby] as a good resource. He’s been a guy that’s been as advertised.'
Craig Robertson is listed ahead of Kirksey on the depth chart and has looked better in training camp than he did at the end of last year.
However, there is still plenty of time for Kirksey to wrestle the top spot away. To ease the former Iowa Hawkeye into the NFL, it might be beneficial to utilize Kirksey on obvious third-down passing situations at first.
Then his superior pass defense can shine, which would take some of the pressure off Robertson.
The exact timeline for a decision to come down on a league suspension to Josh Gordon is unknown, but in all likelihood the star wide receiver will miss games in 2014.
No one in the remaining group of available candidates has stood out on a consistent basis throughout training camp.
Drops and inability to get open plagued all the receivers in some way or another during the first preseason game last Saturday. There were flashes of potential from Miles Austin, Charles Johnson and Taylor Gabriel, but no one has distinguished themselves as a go to target.
Someone, anyone, needs to step up and impress on Monday.
Quarterback: Brian Hoyer vs Johnny Manziel
In getting a second straight preseason start, even though reps with the ones will be split, it appears that the top QB spot on the depth chart is Brian Hoyer's to lose.
The hometown boy answered questions following Saturday's practice.
Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer on start vs Washington Redskins http://t.co/eHU395HnP7— Marla Ridenour (@MRidenourABJ) August 16, 2014
However, coach Pettine shared with the media that nothing is for certain yet.
#Browns HC Mike Pettine said all options still on table for QB competition. Said Manziel could still win job, even tho Hoyer starting Mon.— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) August 15, 2014
The X-Factor in this exhibition contest revolves around how long Washington's first team stays on the field.
If Pettine sticks to his word of rotating Hoyer and Manziel every two series with the Browns' starting offense then the question is how long will Johnny see the opposition's top defenders by the time he gets in?
Can a fair comparison between the two quarterbacks really be made if part of Manziel's playing time is against backups?
The actual final score of any preseason game is irrelevant, but areas in need of improvement are where predictions can be made.
Browns vs Redskins Game Predictions
- Both Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel lead touchdown scoring drives with the first team offense. The performances of each quarterback will be judged as being fairly equal, making the coaching staff's impending decision on naming a starter that much more difficult.
- Charles Johnson steps up. Showing flashes of elusiveness, toughness and good hands carries over from last week in Detroit and the young wide receiver gives Browns fans hope that someone can contribute in Josh Gordon's presumed eventual absence.
- Justin Gilbert picks off Robert Griffin III. Gilbert gets the start Monday opposite Joe Haden at cornerback and is the obvious one of the two for RG3 to try and exploit through the air. The rookie's freakish abilities shine as he smothers the Redskins receivers and sends a message to head coach Mike Pettine that he's ready to roll come opening day.
Andy McNamara is an international sports broadcaster and journalist.
Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyMc81