Browns vs. Redskins: What to Watch for in Preseason Week 2 Finale
The NFL saved the best for last in Week 2 of the 2014 preseason, at least where anticipation and hype are concerned.
On Monday night, the Cleveland Browns travel to the nation's capital to do battle with Washington in a prime-time affair that will be broadcast nationwide on ESPN.
As you may have heard once or twice in recent weeks, there's a quarterback battle afoot in Cleveland between veteran Brian Hoyer and a certain rookie from Texas A&M.
That battle and Johnny Manziel's second game in the NFL are the biggest storylines on the field Monday night, but they're hardly the only ones.
Here's a look at what to watch for.
Hoyer vs. Manziel: Round 2
Might as well get the 800-pound gorilla in the room out of the way early.
After Johnny Manziel played fairly well in his first preseason game, the hype surrounding his bid to start for the Cleveland Browns in Week 1 ratcheted up about four notches.
Yes, Manziel had his moments, both with his arm and his legs, but Brian Hoyer wasn't bad either, faring better than Manziel through the air.
Hoyer played well enough against the Detroit Lions to earn the second preseason start, as head coach Mike Pettine told John Breech of CBSSports.com:
It's just something right now where we are comfortable with Brian going out there to start the game. I think it's a little overblown as to who the starter is going to be. The key component, as I've stated earlier this week, is that we are going to balance the reps. We will play it a little by ear as it goes on, we haven't truly decided as far as the rotation but the goal is, for when we look at the stat sheet at halftime, that they both have the same amount of repetitions and hopefully they both get a good amount of work.
With that said, Pettine (in almost the same breath) made sure to talk up Manziel, who will also see time with the starters: "He's been impressive. He's probably slightly ahead of the learning curve where we figured he would've been. I think a big part of it for him is it's essentially him getting the playbook and it has been for a while. And I think he's finally starting to settle down with it."
Manziel-mania hit a bit of a snag last week when Manziel was fined for being late to a team meeting, but Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com reported it was believed to be a simple misunderstanding of the schedule.
Now, Manziel and Hoyer are set for what's in may ways a "winner take all" affair.
As Pettine told reporters on Friday, the team's brain trust will meet on Tuesday to pick a Week 1 starter: "It’ll be a group of us. It’ll be [quarterbacks coach] Dowell [Loggains], [offensive coordinator] Kyle [Shanahan]. We might involve [General Manager] Ray [Farmer] just to kind of listen and observe. There might be another guy or two in there."
No pressure, guys.
The Other Quarterback
No quarterback situation in the NFL has garnered more ink of late than the one in Cleveland, but there's quite the subplot brewing at the position in Washington as well.
As Jason Reid of The Washington Post reports, after a promising start to OTAs, quarterback Robert Griffin's transition to new head coach Jay Gruden's offense has hit a snag:
On three- and five-step drops, Griffin often has been efficient. The Redskins are encouraged by Griffin’s accuracy while throwing on the move. He and his receivers mostly have been in sync on short and intermediate routes. Those are things on which coaches can build.
When receivers ran long-developing routes, however, Griffin struggled. He lacked consistency on plays that featured seven-step drops. That doesn’t mean Griffin won’t get it eventually. But he needs reps to work on his rough edges, which is why you practice.
“He wants every play to be successful,” Gruden said. “If somebody isn’t open, he wants to buy time and try to find somebody. Sometimes the right play is to throw it away.”
The grumbles grew louder after Griffin was outplayed by Kirk Cousins in the preseason opener. However, former Washington tight end and ESPN 980 analyst Chris Cooley did his best to throw cold water on even the slightest of quarterback controversies in D.C., per The Washington Post's Dan Steinberg:
You do not have doubts in who Robert Griffin is and what he is going to be in this organization and in this organization’s future, and you’re actually willing to build around all of his talents offensively to make him into what you think he can be. Now Kirk might be further ahead in the pocket right now. And Jay [Gruden] is such a good coach at letting the players that are in do what’s best to their abilities that yes, Kirk looks better in the pocket in practice.
But let’s say Robert’s just ‘practicing’ in practice. Let’s say we’re trying to make him better. Let’s say we’re doing things to improve in training camp, and he doesn’t look as good in a position where Kirk is great. Where even Colt might look better in the pocket. Does that mean that that’s what we’re going to do in week one? Nuh-uh. Week One game plan is actually game-planned and will be designed for players to be as good as they possibly can be.
So Week One game plan will involve Robert bootlegging, him on the move, him in play-action situations. And yes, he will have to be okay in the pocket, at least in third downs. And that’s why we’re making this huge deal out of Robert being able to get to the checkdown, Robert being able to throw the ball away, Robert being able to get to the next guy, because Jay wants him to be able to be there. He wants him to get through his reads. He wants him to be the best pocket passer.
Cooley is absolutely right that Griffin is the unquestioned starter in Washington, but there's also no question Gruden and the coaching staff will breathe a little easier if Griffin plays well Monday night.
Ben Tate vs. Terrance West
Quarterback isn't the only position at which there's a battle between a veteran and a rookie for the right to start in Cleveland.
The Browns brought in running back Ben Tate in free agency to guide the ground game in 2014, but they also added a running back on the second day of the 2014 NFL draft, selecting small-school standout Terrance West.
West, who gained a staggering 2,519 yards on the ground last year at Towson, has consistently impressed throughout training camp, so much so that many pundits have labeled the competition essentially an even heat at this point.
Tate, for his part, told Kevin Jones of the Browns' website that he welcomes another quality back in the rotation: "I will welcome help because I don’t want to run myself into the ground. Of course, you want to be a guy who gets in a rhythm. But I will welcome help. We’re coming along well. Guys are starting to understand the system a little more. So I’m excited to see what some of our [guys] can do."
It was Tate who had the better game against the Lions, both in terms of yardage on the ground and yards per carry. However, West looked better than his 10 carries for 22 yards indicated, drawing the praise of Rotoworld's Josh Norris.
"I know he only totaled 22 yards", Norris tweeted, "but I thought Browns RB Terrance West looked very decisive to go along with active eyes. Low and go."
No matter who the Browns roll out at quarterback, they are going to need to run the ball to have success offensively in 2014.
After all, have you seen the receivers?
It will be very interesting to see if West can continue to press Tate or if the fourth-year pro can put some distance between himself and the youngster.
Here's to You, Mr. Robinson
After 16 seasons, Washington linebacker London Fletcher called it quits after the 2013 season, closing the book on a career that will likely lead to induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Fletcher's retirement left a huge hole in the middle of the Washington defense, a hole the team hopes to fill with a face we haven't seen on the playing field in a while.
Thanks to a pair of pectoral muscle tears, Keenan Robinson hasn't seen the field in a game that counts since November of 2012. However, the third-year pro made it through the team's first preseason game unscathed, and Robinson told Tarik El-Bashir of CSN Washington that it was a big step in the right direction:
“I did some good things,” Robinson said of his performance, which included calling the defensive plays. “But obviously there are always things that I can improve. I think the coaches will see some good things on film. Hopefully, it will help build their confidence in what I can do …and my ability to step in for London Fletcher this year.”
It's a role safety Ryan Clark thinks Robinson can thrive in, according to Elliott Smith of The Washington Post.
“If you look at what we were doing last year, we had no strengths,” Clark said. “That’s why you have a faster Keenan Robinson now that gets the opportunity to replace London Fletcher.”
Robinson played well in the preseason opener, showing excellent sideline-to-sideline range against the New England Patriots.
With that said, as important as a good showing from Robinson against the Browns is, a game he makes it through in one piece is even more so.
Farewell, Extra-Long Extra Points
Monday night's game brings the second week of the 2014 preseason to a close—and that means the end of the NFL's experiment with longer extra points.
For the past two weeks, extra-point attempts have been moved back to the 15-yard line, resulting in much longer 33-yard tries.
The attempt to make the extra point more interesting by making it less automatic was met with yawns, according to Chris Chase of USA Today:
Except for the novelty of the first try, there was no added excitement. That was to be expected, because the only time a kick is interesting is when the game is on the line or Sebastian Janikowski is lining up from 70 yards. It turns out the increased threat of missing doesn’t add to the drama. As such, the extra point never seemed more disposable than it was last night.
However, it can't be said that the longer extra points haven't impacted games. Two PAT attempts were missed over the first full weekend of the preseason. Chris Boswell of the Houston Texans missed two on Saturday night alone.
In all, seven extra points have been missed in just two weeks (plus one game) of action.
If an increased chance of failure is "more interesting," then the NFL accomplished its goal. But as Chase said, it's hard to argue that extra points have been any more exciting the past couple of weeks than they were previously.
Which is to say not at all.
Still, whether you think it's a neat quirk or a useless one, enjoy Monday's "extra" extra points.
They're the last ones you're going to see for quite some time.