Cleveland vs. Washington: Report Card Grades for the Browns
As is the case with all preseason games, the final score doesn't matter. The exhibition season is when the progress of schemes and personnel can be judged.
For the quarterbacks and receivers it was an evening of miscommunication. The lack of chemistry resulted in Josh Gordon catching only one pass on five targets, while tight end Jordan Cameron was unable to haul in any of the three throws sent his way.
Some positives were Cleveland's first-team offensive line and the Browns rushing attack, both of which looked regular-season ready. The second unit O-line...well that's a different story.
The Browns defense got off to a slow start but improved quickly and showed that it was a tough group. A four-down goal-line stand highlighted the grit that head coach Mike Pettine had to be hoping for.
As a whole, the Cleveland defense registered two quarterback sacks, seven passes defensed and three interceptions. The question will be whether the offense can stay on the field long enough to help keep Browns defenders fresh when the games start to count in the standings.
The hot button topic is if Pettine still is going to name a starting QB on Tuesday, the deadline he mentioned earlier last week—an unenviable decision after tonight's efforts.
All game stats are courtesy of ESPN.com.
When the fourth string quarterback shines at the position there is usually something wrong.
That's what happened when Cleveland's Connor Shaw marched down the field with less than two minutes in the final quarter to throw a Hail Mary touchdown pass and come within a missed two-point conversion of winning the game.
However, don't get #ConnorFootball trending on twitter just yet. The Dawg Pound must remember that Shaw's success came against, at best, Washington's third-stringers.
Dropped balls and sloppy route-running didn't help, but both Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel must share the blame for uninspired quarterback play, which did little to separate either one for the starting job.
Hoyer was an awful 2-of-6 through the air for 16 yards and a miserable 42.4 QB rating. The Cleveland native was either off target or victimized by dropped passes.
Manziel was not special by any means, however, he did lead the Browns to their first offensive touchdown of the preseason.
The rookie showed poise and went through his progressions at the start of a second-quarter drive that began at Cleveland's own 1-yard line. The rookie looked deep for Josh Gordon, and instead of forcing the ball, he checked down to fullback MarQueis Gray.
Manziel finished 7-of-16 for 65 yards and a 76.3 QB rating. He surprisingly stayed in and around the pocket; his only run today resulted in a loss of one.
A big negative for Johnny Football is that he let his emotions get the better of him as he gave the middle finger to the Washington sideline after a play. It didn't appear to effect his performance on the field, but it's still a bad look in front of a nationally televised Monday Night Football audience.
Ben Tate looked phenomenal and ready to start the season. His speed, finesse and physicality racked up 5.1 yards per carry on 10 handoffs.
Tate's one-cut ability shone as he shot his way through quickly closing holes.
One of Cleveland's 2013 third-round picks, Terrance West, showed improvement over last week's preseason matchup in Detroit, and he racked up 31 yards on eight carries. West also had a couple of impressive high-step, juke moves that frustrated the opposition.
To me, this game proved that while West has a high ceiling on his talents, Tate is ready to rumble and dominate right now.
The remaining running backs of note included Dion Lewis and Isaiah Crowell who both received minimal touches.
Wide Receiver and Tight End
Up until those last two minutes of the game with Connor Shaw, the Browns' receiver corps was absolutely awful Monday evening.
Eligible receivers were targeted 31 times with only 17 of those passes caught. Not every ball was thrown perfectly, but multiple drops by star WR Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron were quite surprising. Andrew Hawkins also let a difficult, but catchable, end-zone pass slip through his fingers.
Also, the crew in general is having difficulty getting open.
There are only a pair of exhibition contests left until the regular season, and no one wide out has been able to step up consistently.
Take away Josh Gordon and the outlook for the receivers currently looks quite bleak. That means a lot of the onus for production through the air falls on the tight end Cameron. But he struggled at times in 2013 as a primary weapon.
The first team offensive line generally looked solid and in sync, outside of that opening series blitz where right guard John Greco allowed Ryan Kerrigan to waltz in and deliver a hard sack on Brian Hoyer.
On the ground this group is clearly grasping offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's zone-blocking running scheme as holes were regularly created for Ben Tate to exploit.
The pass-blocking struggled at times, specifically on the right side with Greco and Mitchell Schwartz, and Browns quarterbacks were sacked a total of four times.
The starting O-line is definitely one of the club's strengths, and it is quickly rounding into regular-season form. The backups were a different story, though inconsistency is expected from that inexperienced cast.
2013 seventh-round pick Armonty Bryant continued to impress, as he got reps with the ones in the absence of injured defensive end Desmond Bryant.
Armonty's power and surprising speed consistently pressured Robert Griffin III. The sophomore also collected one of the two team sacks.
The depth of the defensive line is one of the keys to the entire defense.
An effective rotation can limit personal stats at times, but the keeping bodies fresh allows the likes of Billy Winn, Phil Taylor and Ishmaa'ily Kitchen to be at their best.
Overall the group did allow 117 yards rushing, which indicates that the front men need to do a better job clogging the running lanes.
It was nice to see Paul Kruger record a sack. The veteran pass-rusher is coming off a down year but appears to be leaner and more aggressive this training camp.
Barkevious Mingo was a buzzsaw as he was always around the quarterback. Last season's first-round selection recorded four tackles and is demonstrating that the extra muscle gained this offseason has not cost him any speed.
The most competitive position battle goes to inside linebackers Craig Robertson and Christian Kirksey. Neither has given an inch, and they give Mike Pettine a good problem to have when deciding on a starter. Both have been so effective that a platoon situation is likely to get each player significant playing time during 2014.
Kirksey led the Browns in tackles against Washington and Robertson recovered a fumble.
There were early pass-coverage issues in the middle of the Browns defense, as RG3 was able to take advantage in the first quarter. However, adjustments were made and a better job done in defending that area of the field as the game progressed.
Hot and cold would best describe the secondary Monday night in Washington.
An interception each from Joe Haden, Tashaun Gipson and Jim Leonhard along with a touchdown-saving pass deflection by rookie corner Justin Gilbert were impressive moments.
A seemingly endless string of pass interference penalties was the down side. There were 21 combined penalties called on the two teams, though the ESPN broadcast crew questioned the validity of several of the calls.
Besides the flags being thrown, the secondary was susceptible to the big play. The Redskins recorded five receptions of twenty yards or more, and two of those went for over 40 yards.
It's an area that must be tightened up as Mike Pettine's pass-rush-happy defense relies heavily on the defensive backs being able to hold their own.
Kicker Billy Cundiff was 1-for-2 on field goal attempts, with the one he missed being from 54 yards.
The Browns kick returners were explosive as Anthony Armstrong rumbled one back for 49 yards. Marion Moore was also effective as he racked up 50 total yards on two kickoff returns.
Cleveland's coverage units weren't overly busy, but did get burned on a Rashad Ross gallop of 42 yards.
A decent and generally uneventful night for special teams coordinator Chris Tabor's crew.
If head coach Mike Pettine and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan could have made their receivers catch the ball, the two would be looking a lot better Tuesday morning.
The play-calling appeared sound, the issue was on the miscommunication between the quarterbacks and pass-catchers. Mistimed routes and passes on plays that would have moved the chains are frustrating and something that this coaching staff will need to address in practice.
Pettine is in charge of the defensive game-planning, and he kept his front seven aggressive. He made the necessary adjustments after soft coverage over the middle allowed RG3 to connect on several early throws.
The secondary rewarded their man-coverage assignments by gobbling up three interceptions. However, more discipline is needed to cut down on the pass interference infractions that accounted for the majority of Cleveland's 10 penalties.
|Positional Unit||Overall Grade|
As is usually the case in football, if you don't have strong quarterback play you struggle mightily.
Lack of quality throws combined with generally poor receiver performances is a good way to wear out what looks to be a very good defense by keeping them out on the field too often.
Back to the drawing board for the coaching staff as the preseason home debut in Cleveland is this Saturday night.
Andy McNamara is an international sports broadcaster and journalist.
Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyMc81