St. Louis vs. Cleveland: Report Card Grades for the Browns
Oh, and Twitter exploded when Rams rookie Michael Sam sacked Manziel not once, but twice. As has become the custom when an opposing defender takes down Johnny, Sam flashed the money sign.
Without two of their top cornerbacks, Joe Haden and Buster Skrine, the Browns defense was beat early and often by three of the four St. Louis quarterbacks.
The Rams limp out of town with several injuries, including one to franchise quarterback Sam Bradford.
Bradford had to be helped to the dressing room after Browns defensive end Armonty Bryant rolled onto his left leg during first-quarter action.
The takeaway from this loss is that this Cleveland club needs to get better in nearly every area.
A plus was that the kick return special teams unit was effective as three of the five returners galloped back runs for over 35 yards.
Brian Hoyer looked like the No. 6 who energized this Browns team in 2013 during the offense's opening drive. He went 3-for-3 through the air to start, but as the game progressed the sloppiness that we've seen during the first two exhibition games returned.
Hoyer looked inaccurate at times, and while the receivers overall had stickier fingers than in the previous matchup, he was still victimized by some untimely drops and poor route running.
In the end the hometown boy didn't wow the crowd, as he finished going 10-of-16, but did add one touchdown and one interception to the scorecard.
Johnny Manziel electrified the crowd with his mere presence and did so again when he dove into the end zone for a score.
Manziel and Hoyer's statistics were similar Saturday. Johnny hurled the rock 15 times, completing 10.
I thought that Johnny improved at going through his progressions and choosing a checkdown option when nothing opened up down the field. A fourth-quarter dump to fullback Ray Agnew is a perfect example.
The velocity on his ball tonight was impressive as was the accuracy he could put on that heater.
However, Manziel too had his negative moments in the quick decision-making department.
Overall the two shared 146 passing yards Saturday night. Simply put, that's not nearly good enough. Those numbers are very concerning since this was with the dress rehearsal for the regular season, and both quarterbacks had time with the first team.
Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com had this add:
(Mike)Pettine’s assessment of Hoyer: “I don’t think he played well enough, but that was across the board.”
Pettine said his plans are to play Hoyer and the first-team offense for about one quarter in the preseason finale Thursday against the Chicago Bears.
“I expect to play. I need to play,” Hoyer said.
Starter Ben Tate saw very limited action, which gave the underlings a chance to shine. They didn't.
Presumed backup Terrance West (he's slotted in the second spot on the depth chart) led the club with 17 yards rushing on seven carries, while Dion Lewis and Chris Ogbonnaya did nothing to stand out.
The most impactful run came from quarterback Johnny Manziel, who leaped into the end zone for a touchdown in the third quarter (money sign included).
West was an interesting case this evening as he went from being indecisive and dancing in the backfield to more of the one-cut skill set that potentially makes him a great fit in Kyle Shanahan's offense.
Taking out Manziel, the four running backs versus St. Louis combined for an embarrassing 25 total yards. In an offense that is supposedly heavily reliant on rushing the football, Shanahan still has a lot of work to do with them to get ready for the opener in Pittsburgh.
Wide Receiver and Tight End
A positive to take out of the defeat is that progress has been made to improve the wide receivers and tight end positions.
Slot receiver Andrew Hawkins was sensational as he hauled in all five targets and also got to play a bit on the outside. One of those passes came from Brian Hoyer for touchdown in the second quarter.
Undrafted free-agent wide receiver Taylor Gabriel made a case for staying on the team as he grabbed a pair of balls and looked terrific in the kick return game as well.
On the tight end front, Jordan Cameron caught both passes thrown to him but didn't look like his dominant self from a year ago.
MarQueis Gray is part tight end, part fullback and nearly fumbled multiple times. His athleticism remains enticing even if his ball protection skills must be worked on.
Overall there are still too many drops and not enough chemistry with the quarterbacks from both position groups.
It wasn't the best day for the offensive line.
Pass protection from the starters was fine, but it fell apart when the second unit came. The backups played primarily in front of Johnny, who ended up getting sacked twice courtesy of Michael Sam.
Of the second-string linemen, sophomore Garrett Gilkey had the roughest outing, as he was called for penalties and just didn't seem to be fully grasping OC Kyle Shanahan's scheme.
The run blocking and lane clearing that looked so good in Washington on Monday vanished as wave after wave of the Rams' front seven attacked.
If this team wants to lean on the run as a primary focus of the offense, then these issues better be resolved very quickly.
Armonty Bryant was a buzzsaw all night as he seemed to be swarming around whoever had the ball. He was also the one who knocked Rams franchise quarterback Sam Bradford out of the game with a left leg injury.
The unit itself played good but not great. St. Louis' tough offensive line was able to clear paths through the linemen to allow seven different ball-carriers to amass a total of 142 yards on the ground.
Overall, the strength in the defensive line is in its numbers. Bodies like Billy Winn and John Hughes give Mike Pettine the ability to rotate his players and keep them fresh—something that becomes more and more valuable as the regular season wears on.
The inside linebackers stole the show Saturday night for the Browns.
Rookie Christian Kirksey had an interception and swatted down a pass, while Karlos Dansby (assist to Jabaal Sheard) broke through for a quarterback sack. Craig Robertson was also solid and contributed four tackles.
However, this was far from a perfect outing for the linebackers.
The third-down curse continues to haunt this club. Cleveland's defense was kept on the field for long drives and allowed St. Louis to convert 12 of 19 third-down opportunities.
A silver lining was that at first the starters held the visitors to field goals, but eventually the defense as a whole wore down.
If that carries over to the regular season then we'll see the Browns picking in the top 10 of the NFL draft again.
Without two of their top cornerbacks in the lineup, Cleveland's secondary was destroyed by three different Rams quarterbacks.
Joe Haden and Buster Skrine both missed the game due to injury, and St. Louis' offense feasted on the scraps.
Rookie Justin Gilbert battled all night and had some nice breakups, as did Leon McFadden, but ultimately the task proved too much for the youngsters.
The frustrating part for Browns fans is that the Rams' second- and third-string quarterbacks and receivers were able to pick away at the secondary.
There were 343 passing yards allowed, and five different receivers caught passes of 20 or more yards. Chris Givens had a game long of 75 yards that resulted in a touchdown.
A bad day at the office overall for the defensive backs who were also missing depth players Pierre Desir and Isaiah Trufant.
Special teams was the one area of the Browns' game on Saturday that thrived, the kick return unit especially.
Taylor Gabriel rumbled off a run of 68 yards, Marlon Moore delivered a 45-yard gallop and Anthony Armstrong chipped in a 37-yard return.
The success in this area provided the offense with very good field position that more often than not it was not able to take advantage of.
A tip of the cap to the coverage units as well who clogged the lanes and didn't give the Rams any daylight to make plays.
Kicker Billy Cundiff delivered a couple of extra point conversions but nothing much else of note.
As far as gutsy calls, Mike Pettine went for it twice on fourth down, and both of them involved Johnny Manziel.
Johnny converted the first attempt to Charles Johnson; then on the very next series the duo tried to hook up again, but Johnson dropped it.
The play-calling followed the script of your typical preseason game. Try to get into a rhythm on both sides of the ball while keeping it just loud enough to wake everyone up.
For a game that is supposed to give the closest feel to a regular-season contest, I'd say the Browns at least took steps in the right direction as far as development goes.
However, plenty still needs to be worked on, and that will be tough on a short week since the Browns play again at home on Thursday in the preseason finale.
|Positional Unit||Overall Grade|
Andy McNamara is an international sports broadcaster and journalist.
Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyMc81