Raw impressions from last night’s losing pre-season effort against the Falcons:
Among a crowded roster of seven tight ends, camp phenom Connor Hamlett missed an opportunity last night. He held on the opening kickoff, dropped an easy touchdown flip from Josh McCown, and then covered up another tight end for illegal formation in the red zone.
Fellow TE Randall Telfer helped his caused by hauling in a perfect McCown pass 30 yards downfield.
Speaking of perfect passes, the game’s obvious highlights for the Browns were RGIII‘s two touchdowns down the right sideline to Terrelle Pryor and Gary Barnidge. Pryor appeared plenty pleased to beat Pro Bowl CB Desmond Trufant on that 50-yard fly. Earlier, he was called for a personal foul while blocking downfield. On both Browns TDs, safety help was late to arrive. In the regular season, that window is less likely to be open, so it will be imperative to have more receiving weapons available to command the defense’s attention.
Aside from one ominously awful shotgun snap gone awry, C Cameron Erving showed some improvement, helping to form the clean pocket for those two scores and to give RB Isaiah Crowell a few running lanes.
If they even keep a fullback, from the looks of it last night, second-year man Malcolm Johnson is probably it. Unlike last season, he was effective as a lead blocker. His competition, Robert Hughes, allowed his man to sack the quarterback off the blind side. Still, I think it’s equally likely they’ll keep neither and go with four tight ends instead.
Andy Lee is ready. His punts went 61, 58, 53, 56, and 50 yards, with ample hang time to prevent any big returns. This Browns team will need him, just as the early expansion teams needed Chris Gardocki.
The read-option looks to be a staple of this offense, and Griffin certainly hasn’t lost a step when he takes off downfield. If he continues to remember to slide and can stay healthy, he’ll probably be the Browns’ second-leading rusher on the season, almost by accident. There’s more to the position than pure speed and passing accuracy, but Cleveland has never had a quarterback with a better combination of those two traits.
The Browns lost this game on the third downs, on both offense and defense. They converted just one of eight, while allowing the Falcons to succeed 11 of 17 times, including twice for touchdowns.
The cornerback situation seems especially scary. Until Joe Haden can return to full form, their best cover guy is game but superannuated Tramon Williams, who wouldn’t even be on this rebuilding team if they could rely on anyone else. Jamar Taylor had some good and not-so-good plays last night. But Justin Gilbert and Tracy Howard were outright liabilities, and they played ahead of Charles Gaines, Eric Patterson, and Mikell Everette. It’s disappointing that the K’Waun Williams situation seems beyond repair. The only other option not mentioned is rookie Trey Caldwell, out with one of those ubiquitous hamstring injuries. Pierre Desir, now listed as a safety, may ultimately be their best option in the dime.
Speaking of safeties, I liked what I saw of rookie Derrick Kindred, who led the team with six solo tackles. Rahim Moore, not so much. His failure to push a back out of bounds resulted in a touchdown. Later, he showed signs of a concussion after making a hard hit that, in today’s NFL anyway, merits a penalty.
Want to guess which defensive lineman had the most tackles? It was last-stringer Chigbo Anunoby with three fourth-quarter stops. In other words, the Browns defense has miles to go if they’re going to force long-yardage situations and get the ball back to their offense. Once again, from the starters through all the subs, they got utterly dominated in terms of yards allowed, plays run, and time of possession.
That said, the best performer on defense last night was clearly Carl Nassib. Reports from earlier in camp tabbed him as pretty raw and unready, but once the games started, the Penn State rookie has shown a strong motor and knack for making plays. He had two sacks last night. One was nullified by penalty. You might consider the other a gimme in that he was unblocked, but he finished the play superbly by knocking the ball out and recovering it. He also tipped a Matt Ryan pass for a first-quarter incompletion.
Startling that LB Barkevious Mingo didn’t appear until the fourth quarter. His first two plays were a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. The athletic freak is very much of a wildcard. Do you keep him for his contract year at the expense of cutting someone like Cam Johnson, Dominique Alexander, or Scooby Wright? Stay tuned, but it seems like the scales are tipping against him.
The longest Browns rush other than Griffin’s came from big Terrell Watson, who dragged third-team defenders downfield for a 12-yard gain. That’s just the kind of play you love to see deep into the fourth quarter. If only we weren’t down 11 points and facing their scrubs at the time.