CLEVELAND--The Browns dropped their second-straight preseason game, 24-13 to the Falcons, but there was more to be seen than the final score. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights from the game.
1. The RG3 Experiment Just Might Work--It's way too early to say that the re-boot of QB Robert Griffin III in Cleveland is a success. However, after being ranked 32nd out of 33 NFL starting quarterbacks last month by a football publication, Griffin is showing glimpses of him being the quarterback that led him to Rookie of the Year in 2012. For Griffin to be successful, he needs to use his athleticism to the fullest strength and that means being able to run.
Hue Jackson said they called two specific plays for Griffin to run and he picked up 14- and 22-yards in the process. Griffin slid to avoid contact well before he took a hit, showing he's learned his lessons from past injuries. Both runs happened just before Griffin threw near picture perfect passes to Terrelle Pryor and Gary Barnidge for touchdowns. Griffin didn't turn the ball over and looked sharp in registering a 154.2 rating.
Summary: If Jackson continues to use Griffin to his strengths (strong arm and speed), Griffin could be the quarterback the Browns have been looking for and at 26 there's something to build on.
2. Continued Growth of Carl Nassib--I like what I see of Carl Nassib. He was not very noticeable at the beginning of training camp, but in the two preseason games, he has made plays. He had a good game in Green Bay with a tackle for loss and a sack and then came back with a strip-sack and fumble against the Falcons, which he also recovered. Nassib had another sack in the game, but it did not count as Justin Gilbert was called for holding.
Summary: The Browns have been looking for a relentless force from the end position and Nassib has a chance to be a good one if he continues to develop and learn the NFL game.
3. Taylor Made: When the Browns traded a seventh-round pick on draft day to pick up journeymen nickel back Jamar Taylor hardly an eyebrow was raised. The former second-round pick of the Dolphins had worn out his welcome in Miami and the Dolphins were willing to unload him. With a fresh start in Cleveland, though, Taylor has made plays and appeared to be ahead of two-year nickel starter K'Waun Williams. Whether Williams returns to the Browns or has surgery as some reports have said, Taylor might become a key player for the Browns. Against Atlanta, Taylor broke up a third down pass to force a punt and made a couple key stops
Summary: With the Williams situation becoming unclear, the Browns need a veteran cornerback that can play the slot receiver, particularly in third down situations. If Taylor can re-start his career with the Browns, that would be a huge boost to the secondary.
4. What's the Deal with the Defense?: The Browns gave up 498 yards on defense to the Falcons, including 224 yards rushing. Clearly, the Browns have not been able to stop the run in years and Danny Shelton--one tackle-- hasn't made the impact in the middle necessary, as of yet. The return of John Hughes should help, but when teams are averaging 5.5 yards a run, it's hard to be competitive.
Summary: Ray Horton has to come up with a plan to get the rushing defense up to par or it's going to be another long season on that side of the ball.
5. What about Barkevious Mingo and Justin Gilbert?: The former No. 6 and No. 8 players selected in the NFL Draft look like they are still looking for a spot on the team, let alone becoming impact players. Mingo has been playing on special teams, outside linebacker and even played inside linebacker in the fourth quarter. He had four tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass broken up, but mainly against back ups for Atlanta. Meanwhile, Gilbert did have a pass break up but badly missed on a tackle on Devonta Freeman that resulted in a 19-yard touchdown run. Gilbert started in place of Joe Haden, but doesn't seem to be showing enough consistency to be on the field on every play.
Summary: Mingo is in his final contract year and the Browns didn't pick up his option for next year, so it will be interesting to see if he is in the team's plans for this year. Gilbert has a guaranteed contract and the coaches might feel that it's too early to give up on him. Clearly, the Browns need more production out of these two former high draft picks.