Good day, Browns fans.
The third preseason game is traditionally the dress rehearsal for the regular season. This game was a mixed bag. There was plenty to be encouraged about, but there were a lot of things to be concerned about as well. As usual, lets take a closer look at what happened.
The offense avoided the big mistake, especially the turnovers we saw in the previous game. The starting offense had an excellent opening drive that resulted in a touchdown. But after that, the offense produced just three points until the third string came up with 10 points on the last two possessions. Once again, there were a lot of short, horizontal plays. There were a few medium-depth plays scattered throughout. One of the biggest bright spots was the return of Braylon Edwards, who surprisingly played 16 plays.
If the offensive line is the heart of the team, a lot of what went right and what went wrong falls here. The quarterbacks rarely had much time to throw, and the holes were not always there for the running game. Once again, with the starting unit, the problems were generally at the tackle position. Kevin Shaffer yielded a sack and overall had a so-so game. In fairness to Kirk Chambers, someone I blasted last week, he did better this week, even getting some blocks down the field on running plays. Still, he is not the backup the Browns want at tackle. Nat Dorsey returned and was up and down. Ross Tucker continues to look decent at center, though he botched the snap count on one play. Rob Smith look serviceable at center. Alonzo Ephraim returned and did not look as good as in the Eagles game. He had a fumbled exchange and a bad snap. This combined with the suspension probably means he will be departing soon. The backup line might have had their best showing to date, but of course, that was against the Buffalo backups. This game did not do a lot to dispel my concerns about the line.
Charlie Frye was pretty much the same as he has been. He had an excellent throw on a third down on the opening drive. He threw a lot of short stuff. But while he was 6 for 6 on the opening drive, he was only 6 of 10 for 21 yards after that. Frye was not helped by poor protection, and he was sacked twice. The good news here is that Frye took care of the ball and avoided mistakes. Ken Dorsey missed an open Kellen Winslow and generally didnt do much. One pass was badly thrown and probably should have been intercepted. In my opinion, Derek Anderson has overtaken Dorsey, and he led the Browns to 10 points. His touchdown pass was well thrown and he ran a two-minute drill that included some nice out routes. Still, neither Dorsey nor Anderson is ready for the #2 job. It remains to be seen if the Browns will pursue a veteran backup.
Clearly, Reuben Droughns and Jerome Harrison will be the one-two punch at running back. Droughns looks ready to pick up where he left off last year. Harrison got playing opportunities with the starters, and not just on third down. He continues to play well and should be an excellent change of pace for Droughns. Interstingly, the Browns went to Jason Wright next. He has not had a lot of chances in the previous games, and looked decent. William Green got three rushes including a 15-yarder, but it may be too little, too late. Lee Suggs did not play on offense. Terelle Smith had some nice blocks and one carry. Lawrence Vickers saw limited action as well.
All of the wide receivers had at least one catch. Most of the focus was on the return of Edwards. In addition to a big third-down catch where he bulled through two tacklers, Edwards had some nice blocks and took hits well. It appears to me that Frisman Jackson has pretty much doomed himself with too many drops. In particular, he missed a pass that was a little high but in his hands on third down. Instead of a first down, the Browns had to punt. Meanwhile, Josh Cribbs and Kendrick Mosely continue to catch everything that comes their way.
Kellen Winslow was used sparingly as a receiver. Steve Heiden had a touchdown, but he also gave up a sack. Darnell Dinkens played but the ball did not come his way.
After two very encouraging performances, the defense had some problems in this game. With all of the personnel being shuffled in and out, its difficult to know exactly what it means. Willie McGinest and Chaun Thompson returned to action, but Daylon McCutcheon and Gary Baxter were still out, forcing the Browns to start journeyman Ralph Brown again. While there were some excellent plays along the way, the pass rush continues to be spotty, there were problems against the run when Ted Washington was not in the game, and certain players in the secondary got torched.
The line continues to do well when Washington is in, but unlike the previous game, Nick Eason did not do as good a job of backing up the nose. Ethan Kelley seemed to get more chances at nose and was not awful, but certainly no Ted Washington. When Washington is in there, it allows the ends, especially Orpheus Roye and Alvin McKinley to make plays. I think Simon Fraser has played his way into a roster spot as well.
There was plenty to be encouraged about at the linebacker position. This may be one of the toughest positions to make roster decisions about. McGinest looked rusty, but he is a veteran and should be ready to go by September 10. Matt Stewart has been a pleasant surprise with his solid play, though he did miss a sack that turned into a Buffalo touchdown. Kamerion Wimbley continues to impress in pass rushing situations and has the speed to play the run effectively. Despite the staffs reluctance to play rookies, Wimbley should see significant playing time. Wimbley forced a fumble and disrupted several plays. Chaun Thompson needed to have a good showing given that DQwell Jackson did some good things in the first two games. Thompson provided some speed in the middle and had a pretty good game. Both Jackson and Leon Williams made some good plays. David McMillian had a penalty, but once again did not repeat his showing from the first game.
Once you get past Leigh Bodden, the cornerback situation is not good. Ralph Brown did have an interception, but he also got toasted on the first Bills touchdown. Brown seldom was able to cover his man. Daven Holly got called for defensive holding, though I thought the call was questionable at best. Pete Hunter is now playing largely at garbage time, and barring continued injuries to the starters, one wonders if he can stick. At safety, Brodney Pool and Sean Jones continue to duke it out. Jones had a hard hit to break up a pass and Pool had some good coverage on the tight end. Justin Hamilton continues to bolster his chance and had an interception in the end zone.
This game was not as good a showing by the special teams. Phil Dawson missed two field goals, both over 50 yards, but one he got a second chance when the Bills had 12 men on the field. He connected from 46. Jeff Chandler made the game winner as time expired. Dave Zastudil continues to show a strong leg, but he needs to work on dropping the kicks inside the 20. The coverage teams had their problems in this game, though Corey McIntire had a great tackle on the opening kickoff of the second half. Meanwhile, the kick and punt return games for the Browns were OK. Cribbs had a decent kickoff return and Northcutt had one so-so return.
There isnt much to say here except that some of the decisions about who played when were interesting, and probably gave some hints about who will make the team. In particular, the running back decisions might be due to continued plans to shop Green and Suggs, or it may be that the team has simply given up on them. I also found the decision to attempt a 56-yard field goal interesting. The miss set up Buffalo in great field position with nearly two minutes remaining in the first half. It led to a field goal.
Given that Buffalo repeatedly derailed themselves with penalties and miscues, the Browns could easily have lost this game. While good things happened, the team has plenty to fix before the Saints come to town in two weeks.
The final preseason game against the Bears is on Thursday. This will be the last chance for the staff to sort out the bottom of the roster.
The season is short, bark hard!