While there's a lot of hand wringing over the 24-20 pre-season loss to the New York Jets, it's important to be concerned about the right things. What really needs to be fixed? What can we shrug off?
DISAPPOINTMENT DOWN THE DEPTH CHART
A lot of folks are concerned about the role of the Browns cornerbacks in giving up big plays to the Jets second-team offense.
You never like to see a CB beaten in coverage deep, but it does happen. The disappointing aspect was how badly they were beaten, which could be a cause for concern if this becomes a trend in these pre-season games.
The effort coming from the Cleveland defense following the departure of the first-team appear strikingly similar to that of the 2007 season. The CB's playing off WR's with an emphasis of keeping the play in front of them. Free agent acquisition CB Terry Cousin played outside coverage far too much, which is not his expertise, as he is solid covering the slot.
This game was about getting back on the field and evaluation. Which CB's could make plays, be depended upon when it matters. Questions have been lodged in the minds of the organization regarding the quality of depth at CB and Safety. This game only magnified each position, despite the defense generally keeping the Jets from moving the football, neither proved to be worthy overall due to the big-plays permitted.
Based on the performance Thursday night against the Jets, certainly a basis is in place to realize why the team has kept an ear open for veteran potential in the defensive backfield. Can this team get by with the talent in the backfield? I believe so, but injuries could be the undoing for this unit, if they would come to pass.
Moreover, the Browns generated absolutely no pass rush with a mix-and-match group of defensive line players following a one-hour weather delay.
Following an impressive first seven minutes, the reserve Browns defense showed that Phil Savage's work is not yet done. The thinness of the defensive depth chart was in full display.
Disappointment in the team's reserves isn't isolated to the defense. Fans and some analysts are upset that third-string signal-caller Ken Dorsey couldn't get the team in the end-zone on numerous occasions late in the game. They should be. Dorsey is in his sixth year, and should have gotten his group of down-the-depth chart players into the end-zone.
But it would have proven nothing. The objective at that point in the game was to solidify some roster spots down the depth chart.
POT OF GOLD, RAINBOW, ETC
Now, rewind and look at the start of this ballgame. Starting nose tackle Shaun Rogers pushed the interior of the New York offensive line back on their heels. At one point, the svelte lineman used a crossover move, blew past Alan Faneca, and was coming like a run-away freight-train.
The aggressiveness coming from the front seven of the defense was impressive. The linemen were tough in the hole and the linebackers were really flowing the point. When was the last time anyone could realistically remember when linebackers in Cleveland were this effective?
Granted, the Jets attempted to get the ball out of the hands of QB Kellen Clemens quickly, with a short passing game and quick-hitters by the running backs. The Cleveland defense did not budge against the run, and the Jets found a little success in the short passing game.
On Thursday night, the Cleveland defense showed just a little. We got a sense of their scheme and the talent they have in place, and it makes the 2008 season into something promising. The gaping holes of 2007 were not there, as linebackers Andra Davis, D'Qwell Jackson, Kamerion Wimbley and Willie McGinest were in position to make plays.
Putting players in position to make plays is what defensive coordinator Mel Tucker out on the table to his defense upon his promotion in the off-season. It looks like he's well on his way.
One could not help but be excited to see cornerbacks Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright playing up on receivers. These two young men are talented, and while they will get beat on occasion due to their inexperience and aggressive mentality, this mindset is what winning NFL franchises need to see at the cornerback position. Second-year cornerback Brandon McDonald was physical against the pass.
Moreover, McDonald made an excellent stop on the elusive Leon Washington for a two-yard gain on key third down. With the Jets driving, the McDonald stop set up a fourth-and-one play for New York. Safety Sean Jones was accounted for in the Jets offensive scheme, but the fourth-year safety came off the corner and teamed with McGinest to stuff Clemens for no gain.
When these games start to count, that is what is known as a "pivotal play".
MORE OF THE SAME
Offensively, the Browns looked much like they did in the 2007 season. The offensive line opened holes for RB Jamal Lewis to plow through. QB Derek Anderson teamed-up with WR Donte Stallworth for a couple receptions and looked down-field for his favorite receiver Braylon Edwards. While the Anderson-to-Edwards long-yardage play didn't materialize, a pass interference call did set up the Browns at the 13-yard line. Five plays later, Edwards made an acrobatic catch of an Anderson pass for the score.
Minutes after the Cleveland score, the heavens opened-up and the game was delayed for one-hour. Upon returning to the field, the Browns inserted the second-team units into the game the complexion took a turn for the worse for the Browns.
Backup QB Brady Quinn moved the team efficiently, playing off solid running by Jason Wright and Jerome Harrison. The drive ended before its time when a second down pass at the New York 36-yard line bounced off the hands of WR Syndric Steptoe and was intercepted by Eric Barton.
One play the later, the Jets tied the score on a 71-yard touchdown pass.
The game became a back-and-forth affair, with Quinn moving the team down-field almost at will. The second-year signal caller from Notre Dame was very good. His passes were crisp and he managed the short passing game efficiently.
A REAL POINT OF WORRY
Despite the showing of the reserve offensive unit, it was the second and third team defenders that did not fare well. Defensive linemen Chase Pittman, Melila Purcell and rookies Ahtyba Rubin and Brian Schaefering were unable to generate any pressure on the New York quarterback, which provided the Jets an opportunity to pick away at the Browns defense for the remainder of the first half.
Despite the Browns inability to put pressure on the QB, the defense held firm throughout the balance of the game. The Jets did not attempt to run the football, although the holes were there due to the defensive line being stood-up at the point. The passing game was simply a dink-and-dunk affair until the Jets went over the top again, beating James in coverage.
A lack of a pass rush, along with inexperience down the depth chart at cornerback, and play of safeties in support pushed the Browns to the losing side of the final score.
Overall, the defense played relatively well outside of a couple game-changing plays. With approximately four weeks until the regular season opener, the Browns have time to further evaluate the roster, and these players have time to gain a better perspective of the system.
If these issues would have been occurring while the starting defense was on the field, there would be plenty of reason for Browns fans to break into cold sweats.
But it didn't. This pre-season opener was about getting on the field, evaluating some players, and getting a chance to work against an opponent.
As far as the concerns listed above? If they're happening at the end of camp, then there is room for significant concern.
Don't think for a second this organization is accepting of what transpired Thursday night, because they won't. General manager Phil Savage continues to look at players, there will be no resting on their laurels in the Cleveland camp throughout this training camp time of the season.