Thoughts on the Rams victory
Day-after-the-day-after thoughts on the Browns’ 27-19 exhibition victory Thursday night . . .
The best part of the victory? No turnovers and three takeaways. Any time you ring up numbers like that you’re going to win a vast majority of the time.
Other quick impressions:
~ For the first exhibition of the season, the offense looked unusually sharp. The only downside on that side of the ball was the below-average run blocking. It looked a lot similar to the Pat Shurmur run-blocking scheme. It’s obvious that aspect of the offense needs a lot of work.
On the other hand, the pass blocking was strong for the most part, helped by a large number of quick-developing plays. Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer getting rid of the ball quickly certainly didn’t hurt.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on offense was how effectively the Browns ran screen passes. That aspect of the passing game was downright awful the past few seasons. But Weeden executed to perfection a couple of screens against the Rams. If they can do that in the regular season, it adds yet another weapon to a burgeoning arsenal.
~ The defense is going to fun to watch this season. Unlike seasons past when the Browns played much more of a read-and-react style, this season’s edition does little reading and a whole lot of charging in a northerly direction.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s main goal is to get to the quarterback and although the Browns sacked St. Louis quarterbacks only once, they felt pressure most of the evening. It’s an extremely active and nasty defense with blitzes coming from anywhere. As the season unfolds, expect to see even more exotic looks.
Early on the Browns gave Rams quarterback Sam Bradford a five-man look up front with three down linemen and the outside linebackers on the line of scrimmage in a two-point stance. It became a guessing game on whether both outside backers would rush or drop back in coverage. Sometimes, both rushed; other times, just one.
Add a strong safety in the box in intimidating fashion on more than 50% of the plays and you have the makings of an exciting – and, yes, daring and dangerous – defense that will bring an aggressive bent to Cleveland football that we haven’t seen in a very long time. It will get stung on occasion, but will sting more often than it gets stung.
~ It has become somewhat obvious the Browns will be not be a slow, plodding football team this season. While not among the speediest or quickest teams in the National Football League, they are much faster and quicker than they have been in recent seasons.
With the likes of Barkevious Mingo, Jabaal Sheard, Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves on defense and Travis Benjamin, Dion Lewis, Miguel Maysonet (if he makes the team) and Josh Gordon on offense, the Browns no longer play the game as though they are rooted in cement.
~ Standout players against the Rams included Lewis, whose quick-twitch talents should prove invaluable should anything happen to Trent Richardson; free safety Johnson Bademosi, who seemed to be around the ball quite a bit; reserve guard Garrett Gilkey, whose quick feet and bellicose style of play should earn him a spot on the club; and nose tackle Phil Taylor, who created the first turnover of the season and whose large presence in the middle of the line should help the run defense this season.
~ Weeden had only three incompletions in 13 attempts against the Rams, but one of those incompletions might have been his most impressive pass of the evening.
On a third-and-goal at the St. Louis 7 on the first series of the game, Weeden looked for Greg Little in the right corner of the end zone. The pass barely tipped the fingertips of Little, guarded closely by Courtland Finnegan, before falling harmlessly out of bounds.
It was a pass only Little could have caught. Even though it was incomplete, it was a large step in the growth of Weeden as an NFL quarterback. He doesn’t make that kind of throw last season. If he had, it most likely would have been picked off. Bottom line: it put three points on the scoreboard.
~ Running back Brandon Jackson, who spent most of last season tethered to the bench for some unknown reason, looked awfully strong against the Rams. He wound up with only 32 yards in 11 carries, but he also caught five passes for 22 yards and showed a strong second effort all evening. If I’m Montario Hardesty, I’m worried about making this team.
~ Tidbits: The Browns were 9-of-16 on third downs, a rate that should please Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner, but allowed the Rams to convert 6 of 13 on third down, a rate that cannot please Horton. . . . Did you notice very little pre-snap motion by the Browns? Under Shurmur and Brad Childress, it seemed as though the Browns last season motioned on just about every play. . . . If Jordan Cameron can stay healthy and Gary Barnidge plays as well as Chudzinski believes he will, Turner should have fun designing plays for these two tight ends . . . . Even though he had only one tackle in two series, it looks as though inside linebacker Craig Robertson is quite comfortable in Horton’s defense. . . . Lots of flat passes and hitch patterns to keep the Rams’ defense honest a positive sign.