Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Browns-Rams leftovers

Believe it or not, there were a few positives to latch on to in the wake of the Browns’ latest exhibition loss. Too few, unfortunately.

Chris Kirksey was the only player on defense who actually looked as though he wanted to play that game Saturday night against the St. Louis Rams. The rookie inside linebacker is making a strong case for displacing Craig Robertson opposite Karlos Dansby.

He was near the ball most of the evening. At times, it seemed as though the ball sought him.

His seven tackles, five solo, led the team in both categories. Throw in one tackle for loss and an interception and you just might be looking at Dansby’s new partner. He was quick, showed good speed and displayed solid tackling form.

On offense, the one stickout was rookie running back Terrance West. He had only 17 yards on seven carries, but a 20-yard run was negated by a penalty.

West is a hard runner who never stops moving his feet. Tough to bring down, he is always scratching for extra yards. At times against the Rams, it took three or four men to bring him down.

If Ben Tate cannot avoid the injuries that have plagued his brief National Football League career, there will be no talent dropoff with West backing him up. Don’t be surprised to see offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan try to get him more touches this season.
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Speaking of Shanahan, one can only hope the offense we’ve been subjected to in the exhibition season is not the one we’ll see once the regular season begins a week from Sunday.

It is stodgy and almost predictable with absolutely no creativity or imagination. Surely, that will change when games taking on significant meaning.

Maybe that’s the reason the offensive line has looked so pedestrian (trying to be kind here) in the first three games. And with maybe just a couple of series left for the first teamers in the last exhibition, there should be some concern.

Joe Thomas has not played like a perennial All-Pro offensive tackle. St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn dominated him and forced him into a couple of holding penalties. In the past, that would never have happened.

On the other side of the line, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz is playing as though he is mired in a mud bog. He is slow out of his stance, his kick step in pass protection is a beat and a half too slow and he looks disinterested. Brian Hoyer’s strip sack on the first play of the second half was a direct result of Schwartz’s sloppiness in pass protection.

The one lineman who stood out in spite of a couple of penalties was rookie left guard Joel Bitonio. He played to the whistle and was always looking for someone to hit. That’s the kind of nastiness his four other buddies should adapt.
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Even though Joe Haden sat out the game for the Browns, there is no reason the secondary should have made quarterbacks Shaun Hill and Austin Davis of the Rams look like Pro Bowl candidates, Davis in particular.

The second-year man from Southern Mississippi was 14-of-22 for 198 yards and a pair of touchdowns. A portion of the damage was against second- and third-teamers, but some of it was against the No. 1 defense.

Rookie Justin Gilbert, picked on in Haden’s absence, is learning just how much faster the pro game is to the college game. In time, he should be able to adjust and become a viable member of the secondary. In the meantime, he will learn quickly that a short memory is his best friend.
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Is it me (Is it I is correct, but it sounds wrong) or does it seem thus far as though the Browns have not arrived ready to play a football game? Nor certain how Pettine gets his team emotionally ready for a game, but whatever he’s doing, it isn’t working.

Starting off the season with the Steelers just might be the best test for the rookie head coach’s regular-season baptism. If he can’t get his men ready for the hated rival in their own stadium, this could be a long season.

Pettine's perpetual scowl on the sidelines seems to belie the approach his team has to playing a game that rewards aggression. It sure would be nice to see the Browns come out against the Steelers and slap them around.

Readying a team in the fundamentals of the game is one aspect of coaching football. Preparing them in the intangibles is something entirely different. Right now, how Pettine handles the latter aspect is the great unknown.
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Notebook: Johnny Manziel looked decent (compared to his last outing) against the Rams. He was more sure of himself, threw the ball well and was much more decisive. His seven-yard touchdown scramble in the third quarter was a portent of the future. Wish he would stash the money sign, though. Classless. The Browns trailed, 23-14, after the score. Save the theatrics. . . . Two plays before his TD, Manziel had trouble getting the play from the Shanahan and had to take a delay penalty. No excuse for that. . . . The Browns’ offense generated just 50 plays and owned the ball for only 20 minutes. . . . Third-down performance is just as important a statistic as time of possession and turnover ratio. Dominate on that down and your chances of winning improve markedly. Against the Rams, the Browns were four of 11 on third down. The Rams were 12 of 19. . . . For whatever reason, the Browns didn’t blitz as much against the Rams as they did in the first two exhibitions. The pass rush in general was not impressive. Maybe Pettine is saving all his sophistication for the regular season.

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