Observations after watching the Browns get dominated by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exhibition game No. 3 Friday night in Tampa . . .
The third game of the four-game exhibition season in the National Football League is popularly called the dress-rehearsal game. It’s the only exhibition when the starters play at least a half before becoming spectators.
The Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers Friday night played such a game that was witnessed by a national television audience. Based on the result of that game, a 30-13 Tama Bay victory, the Browns are nowhere near ready for prime time TV, or any TV for that matter. Fans across the nation saw how bad this Browns team really is.
If it weren’t for NFL bylaws that require each team to play 16 games during the regular season, Friday night’s contest could be used as evidence that shutting down the show (season?) entirely might not be a bad idea for the Browns. This team is flat out not ready to play for keeps.
The first units of both teams produced a 27-10 halftime lead for the Bucs, who led, 27-3 (it was 17-3 after a quarter), before Robert Griffin III and Josh Gordon hooked up on a 43-yard scoring play with about a minute left to avoid a total embarrassment.
All three units shared the blame for this one. The offense sputtered; the defense, at least in the first half, was AWOL; and the special teams gave up two long punt returns, one for a touchdown,
The defense in the first 30 minutes played as though it was the first exhibition, not the third. This time, though, the awful run defense had plenty of company in the pass defense.
Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston strafed the Browns’ secondary for the first 30 minutes, hitting on one big play after another. The pro sophomore put the ball up 25 times and completed 16 for 259 yards and touchdown passes to Charles Sims III and Mike Evans, who caught five passes for 115 yards.
While it might seem like a good opportunity to blame the secondary for the damage, it would be incorrect. Why blame the defensive backs when the pass rush afforded Winston more than ample time to pile up the yardage.
There is just so much time a cornerback or safety can stick with his man. Lack of cooperation from the guys up front makes it that much more difficult.
On the Sims touchdown for example, Winston had nine seconds to get rid of the ball. No Cleveland defender was near him when he delivered the three-yard scoring strike after rolling out to avoid pressure, such as it was.
It was that way all evening for the Cleveland defense, which racked up a sizzling zero sacks with only two tackles for loss. It is a problem that probably will get worse before it gets better.
This team does not know how to rush the passer. Tampa Bay does not have a great offensive line and yet the Cleveland pass rush couldn’t get close enough to Winston to smell his sweat.
The Bucs, on the other hand, know how to pressure the quarterback. They recorded eight sacks, five in the first half against The Third. The Cleveland offensive line, with two new starters, was overmatched and overwhelmed all evening by a much more aggressive defense.
If the Browns can’t protect the passer and get to opposing quarterbacks with any degree of regularity, it’s going to a longer season than originally thought, making Hue Jackson’s first year in Cleveland seem like an eternity.
The Browns clearly did not arrive ready to play a game of football Friday night. They played passively compared to the home team. The fault there lies squarely with the coaching staff.
There is a lack of talent on this team and it showed against the Bucs. That’s the bad news. The good news is it can’t get any worse.
Or can it?
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Random thoughts . . .
Don’t know why Jackson was so upset with punter Andy Lee after Adam Humphries’ 73-yard return for a touchdown in the opening quarter. The coach was very animated in his discussion with the veteran punter, who jogged toward Humphries, but made no effort to tackle him. Does Jackson want to risk his punter in a meaningless exhibition? Apparently so. Late in the third quarter, the Bucs’ Bernard Reedy was headed for another punt return score when Lee shoved him out of bounds after a 43-yard journey. . . .
The Cleveland second unit defense, which featured a majority of youngsters, held the Bucs to just a field goal in the second half and produced the half’s best scoring opportunity after Danny Shelton caused a fumble deep in Tampa Bay territory in the third quarter. But the best the Browns could generate was a Travis Coons field goal after three plays gained only three yards from the 11-yard line. Why Jackson opted for a field at 27-10 is puzzling. It’s an exhibition game. Three meaningless points at that juncture is nothing more than making the final score only a little better. Going for a touchdown makes more sense even if didn’t work. .It’s an exhibition game!! . . .
Josh Gordon is amazing, but you already knew that. Here’s a guy who hasn’t played competitive football in nearly two years and looked in mid-season form with his two receptions for 87 of Griffin’s 119 yards. His touchdown catch was classic Gordon as he maneuvered in front of his defender to be in position to catch the slightly underthrown pass and tumble into the end zone. Too bad he’ll miss the first four games of the season. . . .
Quickies . . . Isaiah Crowell ran hard and effectively, averaging nearly five yards with his eight carries. . . . . Fellow running back Duke Johnson Jr. needs to get more touches. He has the best moves on the team. Just get him the ball. . . . Rookie linebacker Emmanuel Ogbah looked like he belonged in the second half. He was credited with three tackles, but it sure looked like more than that. . . . Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel was targeted nine times, catching six balls for 60 yards. No question the tough little guy makes the final roster. . . . Quick question: Where are rookie wideouts Ricardo Louis and Jordan Payton and why haven’t they played? . . . Another quickie: What is this team’s personality on offense? After three games, I have no idea.