Friday, August 11, 2017

Browns-Saints notebook

Brock Osweiler has been around the National Football League enough to know that his poor performance in the Browns’ 20-14 victory over New Orleans Thursday night means very little in the grand scheme of things.

The fortunes of quarterbacking in the NFL can turn so abruptly, all he has to do is remain patient and hope coach Hue Jackson doesn’t read too much into what he accomplished – or didn’t accomplish – in his four series under center.

It wasn’t until the fourth series that he was able to produce a first down and eventually lead a 13-play that eventually petered out at the Saints 3-yard line when he thrice failed to connect in the end zone with wide receiver Kenny Britt.

Should he worry, especially in light of DeShone Kizer’s string performance in the second half? Yeah, probably, given Jackson’s predilection of going with the hot quarterback.

Quarterbacking the Cleveland Browns right now is not anyone’s job to lose because no one has stepped up and taken charge, although a teeny, tiny case can be made for Kizer. No one is a clear-cut favorite at this juncture.

Starting off the game with a pair of three-and-outs and a four-and out with the starters did not exactly win points with the coach. Never mind this was Osweiler’s first time working with the ones. It shouldn’t take four series to get untracked.

The saving grace for Osweiler, who was 6-of-14 for just 42 yards, was his ability to recognize blitzes and avoid sacks. Other than that, it was a flat showing he no doubt hopes merits at least one more shot at winning the job.
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Top draft pick Myles Garrett arrived in Cleveland with great fanfare about his ability to play disruptive football. And although he was in for just a few series against the Saints, he more than backed up that contention.

Playing some of the time in what appeared to be a version of the wide-nine defense popularized by the Philadelphia Eagles several years ago. Garrett lined up several yards well to the right of his defensive tackle, creating a difficult blocking angle for the opposing offensive left tackle.

It enabled him to use his quickness and speed to appear in the Saints’ backfield before the offensive tackle could adjust and recover, giving him greater opportunities for a sack or at least disrupt a play,

It looked as though new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams used it only with Garrett on the right side, but it was very effective with the rookie almost relentlessly putting pressure on quarterback Garrett Grayson.

It could be a sign of things to come in Williams’ ultra aggressive style of playing defense. And that defense registered five sacks, seven quarterback hits and numerous hurries.

Garrett also flashed his speed on the second Saints series when running back Alvin Kamara bounced outside after being stopped on a dive play and rambled 22 yards down the right sideline. Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden finally made the stop, but Garrett was right there to finish him off. Impressive.
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Even though the Browns will be playing with three linebackers about 20% of the time this season, it became apparent that Joe Schobert will be the middle backer with a strong performance against the Saints.

It probably relegates Tank Carder, who is outstanding on special teams and was hoping to win the starting MLB job, back to what he does best.

Schobert, who looked out of place at outside linebacker as a rookie after a productive college career as a pass rusher, is new to the position, but sure didn’t look it. He looked very comfortable and seemed to enjoy playing Williams’ upbeat defense, registering a sack, a quarterback hit and a tackle for loss.
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Nate Orchard, another college pass rusher turned linebacker by the Browns last season, is back at defensive end and causing some havoc. He was credited with a pair of tackles, a half a sack (should have been a sack and a half) and a quarterback hit.

Williams now has a vast array of natural pass rushers at his disposal in Garrett, Emmanuel Ogbah, Carl Nassib and Orchard in addition to a wealth of players in the secondary who love to be part of the coordinator’s many blitz packages.

Cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who had two tackles for loss (both on blitzes), seems to be thriving with the new approach to stopping the opposition. The most spectacular hit was on the Saints’ first series of the second half.

On a fourth-and-goal at the Cleveland 2, Boddy-Calhoun came untouched on a corner blitz and dropped wide receiver Tommylee Lewis on a wide receiver sweep for a seven-yard loss. Fans would never have been treated to that last season.
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The Browns forced only one turnover, but it contributed to their first touchdown of the game early in the second quarter. Free-agent tackle Trevon Coley stripped Grayson of the ball and Nassib fell on it at the New Orleans 21.

Cody Kessler took over for Osweiler at quarterback and needed five plays to score, rookie running back Matthew Dayes, showing good vision, running the final yard. The play was designed to go up the middle, which was plugged, but Dayes saw daylight at left tackle and cut it back to score.

Coley, perhaps the biggest surprise on defense in training camp, was in on seven tackles, four of them solo, and racked up one of the club’s sacks. Right now he is outplaying draft picks Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley (out with a broken finger).
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We have already highlighted who looked good. Who didn’t? Let’s start – and end – with offensive, very offensive, tackle Cameron Erving. A little background first.

Erving was a left tackle at Florida State University and was so bad, the Seminoles had to switch him to center, where, it has been said, he played decently enough that the Browns made him a first-round pick a couple of years ago.

He failed to impress anyone on two Cleveland coaching staffs his first two seasons, although given the opportunity to win a regular job. When Alex Mack bolted for Atlanta in free agency last season, he was handed the starting center job. He was so bad there, too, he was replaced by a variety of players.

Favored to win the vacant starting job at right tackle this season, Erving is listed behind Shon Coleman on the depth chart. He started at left tackle Thursday night when Joe Thomas was given the night off.

Erving was flagged for a false start and holding on two of the first three Cleveland plays of the game and was more or less a turnstile on pass plays, getting beat routinely by his man. If he makes the final roster, that will tell you how bad the offensive line depth is this season.
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Rookie safety Jabrill Peppers learned a valuable lesson on his first punt return opportunity late in the opening quarter. For some reason, he signaled for a fair catch with the closest Saints defender 13 yards away.

He immediately realized his error and slammed the ball against his hand in frustration. He later returned a punt for 13 yards and added a 27-yard kickoff return to his evening’s performance on special teams. “I feel like I should have broken both of those,” he said after the game. “Just have to stay on my feet, finish what I start.”

Prediction: Peppers will score at least two touchdowns this season returning kicks and punts.
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Notebook: Big difference this season on defense is more swarming to the football. That’s all on Williams. . . . Defensive tackle Danny Shelton was a huge (pun intended) non-factor. He planted a big zero on the stats sheet. . . . Britt should have had a touchdown in that second-quarter drive that ended on downs. All he had to do was drag his back foot as he was running out of the end zone and he would have had six points. . . . Bad stat: 12 penalties for 72 yards. . . . For some reason Jackson incorporated more pre-snap shifts than usual on offense. . . . Where’s the balance on offense? The Browns ran the ball only 34% of the time. . . . Thirteen players caught at least one of the 22 completed passes. . . . And finally, long snapper Charley Hughlett was the third-leading tackler with three solo tackles. This might be the only time you see Hughlett’s name all season.

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