Monday, August 21, 2017

Only one big decision left

The clock is ticking. Hue Jackson has a decision to make. He has until Saturday to make it.

In actuality, he most likely will make it sooner because preparations for the regular season for the Browns begin Tuesday morning in Berea.

Jackson and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams have a pretty good idea who the starting units will be on both sides of the football. Except for the most important position of them all.


When the Browns take the field Saturday evening in Tampa for exhibition game No. 3 (the dress rehearsal game), fans will know who Jackson’s starting quarterback is.

The quarterback in the dress-rehearsal game against the Buccaneers is always the guy who lines up under center for the regular-season opener, in this case against the Pittsburgh Steelers at home on Sept. 10.

After Monday night’s 10-6 victory over the New York Giants in the second exhibition, it’s anybody’s guess who wins the most important position competition on the team.

Will it be Brock Osweiler, who looked pedestrian in the victory? Or will it be DeShone Kizer, the only quarterback of the evening who put points on the board against the Giants?

Osweiler has done nothing to cause Jackson to make a no-brainer decision and name him straight out based solely on being a veteran of the National Football League wars. Kizer, on the other hand, has simply outplayed the veteran in the first two games.

Jackson has to decide whether to throw the raw rookie into the cauldron against the Steelers in his first NFL game and risk exposing him to a Pittsburgh defense that has been known to devour rookie quarterbacks.

The quickest way to shatter any kind of confidence that has been built up by a rookie in exhibition season is to throw him into the fire when he is not clearly ready. And that is what Jackson has to be thinking.

Only he knows what he is going to do and for the time being, he’s not saying. The only certainty is it won’t be Cody Kessler or Kevin Hogan.

“We’ll see,” Jackson coyly told the media after the game. “I think I’ve seen enough. I’ve done this long enough in my career and know what it feels like and what it should be.” He later added, “I kind of want to put this thing to bed by Wednesday. I kind of want to say, ‘Here is what we’re doing.’”

Osweiler played only two series against the Giants, completing six of eight passes for 25 yards and an interception caused by a deflected pass attempt deep in New York territory. The Browns gained only 29 net yards in 12 plays with him.

Kizer helmed the huddle for 31 plays in four series, completing eight of 13 passes for 74 yards and rushing five times (thrice on designed plays) for 35 yards and the lone touchdown of the game. He was also sacked twice.

It’s a tug of war between Jackson’s ears. On the one hand, many fans want to see Kizer open up the season. Why not? What do the Browns have to lose besides a game by starting the kid? What harm would it do?

Given Osweiler’s extremely mediocre performances in the first two exhibitions, it might be hard for Jackson to reasonably explain to the fans why Kizer starts the season wearing a turnaround baseball cap.

One thing is certain, however. Jackson has nothing about which to worry on the defensive side of the ball. Based on the first two exhibitions, it appears the Browns finally have a defense. It definitely was the star of Monday night’s game.

Besides limiting the Giants to just 13 first downs, 65 yards on the ground and 212 total yards, it set up the game’s only touchdown late in the second quarter.

Kizer scored from a yard out five plays after cornerback Jason McCourty stripped New York wide receiver Sterling Shepard of the ball after a completed pass at the Giants 28 late in the second quarter.

The rookie opened up the second half by directing a 15-play, 68-yard drive, prolonged by a fortuitous penalty when a defensive hold nullified an interception, ultimately resulted in a 39-yard field goal by rookie Zane Gonzalez.

Jackson had Kizer run more plays under center in an effort to get him feeling more comfortable in that formation. He looked better in his deep drops than in the first exhibition.

Williams, who entertained the sparse crowd – many fans were disguised as seats – with a wide variety of blitzes, served notice the Cleveland defense this season should not be taken for granted.

Until the latter stages of the game, when the Browns played some prevent in an effort to keep the clock moving, the New York offense had problems developing any kind of rhythm.

The starters blunted the running game, made wide receivers work hard to get open and blanketed running backs coming out of the backfield on designed swing passes and checkdown passes.

Rookie safety Jabrill Peppers made his starting debut and seemed to be all over the field, from the deep secondary to sneaking up to the line of scrimmage on occasion. He wound up with four tackles, three solo. Oh, and he had punt returns of 31 and 36 yards (the latter wiped out by a hold).

Joe Schobert continued his solid play at middle linebacker with an occasional trip to defensive end, from where he registered one of the Browns’ two sacks; Myles Garrett had the other.

Cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who seems to enjoy playing for Williams, provided the hit of the game on the second play of the second quarter, leveling Giants star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. after an 18-yard reception.

Boddy-Calhoun’s shoulder appeared to cave in the outside of Beckham’s left knee on impact. The wideout limped off the field and did not return. The hit was deemed clean by ESPN commentators at the half.

The Giants offense began the game with a pair of three-and-outs resulting in minus-3 net yards. Eli Manning’s five series produced just five first downs, a meager 87 total yards and a Mike Nugent field goal.

The tackling by the Browns was sure and swift until the latter stages of the game when those who won’t make the final cut had a few problems.

Williams’ coup de grace was a series of jailbreak blitzes on the final Giants possession of the evening deep in their own territory. They resulted in three incomplete passes because quarterback Josh Johnson unloaded the ball before he wanted to.

Now that the defense seems to be on its way to recovering from the mess that was last season, all that remains now is who is going to direct an offense that has yet to scare anyone.

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