At least the starters played well
Now is the time for Brows fans, especially those who really care no matter the time of the season, to put Friday night’s 19-17 exhibition loss to the Buffalo Bills in perspective.
Fans, buoyed by the notion the Cleveland offense that looked good in the exhibition opening victory over the New York Giants last week, found out soon enough that was a bit of an aberration.
First of all, all but seven of the points in the initial home game of the season were generated when second- and third-stringers for both teams took over after one quarter.
The Browns, whose exhibition winning streak ends at five games, started strong on offense with a nine-play, 70-yard scoring drive on their first possession, capped off by a Carlos Hyde four-yard run around right end.
Hyde and Duke Johnson Jr. were particularly impressive with runs of 23 and 18 yards, respectively, behind an offensive line that opened up huge holes. Hyde wound up with nine carries for 64 yards.
The defense, meanwhile, completely shut down the Buffalo offense with a variety of blitzes that confused quarterback AJ McCarron and completely clogged all the running lanes.
Nothing worked for the Bills – four straight three-and-outs and seven net yards on 12 plays – until rookie Josh Allen entered the game. The big gunslinger from Wyoming, the Bills’ top pick in the last college draft, changed that in a hurry.
Three consecutive offensive series later, the Bills owned a 13-7 lead, Allen making a strong bid to surprise everyone and become the club’s starting quarterback on opening day in a few weeks.
On his first possession, he led his offense on a 15-play, 80-yard journey that took nearly eight minutes off the clock, culminating the drive with a two-yard dart to Rod Streater. He followed that with field goals on short drives set up a long punt return and poor Cleveland punt.
By then, the starting Cleveland defense watched from the bench with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams getting a long look at what lies behind the starters.
The Cleveland offense, which began so well, shut down after the opening drive and produced six straight punts before Baker Mayfield, who entered after Tyrod Taylor led the first four, started to percolate.
On his last two possessions, the Browns’ No. 1 pick thought he had thrown the go-ahead touchdown pass , a two-yarder to Derrick Willies with a two minutes left in the third quarter, only to have it wiped out by an offensive pass interference penalty The Browns settled for a Ross Martin field goal.
They then took the lead, Mayfield taking his men 65 yards on nine plays, featuring the strong running of rookie Nick Chubb – he ran for 53 yards in 11 carries – and strikes of 13 and 18 yards to wide receiver Da’Mari Scott along the way, Chubb bursting into the end zone from a yard out to regain the lead at 17-13.
But the Cleveland defense, comprised almost entirely of players who will be looking for a job in a few weeks, gave it right back when the Bills marched 75 yards, tight end Nock O’Leary galloping the final 35 yards untouched on a blown assignment in the secondary.
The Browns double blitzed quarterback Nathan Peterman from the left side and O’Leary merely jogged into the vacated area and gathered in the short pass as the free safety, who should have moved over to cover, arrived too late.
An optimist would look at what happened in the first 15 minutes with all the starters in the game and feel good. A pessimist would say the Browns better stay healthy because the backups leave a lot to be desired.
Highlights include the strong ground game, which produced 164 yards; strong up front blocking by the offensive line throughout most of the game; a very aggressive defense on the first four possessions; Mayfield’s ability to keep plays alive within the pocket with all the nonsense around him.
Lowlights: Three penalties for offensive interference. Players have to learn they cannot block on a pass play past the line of scrimmage before the ball is thrown; once again, too many penalties; still looking for that first turnover; only three of 12 on third down; just 177 yards of offense after the first drive; poor punt coverage.
Next Thursday, the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles visit for the so-called dress rehearsal game. That’s when the starters play at least the first half and probably half of the third quarter. Fans will get a much better read on them at that time.