Defense ready; offense nyet
Two facts emerged from the Browns’ baseball-like 5-0 home victory over the Philadelphia Eagles Thursday night.
The defense is ready to start the regular season. Right now.
The offense isn’t close, not even remotely.
In the so-called dress rehearsal third game of the exhibition season, the Cleveland defense played as though it was midseason. It was opportunistic and aggressive to the enth degree in pitching the shutout.
The offense sputtered and stuttered and was totally ineffective, the starters with the exception of guards Austin Corbett and Shane Drango who played the entire game, on the bench at the beginning of the second half.
The defense produced seven sacks (including a safety) and four turnovers – two fumble recoveries and a pair of interceptions. Not bad for a unit that rang up exactly zero turnovers in splitting the first two exhibitions.
The very offensive offense, which gained only 258 yards, turned those four takeaways into zero points as three Cleveland quarterbacks struggled despite being handed short fields on three of those occasions.
Defense is all about aggression quickness, attitude and nastiness, all attributes that were on display against the Eagles to the obvious delight of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
Offense is all about rhythm and timing, attributes that showed up with disturbing infrequency most of the evening.
Quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor, Baker Mayfield and Drew Stanton took turns looking very ordinary, although Mayfield showed on a few occasions he was clearly the best thrower for the evening by making some major league passes.
Stanton was the only one to escape injury. Taylor injured his left hand while breaking a fall on his second series (he returned three series later) and played five for the evening.
Mayfield, meanwhile, was injured after throwing an interception in the fourth quarter, his helmet colliding with tackle Shon Coleman’s right hip as he was falling after being sacked. After visiting the concussion tent, he returned to the bench.
There was little, if any, of that rhythm and timing all evening when the Browns owned the football. Taylor was 11-of-16 for 65 yards; Mayfield checked in with eight-of-12 for 76 yards.
The running game, which came alive last week against Buffalo, churned out another 138 yards, Nick Chubb and Carlos Hyde gaining 91 of those yards behind an offensive line that is much more comfortable and effective when pass plays aren’t called.
With the season opener against Pittsburgh at home two weeks away, this offense is not nearly ready. And with the final exhibition next Thursday at Detroit, a game where the starters ostensibly will be spectators, offensive coordinator Todd Haley has a mountain of work to do between now and then to get his troops ready.
Taylor has looked notching like the steady quarterback they picked up from Buffalo for a third-round draft pick. Mayfield has clearly looked better in the first three exhibitions.
If Taylor is the starter against the Steelers, and head coach Hue Jackson steadfastly maintains he will be, he’s got a long way to go to come even close to being ready for the games that count.
In his five series, the Cleveland offense racked up a measly 105 net yards. The second possession reached the Philadelphia 1 and then Haley inexplicably sent in a bizarre set of plays.
Instead of simply handing off to Hyde, Haley dialed up four straight pass plays, three of which were designed for Jarvis Landry, none of which produced points.
Taylor, who presumably will watch the Lions exhibition, quarterbacked 11 series in the first three games, completing 20-of-28 passes for 186 yards and one touchdown thus far.
Seven of those possessions ended in a punt, one ended on downs and one ended at halftime.. Overall, he was on the field for 69 snaps, which gained 194 yards and just two touchdowns, one on the ground.
Now Jackson is an old-fashioned coach, which means Taylor will not play against the Lions, presumably ready for the Steelers. As mentioned earlier, he is numerous game reps away from being ready.
Jackson most likely will try to downplay that and somehow justify starting him against Pittsburgh. He will stubbornly say Taylor is his man despite the problems he has encountered.
The eight-year veteran has looked good in only two possessions of the 11 he engineered. Mayfield has looked better. Not much better, mind you, but relatively better.
There is no question the rookie throws a better ball. And his ability to successfully navigate traffic in the pocket and keep plays alive has served him well and enabled him to make several key throws.
Right now, the Cleveland offense, the one that will start the season, needs work. It is duller than a butter knife. The passing game, especially with Taylor at quarterback, is a cold mess.
Haley is quickly discovering Taylor is not Ben Roethlisberger, his quarterback the last six seasons as offensive boss with the Steelers. It challenges his ability to discover an offense with which he is comfortable.
Jackson and the Cleveland offense would be better served with Taylor playing in the final exhibition to get comfortable with the rhythm and timing so vital to success. If Taylor sits, the Cleveland defense will be a very busy unit against the Steelers.