Relax, it’s only an exhibition
Before you get too excited about the Browns’ 20-10 exhibition victory over the New York Giants Thursday night, ponder this: The Browns were unbeaten in exhibition games last season.
That’s right, the team that went on to win zero games during the 2017 regular season, becoming only the second National Football League team to lose all 16 games in one season, was perfect in games that did not count.
And yet, there is something to be said about Cleveland’s first victory, no matter when it was achieved, since last August 31.
Even though the victory in New York was meaningless, it was garnered with a team that is infinitely better than the team that brought shame and embarrassment to the North Coast last year. The talent quotient is decidedly better.
Yes, the majority of the statistics the Browns ran up on both sides of the football against the Giants were against second- and third-teamers, most of whom will not be around much longer.
And yet, it is difficult not to notice that Baker Mayfield, the current face of the franchise although he most likely will watch much more than play this season, had a strong NFL debut.
The rookie quarterback played like a veteran. He was poised, did not rattle when in trouble and played confidently en route to his 11-for-20, 212-yard, two-touchdown evening. He looked like he belonged.
He did not look uncomfortable under center, one of his TD throws came from the under center. His footwork when under center did not look forced or awkward, especially with his play fake passes.
That’s not to say he should be the starting quarterback. Coach Hue Jackson has made it abundantly clear Tyrod Taylor, who was perfect on five passes for 99 yards and a touchdown in his two series, is his man.
Mayfield, who threw scoring strikes to tight end David Njoku (his second of the evening) and fellow rookie Antonio Callaway, did nothing to hurt his chances of eventually supplanting Taylor. Both were beauties.
The first, a 10-yarder that culminated a 14-play, 72-yard drive, was thrown high into double coverage in the back of the end zone where only his big tight end could catch it. Mayfield connected with Callaway on a simple slant that covered 54 yards, delivering the ball in perfect stride in a four-play drive that covered 78 yards..
Callahan also turned the most acrobatic play of the game, a toe-tapping, full-stretch 24-yard effort on the sidelines that kept a drive alive in the third quarter. Jackson successfully challenged the initial ruling of incomplete pass.
The lone Giants’ touchdown early in the third quarter was a gift. Three plays after rookie C. J. Board fumbled a punt away (the only turnover of the game) inside the Cleveland 20, Jalen Simmons scored from five yards three plays later.
Other than that, the Cleveland defense controlled the game after Giants rookie Saquon Barkley ripped off a 39-yard run on the first play of the game, allowing just 271 yards overall the rest of the way, a lot of it playing prevent defense in the latter stages of the first half.
The hitting for a first game was relatively sharp and decisive even by the second- and third-stringers. Rarely did Giants receivers have room to run after making a catch.
Competition in the secondary will be interesting to watch. The off-season attention Genera Manager John Dorsey gave the secondary is beginning to pay off.
Three negatives in the game, two of them involving the ground game. The Browns ran the ball 33 times and gained 50 yards. Rookie Nick Chubb was the busiest with 15 carries . . . good for 11 yards. He had little or no running room. Matthews Dayes racked up the longest gain – seven yards. Last season’s problem remains unfixed.
The starting offensive line played just two series except for one notable member of that unit. Rookie Austin Corbett, ticketed for left guard, play the first three quarters.
Even when you throw out Barkley’s long run, the Cleveland defense surrendered 95 yards on the ground. That should improve as the regular season draws closer, but will probably be addressed nonetheless by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
The last negative is eminently correctable. The Browns were flagged 13 times (not including a couple of declined penalties) for 141 yards, including taunting penalties against rookie cornerback Denzel Ward and wide receiver Jarvis Landry.
That falls under the category of discipline or lack thereof. Disciplined teams do not make silly mistakes like that. You can be certain Jackson will address that before the next exhibition.-->