Cleveland Browns: What We've Learned Through Week 3 of the Preseason
Just because a head coach decides who his starting quarterback will be for the regular season does not mean that it will fix an offense. Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine learned that on Saturday night.
Obviously naming a starter was not going to fix all of the offensive woes, but a solid week of practice with one quarterback was supposed to help. It didn’t help all that much, as the Browns first unit struggled mightily once again.
In fact, the entire team looked out of sync, and the defense was worn down by too much time on the field and the arms of two backup quarterbacks. It isn’t time to overreact just yet, but it is definitely time to worry a little.
Here are the things we learned from the third week of the Browns preseason.
Hoyer Is Just Keeping the Seat Warm
This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone who knows anything about football. Very rarely does a career backup stumble into a starting job and light the world on fire. Brian Hoyer is no different.
In fact, in over a half of football, Hoyer turned the ball over twice and made so few quality throws you could count them on one hand.
His best drive of the day came just before halftime when a great kickoff return by Taylor Gabriel set the offense up at the at the Rams’ 37-yard line. Hoyer worked exclusively out of the shotgun and in a no-huddle offense, and he threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Hawkins for the starter’s first touchdown of the preseason.
It is worth noting that the Rams had inserted quite a few backups on their defense.
Oh boy. Brian Hoyer opens the second half w/ a sack-fumble. And I thought the Steelers looked bad the other night...— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) August 24, 2014
He finished the game 10-of-16 for 84 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Hoyer will need to do a lot more than he did on Saturday to hold off Johnny Manziel all season long.
Johnny Knows How to Make Waves
It couldn’t have set up any better for Johnny Manziel. After Hoyer struggled for more than two quarters, Manziel was set up with a short field off of a Chris Kirksey interception and made some magic happen.
After a beautiful fade in the end zone that fell incomplete because of a defensive penalty, Manziel orchestrated a touchdown drive in dramatic fashion. How did he finish the drive? With his legs.
Manziel rushed seven yards, weaving through defender before barreling his way into the end zone. He then jumped up and gave the fans behind the end zone the patented “Money Manziel” signal. Mike Pettine, welcome to your nightmare.
Sure, there were still rough spots for Manziel. He had a delay-of-game penalty, which was obviously his fault, and some rushed throws, but anyone can see Manziel is improving.
He finished 10-of-15 for 85 yards and one touchdown. More importantly, he once again closed the gap between the starter and himself. Unfortunately, neither he nor Hoyer was able to push the ball down the field, and that continues to be a huge problem on offense.
Manziel's Personality Hurt Him in the QB Race
Mike Pettine can say that everything outside of football did not factor into the starting quarterback decision all he wants. If you believe him, I have some great oceanfront property in Oklahoma to sell you.
According to Jim Corbett of USA Today, Pettine admitted that Manziel’s middle-finger flip to Washington’s bench didn’t sit well with him. There were also reports from Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com that the front office was concerned with how much Manziel was partying during the offseason.
Now, Johnny’s play through the beginning of training camp and the first two preseason games certainly did not help the cause, but all of this was a factor.
Pettine could have waited until after the third game and chose to get some consistency within the offense heading into the regular season. Instead, he chose to go with the more mature, safer option. We will see how well it works.
The Defense Needs Joe Haden
The Browns defense with Joe Haden looks like it could be one of the best in the NFL. The Browns defense without Haden, who sat out Saturday night’s game, looks like Swiss cheese with holes big enough to throw footballs through.
The Browns gave up 330 passing yards. That would be bad enough, but only 77 of them came from the shoulder of starting quarterback Sam Bradford. After he left with a knee injury, the backups did the rest of the damage.
Austin Davis, Shaun Hill and Garrett Gilbert combined to throw for 266 yards and two touchdowns. They carved up the Browns secondary that was without Haden and Buster Skrine.
Rookie Justin Gilbert was targeted time and time again and is obviously not ready for the primary cornerback slot. Second-year corner Leon McFadden looked like he wasn’t ready for playing time, period.
With fourth-round draft pick Pierre Desir still injured, the Browns find themselves once again thin in the defensive secondary. In the pass-happy NFL, that is not a good place to be thin.
Get the Panic Button Ready for the Receivers
You shouldn’t be full-on panicking about the Browns’ receiver corps yet, but you should be holding your hand about two centimeters above it in a ready position.
The lone bright spot of the starters was Andrew Hawkins. He had a great game, catching five passes for 36 yards and a touchdown. Other than him, the only other starting receiver to catch anything was Miles Austin, who had two catches for 23 yards.
To be fair, the Browns did not play Josh Gordon (more on that later), and Nate Burleson is still sidelined with a hamstring injury. The most alarming part, however, was that there was little to no separation between the receivers and defenders at any point in the game.
It is hard to tell whether Hoyer was more of an issue than the receivers, but neither was very good, and it’s looking more and more like there are not too many quality pass-catchers to toss the ball to.
Browns Bracing for the Loss of Gordon
The Browns surprised many on Saturday night by keeping All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon on the sideline for the entire game. Up until Saturday night he had been taking snaps with the first-team offense.
As ProFootballTalk points out, this is obviously the coaching staff bracing for his absence for at least the beginning of the season. This is the smart move.
Both Hoyer and Manziel have to get used to throwing to everyone else on the offense. Gordon is talented enough to catch up and create some chemistry if he is able to get back at some point this year.
In the meantime, the rest of the receivers need all the reps they can get because they will actually be on the field to start the season. There is no need to keep a security blanket out on the field in the preseason when the quarterbacks will be without it in just a few weeks.
Gabriel Might Be Here to Stay
Every year there is an undrafted rookie who catches on with the team. This year it might be wide receiver Taylor Gabriel. He caught just two passes for 23 yards but was definitely one of the most effective pass-catchers.
Gabriel, who played football at tiny Abilene Christian, has showed he can run NFL routes, and his quick bursts have suited him well thus far.
More importantly, he has shown that he is a real weapon in the return game. He showed that ability once again on Saturday. He returned two kicks for 89 yards, with one of them going for 68 yards.
The Browns will need productive returners if the offense continues to struggle. Judging by the fact that they have really struggled throughout the preseason and that they have so many new parts, it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better anytime soon.
Justin Gilbert's First Speed Bump
The Browns' eighth overall draft pick got his first taste of the NFL on Saturday night. Without Joe Haden or Buster Skrine and participating in his first real game action, Gilbert got a rude welcoming to life on an island.
Marla Ridenour of The Akron-Beacon Journal walks us through Gilbert’s rough night.
With 5:32 remaining in the second quarter, Brian Quick caught a 6-yard touchdown pass with Gilbert defending. Less than three minutes later, Rams receiver Chris Givens caught a pass over the middle and broke a 75-yard touchdown after Gilbert missed a tackle.
Gilbert initially declined to talk afterward and walked out of the locker room. A Browns media relations representative tracked the rookie down and made him fulfill his obligation.
“I went for a strip and didn’t get it,” Gilbert said of the long touchdown pass. “I should have wrapped up and tackled him instead of trying to strip it.
Gilbert bounced back and played solid after that, but he certainly struggled in a position that could have highlighted exactly why he was selected so high. It doesn’t mean he won’t have a great career, but it definitely was not the start he was looking for.