Saturday, August 9, 2008

Browns Exhibition Opener Notes

The Browns dropped their exhibition season opener, 24-20, to the New York Jets on Thursday night. If you are an out-of-towner like me, then you were treated to the full Jets broadcast for the replay of the game on the NFL Network. Why they didn’t split it half and half like they normally do is beyond my comprehension but thank the good lord I got to hear about that Brett Favre character all game since we haven’t heard about him in a while.

Anyway on to what to take away from the game if you are a Browns fan…

Due to the stormy weather delaying the game for a significant amount of time the Browns first teamers only got one series but they did look crisp for their time, albeit brief, on the field. It was night and day for Derek Anderson who was god awful in exhibition play in 2007.

Thursday he looked cool, calm and collected in the game. A good sign considering he was a habitual slow starter in the first quarter in 2007. He was 4-5 for 20 yards a touchdown, mostly on shorter routes that he looked crisp on. The touchdown was an amazing, one-handed catch by Braylon Edwards. They hooked up for 16 TDs in 2007 and you know what they say, “the more the merrier.” Hopefully, that is the case in 2008.

It’s hard for anyone to stand out in only one series, but damn does Jamal Lewis run hard. We often forget he’s only 29 and he still looks to be hungry after a 1,304 yard campaign in 2008. He only had 11 yard on three carries but added a catch for 4 yards in the red zone. Lewis gets stronger as the game goes on so exhibition season is a tough time to judge him but he didn’t pussyfoot at all.

The offensive line was solid with Rex Hadnot stepping in for Ryan Tucker at right guard. You didn’t even notice the offensive line and that’s how it should be. No defender on the Jets got close to Derek Anderson (or Brady Quinn for the most part) and the first team offense drove effortlessly down the field before the lightning delay.

Speaking of Brady Quinn, he also looked good in over two quarters of action, going 13-17 for 133 years and an interception. The interception bounce of WR Syndric Steptoe’s hand and into the waiting arms of Eric Barton but Quinn flat out led him a little too far. It was noticeable how the Browns offense becomes more of a finesse offense rather than a vertical offense with Quinn under center instead of Anderson. Regardless, they both looked good Thursday.

The back-up wide receivers and tight ends also shone on Thursday night. Steptoe didn’t catch a pass but looked awfully impressive on kickoff and punt returns in case Josh Cribbs ever went down. I also have to give credit where credit is due as my personal, perennial whipping boy Travis Wilson had a very nice game. Three grabs for 58 yards and all three were not of the easy variety. Braylon Edwards grew up last year, maybe it’s your turn, Travis.

Marvin Rucker pulled in five passes for 70 yards and looked like a Kellen Winslow clone. The big rookie TE from Missouri is big, fast and athletic with soft hands and had some nice runs after the catch. Fellow rookie Paul Hubbard and second year man Steve Sanders also had a couple of nice grabs, particularly Hubbard on a beautiful over the shoulder grab along the sideline from third string QB Ken Dorsey.

Speaking of Ken Dorsey, he was 8-26 with two bad, bad interceptions. I think he had something like 14 consecutive incompletions at one point. It was rough to say the least. I saw him play in the 2006 game versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

He only played two plays but it may have been the worst two plays I have ever seen. This includes watching Doug Pederson, Spurgeon Wynn and Ty Detmer over the years. Anyone who wonders why Browns GM Phil Savage kept both Anderson and Quinn saw the answer to their question on Thursday.

On the defensive side of the ball, it was also one series for the Browns first team defense. Too few snaps to make a final judgment but enough to be a bit encouraged. I noticed a definite push from the defensive line, something we haven’t seen in Cleveland since the first President Bush was in office and solid tackling. No broken tackles or whiffs which is what this defense sorely needs. The Browns defense just wanted it a little bit more on Kellen Clemens’ 4th and 1 QB keeper and stuffed him for their final play of the night.

Unfortunately, the Browns defensive reserves did not distinguish themselves positives as their offensive counterparts did. Veteran nickel cornerback Terry Cousin struggled all night. He gave up three or four sizable games as he seemed to be giving way to large of a cushion all game. He is supposed to be the veteran influence in the secondary and the Browns’ young defensive backs did follow his lead as they struggled mightily.

Second year man A. J. Davis was burnt deep on a 71 yard touchdown from Brett Ratliff to Derek Clowney in the first half. Mil’von James followed suit in the second half as he gave up a 70 yard bomb to the same Jets’ duo in the fourth quarter. Throw in the fact that a lot of the young guys were playing special teams on Dwight Lowery’s game winning punt return touchdown and to say it was a rough night for the young DBs is an understatement.

No one else on the Browns’ back-up defense really stood out positively which is a disappointment. Neither David McMillan nor Alex Hall showed anything spectacular at OLB and the Browns need someone to fill Antwaan Peek’s edge pass rushing role. Louis Leonard looked OK at nose tackle but got blown off the ball a few times. Nothing good of note really stood out defensively.

So now it’s a long, ten day wait for the Browns before meeting the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants on Monday Night Football on August 25. They need to stay focused and healthy as the regular season approaches. Getting Kellen Winslow, Steve Heiden, Kevin Kasper, Beau Bell and everyone else healthy before then is paramount for the Browns. Hopefully we will get to see a little more out of the first team units next Monday as the defending champs are a better measuring stick than the Jets. So it’s back to two-a-days.

Go Browns. Believeland. Believe in Now.

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