Well, I guess it would be wise to bet the over the next time our Cleveland Browns meet up with the Detroit Lions, but that’s neither here nor there after last night’s 35-27 loss in the third and most important preseason game of the year. Disregard the loss for that matter, too, because as I’ve said time and again this preseason, the final score of exhibition football is irrelevant and besides the point.
So what did I come away feeling good about following the Browns third preseason game against the Lions?
Well, at least in regards to our offense, several things.
For starters, Jake Delhomme continues to impress me and pacify some of my initial fears I had about him lining up under center. Delhomme once again looked in command of the offense as he turned in another strong performance in the Motor City. Delhomme continued his promising trend of being accurate and efficient with the football as he completed 80 percent of his passes for 152 yards, 10 passing first downs, and a 6 yard touchdown pass to fullback Lawrence Vickers. Delhomme also did not throw an interception, which he hasn’t done up to this point in the preseason.
Now if you told me before the preseason that Jake would have no interceptions through 3 preseason games, I probably would have assumed that you were banking on him either to not participate at all in the first three exhibition games or for offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to run the ball on every single play of every single Delhomme series.
But, alas, that has not been the case and my foot has been pleasantly inserted into my mouth during these first couple looks at Delhomme in live, game action. Jake just continues to trend towards a positive season as he appears to be doing an excellent job of reading defenses and accurately distributing the football.
I hope this is change we can believe in, but we really won’t know for certain until the games count and the pressure is coming from all angles. As of right now, though, I’ll more than take what Delhomme has given us at the QB position up to this point, and that’s veteran leadership, stability, efficiency, and knock on wood – zero interceptions!
I’ll also more than take what I saw from the right side of our offensive line against the Lions with the return of rookie guard Shawn Lauvao to the starting lineup as well as our first glimpse of offseason acquisition, tackle Tony Pashos. As Steve alluded to in his first half recap of the game, our unheralded third round lineman out of Arizona State more than held his own against the second overall pick of the draft, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska.
Meanwhile, I was also quite pleased with what I saw out of the 6-6, 326 pound Pashos, who immediately appeared to be a significant upgrade over former starter, John St. Clair. Pashos looked to be every bit the aggressive mauler we hoped he would be at right tackle as he did an excellent job in clearing some holes for our running backs for solid runs, first downs, and even a goal line rushing touchown by Peyton Hillis. Even after just one game, I think it’s safe to say that Pashos makes a big difference at right tackle , and I’m cautiously optimistic that he and Lauvao can combine to solidify what everyone expected to be a very weak right side of the offensive line.
Meanwhile, another position group that continued to trend in the right direction versus the Lions had to be our wide receivers.
Second year wideout Brian Robiskie continued to show signs of developing into the sure-handed, possession type receiver we envisioned him to be coming out of The Ohio State University. Robiskie caught 3 passes for 30 yards from Delhomme against a very weak Lions secondary (Dre Bly is a starter, for goodness sakes!), but still, included in these receptions was a strong grab in traffic off a slant for a first down and a great adjustment on a back shoulder stop fade for a 23 yard gain. He’s not there yet, but he’s on the path towards respectability, which is a great thing considering Robiskie’s uninspiring rookie campaign.
His second year draft-mate Mohamed Massaquoi also made his presence felt as he returned to the lineup after missing last weeks game against the St. Louis Rams with a hamstring issue, catching two passes for 36 yards, with one being a 4th and 2 conversion on a hitch from Delhomme and the other being a nice 21 yard catch and run on a slant from Wallace. So it’s good to see that both our second year wideouts are showing signs of developing into a potentially formidable pair of targets.
But what’s really been a pleasant surprise is the emergence of return specialist/Wildcat QB Joshua Cribbs into a legitimate wide receiver. Now don’t get me wrong: Cribbs still has a long way to go, but he’s definitely shown great progress the past two games as he’s caught 8 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown.
The highlight of those grabs came against the Lions Saturday night when he hauled in a 31 yard pass from Delhomme down the left sideline. On this play, Cribbs demonstrated his tremendous athleticism as he reached back to snare a deep ball while keeping both of his feet inbounds for what was a very impressive play by any wide receiver, let alone a converted college quarterback. In addition, Cribbs has done an admirable job blocking downfield throughout the preseason, which has been pretty understated at this point.
In large part, the play of the trio of Robiskie, Massaquoi, and Cribbs after three exhibition games has given me reason to believe in a position I wholeheartedly did not believe in prior to the preseason. We may not have a legit, #1A type wide receiver, but we have a couple of guys that have the potential to be a collectively effective, and maybe even dangerous, unit of a Delhomme-led Browns offense.
Each has to continue to develop and perform the roles that are expected of them. Massaquoi has to be able to pop the top off of opposing defenses from time to time, in addition to excelling in the short to intermediate passing game that will most likely dominate the Browns offense this season. Robiskie, as I said before, has to become a polished, possession type #2 WR that can make the tough grabs in traffic and find the open holes in zone coverage schemes. And Cribbs? We’ll he’s got to be Josh Cribbs, an athlete that has truly “spoiled us'”with his talents the past couple years. He has to continue to refine his receiving skills as the season progresses, and Daboll has to continue to find ways to get this gamebreaker the ball in space and against mismatches.
Speaking of Daboll, I loved how he incorporated an uptempo “sugar huddle” for the majority of the game. It certainly would be to our advantage if we are able to set the tone on offense, which all serious teams are able to do in the NFL. It was promising to see Delhomme look comfortable running this uptempo style.
With that in mind, I absolutely hated how Seneca Wallace was inserted at quarterback towards the end of the first drive by the offense. It completely screwed up the positive tempo established by Delhomme, and I hope this was the end of that experiment. There’s plenty of ways and situations that Wallace can be incorporated into a game, but this was definitely not the ideal time for that.
Since I’ve unexpectedly started to trend towards the negatives of the third preseason game, another thing that was less than ideal against the Lions was our defense. In particular, I’m pretty worried about what I’ve seen so far from our linebackers. Collectively, our second level hasn’t been looking particularly strong and looks especially vulnerable in pass coverage.
Offseason acquisition Scott Fujita looked downright awful in space against the Lions, as did David Bowens his first time out. I’ll give the latter a break considering it was his first game action of the year, but I gotta say that Bowens looked very big and very, v-e-r-y slow on D. Meanwhile, inside linebacker Chris Gocong took a step backwards against the Lions as he struggled to get off blocks and find the ball carrier, as did Eric Barton and pretty much the rest of the linebackers the Browns threw out there.
I was expecting more out of this unit heading into the season, but obviously the loss of D’Qwell Jackson has a lot to do with the collective struggles of the linebackers so far. We need him back and healthy ASAP, just like we also desperately need another creative season out of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who absolutely must find ways to get pressure from a unit that was perceived as being the most versatile position of the Browns defense heading into the preseason.
And I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but Abe Elam absolutely has to step up and start making plays from the safety position, both in run support and pass coverage. Elam continues to be the sore spot of the secondary, which is a shame considering that rookies Joe Haden and T.J. Ward seem like they’ve been getting better every week and both appear like they’re going to have a positive impact on the secondary as the regular season progresses. I’ve been waiting for something to click with Elam, but it just hasn’t up to this point in his Browns career. Until it does, teams are going to continue to exploit him, especially through the air.
I hate to be a pessimist, so I’ll end with something positive and revert back to the offense.
If Jake Delhomme is our most important offensive player heading into this season – which he most certainly is – then I’m going to have to say that our most dangerous offensive weapon (at least up to this point) has to be our white running back. Now many would suggest the notion of being screwed if that’s the particular case for a team like it is for our Browns, but I don’t think it’s near as terrible as it may sound.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Hillis this preseason, it’s that he’s very tough and versatile in the backfield. With that in mind, Hillis appears to be the perfect complement in the offensive system that the Browns hope to operate under Delhomme, and that’s a system which hopes to be grounded into in a powerful running game offset by a short to intermediate passing game in which versatility is pretty much a necessity for both the receivers and running backs.
Against the Lions, Hillis once again displayed his ability to pound the ball as he carried 7 times for a tough 26 yards and a score, and flashed the coveted versatility he brings out of the backfield as he caught 4 passes for 40 yards. At least as of right now, it looks like the Browns new front office made out like bandits in the trade that sent Brady Quinn to Denver in exchange for Hillis and some draft picks.
So, I’m OK with having a crazy white running back as our most dangerous offensive weapon, at least for the time being.
And here’s some other things that didn’t quite fit in, but somehow found a way in after all:
- It’s exciting to think that we still have rookie running back Montario Hardesty waiting to be unleashed. If he can stay healthy, we might be loaded at running back.
- Joe Haden’s coverage is getting better every week.
- Matt Stafford is going to be way better than I thought he would be coming out of college. He throws one of the nicest, tightest spirals in the league.
- Calvin Johnson is going to be every bit as good as everybody predicted he would be. Big, fast, strong, athletic: he’s everything you want in a WR.
- We used to have a bum receiver from Detroit that dropped a lot of passes. I’m glad his ass is gone.
And that’s all I got for now. Hopefully, this last preseason game against the Chicago Bears goes by pretty quickly, because I’m more than anxious to see if the many positives we’ve seen out of the Browns this preseason can translate over when the games count and the score really matters.