Aug 8, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Greg Little (18) makes a catch while St. Louis Rams free safety T.J. McDonald (25) goes in for the tackle in the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
It would have been difficult for the Browns to have come out better for Rob Chudzinski in their preseason debut. The offense scored on both drives to start the game and the defense faced two drives, forced a fumble and turnover on the first and forced a punt with the second. They even got some good special teams work capped off by Travis Benjamin getting a big time punt return causing Tony Grossi to quietly shed a tear for his lost love, Josh Cribbs. It remains to be seen if the Browns will be as good as their debut, but it is something to enjoy in the meantime and gives fans something to be excited about headed into the season.
Brandon Weeden only made one great, NFL throw to Josh Gordon for 21 yards, but he was accurate and effective on the plays they called. They had a couple passes to Dion Lewis including a swing pass and a screen that were reasonably effective. Jordan Cameron gave fans a reason to continue to be worried and excited as he had a pass deflect right off of his hands that Greg Little went up and got for a nice play, but Cameron came back and made a good catch and run for 30 yards on an underneath throw.
The star of the show for the Browns was the offensive line. The Rams have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL and the Browns was more than up to the task of blocking them. Michael Brockers was able to get some pressure on Joe Thomas with a bull rush, but that was basically it. The four guys who have starting spots locked up looked effective in the running game and were impressive in the passing game. Jason Pinkston did a nice job in the action he saw and while he is not a bulldozing type guard right now, he did a nice job as creating space as a run blocker and was excellent in pass protection. Outside of the Brockers pressure, the offensive line was never really even stressed in pass protection, which made Weeden able to focus entirely on his weapons and the results were good.
In addition to the offensive line, Chris Ogbannaya had a nice block in pass protection from his fullback position and Davonne Bess threw a good lock for Cameron’s big sideline run. Blocking and effort in general were working in the Browns’ favor on the offensive side of the ball.
Dion Lewis was able to create some plays but he was inconsistent. He was all or nothing and had a couple nice runs and caught passes, but he was able taken down for losses a couple times in the backfield. He was able to break a tackle on a draw that created a first down, but Lewis is a player who goes down easily on contact. If he can make guys miss, he can be electric, but he will go down quickly. He had a fine day overall, but it is important to note, the way he contributes should actually be easier and have bigger opportunities when he is coming in to spell Trent Richardson, who did not play. After Richardson mauls them, he may have kinder looks with his speed and quickness.
Defensively, the Browns were able to do some damage, but it is a work in progress. They were able to beat an overmatched Rams offensive line but they could not close the deal with pressure and Sam Bradford was able to make some plays down the field as a result. While most would have expected the victim to be Buster Skrine when it was announced Chris Owens was unable to go, it was actually Joe Haden who was beaten on one play. Skrine was able to recover a fumble that was caused when Phil Taylor hammered down on Isaiah Pead’s arm and knock the ball out, which gave the Browns the ball back. They gave up a couple first downs but were able to recover and get the ball back.
Travis Benjamin picked up right where he left off last year and took the first punt he saw this year to the end zone. Benjamin got a great set of blocks by his teammates that enabled him to find a lane pretty easily and his speed did the rest. The special teams were a bright spot in general and while it made some fans queasy and will continue to do so because of where he was drafted, Barkevious Mingo was featured heavily. Many immediately flash back to Kellen Winslow on the hands team trying to recover an onside kick resulting in a broken leg, but it was a results based reaction. Winslow was the right move then and Mingo as the third outside linebacker as well as his skill set say he is not only a weapon on special teams but a necessity. Speaking of Mingo, there will be an article dedicated to his debut so keep an eye out for that, but he was a valuable asset on kick coverage and blocking for Benjamin.
It is only a little over a quarter of the first week of the preseason against a team that may be battling to stay out of the basement in the NFC West, but for a new coaching staff and new regime, it could not have gone better in helping them reaffirm their message that this is a new team and a new attitude. Every unit of the team executed the plans as they were laid out, but the team needs to continue building on it and get better as they get prepared for the season. The Browns showed hints of what they could be building last year and the early indications of this game suggest the team could be ready to take another step, but it is now a matter of doing it and continuing that progress.