Thumbs up, thumbs down on Browns first preseason game


Aug 13, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Terrance West (28) is tackled by Washington Redskins free safety Trenton Robinson (34) in a preseason NFL football game at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns made it through the opening preseason friendly of the 2015 season without sustaining any injuries, which is the most important part, and did a few things right during a loss to the Washington Redskins.

But they also showed that there still is a lot of work to do before they take the field on Sept. 13 for the season-opening game agains the New York Jets.

Even if head coach Mike Pettine doesn’t necessarily agree. (Although he probably does, he just didn’t feel the need to make it public.)

“Overall, I think it’s a start that we’ll be pleased with when we watch the tape. I’ll reserve final judgement until then, but I thought we did some good things,” Pettine said. “I was pleased we didn’t have our first penalty, I think, it was early in the fourth quarter, ended up with three for the game. Also, it just a credit to some of the guys that got extended [reps] because the injuries we have. (We had some) good coaching moments that come out of it, and hopefully, we can gain some momentum from this moving forward.”

Let’s take a look at what worked, and what didn’t, on Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium with “thumbs up, thumbs down” segment.

Thumbs up to the quarterback play: 

Josh McCown made everyone forget just how bad he was last season with Tampa Bay, even if it was only for one series. The veteran led the Browns on a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive while completing all five of his passes. McCown also showed some athleticism as he extended a broken play long enough to find Travis Benjamin for a two-yard touchdown pass.

“You put all that work in and you want to see it go from the practice field to the game field so for us the first unit to go down there the way we did, that was good.” – Quarterback Josh McCown

While he was not as effective as McCown, Johnny Manziel at least look more competent than he did last season. Manziel led a touchdown drive following a Washington turnover, which is always nice to see, and at least did not look overwhelmed while facing the Redskins’ second- and third-team players.

However, other than the short touchdown drive, Manziel didn’t do much. He only threw for 42 yards, took a sack and fumbled a snap, and was just one-of-five on third downs.

Even the most fervent Manziel bandwagon rider would be hard pressed to make a case for Manziel to take over for McCown as the starting quarterback. But at least it was a good start on Manziel’s journey to be the best backup quarterback he can be in 2015.

Key quote: “I was just about to throw it away and Travis was standing in the back of the end zone. It was one of those things. There was someone in front of me and I was looking like, ‘Is he back there by himself? That’s weird.’” – Josh McCown on his touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin

Thumbs down to Justin Gilbert:

The second-year cornerback found himself in the starting lineup when Pettine decided to give cornerback Joe Haden the night off, but did little to quell those who are concerned about Gilbert’s progress.

“He made that statement without having seen the film.” – Head coach Mike Pettine

Gilbert was burned badly early in the game by Washington wide receiver Pierre Garcon but was saved when Garcon dropped what would have been a sure touchdown. On the night Gilbert gave up three catches for 40 yards and only made one tackle.

When asked about his play following the game, Gilbert told Tom Reed of Northeast Ohio Media Group that “was a bad play (getting beat by Gacon) and the rest of the game was flawless for me. It was just the one play.”

It is not so much that Gilbert made a bad play on the Garcon drop, every cornerback in the league is going to get burned at some point and they need to have a short memory, but rather that Gilbert continues to display an attitude that he still doesn’t get it.

Key quote: “We have to watch the film first and then we all get together and say something to him. So many people are beating him up right now you don’t want to add to the fire. You want to uplift him.” – Donte Whitner on Gilbert

Thumbs up to the wide receivers:

They are going to be an unheralded and underrated group all season, but the wide receivers once again looked like a group who’s sum will be greater than the individual parts.

Brian Hartline had a nice game in catching all three passes thrown to him (talk about your veteran presence), Benjamin had a touchdown reception and drew an interference call on the scoring drive, Vince Mayle and Shane Wynn saw some playing time.

All in all, not a bad night.

Key quote: “(My knee is) way better than last year from the standpoint that I can go full speed, all game, without feeling soreness and without having the effects of getting ice. It’s going to be a great year for me.” – Travis Benjamin

Thumbs down to the running game:

It’s a good thing that that passing game looked respectable because the running game did not as it is never a good sign when the backup quarterback is your leading rusher.

Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell combined for eight carries and just 16 yards running behind the first-team offensive line, and overall the Browns only rushed for 45 yards and an average of 2.4 yards per carry.

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That is not going to make position coach Wilbert Montgomery a happy man.

And, no, Ray Rice and his 3.1 yards per carry are not the answer. West, Crowell and the rest of the gang are going to have to start figuring this out and soon. Luckily (depending on your perspective), the Browns will face a tough defense next week against Buffalo, so that will give us some indication of whether or not progress is being made.

Key quote: “I have seen what we can be and know that when we have game-planned it and we have the guys out there that we are going to have out there and the backs get the proper reps leading up to the opener – I am confident. It is still not a situation where we are going to panic about it. Know that we have a sense of urgency.” – Head coach Mike Pettine

Thumbs up to the special teams:

Dude, punter Andy Lee is the real deal. On the night he had five punts, dropped four of them inside Washington’s 20-yard line and had a long of 49 yards. No need to worry about him this season.

Carey Spear and Travis Coons, the rookie place kickers battling for a roster spot, both did fine. Coons made his lone extra-point attempt, while Spear not only hit his extra point but also nailed a 47-yard field goal.

Thumbs down to the rush defense:

All the talk since the end of last season (outside of the quarterback position) dealt with the Browns efforts to finally stop the run on defense.

Well, judging from last night, the defense is struggling to put those words into action.

The Redskins ran for 153 yards – the Browns gave up 141.6 per game last season while finishing 32nd in the NFL – and Washington averaged 5.5 yards per carry against the first-team defense.

Not how you want to start off after spending so much time addressing the issue.

Key quote: “It’s not something we’re panicking over, but it’s something that we’re obviously aware of and we’ll work to get cleaned up as we get closer to the opener. I’ve seen it in practice. I’ve seen what we can be.” – Head coach Mike Pettine

Thumbs down to the new uniforms:

We’re sorry, they simply just don’t look very professional.

What did you think of the team’s effort against the Redskins?

Next: Why fans should feel good about the first preseason game