Cleveland Browns Preseason: Notes from Week 2

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 21: Myles Garrett
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 21: Myles Garrett /

The Cleveland Browns won their second preseason game against the New York Giants and while there are a number of bright spots, there are big questions without good answers.

The Cleveland Browns got their second win in a row after downing the Giants 10-6. A good night for a Gregg Williams defense that appears to be gaining steam, but the offense continues to struggle. Not having Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio hurt, but winning may provide some cover for problems on offense.

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The outcry and criticisms would likely be much more vocal if the Browns lost the game while only scoring 10 points. A young, fun, exciting defense is taking some of the pressure off of the offense and giving fans something to really enjoy that should only continue to get better. That might provide a small amount of cover for the offense, particularly if Hue Jackson opts to go with DeShone Kizer as the starter.

It won’t last forever, but having something to enjoy on this team gives fans an outlet for something fun to see on Sundays and can provide some belief that the team is improving. So much of the frustration surrounding this team for years is the feeling they are treading water. There are plenty of players that look extremely promising, especially on the defensive side of the ball, giving them an identity and a future.

The problem is the offense is being held back by the quarterback. There’s no good option to be the starting quarterback. Three options don’t appear capable with one who might be but isn’t ready to do it now. It’s not a good situation.

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Myles Garrett was once again dominant. He finally notched his first sack, taking down Geno Smith, but his presence has been most felt as a run defender. He shut down the right side against the Giants and seemed to have Ereck Flowers grabbing a whole lot of jersey throughout the evening.

Joe Schobert was tremendous. Be it on a stunt in a speed package where Emmanuel Ogbah was inside at the 3-tech, Schobert looped around on a stunt and drilled Eli Manning for a sack. Ogbah was also able to knife through his block and on the other side, Myles Garrett was inside with Jamie Collins outside of him.

Schobert was outstanding as a run defender for the most part. He was able to make tackles in the box and showed his range chasing down plays to the sidelines. The Browns may find themselves playing without two linebackers for the majority of the time they’re on the field, but Schobert has shown he is the next man up when they go to three linebackers. Chris Kirksey and Jamie Collins headline the unit as they should, but Schobert looks like a legitimate NFL player on the rise.

Speaking of Jamie Collins, he was utilized a great deal as an extra pass rusher. Garrett moved inside to the 3 and even the 1-tech on occasion with Collins as a walked up linebacker, having both attack the quarterback. That’s a lot of athleticism on one side of the formation.

This could become important during the season if the Browns identify a weak spot on an opposing offensive line and simply put Garrett over them. The Houston Texans did this in the playoffs with Jadeveon Clowney, finding the weak spot, and having him wreak havoc. It allowed the Texans to create pressure and beat up Tom Brady quite a bit.

Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images /

Briaen Boddy-Calhoun was criticized for his hit on Odell Beckham. While legal, he should have kept his feet and drove through Beckham while wrapping up, which would’ve been a powerful hit that looked better and was safer. Calhoun isn’t a dirty player by any stretch, but it was just not a great tackle effort and the result was finger pointing.

The Danny Shelton injury is a big one for the Browns. Hopefully it’s closer to the three weeks in length rather than the six, but it’s an issue. In Shelton’s stead, Jamie Meder and Larry Ogunjobi played well. The Giants offensive line is not great, but both played admirably and Meder was a big reason the starters did not skip a beat. Ogunjobi is a powerhouse off the ball.

Meanwhile, Calhoun was able to come up with a big play in the red zone for the second week in a row. When Geno Smith faced a small pocket, he tried to throw a hitch to his right and Calhoun was there and ready to make the interception. Maybe it’s a little bit of luck but Calhoun just seems to have a knack for making big plays in big spots. Given that the game ended up 10-6, it was potentially a game-winning play.

After so much talk about Duke Johnson in the slot, Monday showed that Johnson is an all-around weapon as he was back to being a true running back. And they fed him the ball, where he looked good. Unfortunately, his biggest run was called back for a penalty, but he’s elusive and fast on the edge. It makes a good complement for what Isaiah Crowell does inside. Johnson did blow a block he normally makes that resulted in a sack on Kizer.

Matthew Dayes has pretty good vision of a runner, but his lack of athleticism did show itself. He doesn’t have elite juice as a runner, which is why he fell to the seventh round. He might get the occasional carry in the regular season, but he was drafted to be a blocker and receiver.

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The quarterbacks weren’t very good. Brock Osweiler can get the offense lined up quickly and make the appropriate checks and even largely makes the right reads on where to throw. The problem is when he actually throws the ball, his placement is terrible. Inside on outside shoulder throws, high on throws down the field and short and low on a screen. He makes some decent plays, but he never seems to throw a pass that puts the receiver in a position to maximize their yardage after the catch. The tipped passes don’t help, resulting in an interception in Giants territory.

DeShone Kizer got a reality check against the Giants starters. He only completed two passes across the line of scrimmage, threw an awful interception that was overruled by a flag, put another pass in danger on a rollout throw attempt to David Njoku, and missed what would’ve been a touchdown on a seam to Njoku.

The zone read stuff is a crutch. Using that as a way to try to get an extra defender to focus on Kizer produced some yardage but it ended up with Kizer taking a bunch of unnecessary hits. It’s exactly what Brian Kelly did with Kizer at Notre Dame and in that case, Kizer was bigger than many of his opponents. In the NFL, he’s gonna take bigger hits and teams may hit him late. Even if it produces the flag, those hits add up quickly.

The play calling changed dramatically as Kizer played. After some sacks, the calls trended to more screens and zone reads. Part of that was undoubtedly due to poor protection up front (Rod Johnson), but it didn’t really help Kizer that much for his development. That is, except for getting to the line and making line calls, an area where Kizer admits he needs to be more efficient. He doesn’t look ready and there’s no need to rush him.

Cody Kessler completed all seven passes he threw, but it was marred by a terrible fumble and resulting turnover. It made what he did effectively largely forgettable. Kevin Hogan was also in the game. He threw one pass, which was a completion for seven yards, and ran four times.

Kevin Zeitler, through two games of the preseason, has not looked like the stud he was signed to be. He gets good push in a phone booth, but he did get a bad holding penalty on a counter. The Cincinnati Bengals rarely ever pulled him and there seems to be a good reason for it. Zeitler will likely right himself, but it’s something worth noting.

Dan Vitale looks like a stud. He is aggressive and extremely physical as a blocker while he was able to showcase his athleticism on a fullback screen that helped set up the Browns lone touchdown. The only fear with Vitale is he plays so violently as a blocker is that he will end up knocking himself out in the process. He looks great, so the hope is he can hold up physically through a 16-game schedule.

Tank Carder is not a very good linebacker, but his injury is a bigger deal than it seems. Gregg Williams actually ran a 2-4-5 lineup in the game and Carder was one of the four linebackers in the game. His loss also impacts special teams, where Carder is pretty good. The Browns already appear poised to attack the waiver wire to bring in additional linebacker help and this only magnifies the situation.

It’s a similar story at offensive tackle. Joe Thomas covers up a lot of problems on offense, but after he and Shon Coleman, the depth there is pretty awful. Not only is Cam Erving currently injured, his pass protection makes him unplayable right now. And Erving is the third best tackle on the team. Rod Johnson has struggled mightily, Matt McCants just went down for the year and Zach Sterup, while a great athlete, has not stood out too much in practice. The Browns have a dozen interior guys that might make a roster, but offensive tackle is an area of real need. Again, the waiver wire may provide help, but pickings may be slim.

Along with this, there’s a big question at backup right guard. At least in terms of the depth chart, Kitt O’Brien is listed as the second team right guard. Fabiano played there against the Giants and maybe that’s the move, but Martin, Drango and Greco are all listed at left guard. Granted, Greco is playing in place of the injured Joel Bitonio, but that’s a curious situation.

CLEVELAND, OH – AUGUST 21: Jabrill Peppers #22 of the Cleveland Browns returns a punt 31 yards against the New York Giants in the first half of a preseason game at FirstEnergy Stadium on August 21, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH – AUGUST 21: Jabrill Peppers #22 of the Cleveland Browns returns a punt 31 yards against the New York Giants in the first half of a preseason game at FirstEnergy Stadium on August 21, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Jabrill Peppers is so supremely confident as a returner that the game looks slowed down watching him return punts. He has a terrific sense of where to find the hole and is aggressive getting downhill. It already seems like it’s a matter of when, not if Peppers is able to break a big one.

Kenneth Olugbode and Dominique Alexander appear to be the only depth linebackers that look reasonably effective. Both are less than ideal athletes and Olugbode is undersized, but they know how to do their jobs and find their way to the football. They just seem to be two scrappy guys who out-effort and out-technique other guys to succeed.

Kai Nacua had himself a nice game. He came up and made a few tackles right on time and had a nice play to stop a pass in the corner of the end zone. In what is a pretty nondescript group in terms of performance, Nacua played well with the second group.

Austin Reiter played center for the second and third group. Anthony Fabiano would normally come in to play center, but he played guard. With his added size (up to 317 for training camp) on top of his impressive athletic ability, he could be potentially play all three interior spots. Fabiano needs to keep strengthening the trunk of his body but he’s got a mean streak and looks like a valuable player, whether it’s in Cleveland or elsewhere. This could also be a way for the Browns to keep both Fabiano and Reiter. Keep in mind, Fabiano was a guard at Harvard.

Marcus Martin is playing a lot of early reps. He’s the second team left guard ahead of Spencer Drango heading to the third preseason game. Drango, despite getting a ton of playing time last year, may be in more danger than would’ve been expected.

The only true slot receiver on the team is Rashard Higgins. With Duke in the backfield, Higgins had an opportunity to make plays in that role and he looked pretty good. He sets up his feet well and plays quicker than his athleticism would suggest as a result. Higgins is slippery, finds ways to get open and make catches. The receivers in general seem to look good when they actually get opportunities to make plays.

The Browns did showcase a formation with all three tight ends. Randall Telfer is the only real inline guy to this point and Njoku played a wing. Telfer keeps finding opportunities to make receptions and if that continues, it makes an already promising group that much better

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If anyone doubts the leadership or influence Chris Kirksey has, even at 24 years old, Monday evening should’ve eliminated them. The knee during the anthem to pray for the country in light of everything going on was led and organized by Kirksey. Having almost a dozen players participate eliminated the idea that one player was grandstanding. It was a moving tribute to a country embroiled in turmoil, regardless of which side of the aisle a person is.