DraftBrowns.com Editor: Brendan Leister
In their second preseason game, the Cleveland Browns defeated the Detroit Lions by a score of 24-6. Although winning is always the ultimate goal, the more important thing that we can take away from the game is an evaluation of the Browns’ players in new schemes on offense and defense. Since I have a lot of notes from the game, I have decided that I will split them into multiple pieces. This piece will include notes on the performance and usage of offensive players that I expect to make a considerable impact during the 2013 season. The other pieces will include notes on defensive contributors and players that look to be competing for roster spots.
When the first-team offense was in the game, Norv Turner relied on 11 personnel (one back, one tight end) on eight snaps, 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) on eight snaps, 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end) on six snaps, and 22 personnel (two backs, two tight ends) on two snaps.
Brandon Weeden improved upon his week one performance as he led the Browns to a 17-3 lead in a little over one quarter of action. He completed 8 of 12 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns. He did an excellent job of spreading the ball around the field with ball placement and velocity. After a rookie season in which only 43.3% of Weeden’s passes came from shotgun, 11 of his 12 pass attempts (91.6%) came from shotgun.
Related Notes: In contrast to 11 of 12 pass attempts coming from shotgun, all 12 of the run plays by the first-team offense came while Brandon Weeden was under center. To put this in simple terms; when Weeden was under center, the Browns typically ran the ball. When Weeden was in shotgun, they typically passed the ball. Regardless of the fact that it is preseason, these unbalanced numbers support my case for the Browns to implement the Pistol as a staple of their offense in 2013.
Trent Richardson returned to the lineup and showed impressive burst as he carried the ball six times for 33 yards in his preseason debut. During Richardson’s rookie season, he only produced three runs longer than 15 yards (32-yard TD, 26-yard TD, and 19-yard run). In this game, Richardson eclipsed the 15-yard mark when he took the handoff on a Lead Draw, bounced the run to the outside, and fought for extra yardage to gain 17 yards.
In an injury-riddled evening for the Browns, Dion Lewis went down with a fractured fibula midway through the third quarter. Lewis finished the evening with five carries for 33 yards (31 came on one run), four catches for 15 yards, and a 26-yard kickoff return. It has yet to be determined how long Lewis will be out with the injury.
Chris Ogbonnaya’s versatility was on display as he lined up at multiple positions with the first-team offense. Not only did Ogbonnaya line up at fullback, but he also lined up at tailback in an Ace formation, beside Brandon Weeden in shotgun, and even out wide at wide receiver on one snap. As a lead blocker, Ogbonnaya had key blocks on the two longest runs of the night (31 yards by Lewis and 17 yards by Richardson). With Lewis likely missing extended time, look for Ogbonnaya’s usage to increase as he contributes at fullback, tailback, and on special teams.
As expected, the starting wide receivers were Josh Gordon and Greg Little. Gordon started at the X, Little started at the Z, and when Davone Bess came in the game, he typically lined up in the slot. Gordon had three catches for 72 yards and Little had one catch on a Slant route late in the second quarter for 11 yards. All of Gordon’s catches came in the first quarter as he caught a Drag route for 15 yards, a Fade route for 34 yards, and an In route for 23 yards. It became even more apparent while watching Josh Gordon’s smooth display of physicality and explosiveness that the Browns will greatly miss the young talent while he is suspended during the first two games of the season. Since no coach’s tape was available through NFL.com‘s Preseason Live app, I was unable to analyze the receivers’ routes when they went down the field.
Once again, Travis Benjamin’s gamebreaking speed and explosiveness were on display as he returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown on his third return of the game. Although the return was negated by a holding penalty on Joe Haden, Benjamin has proven to be a lethal weapon in the return game. Once Josh Gordon came out of the game, Benjamin replaced him at the X with what was left of the first-team offense. Benjamin caught an Out route for nine yards and was under thrown on a Fade route down the right sideline. Had Jason Campbell thrown the ball out in front of Benjamin, the Fade may have resulted in a big play.
Jordan Cameron really impressed as he made three leaping grabs for 42 yards and two touchdowns. On Cameron’s first touchdown (10 yards), he lined up in the left slot and was covered by a nickelback. He ran a seam route. Brandon Weeden threw the ball high and Cameron jumped up over the nickelback and free safety coming over from the middle of the field. Cameron took a hit from the safety as he caught the pass, but still maintained possession through the ground for the touchdown. On Cameron’s second catch, he ran a deep Drag route from the right slot against zone coverage. Weeden threw the ball high over the shallow defender and Cameron showed excellent ball skills as he leaped in the air to make a spectacular catch. The force from Cameron contorting his body in the air forced him to fall to the ground after securing the catch. He rolled on the ground for another couple yards and was touched down by a defender after a 27-yard gain. Cameron’s second touchdown (five yards) also came from the right slot. It seemed as though the strong side linebacker should have ran with Cameron on a Seam route, but he became distracted by a Flat route Dion Lewis and a Snag route by Greg Little. When the linebacker finally turned around, it was too late. Cameron leaped in the air, got two feet inbounds, and fell to the ground for the touchdown.
Once again, the tight ends were inconsistent overall in the run game. Although he had a few missed opportunities, Jordan Cameron improved upon his first preseason performance. He made nice blocks on multiple occasions and consistently gave great effort. On Trent Richardson’s 17-yard run in particular, Cameron did a great job of sealing a linebacker to the inside. Before leaving the game with a shoulder sprain, Gary Barnidge gave good effort and made a couple of nice blocks. Kellen Davis was really unimpressive in his time with the first-team offense (after Barnidge’s injury). Davis missed multiple opportunities and really struggled to sustain blocks at the point of attack. Due to his poor performance thus far in the preseason, I wonder if Davis is still dealing with the injury that held him out of the first few days of training camp.
For the most part, the Browns’ first-team offensive line struggled in pass protection. Lions defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh regularly showed off their incredible strength as they wreaked havoc from multiple positions on the defensive line. On the first third down of the game for the Browns, the Lions inverted their defensive line by moving Fairley and Suh to defensive end and defensive ends Jason Jones and Ezekiel Ansah to defensive tackle. Fairley bull rushed Joe Thomas, shed the block, and got to Brandon Weeden just as he threw an incomplete pass to Trent Richardson in the right flat.
Nick Fairley overpowered John Greco at the point of attack on multiple occasions. On the play where Jason Pinkston sprained his ankle (and Richardson’s 17-yard run took place), Fairley pushed Greco backwards and into Pinkston.
Rookie right guard Garrett Gilkey showed promise while going up against Ndamukong Suh. Although he got bull rushed back into Weeden one time and was on the ground a few times in the run game, he won his fair share of battles and turned in a promising performance.
Lions defensive end Israel Idonije beat Mitchell Schwartz to the inside on a play where Gilkey was late coming over and helping in pass protection. Idonije forced Weeden out of the pocket on the play. This was an example of why chemistry and communication are so important on the offensive line. It is impossible to know for sure, but Schwartz may have tried to communicate to Gilkey before getting beat inside. Had Gilkey helped a second earlier, it is likely that Weeden would not have been pressured and forced out of the pocket.
In the run game, the Browns’ offensive line typically did a solid job of executing their assignments. Although there were times where they struggled to stay engaged and create movement at the point of attack, none of the starters stuck out as consistently poor performers.