Some say the third game of the NFL preseason typically gives you the best look at every team before the official campaign gets underway. If this is indeed the case, the Cleveland Browns are in big, big trouble.
Coming off of a sloppy loss to the Washington Redskins the previous Monday, the Browns appeared to have a few things going their way as they prepped for Saturday’s game against the St. Louis Rams. It was the team’s first home game, and the front office was excited to show off the new stadium renovations.
More importantly, the much-publicized quarterback controversy was behind the Browns, as Brian Hoyer was chosen to lead the team. With the anxiety of possibly losing his job no longer a factor, surely Hoyer and the starting offense would finally look in sync and ready to go, right?
Turns out, this wouldn’t be the case. Not even close.
Cleveland’s first-team offense looked just as disjointed as they had in the previous two preseason games. Some drives looked promising, but only right before they stalled out. Hoyer continued to look shaky in the pocket, with some poor timing and inaccurate passes sprinkled throughout his performance. He did finally lead the starters to a touchdown, but also threw a pick and fumbled on the opening possession of the second half.
The biggest concern, though, took place on defense. The lack of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball means the Browns are going to need their defense to be borderline elite in order to win games. Saturday night, it was an elite train wreck.
Cleveland’s defense was diced by the Rams, giving up multiple big plays. Third downs were converted with ease, regardless of how many yards St. Louis needed. Rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert struggled mightily along with Leon McFadden, both badly missing the presence of Joe Haden.
Even worse, for the most part the defense was mauled by second and third stringers. Ever heard of Austin Davis? Probably not, but the third string Rams quarterback looked like Joe Montana against the Browns starting defensive unit.
The lone highlight came thanks to rookie Johnny Manziel, who had an impressive touchdown run featuring a pump-fake which threw off enough defenders to clear a path for the score. However, despite Cleveland fans getting a look at vintage Johnny Football, the backup still doesn’t look ready to start just yet.
All in all, it was not exactly the first impression new coach Mike Pettine was hoping to make with the hometown fans. Instead of being able to say, “Well, at least our defense looks great,” he now has gigantic question marks on both sides of the ball.
The time remaining before opening week against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers is running low, and every preseason game has presented more issues for the Browns to work out. Cleveland wasn’t expected to make much noise this year, but they weren’t supposed to look this bad.
Coach Pettine says there’s no reason to panic despite the messy preseason, but if things are this ugly at Pittsburgh, people will be sounding the alarm all across Cleveland.