Maybe it’s the Cleveland Cavaliers recent championship, or perhaps the Cleveland Indians current grip on first place in the AL Central. Whatever the reason, there’s an odd bit of local optimism regarding the Cleveland Browns as they near the start of the 2016 season.
Sure, national media has been dogging them (pun alert) all offseason, some even saying a 1-15 campaign is on the horizon. Still, the strong performance seen by quarterback Robert Griffin III in last week’s preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons, the energy brought about by new coach Hue Jackson, the potential of a Josh Gordon–Terrelle Pryor–Corey Coleman wideout corps, it’s all combined to give fans a little more intrigue than they expected for this season.
After last night, I’d hope everyone is back to setting their expectations appropriately. Taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the annual preseason dress rehearsal, the Browns struggled at every facet of the game. As a result, last night’s 30-13 blowout should give everyone a dose of reality when it comes to what lies ahead for Cleveland this year.
To be fair, the game wasn’t all negativity. Suiting up for the first time since December of 2014, Gordon seemed to be in Pro Bowl form, hauling in two catches for 87 yards. One of these grabs was an impressive 43-yard touchdown bomb which had him literally shaking the opposing cornerback off of him en route to a score.
That said, when the highlight of the game comes from a player who won’t be available until Week 5, it takes a bit of the shine away. This, combined with a laundry list of blunders all helped make last night a game to forget across the board.
Offensively, despite Gordon’s night, the rest of the unit struggled. Running back Isaiah Crowell was able to find some holes in the offensive line, but so was the Tampa defense. Overall, the Bucs front seven got to Griffin five times in one half.
Part of this was due to poor play from the line, which is obviously crippled by the losses of Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz. The other part was Griffin’s lack of decisiveness.
Griffin held on to the ball longer than necessary on more than a few drop backs. The knock on him has always been struggling to move through his progressions. Though Cleveland has been scheming its offense to work around this issue, it seemed to cause problems last night.
Of course, if the Browns’ defense plays the way it has all preseason, Griffin and company will need to find a way to put up 300 points a week just to keep up.
What we saw last night from Cleveland’s defensive unit was shades of the Mike Pettine era. Missed tackles, gift-wrapping big plays, numerous penalties. By the end of the half, Bucs QB Jameis Winston had thrown for 259 yards and two touchdowns. He had what seemed like hours to throw the ball, and when he did he always found a receiver with very few brown jerseys surrounding him.
Sure, it’s a preseason game, so you obviously can’t get too worked up about it. That said, it was the most important one, and it showed everyone optimism for 2016 should be tempered at best.
At the end of the night, Winston made the defense look like a sieve. Team-wide discipline was nowhere to be found, forcing one to yearn for the days of the Eric Mangini dictatorship in which players ran laps for every flag. The offense had its moments, but also has its own list of things needing to be cleaned up.
Unfortunately, not a lot of these issues are going to be solved in time for Week 1. Some might fester throughout the season.
Overall, last night should be a clear sign that even the most positive Browns fans should probably step away from the Kool-Aid. Granted, it’s not all bad. Jackson seems like the right coach, Griffin hasn’t looked this solid since 2012, and there’s a handful of potential stand-out rookies.
At the same time, the team just doesn’t have the talent necessary to be a surprise this year. While I still think a one-win season seems overly negative, last night is proof this rebuild still has a ways to go.