CLEVELAND (AP) — Browns coach Rob Chudzinski looked calm, cool and crisp in his NFL exhibition debut. So did his team, especially his starting quarterback.
With Brandon Weeden moving Cleveland’s offense on two scoring drives, the Browns jumped to a 17-0 lead against the Rams’ starters and rolled to a 27-19 win over St. Louis on Thursday night. Weeden, coming off a so-so rookie season, may have silenced some critics with his solid performance in which he spread the ball all over FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Browns were better in all three phases, and only a late TD by the Rams’ backups made the score look more respectable.
St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher has some work to do.
Here are the five things we learned about two young teams:
1.WEEDEN’S WEAPONS: The second-year QB completed 10 of 13 passes for 112 yards and displayed composure and patience in the pocket. He made sound decisions and appears to be making major strides in coordinator Norv Turner’s system. With all eyes on his every move, Weeden drove the Browns to a field goal on their first possession and then threw a short TD pass to running back Dion Lewis.
Chudzinski has not yet named Weeden his starter, but the first-year coach liked what he saw from his expected No. 1 QB.
“I thought he did a good job,” said Chudzinski, who has been understated in any praise of Weeden since training camp opened. “First impression was that we came out and we had some good drives and he was a big part of that.”
2. SAFFOLD’S SHOULDER: On just St. Louis’ second play, Rams right offensive tackle sustained a left shoulder injury that could keep him out for a while.
Saffold, who spent his first three years playing on the left side but moved when the club signed Jake Long, was trying to block Browns outside linebacker Paul Kruger on a pass play when he fell hard. He walked off the field under his own power but did not return. Fisher said X-rays on Saffold were negative, but the Rams will do further testing Friday.
Staying healthy and on the field has been a problem for Saffold. He started all 16 games as a rookie in 2010, but only played in nine games in 2011 and 10 in 2012 because of injuries.
3. BENJAMIN’S BURNERS: There’s no player faster than Travis Benjamin on Cleveland’s roster. And apparently there’s none on St. Louis’ either.
Cleveland’s speedy wide receiver, who is replacing Josh Cribbs as the Browns’ primary punt returner, took one back 91 yards for a touchdown to give the Browns a 17-0 lead. Retreating to his 9 to catch the long punt, Benjamin headed toward the left sideline, picked up a couple blocks and was long gone, scoring untouched.
“Once I knew I had the edge, I trusted my guys blocking for me,” he said. “I knew if I got the edge, it would be a quick touchdown.”
Quick indeed. Benjamin, in his second season out of Miami, is a blur.
“Stupid speed,” Weeden said.
4. ROUGH RAMS: Mistakes, a bunch of them, put St. Louis in a 17-0 hole.
With the Rams moving the ball on their first series, running back Isaiah Pead was stripped by Cleveland’s Phil Taylor and the Browns recovered at their 28. Moments later, a breakdown in the St. Louis secondary allowed Cleveland tight end Jordan Cameron to get wide open for a 30-yard gain. Then, the Rams’ punt coverage team was woefully out of position as Benjamin sprinted down the sideline in front of St. Louis bench, a play that had to boil Fisher’s blood.
“The first game is never an indication of where you’re at, because there’s so many different things going on,” Fisher said. “We had one period to prepare for them, and that’s certainly not enough considering what they were doing defensively.”
5. MINGO MOTORS: Browns rookie linebacker Barkevious Mingo seemed to be three places at once in an impressive debut.
In his first true NFL test, the No. 6 overall pick had several quarterback pressures, a sack nullified by a penalty and he made one of the key blocks on Benjamin’s return. Mingo was a handful for the Rams offensive linemen, using his exceptional speed and burst off the edge and showing off a variety of spin moves in traffic.
“He was very active,” Chudzinski said. “He was real active in his pass rush.”