Browns’ third preseason game offers few answers

Aug 23, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (18) returns a kick in the first quarter against the St. Louis Rams at FirstEnergy Stadium. 

Rick Osentoski/Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

CLEVELAND – Patience or panic?

The real answer is not coming to a Cleveland Browns billboard or press conference anytime soon.

It’s still August, things are still new, preseason games are really just 200-minute exercises in hoping nobody gets hurt and the new scoreboards at First Energy Stadium are really, really nice.

The Browns themselves look about as ready to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers as they’ve generally been over the last 15 years.

Two weeks and counting.

The Browns are 0-3 in the preseason and that doesn’t matter. That the games look like the practices looked does matter. There’s very little outside of the kick return unit to be excited about right now.

Two weeks and counting.

Thanks to a big kick return by speedy undrafted rookie Taylor Gabriel in Saturday night’s preseason game, the Browns — trailing a St. Louis Rams team that had already played three quarterbacks 20-0 — got a touchdown by their first-team offense for the first time in the preseason late in the first half on a pass from Brian Hoyer to Andrew Hawkins.

The Browns got the ball first to start the second half, and a mixup on the first play produced a broken play. Hoyer hesitated, and with guys in orange helmets running every which way, he started running to his left. He was sacked. He fumbled. The Rams recovered.

A broken play. A broken preseason.

After the game, Browns coach Mike Pettine said of Hoyer, "I don’t think he played well enough and that’s across the board."

Asked what his team did well on the night, Pettine said, "Return kickoffs. Which if we play defense like that we’re going to be doing pretty often."

The Browns can’t be this bad — can they? — but that’s the best that can be said. There’s one more preseason game. There are a bunch of roster cuts coming over the next seven days, followed by an extended real work week.

Every single second will count.

"Pittsburgh is not that long away," Hoyer said of the Sept. 7 season opener. "We really need to hone in. I expect to play (in the Aug. 28 preseason finale). I think we need to.

"I don’t want people to hit the panic button. We do some really good things. We have to continue to do those and eliminate the mistakes."

Hoyer finished 10-of-16 for 84 yards Saturday. He had his first touchdown and first two turnovers of the preseason.

The passing numbers were all accumulated in the first half. Hoyer was sacked and fumbled on that broken play on the first play of the second half. He played one more series after that and the Browns went three and out on three runs.

In three preseason games, Hoyer hasn’t gotten much done and hasn’t gotten much help, either.

The offense stinks, to put it mildly. The defense basically no-showed on Saturday, starting with giving up a third-and-25 on the first drive. Joe Haden was rested and rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert got targeted repeatedly.

He should get used to it.

The Browns two touchdown drives covered 37 yards in eight plays and 14 yards in four plays. Both were against the Rams second-team defense. On the second, Johnny Manziel ran for a 7-yard touchdown after the Browns had managed to turn first-and-goal at the 1 into first and goal at the 16.

Manziel finished 10-of-15 for 85 yards. Manziel had two completions negated by penalty but none that were especially memorable. The Browns challenge no one vertically in their passing game.

The Rams had the ball all night Saturday, winning the time of possession battle by almost 20 minutes. The Rams went just 2-of-6 in the red zone and 1-of-4 on goal to go situations, lost starting quarterback Sam Bradford to a knee injury early and just wanted to go home. They still won, 33-14.

Again, that doesn’t matter. That the Browns lack both sizzle and substance does.

Two weeks and counting.

"It’s disappointing," Pettine said. "We had circled this date. Our fans deserved a better performance tonight."

At least those fans saw the starters score a touchdown.

"We have to get back to the basics," Hoyer said.

Patience, not panic.

Two weeks and counting.

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