Browns’ starters unimpressive in first game
DETROIT — Winning provides an amazing dynamic, even in a preseason opener significant only because it’s the Great Lakes Classic.
The Cleveland Browns seemed nearly giddy following their 19-17 win over the Detroit Lions (Bring home the barge!). This was a win built on the strength of the backups scoring in the second half and a Jeff Wolfert field goal with 33 seconds left.
That the starters bumbled around… well that was glossed over as if a new paint of coat had been applied.
“You got rookies in there playing with a team that went 10-6 last year,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “I think it’s a great test for us to see where we’re at. And we made some plays against them. I’m not down at all.”
Wins have been that hard to come by with the Cleveland Browns.
So acknowledge the win, but at the same time don’t ignore the concerns.
Because when the starters and backups were in the game in the first half, the play was hardly sharp.
It was probably expected, but it wasn’t all that encouraging.
Quarterback Brandon Weeden and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz both said it was good to get experience, but they played like rookies, which they are. Receiver Josh Gordon struggled mightily, almost as if he hasn’t played in a game in two years, which he hasn’t.
Trent Richardson? He was back resting his knee somewhere.
So while Shurmur was happy about the way guys competed and the experience his young players gained, the Browns in the first half resembled the Browns of much of 2011.
That is to say there was a play or player here and there that caught attention, but whatever good was accomplished was offset by turnovers, penalties and injuries.
The injuries piled up faster than Browns points in the first half (which ended with Detroit ahead 14-3).
Mohammed Massaquoi took a blow to the head on the first play of the game and did not return.
Shurmur said after the game that Massaquoi had a concussion, but Massaquoi posted on Twitter that he did not, that he was held out for “precautionary” reasons.
Massaquoi got up slow from the hit, and was taken to the locker room right away. His situation has to be a concern because Massaquoi has had at least two concussions and has not been the same since James Harrison’s vicious shot to his head when he was a rookie.
In the second quarter defensive tackle Scott Paxson — who started — left with a knee injury that could be serious, tight end Jordan Cameron with a back and cornerback Dmitri Patterson with an ankle. Shurmur said he’d know more after all are evaluated.
Cameron had a nice night catching the ball, and Patterson and Paxson are depth guys who will be missed if they are out for any length of time. But if Massaquoi misses time and Gordon continues to struggle, the Browns are back at receiver where they started — with Greg Little and who knows what else, although rookie Travis Benjamin had some nice catches and played very fast.
The penalties were a significant problem, with officials flagging the Browns eight times in the first half. Included was a holding call on Gordon as he ran a pass route, an oddity perhaps brought on by the replacement officials.
In fact, the eight penalties might have been a result of backup refs working the game.
Either that, or the Browns simply were sloppy.
They sure looked sloppy.
“Its easy to say that it’s expected this time of year, but it isn’t,” Shurmur said. “We coach against it.”
The rookies were indoctrinated, fast.
Schwartz admitted there was good and bad, and said he simply did not move fast enough on the play Ndamukong Suh who forced Weeden to fumble.
“My fault,” Schwartz said. “A guy went inside and I didn’t get in quick enough.”
Weeden started with completions of 11 yards to Massaquoi and 34 yards to Benjamin down the sideline. But he finished 3-of-9 and two turnovers. He also had an interception when Little stopped on a route and Weeden thought he would keep going. Weeden called it the proverbial “miscommunication.”
“We got to make those throws and catches in tight coverage,” Shurmur said. “I was (mad) at both of them.”
The positives for Weeden were the first two passes, the negatives that he completed just 1-of-7 with an interception after.
“The numbers aren’t perfect, but I didn’t expect them to be,” Weeden said. “I knew there would be mistakes here and there, but it’s how can we fix those mistakes, what can we do to make them better and not do them again?”
Weeden even said he was “upbeat” about his night, which ended with a quarterback rating of 19.0.
“The way I felt and the plays we did make that were positive plays were good, and you’ve got to build off those,” he said.
Maybe it’s because the Browns have won 18 games in four seasons, but this approach has become all-too-common in preseason for the Browns.
Guys who need to learn and grow wind up playing a quarter, and then talking after the game as if mistakes are easily correctable. Then they prove in the regular season they’re not.
The win was nice. It’s new guys making the statements.
But at some point it sure would be nice if the Browns came out and played a sharp game, start to finish, and then win or lose would have some solid, consistent and sharp play to build off rather than the tired lines about correcting mistakes.
If everyone only plays a quarter, then make each quarter that is played a good one.
It didn’t happen Friday in Detroit, but the Browns did win.