Three storylines to watch in Browns second preseason game
Three storylines to watch in the Browns second preseason game Thursday night vs. the Buffalo Bills:
1. With all the injuries, who will step up?
A number of Browns who will assuredly make the final 53-man roster, including Joe Haden, Justin Gilbert, Duke Johnson and Terrelle Pryor, will miss the second preseason game. In their place, rookies like Charles Gaines, E.J. Bibbs and Josh Lenz will get a chance to step up against the Buffalo Bills and prove to the coaching staff that they as well, belong on the Browns final 53-man roster.
With all the injuries, the question is whom of the rookies, undrafted free agents and other unproven guys, will claim or compete for a roster spot. Last Thursday night against the Redskins, Bibbs stepped up with three catches for 29 yards, possibly moving himself up the tight end depth chart. Darius Jennings put himself in the conversation with two punt returns for 75 yards including a 54-yard return.
While many of these guys won't make the team, there are a few roster spots still open for competition and with injuries bringing second and third string guys into starting roles, it's just a matter of who can step up against the Bills and make the plays to earn themselves a roster spot.
2. How will Josh McCown and the first team offense look against a tougher defense?
Against the Redskins, McCown led the Browns on 9-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter. McCown looked good, completing 5 of 5 passes for 64 yards and a touchdown. He looked surprisingly mobile, completed a few quick throws and was able to command the offense like a veteran quarterback should.
Now a bigger test comes against the Bills. With Rex Ryan at the helm, the Bills are expected to have one of the better defenses in the NFL this season, one much better than the Redskins. The Bills, with their pass rush and secondary, pose a much bigger hurdle for the Browns first team offense to overcome than the Redskins.
And with the starters playing into the second quarter in the second preseason game, the Bills will be a good measuring stick for the Browns offense. While the Browns don't face the Bills this season, they do face some of the top defenses in the NFL last season in the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets. Mike Pettine and the Browns coaching staff will learn a lot about their offense as they face the Bills.
Last season, the Browns had the worst run defense in the NFL and this past offseason, the organization set out to improve it, drafting Danny Shelton and adding Randy Starks via free agency. But against the Redskins, the Browns run defense had their troubles, allowing 153 yards of rushing.
Up the middle, the Browns defense was great, and much improved from last season. Shelton was an unstoppable force and the Browns only allowed about 30 rushing yards up the middle. Instead it was the outside runs that really hurt them. The Redskins had rushes of 23, 18 and 14 yards to the outside as the Browns had trouble sealing off and setting the edge, giving up over 100 rushing yards to the outside.
With another week of practice under their belts, the Browns will look to have an improved run defense against the Bills, a team that expects to run the ball a lot in 2015. While the Bills have many backs dealing with injuries, including probable starter LeSean McCoy, who probably won't play Thursday night, it'll be another test of how far the Browns run defense has come since last week and last year.