Browns Offense Shines – First AFC North Team to Win

The Browns open the 2011 NFL Season winners, now they just need to keep improving. While the victory comes via the exhibition kind, it’s a win – one in which Browns fans come away from breathing a little easier. Here’s a breakdown of the offense after the Browns 27-17 victory over the Green Bay Packers.

Quarterbacks

Colt McCoy is going to be a star in this league: 9-10 for 135 yards and a score, in three series of action during Saturday night’s 27-17 victory.

McCoy displayed the kind of poise and accuracy that Browns fans have longed for, hitting five different receivers during his three series on the field. The receivers weren’t just running slants all night either. McCoy was accurate on the in-routes, and out-routes. He hit backs out of the backfield, and completed passes deep down the middle of the field. Essentially, McCoy made all the throws his critics said he couldn’t make.

Leadership has been a key attribute linked to McCoy, and he displayed it well against the Packers. Watching the game, there’s absolutely no doubt who this team belongs too. (Sorry Seneca) Colt has been a winner all his life and after his performance Saturday night, he’ll continue to be a winner in the NFL.

Seneca Wallace looked decent as well, completing 11 of his 17 passes for 99 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT. Wallace’s performance was about as expected – solid but nothing that made you say “Wow”.

Of the four quarterbacks on the Browns’ roster, Wallace has the most experience in the west coast offense. Many of the “experts” claimed that Wallace was a better fit at QB for the Browns because of his familiarity with the offense, but McCoy has quieted those so-called experts, for now.

I was really excited to see what former West Virginia star, Jarrett Brown, could do with his opportunity. However, of the three QBs that saw action, Brown was less than impressive. We’ve heard for two weeks about how Brown has a “cannon” for an arm and how impressive he’s been in practice. Well…we’re still waiting. Brown went 1 for 2 (13 yards) with an interception.

Projected Depth Chart at QB

1. Colt McCoy
2. Seneca Wallace
3. Jarrett Brown

(Look for Hillsdale QB, Troy Weatherhead, to eventually be cut)

Running Backs

There’s no doubt that last year’s starter, Peyton Hillis, will be number one again on this year’s depth chart. Hillis didn’t see much playing time, like most of the starters, but he was able to score a touchdown. The 2012 Madden cover winner carried the ball 5 times for 16 yards and was still the “bruiser” he proved to be last year on his way to 1000 yards.

Behind Hillis, though, was expected to be Montario Hardesty. However, Hardesty never even sniffed the field against Green Bay, and has been held out during much of practice. HC Pat Shurmur has said they want to bring Hardesty back “slowly” after last season’s ACL injury. If the former Volunteer doesn’t see the field soon, he may find himself buried on the team’s depth chart…

One of the big free agent signings for the Browns this off-season was former Packer starter, Brandon Jackson. Jackson looked pretty good against his former team, rushing 8 times for 28 yards. Understandably those stats aren’t anything to write home about, but the way Jackson gained those yards was certainly impressive. Brandon was quick and elusive, and may find himself at #2 on the depth chart, even after the preseason.

Even if you’re a Browns fan, you probably still don’t know who Armond Smith is, but the kid can play. Smith has been turning heads with his speed and quickness during practice, and Saturday night he found himself as the team’s leading rusher after 10 rushes for 41 yards.

Listed at 5’9” and 195 pounds, Smith wasn’t a well-known coming out of Union College in Kentucky, and went undrafted during the 2011 NFL Draft. The Browns were the only team to call Smith after the lockout was lifted, and so far he’s made the most of his opportunity. Hey may be a long shot to make the team (depends on Hardesty) but if he does, it’s because he’s a proven playmaker.

There wasn’t really a lot to report on about the fullback position. Rookie Owen Marecic got the start but found himself on the sidelines with the rest of the ones half-way through the 2nd Quarter. Marecic fumbled McCoy’s first pass from scrimmage, but did manage to record a tackle on special teams.

Projected Depth Chart at RB & FB

1. Peyton Hillis
2. Brandon Jackson
3. Montario Hardesty
4. Armond Smith/Quinn Porter

1. Owen Marecic

(Tyler Clutts is listed at #2 behind Marecic, but I don’t expect the Browns to keep two fullbacks)

Wide Receiver

Many believed this to be a serious “area of need” for the Browns, even though head coach Pat Shurmur and President Mike Holmgren proclaimed daily they were happy with their current receiving core.

After Saturday night, we now know why they were so happy.

Mohammed Massaquoi (foot) and Carlton Mitchell (finger) sat out Saturday’s game, which is huge as both players are expected to be key contributors this year for the Browns. However, the current receivers did a fine job stepping up in their place.

Josh Cribbs and Brian Robiskie started the game for the Browns, and both performed well. Cribbs finished the game with 2 catches for 37 yards, 27 of which came on a beautiful pass from McCoy for the Browns’ first score of the game. Robiskie, who many believe is having a solid camp, finished the game with a one catch for 15 yards.

The receiver everyone came to see, Greg Little, showed flashes of greatness for the Browns. Little stood out in his limited action, catching 2 passes for 20 yards. The former Tar Heel was targeted 4 times during the game and is expected to be a big playmaker in the Browns’ new offense.

Showing the most playmaking ability, however, was Jordan Norwood – and not just as a receiver. Norwood was quite busy Saturday night, playing receiver as well as returning punts for the Browns. The second-year pro was almost “Cribbs-like” returning punts, proving to be just as shifty and elusive as his mentor. As if tallying 55 yards on 3 punt returns wasn’t enough (long of 22), the former Penn State star also caught 3 passes for 36 yards.

Receiver may not be as glaring of a need after all. It’ll be interesting to see what happens once MoMass and Mitchell return, but the Browns certainly have talent at the position.

Projected Depth Chart at WR

WR1: Greg Little/Josh Cribbs/Demetrius Williams/Chris Matthews (Despite not playing, still think he makes the roster)
WR2: Brian Robiskie/Mohammed Massaquoi/Carlton Mitchell/Jordan Norwood.

(Don’t expect to see Norwood on the outside much, should be the starter at “slot” on offense)

Tight Ends

If there was any doubt the Browns had talent at the tight end position, it can stop now. Last year the Browns were led in receiving by TE Ben Watson (68 rec) and the second-year Brown showed he has all the skills to do so again this season. On Cleveland’s second scoring drive, McCoy found Watson over the middle for a gain of 19. On the very next play, McCoy found Watson again – this time for a 37 yard gain that set-up Hillis’ score from 3 yards out.

Fellow tight end Evan Moore could prove to be a nightmare for opposing defenses this season, and paired with Ben Watson, could prove to be one of the dominant tight end groups in the NFL. Moore was targeted 4 times Saturday night, catching 3 of those targets for 11 yards. So, how is 11 yards off of 3 catches exciting? Well it’s not, but it’s only the preseason.

Moore’s height (6’6”) and athleticism should create serious mismatches in the red zone for the Browns, especially if he finds himself matched-up against a linebacker or safety. Couple Moore’s “threat” with Watson’s proven pass-catching ability, and you have one of the more dynamic duos of tight ends in the league.

Rookie TE Jordan Cameron should (over time anyway) come along well for the Browns. Cameron was drafted as a “project” player out of USC. Initially a basketball hopeful for the BYU Cougars, Cameron transferred to USC to play football. After recording zero catches for the Trojans as a wide receiver, Cameron made the move to tight end at the start of his senior season. (16 catches for 126 yards and one score) Cameron had 1 catch for 6 yards in Saturday night’s game.

Watson is clearly the “do-all” at the position for the Browns, meaning he can block as well as catch. Moore and – potentially – Cameron are more of the “pass-catching” type. A tight end that can block, formed with two pass-catching tight ends isn’t usually a recipe for success in the NFL. Look for the team to keep Alex Smith, to help sure up some of the blocking lacking from Moore and Cameron.

Projected Depth Chart at TE

1. Ben Watson
2. Evan Moore
3. Alex Smith
4. Jordan Cameron

Offensive Line

The O-Line had to be a pleasant surprise for the Browns Saturday night. While the level of skill at the position wasn’t really an area of concern, depth was.

Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach, Alex Mack, Shawn Lauvao and Tony Pashos started the game for the Browns, and dominated the line of scrimmage early on. The Browns first unit never allowed a sack, and should be one of the top o-lines in the NFL – minus injury of course.

Injuries have certainly plagued the likes of Steinbach and Pashos, but Billy Yates, John Greco (acquired via trade w/Rams) and Branndon Braxton should be ready to step right in if the situation should present itself. (Let’s hope not).

Overall the O-Line performed admirably Saturday night, giving up only one sack the entire game. (Seneca Wallace was sacked late in the 3rd Quarter) As the offensive line goes, so does the QB. If McCoy is going to have a great year, the health and play of the o-line is key.

Projected O-Line Depth Chart

LT: Joe Thomas/Branndon Braxton
LG: Eric Steinbach/Jason Pinkston/Pat Murray
C: Alex Mack/Billy Yates
RG: Shawn Lauvao/John Greco
RT: Tony Pashos/Phil Trautwein/Branndon Braxton

Overall…
The Browns offense looked great, despite only two weeks to prepare for their first preseason game. If what we seen from the starters is any indication of things to come, you have got to be excited about this upcoming season.

Where Browns fans are use to three-and-outs, they saw completions for a first down. Where FGs were the usual norm, they saw touchdowns. And while fans have been use to a carousel of quarterbacks, they now appear to have a worthy starter in Colt McCoy.

Yes, it’s only preseason, but the Cleveland Browns proved to their fans and the NFL, that they are a team on the rise. No longer do the Browns appear to be just another easy “W” for opposing teams. Instead, the likes of the Steelers and Ravens, will surely get all they can handle from the Browns. Maybe they’ll emerge on top, maybe not, but the days of the Browns being the “laughingstock” of the AFC North appear to be over. (Have fun Bengals fans)

But yes, I know… it’s only preseason.

By the way…
AFC North Standings as of 8/14/11
Cleveland Browns – 1-0
Cincinnati Bengals – 0-1
Baltimore Ravens – 0-1
Pittsburgh Steelers – 0-1
(Yes I know, it’s only preseason, but still…ha!)

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3 Responses to “Browns Offense Shines – First AFC North Team to Win”

  1. rick nelsen says:

    I’m guessing Cameron isn’t fourth on the depth chart, considering that they won’t keep four tight ends. Honestly, Alex Smith or Evan Moore is the odd man out here. And according to Heckert on Thursday, it’s a good bet Smith won’t make the roster.

    Also, our slot is more likely to be Robiskie or Evan Moore more often than not. This offense needs receivers who can run crsip routes and catch balls in the slot, and those two players fit the bill.

    Norwood, although talented, will be relegated to return duty. And if he does have a spot at receiver, I think it is surely on the outside at times. Tiny, shifty guys in the slot isn’t as trendy as it used to be and it doesn’t fir this offense.

  2. denolakes says:

    Can’t get too excited about a pre-season game — except to say that this team looked like it knew what it was doing. Timing was actually pretty decent for so early, IMO. MoMass and Mitchell better get healthy fast, from what I saw. I wouldn’t want to see Norwood and Williamson on the field any more than I had to, if I were them. Same with Hardesty. Smith might not cut it because of his size — and he was playing against a bunch of no names who will most likely be selling insurance this time next month. Defense looked soft — again. And again, it is awfully early and a lot youth on this team. Skrine could be a nifty late round pick-up, something that teams like Pittsburgh, Baltimore and a few others seem to do a lot. Makes the drafts a lot longer, doesn’t it?

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