Welcome back, football. Even if it is just the first week of preseason play, fans have been anxious to see what their teams may look like heading into the season. Preseason is also the only time many players will take the field before the rosters are trimmed to NFL specifications, so the show is a mixed bag of guys battling for spots and talent recognition.
In this 'rival report', we'll look at the Cleveland Browns and their Thursday night performance. Short of a game recap, we'll highlight some of the top takeaways from the win over the New Orleans Saints.
Browns sneak past Saints for 20-14 win; three rookie looks
After winning just a single regular season game in 2016, Browns head coach Hue Jackson has expressed he wants nothing but wins from his team; preseason or not. And like fans of every NFL team, they're ecstatic over wins and pulling their hair out over losses. The win over New Orleans puts one notch in the belt...but preseason is a proving ground and little else.
Cleveland came from behind for the win on Thursday, but on the positive side, three Browns rookies - Myles Garrett, Deshone Kizer, and Jabrill Peppers - gave fans something to consider for the future of their team's 2017 season.
Garrett had hustle and mauled his way into the offensive backfield on both passing and run plays, forcing double-teams from the Saints offensive line even though he recorded just a single tackle. He had a hand in helping the Browns' first-team defense hold New Orleans to a field goal, blew up one running play for a two-yard loss and recorded his first knockdown, forcing a third-down incompletion.
We came out with the win. We affected the passer and we most importantly won. Whatever we can do to achieve that goal, I’m going to do.
Peppers was called on to return a kick with 4:31 left in the first quarter and looked like he was placed well on the ball and had room to run, but he signaled fair catch. It wasn't a terrible decision, but Peppers admitted after the game that he may have made the wrong decision. He spoke on the difference between college kickoffs versus the pro game and how, with the ball hanging a bit, he timed things differently.
I saw it hang, I looked, I saw it hanging, so I just thought the fair catch would be the best decision, but preseason game, learn from your mistakes and you move forward.
Peppers returned a punt for 13 yards later in the first quarter and added a 27-yard kickoff return. He also joined the team in the defensive backfield after Ibraheim Campbell was injured and followed Justin Currie's rotation.
Kizer takes second half, turning it into come-from-behind win
Looking like a professional, Kizer showed an ability to move around in the pocket and had nice zip on several passes, especially those near the sideline. Although the rookie quarterback is still in need of improved timing, getting rid of the ball quicker, he underthrew a few passes.
These are things that can be worked on throughout the remaining practice and preseason games. The underthrown passes were to the inside of the receiver, at least, preventing defenders from jumping the route, giving him a positive in the accuracy department.
Kizer played the entire second half of the game and looked confident leading the Browns on two nice drives, completing passes of 52 and 45 yards for 11-of-18 completions and a 184-yard performance for the night. He hit Jordan Payton for the game-winning touchdown (the 45-yard toss).
Kizer admitted that there were times the game's pace forced him to take off on the run to get out of trouble, but his mobility was good to see.
To step out there and feel this game atmosphere and to compete against another team with my team and the camaraderie I have been able to create with my teammates in this last three months through our training camp and OTAs, to finally go out there and play against someone else was an awesome experience.
Other Browns notables
Defensive lineman Nate Orchard, after being sidelined for nearly all of 2016 with an ankle injury, returned in fine form showing up all over the field. After playing linebacker for two seasons, Orchard moved to defensive end during the offseason under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. He was credited with a sack during the first quarter on Saints quarterback Garrett Grayson.
One thing in mind was to get to the quarterback as much as possible.
Trevon Coley, a training camp surprise on the defensive line, should move up the depth chart after his performance on Thursday. Coley recorded four tackles and a strip-sack of Grayson that set up a Browns touchdown.
You always want to put your best foot forward in anything you do and try to help the team. It’s whatever I can help the team, however way, that’s why I’m here.
The quarterback competition is not over in the mind of Hue Jackson even though Kizer did well running the Browns offense. Brock Osweiler and Cody Kessler shared snaps in the first half of the game Thursday night, but Kessler was the one to come away with better stats. Osweiler completed six-of-14 passes for a 50.3 QB rating while Kessler completed five-of-10 and finished with a 63.3 QB rating.
Jackson, in his post-game presser, said:
I go back to work tomorrow, look at all the tape and then make a decision about where we are. As I said, this was one week...We will see where we are for next week.
Defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun, an undrafted rookie in 2016, looks ready to have a nice role with the Cleveland defense. His biggest play was a blown-up end-around and big hit on Saints receiver Rashad Lawrence on 4th-and goal late in the third quarter.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) August 11, 2017