Cleveland Browns 10 – New York Giants 6
In front of a national stage, albeit still a preseason game, the Giants played under the Monday Night lights against the perennial bottom feeders of the NFL. Cleveland, with just one winning season since 2003, looks energized and refreshed with some of the best young talent the franchise has had in a very long time. Eli Manning and Odell Beckham suited up for their first live action of the preseason but it didn’t help get the first “W” next to Big Blue’s name.
In true preseason fashion, it was an ugly exhibition with just 16 total points scored, 5 turnovers (2 of which were QB-RB exchanges), and just two plays of 20 or more yards. The turning point came in the fourth quarter where the Giants were down 10-6 with the ball and “1st-and-goal” distance away not once, but twice. Two opportunities that close to the end zone netted the Giants 0 points and two turnovers. Even worse, the Giants left Cleveland beat up with star receivers Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall both exiting the game with respective injuries in addition to their position group-mate Tavarres King. The Giants have played eight quarters of preseason football and have yet to cross the goal line with the ball in their hands.
- Eli Manning looked solid and in full control of the offense, making several line calls with multiple changes that led to positive plays. He went 10/14 for 80 yards. He nearly threw a touchdown pass to TE Evan Engram but it was tipped away by Browns LB Joe Schobert. Manning spread the ball around well and looked accurate and confident. He was sacked once.
- Geno Smith was the first signal caller off of the bench, coming into the game for a 2-minute drill towards the end of the first half with just 1:10 remaining. That is always a good time to see what a QB on the fence can do. Smith ended up handing the ball off to Shane Vereen twice, completing two short passes, and getting sacked by 2017’s #1 overall pick, Myles Garrett. Smith ended the night 11/17 for 79 yards and a very bad interception on a 3rd-and-goal play where he didn’t recognize the Browns coverage. More of the same from what Geno Smith’s career has presented so far: a guy who can make all of the throws, look good doing it, but has the knack for game-killing decisions.
- Josh Johnson saw very limited action, going 2/4 for 6 yards. There wasn’t much to take out of this contest for him.
- Paul Perkins had a rough night. He finished with just 10 yards on 6 carries. There can be some blame placed on the offensive line, Bobby Hart in particular, but there were two plays where he didn’t see the lane he was supposed to be running through and instead bounced it outside or to another gap where he got caught up in traffic. Upon further review, it looks like Perkins is approaching the line with too much hesitation and the assumption he needs to create on his own. There needs to be more assertiveness in his play.
- Shane Vereen, on the field for just 11 plays, appeared to have that quick decision making on both of his runs. He was, however, running in more favorable situations, but as I said in early July, I think a healthy Vereen is just as likely to get the majority of snaps in this offense as Perkins.
- Wayne Gallman got a lot of action, particularly in the 3rd quarter. He looked explosive, loose hipped, and aggressive. He shoots out of a cannon and sometimes even too quickly for his own good. He has the kind of big-play potential a stagnant offense needs when they hit a dead end. On a 13-play drive early in the 4th quarter, Gallman rushed 5 times for 23 yards (including an explosive 8 yard run that was called back for a hold away from the play) and caught 2 passes for 20 yards. There is a multi-faceted threat here that I think the Giants are going to use more and more as the season progresses.
- Backup hopefuls Orleans Darkwa and Khalid Abdullah didn’t jump off the screen in their limited reps.
- Fullback Shane Smith appears to have a strong grip on the fullback job, although I think it is still a coin flip on whether or not they carry one. His play hasn’t been translating to yards.
- The conversation starts with injured starters Odell Beckham (ankle) and Brandon Marshall (shoulder). Preliminary reports lead us to believe both will be unaffected for week 1 in Dallas. Beckham caught 3 passes for 37 yards, easily getting open against a sub-par Cleveland secondary. Marshall was overthrown by Manning in the first quarter on a go route but it was good to see the big man run by a cornerback so easily. These two absolutely need to stay healthy for this offense to reach even close to it’s potential.
- Tavarres King, who has the inside track at the #4 spot on the depth chart, re-aggravated an ankle injury. His frame is extremely thin and fragile looking, and he may have a hard time staying on the field consistently.
- Sterling Shepard caught 3 passes for 9 yards and also fumbled the ball in Cleveland territory. Rough night for him, and for a guy that may be competing for snaps, it wasn’t encouraging. Weird to say something like that about a second-year player who was second among all rookies last season in receiving.
- Roster hopefuls Travis Rudolph and Roger Lewis went for 2 catches/16 yards and 1 catch/6 yards, respectively. Both made mental errors. Rudolph’s was a concentration drop and Lewis didn’t recognize the coverage on Geno Smith’s interception and was unable to try and break the pass up.
- Rhett Ellison and Evan Engram both had good nights. This position group is night and day on another level from what we saw last year. Engram caught 3 passes for 32 yards, while Ellison added 1 catch for 6 yards and made a big impact as blocker. On Paul Perkins’ 16-yard run in the 2nd quarter, Ellison blocked two separate Cleveland defenders on opposite sides of the running lane. It was a big league, high-level play that doesn’t show up in the box score. Both Engram and Ellison were lining up all over the field including a formation where they both started off in the backfield in a wishbone type formation.
- Will Tye and Matt LaCosse both caught passes in the second half while Jerell Adams missed a quick hot route throw from Josh Johnson on the final play of the game. There is still a chance any of these three tight ends make the team, as they offer completely different packages individually. Tye looks much more athletic and sure of himself than he did in 2016.
- We all know this group will be under the microscope all year. While they still have plenty of room to improve as a whole, the line held up for the most part. Without the Browns top interior force, Danny Shelton, the Giants first-string line was able to neutralize the Browns pass rush. However, the right side still struggled to get a constant push. Nevertheless, the glass half full approach was that the left side performed well.
- Ereck Flowers was matched up against 2017 #1 overall pick Myles Garrett all night. Garrett did record a sack, but it was a result of Geno Smith evading pressure from the right side and running into the arms of Garrett, who was being kept outside the pocket well by Flowers. Flowers looked athletic and strong for most of his snaps. Bobby Hart, on the other hand, had a rough night. He was being controlled easily by second-year defensive end Carl Nassib. His poor run blocking led to a couple losses in the run game.
- John Jerry, better known for his pass blocking than run blocking, was late to see a stunt in the first quarter which led to a sack of Eli Manning. He and Weston Richburg were getting very little-to-no movement at the point of attack. Too often are those two getting knocked backwards.
- The backups on the left side, notably Chad Wheeler and Jon Halapio, performed well. Halapio was a center in college and got snaps there throughout training camp. He is still in the running for that backup center job.
- D.J. Fluker graded out better than John Jerry by a wide margin. There will be some thought and discussion surrounding the idea that he should be the starter there, but it’s not happening. Not at this point anyway. The Giants are going to sink or swim with their current starting 5 with the hope that chemistry continues to build and covers some holes in their games individually. We know what Fluker is. He is a powerful, enormous man-mover who will struggle the second he is caught in space against quick defenders. There are severe limitations to his game.
- Rookie Adam Bisnowaty struggled mightily for the second straight game, showing a lack of ability to react and adjust his weight. He appears to be having a very hard time adjusting to the speed at this level.
- Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon appear to be in mid-season form already. They combined for a sack and played stellar run defense. Vernon tipped a Brock Osweiler pass in the first quarter than landed in the arms of Pierre-Paul, who covered an unbelievable amount of ground with his gazelle strides before leaping into the air and securing it. It was an extremely rare feat of athletic prowess that most defensive ends couldn’t even think about doing. Vernon made one of the plays of the night in coverage 25 yards downfield where he ran up and across the field with rookie speedster David Njoku. He also had a sack called back because of a defensive holding call away from the action.
- Jay Bromley and Damon Harrison got the start inside. Bromley is likely in the lead for the week 1 starting job, but he is still having a hard time showing an ability to consistently anchor against double teams. He shows the occasional surge off the ball, however, that leads you to the thought, “What if?”
- Jordan Williams was in there early in the game with the first string on a 3rd-down sub package. He made a nice tackle on a shovel pass that prevented Cleveland from continuing their drive. I am not going to compare Williams to Justin Tuck as a player, but they are awfully similar in the way they move. Williams has the versatility stemming from his size and speed to be a factor on 3rd downs from the inside. He is certainly in the 53-man roster discussion because of how much he can do.
- Backup tackles Robert Thomas and Dalvin Tomlison are very active. They shoot off the ball well and will make plays away from the point-of-attack. Tomlinson made a tackle on a passing play seven yards downfield outside the numbers in the second half. How many interior guys do you see do that? He is still getting pushed back by the power blocks, multiple yards, too easily and often.
- Kerry Wynn, Romeo Okwara, and Avery Moss were pretty quiet, each only being involved in 1 tackle. Okwara was the first pass rushing DT on the field on 3rd down for what its worth. There was one play where his biggest weakness, lower body stiffness and lack of lateral twitch, was on full display when he tried and whiffed to bring down Deshone Kizer on a designed running play.
- B.J. Goodson led the way (get used to hearing that) with 7 tackles. For the second straight week, Goodson recorded a sack on a blitz up the middle in which he obliterated Cleveland running back Duke Johnson who tried to simply get in his way. Didn’t work out for him. Goodson continues to be the pace-maker of this physical brand of Giants defense.
- Calvin Munson and Deontae Skinner both played a lot of snaps, as they might be competing for the same roster spot. Munson notched 4 tackles and showed plenty of range on a 3rd-quarter physical tackle near the sidelines. Skinner, arguably the top athlete in the entire group, recorded 3 tackles of his own but also missed 2. He and Charles Grant both appear more instinctive and reactive than a year ago, but I’m not sure it’s quite enough yet. Grant is still a liability in coverage, as he was easily beat up the seam by rookie tight end David Njoku but was saved by an overthrow by Deshone Kizer.
- Jonathan Casillas and Devon Kennard had solid outings in their limited action. Both work through traffic exceptionally well and carry a strong presence to their hits. Kennard had really nice coverage on the athletic Njoku in the first quarter.
- With Eli Apple out, Michael Hunter got some extra looks in the Giants nickel defense. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who also saw some snaps at safety, shifted inside to the nickel position. Hunter covered very well but lost outside contain on a running play by Duke Johnson. Fortunately it was called back due to a hold away from the action. Both Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins were strong in coverage and physical in the run game.
- Valentino Blake got on the field a lot considering he is very involved on special teams. He is tough and physical, two prerequisites for Special Teams Coach Tom Quinn and we all know how much this era of Giants leadership values the specials. Blake still gives up too much yardage as a cover man, however.
- Undrafted rookie Deshaun Amos stood out to me on a couple of occasions. He made a couple of very physical hits and showed excellent technique in man coverage.
- Donte Deayon bounced back after a rough outing against Pittsburgh. He handled all of his allotted returns, stuck to his receivers in coverage with ease, and intercepted a pass that showed off high-level ball skills. Unfortunately it was called back due to penalty that had nothing to do with the play’s result. Deayon, as we know, is on the VERY small side and it continues to show up when he is trying to defend the run. He was rendered completely useless on a few outside runs by physical receivers.
- Landon Collins recorded a tackle and showed plenty of range against the run. He is heading for a 100+ tackle season for the third straight year.
- Nat Berhe led the team in snaps played. He recorded 6 tackles but missed another bad one in the fourth quarter on a backup tight end. Through two games he has graded out very poorly as a tackler, something that just can’t happen from that position.
- Darian Thompson and Andrew Adams continued to be right place, right time-type defenders without a big impact. Eric Pinkins and Duke Ihenacho did not get a ton of opportunity to display much of anything.
- Veteran Mike Nugent got the first look on the field goal unit, nailing a 38 yarder. Rookie Aldrick Rosas hit one from 47 yards later on, but it didn’t have a ton of room left on it.
- Brad Wing punted the ball 3 times for a poor average net (36.3 yards) due to poor coverage, mainly by Shane Smith and Orleans Darkwa.
- The return game was quiet, with Donte Deayon, Travis Rudolph, and Orleans Darwka handling duties but all were fair catches and touchbacks.
- DE Jason Pierre Paul, DE Olivier Vernon, TE Evan Engram
- RB Paul Perkins, RT Bobby Hart, RT Adam Bisnowaty
3 TAKEAWAYS FOR CLE
- There is a serious amount of young talent on the Browns, I think more than we have ever seen since their rebirth into the league. The upside of this team is huge if they can finally find their QB.
- Rookie left tackle Roderick Johnson played pretty well considering he is a 5th-round pick and was up against Vernon. With Joe Thomas sitting out, Johnson’s experience in these games is huge for the long-term development of this team. He was also a high upside prospect and if he can figure it out before his name is called when Thomas retires, CLE may not skip a beat when the best left tackle of all time is no longer there.
- Deshone Kizer was my second rated QB of the 2017 class. A weak class overall, but I still thought Kizer was a guy that could start and win plenty of games for a team. He has talent that very good QBs in this league don’t have. He was off on a couple throws but I was impressed by the quick release and easy footwork. If this kid puts his best foot forward, he has as much of a chance at being THE guy that turns this franchise around as anyone before him. And there is an offensive line there that rivals some of the best in football, which is huge for a young QB’s development.