Cleveland Browns 20 – New York Giants 10
Live football returned for the first time after one of the worst seasons in franchise history. Week 1 of the preseason is always more about seeing the new guys in the game-uniform and watching real, live football for the first time since winter. The first string (minus Odell Beckham) played for less than a quarter for NYG, while CLE left them in a bit longer.
Thanks to a 39 yard run on rookie Saquon Barkley’s first touch, NYG was able to put 3 quick points up on the board. That lead proved to be the last one for the home team, as Tyrod Taylor, who is competing for the starting gig, made a perfect throw to New Jersey native David Njoku for a 36 yard touchdown. At that point, the night very much became about the backups vying for roster spots and/or rotational roles on the final 53-man roster.
Davis Webb entered the game and struggled. It was the opposite for CLE’s #1 overall pick Baker Mayfield, who owned the night and possibly Week 1 of the NFL’s preseason schedule. Webb looked erratic while Mayfield carved up the Giants defense all over the field. One was a 3rd round pick and the other was a top overall player, but the two didn’t even appear to be in the same league.
Mayfield and the Browns quickly lengthened to lead to 13-3 and the second half then began with a couple of 3 and outs. A potentially game-changing play happened on special teams soon after, as CLE’s C.J. Board fumbled a punt return that was recovered by NYG’s Zak DeOssie on the CLE 14 yard line. A few plays later Jalen Simmons scampered into the end zone on a 5 yard run, bringing the score back to 13-10. Mayfield returned the favor a couple drives later and hooked up with fellow rookie Antonio Callaway on a 54 yard touchdown that was majority run-after-catch. The middle of the pass defense was torched all night and the big plays just never happened on offense following Barkley’s run on the first drive.
The story of the night was Mayfield’s excellent debut and NYG’s struggling backup offense. While it is too early to throw our hands up in the air, there wasn’t a lot of optimism after this one other than the team remaining healthy.
–Eli Manning: 4/7 – 26 yards – 0 TD/0 INT. Manning played two drives that lasted a combined 16 plays, hardly enough time to get a full evaluation. There isn’t much to report of his night, although his footwork looked crisp and he was decisive with the ball. He went 1 for 1 on 3rd down but was sacked on his second attempt. There was one miscommunication with TE Rhett Ellison up the seam that almost led to an interception and judging by the look of the All-22 tape, it was Ellison that made the wrong read.
–Davis Webb: 9/22 – 70 yards – 0 TD/0 INT. Webb has the inside track and winning the backup job by default, but he didn’t strengthen that plan with his play. Webb struggled mightily with simple, basic-level passing. He had a hard time hitting guys in the numbers, as he looked overly flustered and nervous. While I won’t bash him for his play in week 1 of preseason football, he does need to show that he can bounce back next week in Detroit and fix his shortcomings.
–Kyle Lauletta: 6/9 – 48 yards – 0 TD/0 INT. If this were an open ended competition, Lauletta walks away from this game with the lead. His footwork and crisp release especially stood out. The knock on Lauletta is a “below average” arm when it comes to power and strength, but he can more than make up for it with how fast he gets rid of the ball. He looked very confident and sure of himself for a 4th round rookie in his first live NFL action.
-Saquon Barkley: 4 att/43 yards. The anticipation of the 2018 #2 overall pick and what many consider to be one of the top running back prospects ever matched the inaugural play of Barkley’s pro career. An overly impressive 39-yard run that displayed his vision, agility, reaction, and open field burst was a sign of things to come. His night didn’t last long and there were a couple negative runs after, but Barkley’s initial showing with NYG in a game situation was a positive one.
-Jonathan Stewart: 3 att/3 yards – 1 rec/8 yards. Stewart didn’t see a lot of action himself, but he struggled to reach the outside. He looks heavy footed and considering this is his 11th year with 1,700 carries on his resume, one can surely believe he will be a number three back by season’s end. He was also part of a messy miscommunication with the middle of the offensive line on a CLE blitz that led to a sack.
-Wayne Gallman: 3 att/5 yards – 4 rec /33 yards. Gallman looks explosive and sure of himself. He is going to be a great compliment to Barkley and an asset to the passing game both as a pass catcher and blocker, as he picked up a couple blitzes successfully.
The Rest: A couple of impressive runs by both back end backs Jalen Simmons and Robert Martin. They combined for 12 carries / 77 yards against the roster hopefuls of CLE. Simmons was especially assertive and did a nice job of running through contact with good pad level and active feet. Fullback Shane Smith was on the field for 9 plays (12% of the team’s offensive snaps). He does look more confident and sure of his reads than he did at this time last year, but there wasn’t a major difference felt with his presence in the run game.
–Sterling Shepard: 2 rec / 9 yards. After being slowed by a training camp ankle injury last year, it was refreshing to see him out there early on. His quickness out of the slot is going to be a factor this year, now if he could only make more happen after the catch and the Giants offense may have a big time weapon.
-Hunter Sharp: 2 rec / 16 yards. Sharp got the early look with the first team offense with Beckham on the sideline. He dropped two passes and showed poor ball skills on one of his receptions, a quick way to get thrown to the back end of the depth chart. He did have a nice kick return, displaying good long stride speed in space.
The Rest: Roger Lewis and Marquis Bundy both came down with big plays late in the game. Lewis’ seems to have been somewhat demoted. I think it mostly has to do with his lack of progression as a route runner and inconsistent ball skills. Kalif Raymond ran a great route but failed to track a nicely thrown ball by Davis Webb which would have resulted in a touchdown. Another long shot to make the roster, Raymond also made a business decision to not extend for a ball over the middle with a safety bearing down on him. Keep an eye out for veteran Russell Shepard, he made a couple of nice grabs and I think the reliability of what he brings to the table is something this coaching staff will be looking in to over the next few weeks. Corey Latimer started on the outside, but didn’t see anything thrown his way.
-Rhett Ellison and Evan Engram saw the snaps with the first team, but neither had any impact. Ellison seemed to run a wrong route up the seam on an option, nearly resulting in a red zone interception.
-Jerrell Adams: 2 rec / 6 yards. Adams was targeted 5 times and was often the victim of high throws from Webb. While he can’t be blamed for the incompletions, there is a lack of quick twitched-adjustment that I see with him. He is a big, physical player that just struggled to get his head around. Adams is trending towards being a player that has tools, but just isn’t developing the way he needs to. If I were grading his blocking plays, it wouldn’t have been positive.
-Solid debut for Nate Solder in a Giants uniform, albeit it was only 16 plays. After watching Ereck Flowers play with such poor technique and balance for three years, it was refreshing to see a real pro-caliber left tackle in motion. Flowers made his debut at right tackle and had a key block on Barkley’s big run, but continues to struggle with hand placement and proper pad level. Chad Wheeler played both tackle spots and has more power behind his initial hits, but there was too much bending at the waist. He allowed 2 pressures against backups. Nick Becton also played both backup spots and he doesn’t look pretty, but he gets the job done in pass protection. As a run blocker, he struggled to make adjustments. Chris Scott had the most impressive night of all the backups. He showed inside-out versatility and had a key block on the Giants lone touchdown. Looking forward to putting the eyeball on him these next few weeks.
-There was a lot of anticipation building for the debut of rookie Will Hernandez. While 16 plays isn’t nearly enough for a full evaluation, I thought he struggled. He hands were way too wide, as he didn’t adjust to defenders moving laterally very well. The ability is there, its not like he is a poor athlete or anything, I just didn’t see the fluidity. Patrick Omameh got the nod as the starter at right guard. He had a couple of nice, powerful blocks. He can really move guys inside. However, there seemed to be multiple miscommunications inside. He was left searching for defenders to block a couple of times. Jon Halapio needs to improve at both holding his ground and getting everyone on the same page when it comes to assignments. Brett Jones outplayed him in this game, although he was matched up against lower level defenders. John Greco and John Jerry both played half of the team’s snaps and if I had to choose one based on this game’s performance, it would be Greco. Just more pop and adjustment speed.
Olivier Vernon was in for just 12 plays and didn’t make a difference anywhere. Hopefully history won’t repeat itself, a guy that dominates training camp but doesn’t translate to gameday. The three-headed monster between the tackles, Damon Harrison, Dalvn Tomlinson, and B.J. Hill started off the game. They didn’t play much but they were very stout. That is going to be a very difficult group to move for offensive lines in the running game.
A.J. Francis and Robert Thomas were the standout performers of the night in backup roles. I had a thing for Thomas a year ago, but I think this scheme fits him even better. He is an excellent combination of stout and aggressive. Josh Mauro made his debut with the club. Even though he will be suspended at the start of the regular season, he will be a more-than-solid part of this line. Romeo Okwara continues to flash with his combination of tools, as he recorded a TFL and pursued all over the field hard. This appears to be the strength of the defense.
–Alec Ogletree made his debut in a Giants uniform and was beaten badly by CLE tight end David Njoku for a 36 yard touchdown. He took a poor angle considering there was no help over the top. B.J. Goodson was a solid interior run defense presence. If he can stay healthy, this scheme with all of the protection in front of him will be a big deal for him.
–Kareem Martin had a pressure, but was otherwise quiet. Connor Barwin looks like shell of his former Eagle self. He doesn’t have nearly the same level of explosion off the ball. Lorenzo Carter had a pressure and QB hit in his pro debut. He can really eat up space in a blink; now it is all about developing the skill set.
–Calvin Munson and Ray Ray Armstrong looked very solid in backup roles. Munson plays the instinctive, leader-of-the-defense role. He is a right-place, right-time guy. Armstrong’s speed stood out. In this defense that values attacking on all angles, Armstrong could be a guy who makes a difference. A linebacker with his ability to move with all of those big bodies up front swallowing up blockers is a nice combination to have.
-The darkhorse I think who has a good chance of making this team is speedster Tae Davis. Undersized, yes. But this kid can fly around like a defensive back and he handled blockers very well. He can reach windows that most cannot, and he more than held his own in the power game.
–Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple started. Jenkins lost a 50/50 ball to the newly acquired Jarvis Landry and Apple was beaten badly on a back shoulder throw where his lack of footwork and ball awareness showed up again. Nothing to be overly alarmed about at this point, but these were the takeaways in their limited action.
-The race for the backup spots is on. Leonard Johnson was targeted the most of all the NYG defensive backs. He whiffed on a pass to Antonio Callaway the resulted in a long touchdown, but he had a positive night. He broke up 2 passes and showed tight coverage underneath. For the roles a nickel needs to play, he seems to be the best fit so far. Chris Lewis-Harris has the foot speed and fluid hips, but the ball location wasn’t there on two occasions, one of which resulted in a CLE touchdown. B.W. Webb is a competitor, if nothing else. He plays a fast-reaction type game and he can move with speed. His issues continue to be a lack of size and accurate forecasting. Rookie Grant Haley had a nice tackle for loss.
-If it weren’t for Landon Collins, this group of NYG safeties could be labeled as one of the worst in the NFL. Even with him, they are bottom tier. The middle of the field was abused all night and there simply isn’t a cause for hope. Darian Thompson looks to be the same guy, an average cover safety that won’t strike any fear in to receivers over the middle. He strained a hamstring.
–Andrew Adams led the team with 7 tackles, as he played more snaps than anyone in the group. Michael Thomas was quiet in his debut with the team. Of the roster hopefuls, Orion Stewart made a couple standout plays, disrupting a running play behind the line of scrimmage with aggressive downhill pursuit and had an impressive pass break up. However he badly missed a tackle in the open field that led to a long touchdown. Rookie Sean Chandler struggled in mid-field coverage.
–Aldrick Rosas: 1/1 – (Made 42). XP – 1/1. Rosas has the inside track at earning the job for the second straight year, but his leash may not be long. It will be essential for him to make these preseason kicks.
–Riley Dixon: 10 Punts – 44.2 avg – 39.7 net – 3 inside 20. Solid night for Dixon. He tried to pin CLE inside the 20 four times, three of which worked out.
-DT Robert Thomas, RB Wayne Gallman, OT Chris Scott
-QB Davis Webb, OG Will Hernandez, S Sean Chandler
3 TAKEAWAYS FOR CLE
-Baker Mayfield excelled in his first NFL action. I was very impressed with his footwork in and out of the pocket and even more so with his consistency with keeping his eyes downfield when evading pressure. That isn’t common in rookie quarterbacks. The accuracy I lauded during the scouting process was on full display. He is going to be a good one.
-With that said, Tyrod Taylor is not going to hand him the job. He is one of the most underrated QBs in the NFL right now and he appears to be well respected by the coaching staff. Much of the attention went to Mayfield’s impressive debut, but don’t overlook that Taylor was a perfect 5/5 for 99 yards and a touchdown.
-This will be the first season since 2007 that Joe Thomas isn’t lining up at left tackle for CLE. Joel Bitonio, a college OT who has played OG for CLE since 2014, now starts at that spot. If Thursday night was any indicator, the move may not be much of a decline in relation to the past couple of years. His footwork and hand power were top tier.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
-In any direction, it is foolish to have strong reactions to a preseason game unless it has to do with injuries. The Giants appear to have avoided anything catastrophic in that department in week 1. More than anything, that is most important; be healthy heading in to their matchup against JAC.
-That said, Davis Webb is going to need to show improvement throughout the preseason if he wants a strong hold of this backup job all year and the spot first in line once Eli Manning hangs them up. His performance Thursday night is less important than his ability to improve and come back stronger from a poor game.
-The biggest concern I have with this defense, and it is a major one, is the middle of the field against the pass. The pass rush an be created via scheme, but if the safeties and linebackers can’t make plays and/or follow assignments, it is going to be ugly.