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Assessing the Cleveland Browns' offense against the Rams

Posted Aug 24, 2014

Mike Pettine talks in length about the entire offense

Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine isn’t shying away for the team’s August struggles, which reached a boiling point Saturday night against the Rams.

“There’s no sugar-coating it,” said Pettine. “We didn’t play well. There were some individual performances that stood out. I thought some guys in certain areas played well, but just overall we were very inconsistent.”

However much stake you claim in preseason games, the optimism that surrounded the Browns from in May, June and July has not gone missing. There are just some clouds hiding the potential AFC North challenger the Browns can be.

Pettine has identified the Browns’ worst preseason problem, and it’s correctable: consistency. In more definite terms, the Browns have to stop kicking themselves in the foot.

“I think we’ve had some good plays, but then we just find ways…a lot of times it’s self-inflicted, whether it’s a drop at a key time or a missed block at a key time or a missed read,” said Pettine. “You have to have the ability to sustain drives in the NFL.”

As Pettine eyes his roster from top to bottom, he and general manager Ray Farmer should still feel eager for the 2014 season. If the Browns' defense is playing up to its capability, the team will be in every single game. Ben Tate looks like the real deal at running back in the preseason teamed up with the offensive line, potentially the best pound for pound unit on the roster.

Most importantly it’s Kyle Shanahan, Jim O’Neil and the rest of the Browns’ assistants who Pettine trusts can implement the tweaks in the system.

“I believe in the coaching staff,” said Pettine. “I believe in the players in that locker room, that we have a system that we’re trying to implement. You don’t get in mid-season form implementing something new overnight, but it’s certainly no time for us to panic.”

Quarterbacks
  • Pettine and the Browns aren’t going to entertain a quarterback switch, even if Johnny Manziel may have arguably looked better against the Rams. They’ve made their decision for the foreseeable future, and that’s final.
  • Because Brian Hoyer (10-for-16, 84 pass yards) got in the end zone and moved the chains more than he did against Detroit, you could technically call the Rams game the contest he showed the most in. But the two turnovers were a killer. St. Louis linebacker Alec Ogletree read Hoyer’s eyes locking onto a receiver and made the interception in the middle of the field. The fumble may have been Terrance West’s fault on a miscommunication. But because Hoyer’s the quarterback, fair or not, he’s at fault.
  • “We get the ball moving, and then we have a setback,” said Hoyer. “Coach Pettine put it the right way: we all have to play better. Obviously, I have to, too.”
  • “Brian had his plays,” said Pettine. “He knows what he needs to work on. We need to play better around him. I think that’s important. I mentioned that last night that sometimes the quarterback gets held accountable. He’s out there with 10 other guys. We need to be functioning as a unit, fully functional. You could have one guy break down, and that could ruin a play.”
  • Manziel’s seven-yard touchdown run was his signature. Echoing what Solomon Wilcots said on the broadcast: some quarterbacks get the ball to the playmakers, other quarterbacks are the playmakers. For the first time in his NFL career, Manziel played football without thinking. He looked natural and confident. He again needs to take every snap he can on Thursday against the Bears.
  • “I don’t think it was to be more ‘Johnny,’” said Manziel about relaxing more on the field. “I think it was let loose and forget whatever happens. Throw the ball and be decisive. I thought I did a better job of that [on Saturday]. It was better for me.”
  • The Browns have not thrown many passes deep down the field in the preseason. Pettine has discussed this fact with offensive coaches. It’s not that those kinds of plays have been scaled back, it’s that solid coverage and protection problems have surfaced when those plays are dialed up. Again, Pettine reiterates, these issues are fixable.

Running Backs

  • Because the Browns trailed for a good portion of the game, the team pushed the running game to the side on Saturday.
  • There is no injury for Ben Tate. The Browns had planned to limit the 26-year-old’s carries after two stellar showings against the Lions and Redskins. Terrance West didn’t exactly tear it up against the stout St. Louis defensive front (seven carries, 17 yards).
  • Pettine revealed to reporters that Dion Lewis has firmly established himself as the Browns’ third running back thus far. It’s not automatic that he will hold onto that spot, but Lewis’ shiftiness and home run hitting ability could pay dividends if the dreaded injury bug bites the Browns.

Wide Receivers

  • Pettine inferred to reporters that the reason for some of Miles Austin’s inconsistencies may stem from the Browns holding out the receiver during OTAs and minicamp.
  • “We wanted him to be comfortable and be at a point where he felt confident physically,” said Pettine. He’s playing catch up in camp, but we’re confident we’ll get there with Miles.”
  • Things are a tad more concerning regarding Nate Burleson, who has yet to play in a preseason game because of a hamstring injury.
  • “He’s missed so much time,” said Pettine. “We still consider him day-to-day. I think we might get him back tomorrow for some individual work, but that remains to be seen.”
  • The reason Josh Gordon didn’t see the field against the Rams had nothing to do with punishment. Pettine isn’t one to play games with players. He was doing what he thought was common sense and more importantly, best for the Browns.
  • “I wasn’t sending a message,” Pettine said. "Knowing that the decision is looming – that we’re fairly certain that were not going to have him for a minimum of some part of the year – we wanted to make sure that we were getting repetitions with the guys that are going to be out there early."
  • Undrafted free agent Taylor Gabriel is close to locking up a roster spot.

Offensive Line

  • Joe Thomas got beat for a sack. Joel Bitonio had two holding penalties. The Browns rushed for 32 yards on 15 carries.
  • Pettine doesn’t think the unit has regressed, hinting he saw better things on film from the Rams game as opposed to the Redskins. Because of how much communication is used on double teaming, the actual game reps are more meaningful to the offensive line than most.
  • “We need live-game reps,” said Pettine. “We’ve got to get to the point where – like I just mentioned – we’re fully functional, that all 11 guys are on the same page doing their jobs. We still feel that we’re definitely a work in progress, but we have a very true sense of urgency.”

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