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Brian Hoyer makes one series count; Johnny Manziel puts on a show

Posted Aug 28, 2014

Senior Editor Vic Carucci says Brian Hoyer did exactly what he needed to do with the Browns’ starting offense in Thursday night’s preseason game against the Chicago Bears.

Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer

Here are my takeaways from the Cleveland Browns’ 33-13 preseason-ending victory against the Chicago Bears Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium:

>This was exactly what Brian Hoyer and the Browns’ starting offense needed to do. One series. One touchdown. Call it a night. Sure, it was against the Bears’ backup defenders, some of whom won’t be in the NFL by the weekend. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that Hoyer and his supporting cast received a much-needed dose of confidence. That was the whole point of playing them in the fourth preseason game, when teams typically do what the Bears do and rest their starters. After poor showings through most of the three previous preseason games, the Browns’ offensive starters clearly needed the work. And they displayed enough competence for coach Mike Pettine to pull them out after Hoyer led a 13-play, 85-yard drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown run by Ben Tate. “It just shows us what we’re capable of, and that’s what’s been the frustrating part this preseason,” Hoyer said. “To go out there and just do it against a different team is important. It’s a good feeling heading out of the preseason.”

>It wasn’t quite as successful a cameo appearance for the Browns’ “starting” defense, although that group was missing a couple of key components in the secondary (namely cornerbacks Joe Haden and Buster Skrine). And it showed. Second-year corner Leon McFadden had a very rough night against the Bears’ third-string quarterback, David Fales, and Chicago’s backup receiving corps. On the Bears’ first offensive series, McFadden drew a 37-yard penalty for pass interference. Then he was beaten for a 32-yard Fales throw to wide receiver Josh Bellamy. Later in the half, McFadden gave up a 17-yard Fales pass to Bellamy.

>Johnny Manziel put on the consummate Johnny Football show against the Bears’ defensive reserves. Playing most of the first half and into the third quarter, he used his feet and his passing arm to create some excitement for a crowd that eagerly anticipated the chance to see him in action. Manziel ran four times for 55 yards and completed six of 17 passes for 83 yards. His most exciting play of the night came when, seeing no one open to his left or his right, he ran left and then right and then completed a 27-yard pass to Nate Burleson. On the next play, Manziel rolled left and threw a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jim Dray in the back of the end zone. As Pettine pointed out, Manziel's performance fell "into the category of Johnny being Johnny. A couple of those plays were no, no, no, yes – but that’s what he does. That, to me, is what he brings to the table. He just needs to get more comfortable in his reads, take the easy throws that are there. He’s certainly shown why he has the reputation that he does.”

>For the second game in a row, rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert looked like, well, a rookie. He was beaten multiple times, including on a 32-yard touchdown throw from Fales to Santonio Holmes. The good news for the Browns is that Haden is expected to return for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener at Pittsburgh. There is optimism that Skrine, who is recovering from thumb surgery, will also be back for that game.

>Outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo had the best play of the night for the Browns’ starting defense by sacking Fales on third down for a loss of 13 yards. That prompted the Bears’ Robbie Gould to attempt a 52-yard field goal was wide right.

>It wasn’t a good night for rookie running back Terrance West. On his second carry of the game, West fumbled. He had a less-than-secure grip on the ball under his left arm, and cornerback Al Louis-Jean knocked it loose. The Bears recovered at their own 48-yard line and marched for a touchdown. Rookie running back Isiah Crowell did some impressive running in the second half, showing remarkable open-field speed while running 48 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. He finished as the game's leading rusher with 102 yards on 13 carries, an average of 7.8 yards per rush.

>In his first action of the preseason since suffering a hamstring injury on Aug. 6, wide receiver Nate Burleson made the most of his one series, which came with Manziel at quarterback. He moved well and did a good job of gaining separation from coverage. Was it enough to secure a roster spot? We'll see. Wide receivers Taylor Gabriel and Willie Snead showed enough flashes to possibly earn spots on the depth chart of the team's most wide-open position.

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