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Cleveland Browns’ defense gets rude awakening vs. Rams

Posted Aug 23, 2014

Senior Editor Vic Carucci gives his five takeaways from the Cleveland Browns’ preseason game against the St. Louis Rams Saturday night at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Johnny Manziel

>Brian Hoyer desperately needed the touchdown pass he threw right before halftime. In his first game since being named the Browns’ starting quarterback, Hoyer started off fast, but then things tailed off quickly for him and the rest of the starting offense. One play after converting his first third down of the preseason, he threw an interception right into the hands of linebacker Alec Ogletree, who seemed to fool up with his drop into coverage. Hoyer’s confidence required a boost, and it came when – with the Browns working with a short field after a 68-yard kickoff return by rookie free agent Taylor Gabriel (who seems to have secured a spot on the roster) – Hoyer threaded a needle through traffic to find Andrew Hawkins for the score. But his second half started disastrously when he was stripped of the ball on a sack that set up a Rams field goal. “Getting in the end zone was good, and we’ve just got to take it one play at a time,” Hoyer said. “We get things going and then we really kill ourselves, and we can’t do that whether it’s an interception or a miscommunication.” Said coach Mike Pettine, “I don’t think (Hoyer) played well enough, but I think that’s across the board.”

>Welcome to the NFL, Justin Gilbert. It was easy to heap praise on the Browns’ rookie cornerback for performing as well as he did in his debut last Monday night against the Washington Redskins. He provided tight coverage and was in striking distance on numerous plays. Saturday night was dramatically different and served as Gilbert’s true welcome to the big time. Although Leon McFadden was starting in place of injured Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden, the Rams frequently targeted and toasted Gilbert throughout the first half. The low point was when he was beaten on a 75-yard touchdown pass from third-string quarterback Austin Davis to wide receiver Chris Givens. “Not his best night,” Pettine said in an understatement. “And he has to know that that’s what the NFL is going to be all about for him.”

>The Browns’ defense did not generate sufficient pressure. All of the Rams’ quarterbacks – beginning with starter Sam Bradford, up to the time that he suffered a knee injury on a hit by defensive end Armonty Bryant that ended his night prematurely – had far too much time to find open receivers. The Rams generally moved the ball at will against a defense that had looked so impressive against the Redskins. Remember that goal-line stand? Seems like it was a whole lot longer than five nights ago. Even without Haden in the lineup, the defense should have performed much better. And the fact the Browns’ offense struggled is no excuse. The defense is supposed to be the foundation of the team, and it allowed the Rams to move too easily up and down the field. “We’ve got to play smarter – just better situational football, awareness of the down and distance,” coach Mike Pettine said. “Seven-for-10 on third down (in the first half), that’s unacceptable, just way too inconsistent there.”

>Welcome to the NFL, Joel Bitonio. After two strong outings in the Browns’ first two preseason games, the rookie guard faced a much greater challenge against one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. He was twice flagged for holding and generally had all he could do to stay above water. The fact is, no one on the Browns’ starting offensive line did a whole lot that was impressive, especially when it came to blocking for the run.

>Surprise! Johnny Manziel gave the crowd its biggest thrill of the night. After rookie linebacker Chris Kirksey intercepted a pass with 8:20 left in the third quarter, Manziel entered the game in place of Hoyer and led the Browns to their second touchdown, which he scored on a seven-yard run up the middle. Manziel used his exceptional speed and elusiveness to avoid tacklers before diving head-first over the goal line. He played to the crowd by flashing his trademark “money” sign, drawing a rousing ovation. Of course, Manziel had the tables turned on him in the fourth quarter when he was sacked by Rams rookie end Michael Sam, who celebrated by flashing the Manziel’s “money” sign.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com. We take your questions at 216-578-0850 and via Twitter @Browns_Daily.

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