- Jim Trotter, NFL
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CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns appeared to get out of their preseason home opener with no major injuries. So much for the good news.
Everything else was pretty much a dud for the starters, as the St. Louis Rams dominated en route to a 33-14 victory in FirstEnergy Stadium.
All was not lost, though. The return game had flashes of brilliance and Johnny Manziel excited the crowd of 61,663 by scrambling for a 7-yard score and flashing the money sign.
Other observations of the 0-3 Browns:
In his first outing since being named the starter, QB Brian Hoyer improved on his previous two outings, but that amounts to damning with faint praise. With the exception of a touchdown drive against backups to end the first half, Hoyer was largely dismal. He threw an interception on a short crossing route to a linebacker standing ... directly ... in ... front ... of ... him. How he didn’t see Alec Ogletree is one of the great mysteries, since Hoyer basically stared at him the entire route. He came back to throw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Hawkins, but instead of coach Mike Pettine ending his starter’s evening on a high note, he sent Hoyer out to start the second half. And Hoyer promptly was sacked from behind and fumbled away the football. He finished the evening 10 of 16 passing for 84 yards, a touchdown and two turnovers. “I think we’re all just trying to come along together,” said Hoyer, who finished 10 of 16 passing for 84 yards, a touchdown and two turnovers. “As an offense, you have to be on teh same page, and there obviously were some plays out there where we weren’t. It’s going to come. That’s what the preseason is for, to work out those kinks. We will get better. I don’t doubt that.”
Manziel, in his first outing as the official backup, came on midway through the third quarter and converted a takeaway into a four-play, 14-yard drive that culminated with him scrambling the final 7 yards for the score. He finished 10-of-15 passing for 85 yards and no turnovers. He was sacked twice by Michael Sam.Asked about the possibility of a two-quarterback system this year -- something Pettine admitted is a possibility -- Manziel said: “I feel like any way I can help contribute to this team, whether it’s looking at a certain coverage, looking at something during the game, or getting in and having a certain package during the game, just anything that I can do to help this offense to win games -- that’s the position I’m in and that’s all I really want to do.”
The starting defense -- which was without two potential starting cornerbacks in Joe Haden and Buster Skrine, as well as end Desmond Bryant -- struggled to get off the field on third down, allowing the Rams to convert on 7 of 10 opportunities in the first half alone. Rookie corner Justin Gilbert had a rough night, the lows including chunk gains allowed to Kenny Britt and Brian Quick and a missed tackle on Chris Givens that turned an underneath route into a 75-yard score. “I went for a strip and I didn’t get it,” he said. “I should’ve wrapped up and tackled him instead of trying to strip him.”
One high was he knocked the ball from Stedman Bailey’s hands on what appeared to be a sure touchdown in the end zone.
Overall, the defensive performance was disappointing because Pettine had talked during the week about giving the Dawg Pound something to get excited about. But the unit struggled to stop third-string QB Austin Davis, who took over roughly four minutes into the second quarter and played the rest of the way -- after starter Sam Bradford suffered a left knee injury in the opening quarter and backup Shaun Hill was pulled after two series presumably to avoid the risk of injury.
“Third-and-long, that should be something where a good defense will dominate, and that’s where we took a step backwards tonight,” Pettine said. “I thought in other games we’ve been better on third down and we just couldn’t make a play on third down to get off the field. They did a good job of executing, but we were poor. We weren’t very smart. There were a couple of times where we didn’t play more to the sticks, didn’t play the situation very well, and we let them make a play and we didn’t. It was frustrating.”
Standout wideout Josh Gordon was scratched from the starting lineup so the team could work other players in case Gordon loses his appeal of a one-year suspension for violating the league’s drug policy. The plan was to work him in later, but Gordon didn’t take a snap because “he was dealing with something medically,” Pettine said. “As the game went on he probably felt like he was tightening up a little bit, so we decided not to put him out there.”