The Cleveland Browns returned to action to begin their 2017 season, beating the New Orleans Saints 20-14 at FirstEnergy Stadium Thursday night in their preseason opener. The Browns had some heroics from the young signal caller, DeShone Kizer, finding Jordan Payton for a 45-yard touchdown with just under two minutes remaining to give the Browns their first preseason victory since 2015.
The rookie class that Cleveland constructed had many of the big highlights throughout the game. It started with first pick Myles Garrett. While he only played for around one quarter, the first-overall pick had a tackle for a loss and one quarterback hit. Garrett showed off his freakish athleticism and power that earned him the honor of being atop the 2017 NFL Draft class. I — along with many other Browns fans — was often times transfixed on No. 95, watching his movements on the field without noticing what was going on in the rest of the play. He was fun to watch.
Jabrill Peppers did not issue a statistic on defense, but his returns on special teams definitely raised the excitement level. In a couple of his returns, he showed off his elusiveness, vision and strength as a returner. The rookie may not have had long returns, but when he had the ball, it felt as though a big play could happen at any time. It was Josh Cribbs-esque, really. Peppers will be another exciting player to watch going forward, especially on special teams.
Last but certainly not lost, Kizer was the other rookie that really shined on Thursday. In his half of action, he completed 11-of-18 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown. The rookie had a big 52-yard completion that set up the Browns second touchdown of the game.
Kizer made by far the play of the game, completing that 45-yard pass to give the Browns the lead and the eventual win. The most impressive aspect of his game was his mobility and eyes in the pocket. He avoided traffic and kept his eyes downfield, completing passes under pressure, case and point with both of his big plays. He was by far the best Browns quarterback on Thursday.
The game can be summed up with the late Dennis Green’s words: “They are what we thought they were.” Brock Osweiler was not good. He made some nice throws, but in the end he missed too many passes, causing the offense to sputter under his guidance early in the game. Cody Kessler was a bit better, but he performed to his usual form. He threw some nice throws down the field, but his pocket presence and ability to throw under pressure continued to hamper his play. Cameron Erving, who started at left tackle with Joe Thomas taking the night off, was just horrendous. He was pancaked on one occasion and put together a nice stretch where he committed a false start. On the play following the penalty, he let the edge rusher around the corner causing Erving to have to hold the rusher.
Some of the big preseason position battles had some developments in the game. Joe Schoebert completely outplayed Tank Carder for the third linebacker spot. Schoebert had two tackles, including a tackle for a loss, a sack, a pass defended and a quarterback hit. He made plays; Carder did not. Carder only notched one tackle, but he also had trouble tackling, including a missed tackle that allowed the running back to rush for a big gain. Erving did not help himself in the battle for the right tackle spot, but Shon Coleman was not perfect either. And as was stated earlier, Kizer moved up the rankings for the starting quarterback battle and might give Osweiler a run for his money.
It was a fun game to watch with some big plays made by the team’s youngest players. The Browns will take on the New York Giants on Monday, August 21st in their second of four preseason games.