The Cleveland Browns lost 13-12 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a defensive battle under the Friday night lights. The defeat was sealed after a 21-yard field goal by rookie kicker Matt Gray with 15 seconds remaining in the game to give the Bucs the lead for good.
Starters Odell Beckham, Jr., Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, and David Njoku did not participate in the contest, while quarterback Baker Mayfield played the entirety of the first half.
Mayfield and the first-team offense simply had no rhythm, with a multitude of dropped passes and questionable protection versus a stout Buccaneers defensive line and revamped secondary. The quarterback completed just 10-of-26 passes for 72 yards and one interception (on the final play of the first half). The offense only converted 11% (1-of-9) third downs and generated nine points, even with two drives that started at their own 46 and the Buccaneers 49, respectively.
The defensive line was absolutely dominant from the start, with sacks on back-to-back plays on the Buccaneers first possession. The position group continuously put pressure on quarterback Jameis Winston, accumulating five sacks (first-team front-7 in total), with Olivier Vernon accounting for two. His trademark physicality was on full display here:
Good luck blocking this Browns defensive line.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) August 23, 2019
The prowess and potential of Myles Garrett, Olivier Vernon, Sheldon Richardson, and Larry Ogunjobi cannot be overstated.
As a group, the first-team defense created three-and-outs on four of the last five Buccaneer possessions, forced six punts, allowed 78 yards, and pitched a shutout. An encouraging performance to say the least.
Some other notes of importance:
The position that has been all the talk throughout training camp and preseason seems to have a front runner in Eric Kush (at least for now). Having started the game, Kush struggled at times Friday night, especially here against Buccaneers DT Ndamukong Suh on third-and-5 in the first quarter:
— Jake Burns (@jake_burns18) August 23, 2019
Former 33rd-overall pick Austin Corbett continues to underwhelm, while Drew Forbes has reportedly impressed the coaching staff. As head coach Freddie Kitchens said earlier this week, “he is continuing to get better. He is continuing to get comfortable as far as knowing what to do and how to do it. He is in the mix, and we will see where it goes. You see Drew getting better even within (practices). He got better as the game went on. He was better in the game this week than he was last week in the game. He just needs to keep that upward trend.”
I wouldn’t find it surprising to see Forbes step into the starting right guard spot if Kush underperforms.
It feels like the team is in a temporal loop when it comes to the kicking situation. With inconsistencies and inaccuracies across the board throughout training camp and the preseason, rookie fifth-round pick Austin Seibert finally stated his case going 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts from 54, 36, 30, and 35 yards, respectively. I think the team may have found their starting kicker.
The second running back spot is ripe for the taking with Kareem Hunt suspended for the first eight games and Dontrell Hilliard nursing an injury.
The former AAF running back and teammate of quarterback Garrett Gilbert continued to make a case for the roster spot, with five carries for ten yards, three receptions for 43 yards, and two kick returns for 58 yards. He also showcased his blocking ability, physicality, and effort in blitz pick-up for fourth-string quarterback David Blough. Johnson has amassed 86 rushing yards on 20 carries (4.3 YPC) and six receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown thus far in the preseason.
Wide Receivers Five and Six
The top-four wide receiver spots are spoken for by Odell Beckham, Jr., Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, and Antonio Callaway. With preseason and training camp standout D.J. Montgomery placed on IR, i.e. “stashed,” that leaves Jaelen Strong, Derek Willies, Ishmael Hyman, Dorian Baker, Damion Ratley, and the newly-acquired Braxton Miller in the running for the fifth and sixth spots.
This group (including Higgins) only accumulated seven catches on 19 targets for 45 yards in Friday’s contest. As Mayfield said post-game, “We expect people to do their job, no matter who it is.” The spots remain wide open heading into the final preseason game.
Overall, it was a defensive battle, with both starting quarterbacks facing pressure most of the night. Although Baker was uncharacteristically inaccurate, there is no cause for concern on a going-forward basis, as preseason game plans and talent mixtures typically do not equate to the regular season.
The Browns will have until 4 p.m. ET on August 31 to cut the roster to 53, hence the importance of the upcoming fourth preseason game for borderline roster players on Thursday evening vs. the Detroit Lions.