Welcome back to the second edition of my Moving the Chains column. The Cleveland Browns are closer to the Super Bowl than the first overall pick. And that is surreal and for real. No, seriously.
Yes, it is the preseason but the Browns look good—really good. From top-to-bottom, the roster is performing on all cylinders.
Cleveland was without arguably their six best players as Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Myles Garrett, and Denzel Ward were all held out for rest or in the case of Beckham Jr. and Ward, as a precaution.
The Browns dominated the Colts both offensively and defensively in their 21-18 win over Indianapolis. The defense forced two three-and-outs in the first half and limited the Colts to four plays on another. The offense put behind two relatively poor offensive drives to start and followed them up with two touchdowns on the ensuing two series.
The Browns may have their backup quarterback
Before the game, I had a conversation on Twitter regarding the backup quarterback position. I had mentioned that I get the sense the Browns aren’t “thrilled” with the guys they have behind Mayfield. Solid backups are few and far between in the NFL. There are only so many Tyrod Taylors, Teddy Bridgewaters, and Jacoby Brisetts.1 There are more of the likes of Cooper Rush, Sean Mannion, and Chad Henne. I felt the passers behind Mayfield fell in the latter category.
Garrett Gilbert took my take, balled it up, and threw it in the trash with his performance against the Colts. He lit up the Indianapolis defense featuring All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard with a 13-of-19 showing, recording 151 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Three incomplete passes which included a drop by D.J. Montgomery on the opening drive erased a near-perfect performance from Gilbert. Head coach Freddie Kitchens was well aware of the drops too.
“If the receivers were catching the ball, he would look much better,” Kitchens told WEWS sideline reporter Jon Doss at the end of the first half.
Gilbert was fantastic in the deep passing game, completing six passes that registered 10 yards or more. He also contributed back-to-back touchdowns, including an answer to the Colts first score of the game.
The former starting quarterback of the AAF’s Orlando Apollos, he has made tremendous strides since spring camp. Gilbert has gone from a flier to putting himself in the conversation to backup Mayfield this season.
As an added bonus, Mayfield succeeded Gilbert as the quarterback at Lake Travis High School. Furthermore, Mayfield is close to Gilbert’s brother Griffin, and he was even in Mayfield’s wedding. Solid quarterback play behind Mayfield and familiarity are both working in Gilbert’s favor at the midpoint of the preseason.
Next man up
With the injuries of Dontrell Hillard and a fair share of receivers resting their legs, a few guys made a great impression filling in for their teammates.
Replacing Hillard was D’Ernest Johnson and he was no Jim Brown but he certainly proved to be more than a capable backup running back. He averaged 5.3 yards on 10 carries and racked in all three of his targets for 26 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Johnson went from being on the roster bubble to likely locking himself into a roster spot. The former USF running back runs hard and with determination. I like his spot behind Chubb.
D.J. Montgomery played great too. His three receptions for 77 yards led all Browns receivers in the game. Additionally, he caught passes of 21, 24, and 32 yards.
With OBJ, Antonio Callaway, and Landry out, Montgomery has gone from an afterthought to a strong case to make the roster.
Browns still need a kicker
For the second consecutive week, the Browns ended the first half with a penalty. Fortunately, this time around that penalty did not push them out of field goal range but it did set Greg Joseph up for a 53-yard try.
His field goal attempt went wide right; Another miss by a Browns kicker. Last week Joseph missed an extra point late in the game against the Redskins. At this point, Joseph seems to join the likes of Travis Coons, Zane Gonzalez, and Cody Parkey, not the Phil Dawson and Lou Groza club.
Austin Seibert, the Browns fifth-round pick in this past April’s NFL Draft, added insult to injury by missing a 52-yarder near the conclusion of the game. The guy that tees up the first field goal in the regular season is likely not on the roster at this rate.
And the defense?
The stats do not work in the Browns favor. The defense allowed 23 first downs, 382 total yards, 309 passing yards, and no turnovers. However, they did pass the eye test, especially in the first half. Aside from the lone touchdown drive and last drive of the half, the Colts offense only ran 10 plays. Overall, they only allowed three third-down conversions on 13 attempts.
The Browns registered 13 penalties costing themselves 119 yards. The Colts were worse, getting flagged 16 times for 164 yards.
Derrick Kindred and Pierre Desir have both found their way onto the Colts roster. Desir had a pass breakup and a tackle; Kindred had one tackle himself.