We don’t have cable this year, so I’m keeping an eye on football mostly via recaps and articles. Keep that in mind as you read my analyses.
Cleveland seems to be in an era of transition, and our team strengths last year (running for most of the season, defense for all of it) seem to be gone. Cleveland only got 104 total yards rushing on 28 carries, but the running backs for the Browns contributed very little of that: 58 yards came from Manziel and McCown.
Manziel’s performance was a rookie performance. He did fairly well, 13/24 with a TD and an INT, good for 182 yards. He also got sacked three times and fumbled twice, leading to a Jets field goal. None of this is disconcerting. He’s learning the NFL game, and he made some nice plays.
There were two very serious problems: a huge amount of penalties (12 for 109 yards) and the complete breakdown of Cleveland’s defense. Ryan Fitzpatrick was only slightly better than Manziel, and one of his TDs looked like an easy fade to Brandon Marshall for one yard. However, Fitzpatrick was never sacked and only intercepted once: Tayshaun Gipson, who made the pick, fumbled the ball, so even that single turnover amounted to little for Cleveland.
The real area of concern for Cleveland was rushing defense; unfortunately, that doesn’t look to be much better. Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell ran all over Cleveland to the tune of a combined 153 yards on 32 carries, including two TDs for Ivory. Great defense begins at the defensive line, and the stats don’t look kind. There were only three tackles for loss the entire game, two by linebacker Karlos Dansby and one by linebacker Barkevious Mingo. Worse, of Cleveland’s top five tacklers, three were defensive backs. Granted, Donte Whitner likes to sit in the box, but still, that’s not encouraging.
The front seven has to be more active if Cleveland is to win this season. The penalties can’t happen. And the Browns have to work on turnovers. If McCown misses significant time — and I expect he will — Manziel has to be ready to be the man. Let’s hope he at least continues his Game 1 performance, if not improves throughout the rest of the season.