As the Browns played their final preseason game Thursday night against the Chicago Bears, they needed to come out and make a big splash in order to bring a positive vibe going in to their first game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh on September 7. Thankfully, there were a few more positives than negatives during the Browns 33-13 victory over the Chicago Bears at First Energy Field.
The Browns 1st string offense had an 85 yard drive (albeit against Chicago’s backup defense) capped by a 2 yard touchdown run by Ben Tate. The most impressive part of the drive was Taylor Gabriel who may make the team as the slot receiver with Andrew Hawkins starting opposite Miles Austin this season.
After the successful first series, Johnny Manziel and the second team offense came in and were hot and cold, with a dropped pass by Gary Barnidge and then a fumble by Terrance West on their first drive. After that, Manziel was able to make some dynamic plays, including a 27 yard pass to Nate Burleson after doing what he does best, weaving and avoiding defenders before making the throw. It was probably the most dynamic play Manziel had in the 4 preseason games this year, leading the Browns to a touchdown and a field goal before the end of the first half. The only downside were JFF’s long ball, which looked like wounded ducks more often than not.
Defensively, they were not as bad on third down as they were against the Rams last Saturday night. However, Leon McFadden yet again looked to be a bubble guy who won’t make the team. Justin Gilbert, like he did many times last Saturday, got burned on pass plays, with his most poignant on a catch by Santonio Holmes in which he ran 32 yards for a touchdown where Gilbert went inside instead of outside to stop Holmes. Hopefully Gilbert will learn but his struggles are slightly worrisome for the number 8 pick in the 2014 draft. After that touchdown, the Browns second and third string defense played with much more passion, with guys on the bubble making a case to make the team.
Probably the biggest surprise of the night was the explosiveness of Isiah Crowell, who really hasn’t been on the field that much during the preseason. His 48 yard TD run was absolutely incredible. He ended his night with 102 yards on 13 carries. He absolutely made a case for himself with his burst off the line of scrimmage and tough running, plowing over defenders for extra yards. It’s obvious Dion Lewis will make the roster but Crowell may make it difficult for the Browns to cut him and hope he doesn’t get picked up before going on the Practice Squad.
Now the Browns have some tough choices to make before the final cuts. Do they keep receivers like Nate Burleson, Taylor Gabriel and Willie Snead or go after some cut veterans? Or do they trade one of their linemen (perhaps Ahtyba Ruben) for receiver help? Also, with the emergence of Isiah Crowell tonight, do they keep 4 running backs? A lot of decisions to make it the 53 man roster.
This may have been the final preseason game for the Browns, but it’s now time to get to work.