Before anyone gets too excited, the Cleveland Browns went 4-0 in the preseason last year.
We know the Browns went 0-16 last regular season, right after they went 1-15 in 2016. Every bit of optimism about the Browns this season needs to have that cold-water reminder attached.
But the Browns aren’t going 0-16 this season. Far from it.
It’s weird to say out loud, but the Browns look good so far this preseason. Not just in the meaningless record, like last season. Their talent is finally producing results, even if those results don’t count yet. For the second straight preseason week the Browns looked sharp, even though the Buffalo Bills‘ backups rallied for a 19-17 win. The Browns’ starters dominated when they were in the game.
The Bills aren’t going to be great on offense, but the Browns held them to four three-and-outs in the first quarter. Myles Garrett, the top pick of last year’s draft, had a nice pressure to force an AJ McCarron incompletion. First-round pick Denzel Ward had a good tackle on a third down to force a punt. The Browns starting defense was flying around the field. By the time McCarron exited (with a hairline fracture in his collarbone, according to the Buffalo News, perhaps on Garrett’s hit) and rookie Josh Allen entered, the Bills offense had done nothing. McCarron was under constant pressure, and give credit to the Browns’ front seven for that.
The Browns offense wasn’t quite as dominant, but it was fine. Carlos Hyde was a forgotten man when the team drafted Nick Chubb in the second round, but Hyde got a healthy contract in the offseason and the former San Francisco 49ers starter ran hard and well on Friday night. He had a great stiff-arm on safety Jordan Poyer on Cleveland’s first drive that started a 28-yard run, then Hyde finished the drive with a touchdown run.
The passing offense wasn’t great. Starter Tyrod Taylor was just 4-of-7 for 22 yards in his playing time, then Baker Mayfield was 7-of-13 for 75 yards. However, the passing game was very efficient against the New York Giants in the preseason opener. Taylor looked good against the Giants, and so did Mayfield.
It has been a long time since the Browns have had one intriguing quarterback, much less two.
There are still questions about coaching as Hue Jackson actually punted from midfield on fourth down and less than a yard in a preseason game, and he is 1-31 in two seasons as Browns coach. It remains to be seen whether Cleveland can shed its losing culture. We’ve seen that latter challenge over and over on “Hard Knocks.”
But it’s August, and Browns fans are allowed to feel like maybe things will be different this season. Perhaps the first two preseason games are a mirage, but it’s undeniable that the Browns look like a different team so far.
One reason to like the Atlanta Falcons this season is their depth.
Receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman, two of the best players in the NFL at their positions, didn’t play on Friday night against the Kansas City Chiefs (who beat the Falcons 28-14 when their backups rallied in the second half). The Falcons moved the ball well anyway.
On the Falcons’ first drive, tight end Austin Hooper and quarterback Matt Ryan hooked up for a big play on third down, Tevin Coleman had really nice back-to-back runs, and then Hooper hurdled a defender to get into the end zone for a touchdown to finish the drive. After the Falcons’ starting offense did nothing against the New York Jets in last weekend’s preseason opener, it was a nice drive.
On the second drive, Ryan made accurate throws to Marvin Hall and rookie first-round pick Calvin Ridley for nice gains, though the long drive ended with an incompletion on fourth down. Later, Ridley scored his first preseason touchdown. Ridley should be a nice addition to an offense that already had a lot of talent.
The Falcons are coming off a disappointing season, considering the previous year they won the NFC championship. Atlanta still made the playoffs last season and beat the Los Angeles Rams in a wild-card game. Atlanta’s roster is loaded, and the Falcons should be in the mix in a very deep NFC. Friday night’s look at the starting offense showed that Atlanta has the depth to make another deep playoff run.
After seeing McCaffrey so far this preseason, the predictions seems a little less crazy.
McCaffrey looked sharp in limited action in the Panthers’ preseason opener, and he had a good outing on Friday night against the Miami Dolphins. The highlight came when he got through the line and broke into the open field, then blew past safeties Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald and scored a 71-yard touchdown. McCaffrey was a top-10 pick last season for that big-play ability.
McCaffrey was also coveted for his receiving ability, and that showed last season. He’ll have plenty of catches again this year; he had four receptions for 28 yards in the first half against the Dolphins.
He had a bad drop too, but that’s rare for him. McCaffrey finished the first half with 92 rushing yards on five carries. C.J. Anderson, who had 1,000 yards for the Broncos last season, was signed this offseason but it doesn’t seem like he’ll be a threat to McCaffrey’s workload, based on what we’ve seen so far.
New offensive coordinator Norv Turner has talked about how he can use McCaffrey this season. It’s looking more likely that McCaffrey is setting up for a monster second season.
Arizona Cardinals 20, New Orleans Saints 15: If the Cardinals have a quarterback competition – it seems Sam Bradford has a big lead over rookie Josh Rosen – neither quarterback gained on the other Friday night because they both looked good. Bradford completed all six of his passes for 61 yards before Rosen came in.
Rosen was impressive too, especially on his first preseason touchdown pass, a laser to fellow rookie Christian Kirk. Rosen finished 10-of-16 for 107 yards.
New York Giants 30, Detroit Lions 17: With some running back additions, Theo Riddick has been a forgotten man for the Lions. But he still is very good at catching the ball out of the backfield, and he showed that again on an explosive 42-yard catch and run. He lined up in the slot, got a mismatch and the Lions exploited it. He’ll still have a role in this offense.
• The Bills might not want to start rookie Josh Allen in Week 1, because he was the one first-round pick who probably needed the most work coming out of college. But they might not have much choice.
AJ McCarron started Friday night and while the Browns deserves a lot of credit, McCarron did not look good. The Bills didn’t get a first down with him in the game. Then his night came to an end with a reported hairline fracture in his collarbone.
When Allen came in, the Bills offense had a noticeably different tempo. Allen might be raw but he makes plays. His touchdown pass to Rod Streater was very nice, as he moved in the pocket and then threw a strike in the end zone. The Bills invested in Allen in the draft, and while it might not be ideal to start him right away, he looks like he might be pressed into duty. The Bills’ other option, if McCarron has to miss time, would be Nathan Peterman.
• Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard caught Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, disguising his coverage and then picking off the former MVP. Howard had a hot stretch last season, reporters at Dolphins camp have said he has been fantastic this summer, and he might be a true No. 1 corner for Miami.
It wasn’t pretty, from a passing standpoint.
In the first half, Hill completed six of 10 passes for 13 yards and two interceptions; he connected on some passes in a two-minute drill late in the first half.
He had a great 43-yard run. His athleticism is apparent. But if he’s going to replace Brees, he’ll need to keep improving as a passer.
• If there was any question if Cardinals running back David Johnson was ready for the season, he has answered that. Johnson missed almost all of last season with a wrist injury, but he has looked great this preseason. His highlight on Friday night was a touchdown run in which he seemed to carry the entire Saints defense into the end zone.
It would be fine if the Cardinals gave him the rest of the preseason off.
• Oh yeah, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw a pass 68 yards in the air to Tyreek Hill for a touchdown. No big deal. Mahomes also made some mistakes, including an interception. But he had his highlights, including some nice throws to Travis Kelce, and the long pass to Hill reminds us of his exceptional physical talent.
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