ReFo: CLE @ IND, Preseason Wk 3
When the Browns visited the Colts for their telling third game of the preseason, a relatively crisp quarter-and-a-half to start, gave way to a contest that went increasingly into slow-down mode. Offensive lines became overmatched, passes found the floor as often as friendly hands, and runners searched in vain for the proverbial daylight that never came.
There were, however, moments for players on both sides. Flashes that might be enough to help someone survive a cut or get an edge toward a starting role. Here are some of the performances that stood out one way or the other:
Cleveland – Three Performances of Note
Bringing with him an up-and-down track record from his previous life as a defensive tackle, Ahtyba Rubin faces the challenge of adapting to a position switch in the Browns’ new scheme. While the move he’s making to line up as Cleveland’s left defensive end isn’t a crazy ask of him, it’s always interesting to see how players settle into roles when a new chief comes to town.
As expected, the first-team defense stayed on long enough to get a good look, and Rubin showed his rumored sleeker look and new-found nimbleness were not just tabloid talk. Having his way with the right side of the Colts’ O-line, he posted a two-hit, two-hurry day of pass rushing (on 27 pass-rushing snaps) with right tackle Gosder Cherilus, right guard Jeff Linkenbach, and center Samson Satele each holding a ticket to his party.
His +2.4 pass rush grade was supported by a +1.5 mark as a run defender and his +4.1 overall was the grade to point to in this game. As this is what we have to go on, this new role could prove to be a fit.
Jason Campbell (-0.7) has to be looking at the calendar with eyes toward the end of preseason and a chance to get out from behind the reserve O-line. What started as a peculiar note last week, continued toward full-on trend in this game as he again spent more than half of his drop-backs under pressure. In the two games combined, he has seen defenders fast approaching (or hitting home) on 19 of the 34 times he looked to pass and his 48.8 preseason pressure percentage (say that five times fast) currently sits fifth. The good news? Beyond the fact that he’s still standing, his 85.7 Accuracy Percentage on pressured attempts ranks him atop the list of all QBs who’ve faced a threatening rush on at least 15 drop-backs.
The Other Corner
In the competition for the starting cornerback gig opposite Joe Haden, Chris Owens (injury) didn’t play, rookie Leon McFadden saw his first action, and Buster Skrine got a healthy dose of Reggie Wayne.
Of the 45 snaps Skrine (+1.2) saw on Saturday, 28 were spent in coverage and 23 of those were with him lined up in the slot – a role he’s expected to man in nickel packages again this year — and that’s where he found Wayne (who ran 25 of his 30 routes as a slot guy). All seven targets Skrine faced were to the long time Colt – Skrine defended two and gave up three first downs, ended with a positive coverage grade (+1.0) for the game, and lowered his preseason Yard Per Cover Snap number to a very good 0.79 as a slot defender.
McFadden’s first look at the field (-0.9) saw more varied chances as he got shots at passes to both T.Y. Hilton and Darrius Heyward-Bey in addition to Wayne. The rookie got his hand to one ball, but surrendered four first downs of his own and let Hilton get behind him on an overthrown pass in the second quarter.
Indianapolis – Three Performances of Note
Since this is the time of year for underdogs and feel-good stories, how about this one… outside linebacker Caesar Rayford is fighting for place among the final 53 in Indianapolis and is demanding attention. Slotted in behind Colt mainstay Robert Mathis and first-round pick Bjoern Werner, the long-armed former Arena-leaguer with a knack for getting after the QB has recorded 10 total pressures so far this preseason.
His five preseason sacks (he had another wiped out by a penalty) are pacing all edge rushers and he’s making full use of his wingspan to latch on to passers as he circles the pocket. That corner-shortening reach was on display against the Colts — check out the fourth-quarter plays at 14:29, 7:25, and 5:03 to see it in action. In a league hungry for pass rush, a show of talent will go a long way and if, in the end, there’s no room for him in Indy, his phone will be ringing.
Getting to Gosder
Brought in to solve woes on the right side, Gosder Cherilus carries high marks as a pass protector from his 2012 crown as the top right tackle in that regard. This game, though, was a different story. Cherilus (-2.5) had trouble containing both Paul Kruger off the edge and Rubin coming from his inside – allowing a combination of four total pressures from the two on 30 pass-blocking snaps (for a not-so-hot Pass Blocking Efficiency of just 89.2 on the day). Likely a blip, given his history, but not what the Colts want to see from one of their prized free agent signings.
Blocking is Relevant
Through three preseason games and some unexpected opportunity, rookie tight end Justice Cunningham has yet to display the blocking prowess that highlighted his draft profile. Selected by a team that had already invested in a pair of young tight ends, Cunningham’s perceived strength would have to be his ticket to sticking around… especially coming in as the draft’s final selection. But, for the second time in three outings while enjoying an extended look due to injuries ahead of him on the depth chart, Cunningham’s run blocking grade has dragged him down… this time, way down (-2.9 run blocking). Browns outside linebackers Kruger and Quentin Groves had their way with him, often beating him to the inside to re-route runners. Inside linebacker Craig Robertson also did the same on Indy’s first play as Cunningham appeared unsure of his target.
– Andrew Luck when facing no pressure: 13-of-17, two touchdowns, and a 140.3 passer rating. When pressured: 3-of-8, a pick, a sack, and a rating of 6.3.
– Running backs and fullbacks stayed in to pass block on 33 snaps for each team. The Browns’ backs allowed a single pressure while the Colts gave up none.
– All four of Cleveland DT, Billy Winn’s tackles went for defensive stops. His other two tackles this preseason? Yep, stops as well.
PFF Game Ball
Doing damage against the run and the pass, Ahtyba Rubin’s effort kept eyes on him and he takes home the hardware.
Follow Rick on Twitter: @PFF_Rick