ReFo: STL @ CLE, Preseason Wk 1
Time and time again preseason outcomes have proven to be utterly meaningless. Individual performances on the other hand have meaning. So while the Browns ended up winning 27-19, there were many individual winners and losers all over the field. Lets take a look at those noteworthy performers.
Rams – Three Performances of Note
The Rams’ two rookie first-rounders did not live up to their ‘playmaker’ billings on Thursday night. On offense, Tavon Austin (-0.7) was given the night off after only nine snaps. He ran six routes and was targeted only once — and on that target Ausin failed to haul in the pass on a third down early in the second quarter.
On the defensive side of the ball Alec Ogletree (-1.7) got a little more action. Ogletree played three-down linebacker next to James Laurinaitis for 23 snaps. He made one stop in the run game, but his supposed coverage prowess was not on display. The Georgia product allowed a crossing route to run free on him early in the game, and then was in coverage on Dion Lewis when he scored the game’s first touchdown.
One of the biggest bright spots for the Rams on Thursday night was their quarterback play. As a whole they had an Accuracy Percentage of 72.2 and a combined grade of +7.0. Austin Davis and Kellen Clemens made great throws at times, but struggled to consistently move the ball down the field. The only player Rams’ fans care about though is Sam Bradford. The Rams’ starter was solid in his eight drop-backs. The most encouraging part for Rams fans was his willingness and success pushing the ball down the field. Bradford threw the ball 20+ yards twice and five of his eight throws were over 10 yards down the field. It was an efficient performance that will hopefully carry over into the season.
After watching one defensive lineman continually jump off the screen against the run, I would be remiss if I didn’t give Matt Conrath his own section. The second-year defensive tackle out of Virginia was a load on the interior. He made four run stops in only 10 snaps against the run and was generally immovable.
Conrath joined the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2012 and appeared in only their Week 10 game against the 49ers, playing five snaps. The most impressive part about his performance was that it all came in the first half, with most of it against the Browns’ first team. Conrath developing into a legitimate rotation player would be a huge upgrade for the Rams’ interior defense.
Browns – Three Performances of Note
Signs of Life
The Browns’ passing attack was one of the worst in the NFL last season and much criticism was heaped on rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden (+1.0). Already 29, many have wondered if he’ll make the same sort of improvements from Year 1 to Year 2 as younger quarterbacks should. If the rest of the season is anything like Thursday night, that answer will be yes. Weeden led two long drives in his two series of play, the first resulting in a field goal and the second in a touchdown. While he wasn’t pushing the ball down the field (he didn’t attempt a throw over 20 yards), he was taking what the defense gave him and had only one negatively graded throw in 12 attempts. Even though this in no way means he’ll be even an average quarterback this season, its a good start.
Newcomers Rushing the Passer
While Desmond Bryant and Paul Kruger were unable to make any sort of impact in their limited playing time, two other players made a big splash. Sixth overall pick Barkevious Mingo (+2.8) was the guy all Browns fans had their eye on and head coach Rob Chudzinski gave them an extended look. Mingo played 32 snaps and was impressive in all of them. He didn’t have a negatively graded play all game and tallied three quarterback hits. The only caveat to his play was that much of it came against the Rams’ second team — but it was still quite the opener.
The other newcomer to burst onto the scene was fourth-year player Justin Cole. Cole was signed this offseason after playing 2012 in St. Louis. In that season he played only 15 total snaps and rushed the passer just six times. He contributed mainly on special teams but was certainly nothing special, missing three tackles and making only four. On Thursday night though Cole was dominant. His +5.3 grade in 33 snaps was the highest of any player in the game. He amassed those stats in large part due to his blazing speed rush that gave him multiple pressures within two seconds of the snap. Hopefully Cole will get a chance to try his hand against better competition next week (most of his snaps came in the fourth quarter), and he’s a guy to keep your eye on the rest of the preseason.
Setting the Edge
The Browns had a particularly poor showing with their running attack. It never really got started despite an unwavering commitment to it with 29 rushes. While the offensive line played poorly as well, it was the inability to block the edge from the tight end position that killed the Browns.
Jordan Cameron was much maligned in 2012 for his inability to inline block. After an offseason it appears as though that hasn’t changed. In only seven run blocking snaps Cameron graded out to -2.0. Joining Cameron in his run blocking struggles were Kellen Davis (-1.9), Travis Tannahill (-0.5), and Gary Barnidge (-0.5).
– Weeden’s +1.0 grade was higher than all but two games of his first season.
– Rams receivers dropped six passes on 26 catchable balls for a Drop Rate of 23.1.
– Big money free agent signings Bryant and Kruger played 15 combined snaps and registered a hit and a hurry respectively.
PFF Game Ball
This one goes to Justin Cole. The outside linebacker almost single-handedly stopped the Rams comeback attempt. The former Ram picked up five pressures off the edge and then intercepted the Hail Mary to end the game.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeRenner