ReFo: Cle @ CHI, Preseason WK 4
Gordon McGuinness takes a look at a game that saw very few starters play but a group of backup linebackers shine.
ReFo: Cle @ CHI, Preseason WK 4
With the preseason culminating on Thursday night, the focus shifted from seeing a heavy dose of the starters, as we did the week before, to those players battling for roster spots. It lead to a selection of match-ups between quarterbacks that normally wouldn’t get the opportunity to start, with many getting to run the offense for a full game, or at least a half, this time around.
That brought us to Chicago, where the Bears hosted the Cleveland Browns, and the battle between Brian Hoyer and the duo of Jordan Palmer and Trent Edwards. That itself might not fill you with excitement but the game did at least feature a couple of notable performances, particularly in the trenches. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the key players from this one.
Cleveland — Three Performances of Note
Josh Gordon – Big Impact in Limited Snaps
While most of the Browns starters were rested, it made sense to give wide receiver Josh Gordon (+1.3) some work, given he’s about to miss time through suspension. That work consisted of just ten snaps, but he was able to flash the ability that Browns’ fans are so frustrated to miss out on at the start of this year. On the game’s opening play Gordon got free on a go-route and, had it not been for an under thrown ball by Hoyer forcing him to slow up for the ball, he may have gone the distance. Later in the first quarter he would beat Demontre Hurst on a post route, good for 32 yards.
Sanford Makes His Mark
In a game where he saw more snaps than in any other preseason game so far, defensive lineman Brian Sanford (+3.0) also put forward his best performance in August. Both of his tackles resulted in a defensive stop, giving him a Run Stop Percentage of 10.0% on his 20 snaps against the run. His best play against the run however wasn’t even a play where he registered the tackle. Driving center Taylor Boggs back into the backfield with ease, he forced him into the running back, blowing up the play. As a pass rusher he was inconsistent, registering just two pressures, however he did beat left tackle Cory Brandon to the outside for a hit on 2nd-and-10 with 1:19 left in the first half.
Pair of Linebackers Step Up
While they’ll be happy with the output of Gordon and Sanford, the Browns will be even happier with the play of a pair of inside linebackers. Tank Carder (+3.1) and L.J. Fort (+3.6) combined to register six defensive stops between them and graded positively in the three main phases of their game. Fort was at his best on the last play of the third quarter and first play of the fourth, beating Brandon outside to register a tackle for loss and then taking Trent Edwards down with an unblocked sack.
It was the fourth quarter where Carder came alive too, firstly by beating Brandon to combine with the unblocked Fort for that sack. He would follow that up with a tackle for no gain and a tackle for loss before getting in the way of a Trent Edwards pass on 3rd-and-9 with 1:19 left in the game that, realistically, he should have pulled in for the interception.
Chicago — Three Performances of Note
Brutal Day for Brandon
You’ll have to go a long way to find a lower graded performance from a left tackle this preseason than that of the Bears’ Cory Brandon (-6.3). With just the one positively graded play all game, he was continually tormented by a variety of Browns’ defenders all night long. Beaten by eight different Browns’ defensive players, his biggest struggles were when he was trying to block to the inside with both of his sacks allowed coming to the inside. There was little positive to say and it’s likely a performance he’ll want to forget in a hurry.
With rookie Jon Bostic all but confirmed as the starter and, as such, given the night off, it was up to veteran Blake Costanzo (+3.2) to man the spot that Brian Urlacher made his own for so long. He started with a bang, beating left guard Caylin Hauptmann to the outside on 1st-and-10 with 14:30 left in the first quarter to record a big tackle for loss. Registering three tackles, all of which resulted in a defensive stop, he added a hit as a pass rusher and allowed just 12 receiving yards into his coverage, he graded no worse than 0.0 in all three main aspects of his game.
Hard Luck for Hardin
After playing just 68 snaps in the first three games combined, safety Brandon Hardin (-4.6) played all but 9 snaps in this encounter though, on further review, he may wish he hadn’t. With poor angles taking him out of two big plays and allowing Browns’ receivers to get far more than they deserved, he was in some way negatively involved in six Browns first downs and a touchdown.
The worst of those plays came on 1st-and-10 with 9:09 left in the first quarter where, coming up to make the tackle on Gordon on a post route, he wound up on the ground two yards behind the receiver as he sprinted another 12 yards downfield. Not a good look.
-The Bears used just 15 players on defense throughout the entire game.
-Both teams combined for just two dropped passes all game.
-Brian Hoyer was 3 of 5 for 66 yards and a touchdown on throws over the middle between 10 and 19 yards in the air.
PFF Game Ball
Though other players also stood out, the big fourth quarter from Tank Carder and L.J. Ford really put the Browns on their way to victory late in the game.
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Gordon McGuinness | Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst
Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.