A TALE OF TWO LINES
Last year, the Washington Redskins offensive line was so porous in pass protection that it limited QB Robert Griffin III's ability to establish a rhythm and let plays develop. It was Jon Gruden's first season as head coach coming over from the Cincinnati Bengals, who have had one of the better offensive lines in the NFL over the past few years, so it was likely that a lot of the offensive play concepts couldn't materialize fast enough for Griffin to make his reads. Griffin's injury also sidelined him for a majority of the season, which took away the necessary repetitions to grow in the offense. To start the game, Griffin's pass protection looked much improved, and the addition of rookie RG Brandon Scherff and offensive line coach Bill Callahan likely had a lot to do with that.
THE BROWNS MAY NOT BE THAT BAD
Is Josh McCown the answer at QB? No. But between the strength of the Browns offensive line and new Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo's QB-friendly offense (McCown went 5/5 33 yds 1 TD), and new WRs Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline on the outside, it certainly looks like an improvement. This is a team that was in playoff contention in the AFC North until late in the season last year built on the backbone of a solid defense, so if they can put together some semblance of an offense, they can have another surprise year. Since they won't carry a traditional FB on the roster, TE Gary Barnidge lined up at FB for a few plays. Andy Lee may be one of the most under-the-radar pick ups of this offseason, and while punters may be afterthoughts for a lot of people, Lee's punts in this game led to a Chris Thompson muff, a forced fumble, and 2 more punts inside the 5.
Oh and Deangelo Hall is having a rough week after being humiliated by Nuk Hopkins in Hard Knocks.
JOHNNY BE GOOD
Johnny Football. Money Manziel. The two words in red can be removed from your vocabulary, as all the hearsay about Johnny Manziel growing up seem to be ringing true. Johnny Manziel wants to be known as Johnny Manziel, and you won't see any more money signs coming from the second year pro any time soon. More importantly than his maturity off the field, Manziel is maturing on the field as well. He looked good in his scrimmage last week and though his 7/11 42 yds 1 TD (rushing) stat line may seem mild, Manziel made some really good decisions with the football in his hand, finding the open receivers and actually playing quarterback. Although his TD run was fun to watch, it was his behavior after the TD that was most impressive to me. No excessive celebration, just running straight over to the bench, demanding the screenshots from the drive, and studying them diligently for the next five minutes.
-There's a new Scherff in town. The Redskins got a lot of gripe for taking the RG Brandon Scherff with the 5th pick with impact players like Leonard Williams on the board, but I loved the pick. Scherff to me is like the second-coming of fellow Hawkeye Marshal Yanda, and although I expected him to play this season at RT (Morgan Moses started there), I can absolutely see Scherff having a Zack Martin type season and being a staple in this Redskins line for the next decade. He did get knocked off balance a few times by veteran DL Randy Starks, but look at the edge he seals off for Alfred Morris on a crucial 4th and 1 in the first quarter.
-Browns LT Cameron Erving is not a LT. I know he will never line up at LT with Joe Thomas in Cleveland having the longest consecutive snap streak in the NFL, but this game just reminded you how low Erving's stock was at Florida State before he moved inside to C in the middle of the season. What I don't understand is why the Browns kept him at LT when the second team offensive line entered the game - I would have thought they would move him to RG where he is expected to compete with John Greco to start. Curious, but the good news is they did give Erving extended snaps well into the game. You can see Erving's slow kickslide below, putting him off balance and allowing Trent Murphy to rip him inside, forcing Erving to hold Murphy and draw a flag.
Erving also got whooped badly on the TD throw by McCown to Benjamin. You can see this under the play of the game below. Erving also drew a bad false start penalty late in the 4th quarter. Not the best debut for the ex-Seminole.
-The New Helu. Redskins RB Matt Jones looks like he will be a more than capable replacement for the Oakland-bound RB Roy Helu, especially when it comes to catching the ball out of the backfield. He jukes Jordan Poyer out of his shoes here and picks up a first down.
-The Browns were one of the worst defenses vs. the run last year, but NT Danny Shelton should be a big reason why those will be woes of the past in 2015. Shelton constantly drew two defenders and it continues to baffle me how someone with his size and body type can be so agile. Below is a good example of how active Shelton is getting off blocks, fighting his way to a tackle for a loss on Matt Jones.
-I was a little hesitant when the Redskins selected OLB Preston Smith in the 2nd round this year because he was a hand-on-the-ground defensive end at Mississippi State, but his athleticism and bend has translated extremely well to the NFL thus far, earning him a game ball for his 5.5 tackle, 1 sack performance. The Redskins face a log jam at OLB with Smith, Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Murphy and the recently-signed Junior Gallette... too bad none of them can play ILB.
-One of my favorite prospects in the draft last year was Washington State DT Xavier Cooper, and he fell into a perfect landing spot with the Browns. Cooper has a lightning first step and should grow into a dominant 5-technique in the NFL. Look how much faster he is off the step than anyone else on the field, working his way to a sack.
-The Browns tight ends are pretty terrible, but they may have gotten a steal with Iowa State TE EJ Bibbs. Bibbs has such great athleticism and route running for a player his size, and I would be shocked if he is not the starting TE in Cleveland by week 4.
PLAY OF THE GAME
At 0:27 seconds in, Josh McCown shows his composure by scrambling around after a Cam Erving missed block and finding Travis Benjamin in the back of the end zone for 6.
BROWNS GAME BALL: QB Josh McCown (5/5 33 yds 1 TD)
REDSKINS GAME BALL: OLB Preston Smith (5.5 tackles, 1 sack)
TE Niles Paul (broken left ankle, IR)
RB Silas Redd (torn right ACL, MCL, IR)