The Cleveland Browns might look at Josh Gordon’s late first-half touchdown catch as a good sign from Friday night’s game in Tampa Bay.
But if they let that obscure the other realities from this 30-13 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they’re fooling themselves.
Prior to that touchdown throw, the offense struggled and the defense looked anemic. At certain points, it would have been hard for the Browns to look worse, which is concerning given it was the third preseason game, which by most accounts is supposed to be the most important one.
With the starters on the field, the Browns didn’t rush the passer, didn’t stop the pass, didn’t pass the ball, didn’t protect the quarterback and didn’t tackle on special teams.
“We sprung a leak in a lot of different places,” coach Hue Jackson said.
Were it not for Gordon, they would not have come close to scoring. His 44-yard catch on the first third down of the game set up a field goal, and his acrobatic catch of a 43-yard touchdown late in the half gave the Browns their only TD.
Those two plays accounted for 87 of the team’s 163 total yards.
The two plays count, but take them away and Robert Griffin III was 6-for-12 for 32 yards. He was sacked five times. He fumbled once. And after converting his first two third downs on throws to Gordon and Gary Barnidge, he missed his next five — and was sacked on three of them.
Griffin has been productive in the preseason when he can throw the ball deep to one of the Browns receivers running down the sideline, but the third preseason game did little to prove he’s past the pocket passing issues that dogged him in Washington.
“We cant just live by the long ball,” Jackson said. “It’s good. We’re scoring. We’ll take that, but at the same time we have to have other elements of our offense show up.”
Credit him and Gordon for the deep balls, but at this point of the preseason, it would have been nice to see the offense operate a little more efficiently and the defense at least provide token resistance to Jameis Winston.
This was a bad third preseason game.
“I’m not going to accept this,” Jackson said. “We’re going to go back to work and fix this.”
QB depth chart: Jackson gave Griffin one half, then went right to Josh McCown. There will be no change in this depth chart. Griffin will be the Browns’ starter.
Maybe that player could start: The Browns have this receiver who will be suspended the first four games of the season. Guy named Gordon, first name Josh. Guy who’s tall, can run like a gazelle, has amazing ability to get balls that are up for grabs and who makes a quarterback better. Jackson probably can’t wait for the fifth game.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Browns looked … : Brutally overmatched, which isn’t good given this is the “key” preseason game. At one point, the Bucs were doing everything they wanted and led 27-3 with six minutes left in the second quarter. Consider these first half stats: Winston threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns. The Bucs had 305 yards to 163 for the Browns. And the Bucs passing game produced 259 yards to the Browns’ 98. Big plays to Gordon or no big plays, this was a dud.
One reason to be concerned: Danny Shelton was the 12th overall pick in the 2015 draft, the first of two first-round picks. Though he forced a second-half fumble, he has not been very visible in preseason. Whether that is cause for concern is up for debate, but Shelton has gone two games in a row in which he played in the third quarter. That is not typical for starters.
Protection or decisions? On two third downs in the first half, Griffin was sacked. On both, he had time to throw and either saw nobody to throw to or did not make a decision. Or, according to Jackson, he ran out of time. “We’re not holding the ball too long,” Jackson said. The concern: That kind of play from the pocket cost Griffin his job in Washington. He has the confidence of his coach in Cleveland, but it would have been nice to see him make a throw from the pocket. His big plays in the preseason have all been on throws when he flung it deep to receivers running down the sideline.
Excitement fizzles: There was a lot of chatter about getting Gordon, Terrelle Pryor and first-round pick Corey Coleman on the field for the first time. Gordon produced on two deep balls. Pryor had two receptions for 15 yards and after missing one third down, complained to the official about a penalty that was not called. Coleman had one reception, but it was called back by penalty. He had two other targets, but did not have a reception. Clearly there is work to be done.
Special failures: It wasn’t just the offense and defense that let down. Special teams contributed, as well. The starters gave up a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first half, the backups a 43-yard return that set up a field goal in the second half. This was not a good night for the team.