Even the biggest of football fans has to admit that preseason NFL action just isn’t the same. Most are advised not to get too excited or discouraged by anything that goes on during the preseason. Watching the Cleveland Browns dismantle the Detroit Lions on Thursday night en route to a 24-6 victory, though, made it hard for any Browns fan not to feel at least a little excited about the upcoming NFL season.
The Ray Horton-led Browns defense dominated Matt Stafford and the Lions offense throughout the entire first half. The Browns’ first-team defense allowed a mere four first downs and one field goal. Front-seven forces Phil Taylor and Paul Kruger led a vicious pass-rush while the young Browns secondary held its own against one of the league’s most pass-heavy offenses.
While the first-team D was doing its part, the first-team offense – led by second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden – was once again firing on all cylinders. Weeden, who was coming off a stellar performance against the Rams last week, performed perhaps even better in his second preseason game of 2013. The 29 year-old completed eight of his twelve passes against the Lions, two of which went for touchdowns to tight end Jordan Cameron.
Weeden’s repertoires with Cameron and the talented Josh Gordon appear to have only strengthened this offseason, as Weeden and his receiving corps have been on the same page throughout almost all of the first-team offense’s limited action in the preseason thus far. If this preseason is to serve as any type of foreshadowing for what is to come, Cameron may be in line for a breakout season in his first year under Rob Chudinzksi and Norv Turner.
Trent Richardson even got in on a little bit of the action, as the bruising back made his first preseason start after being kept out of last Thursday’s contest against the Rams on account of injury concerns. Richardson looked sharp while rushing for 33 yards on only six carries, one of which included an impressive 17-yard scamper that put Richardson’s underrated agility on display.
Travis Benjamin continued his effort of making Clevelanders forget about their beloved Josh Cribbs by returning yet another punt return for a touchdown, although the 84-yard score was called back as a result of a holding call against Joe Haden.
Even unproven kicker Brandon Bogotay looked impressive Thursday night, as he drilled a 43-yard field goal, made two PAT’s, and displayed remarkable leg power while handling kickoff duties. Bogotay may now have a “leg up” (pun intended) in his position battle with veteran Shayne Graham.
But, there is a “but” – as there always seems to be with almost any Cleveland sports story. Despite the Browns’ dominating performance on both sides of the ball, it was hard to overlook the number of crucial injuries that were endured by a few key members of the team.
The bad news begins with Dion Lewis, who was expected to serve as the team’s primary back-up and change-of-pace running back behind Richardson. Lewis left the field prematurely Thursday night with a leg injury, which was later discovered to be a fractured fibula. It has been reported that he will undergo surgery to repair the injury.
It was initially assumed that the injury would keep Lewis out for the entire season, but the team is holding out hope that they may be able to place him on injured reserve. Regardless, Lewis will not be seeing the playing field anytime soon, which spells trouble for the Browns’ offense. Lewis’s injury will make him the second Browns running back to undergo surgery before the season begins, as Montario Hardesty is expected to be kept out for the next four to five weeks as a result of recent arthroscopic knee surgery.
Barkevious Mingo, the team’s first-round pick, also left the field Thursday night with a bruised lung. Mingo was hospitalized by the injury, although he was released from the Cleveland Clinic Saturday morning. Mingo is expected to miss the next two to three weeks, possibly sidelining him for the Browns’ preseason opener against the Miami Dolphins on September 8th.
Right guard Jason Pinkston was also bitten by the injury bug on Thursday. Pinkston left the field on the team’s second drive of the game with an ankle injury. The news comes just a week after Shawn Lauvao, the team’s expected opening day starter at right guard, injured his ankle, also.
Lauvao will have surgery and is not expected to be ready to return to the field until two or three weeks into regular season action. The timetable for Pinkston’s return will be similar to that of Lauvao’s. 2013 seventh-round pick Garrett Gilkey is expected to serve as a stopgap until either Lauvao or Pinkston can return.
Bogotay even joined the injury list Thursday night after his excellent performance was shortened by a groin injury that kept him out of the entire second half.
All in all, the Browns’ impressive showing against the Lions instilled a great deal of optimism into a wins-starved fan base. If the injuries continue to pile up, however, so will the number of pessimists.
Side note: A streaker made it quite a ways across the field during Thursday night’s game at FirstEnergy Stadium. Watch the surprisingly nudity-free, hilarious footage here.