Welcome back to NFL football! Last night, we got our feet wet with the annual Hall of Fame Game, featuring the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns. This Canton, OH showcase rarely includes much playing time for starters (if any), and this year’s game was no exception. Before you ask: no, Aaron Rodgers did not play. The Browns earned a come-from-behind 21-16 victory in a largely meaningless game, but it matters to the players on the field. Enjoy the induction ceremony tomorrow, but for today, enjoy our Hall of Fame Game takeaways!
Underwhelming 2021 QBs Battle in Canton
The #2 over all pick in the 2021 draft faced a 3rd rounder from the same class as Zach Wilson and Kellen Mond squared off. Both of them pretty much showed us why their teams moved on from them. The Jets’ Wilson had one big pass play, a 57-yard heave to Malik Taylor, but otherwise didn’t do much. However, maybe that was the point. Trying to do too much has repeatedly burned Wilson, and certainly the Jets are trying to get him to take better care of the football. In his short appearance, Wilson didn’t do anything risky with the ball, so maybe that’s a win.
Cleveland’s Mond had a more disappointing outing. He stayed in for the whole first half and went 13/19 for 92 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. Everything was thorn short, and screen passes clearly worked best for Mond. Even his TD, a short screen to RB John Kelley, was near the line of scrimmage. He didn’t see the field too well and was afraid to take risks, even though his passive style still produced a turnover. Combine all this with the better performance authored by rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson (more on him later), and Mond’s roster spot looks very precarious as we move forward.
Is Browns K Cade York Going to be a Problem Again?
One position group that DOES often play meaningful snaps during the preseason is the special teams unit. Sometimes that’s simply because teams don’t bother to bring another kicker or punter with them on their 90-man rosters, and other times it’s because these players need practice too, and they’re less likely than others to get injured. Regardless of the reason, we get to see some of these guys in real game action. This is especially true for kickers. Kicks are the same whether you’re playing against starters or backups. Both kickers stood out in this game but for very different reasons.
Second-year Brown Cade York has a huge leg, but it comes with accuracy issues. He missed several kicks last season that could have kept the team in games or won them. His first kick last night wasn’t promising. York’s 49-yard FG attempt hooked terribly wide. He rebounded with three PATs, but even his first of those barely made it through the uprights. This shakiness was in sharp contrast with Greg Zuerlein, the kicker on the opposing sideline. Zuerlein nailed all 3 of his FG attempts, including one from 54 yards, without difficulty. The difference between the two kickers highlights the fact that if Cleveland wants to reach the playoffs, they may need another kicker if York can’t consistently execute.
Lights Cause Delay Before Start of 4th Quarter
For once, it wasn’t weather that caused the game to be delayed. The Hall of Fame Game usually has some interruptions due to weather or, a few years ago, the pandemic. This time, it was an electrical failure. At the end of the 3rd quarter, the lights at the stadium got really dim, prompting a pause before the 4th quarter could begin. This takes me back to Super Bowl XLVII when the Niners and Ravens faced a similar issue in their game. Obviously, continuing the game was never in doubt during that contest, but it seemed like Browns and Jets coaches were huddling with the officials to see if we would restart.
The sides opted for a wait-and-see approach, letting the lights cool down before restarting them. After a 15-minute wait, the lights returned, and the game resumed. I could wax poetic about how this signifies the way in which even giant corporations like the NFL have trouble ensuring basic functionality, but I won’t. That’s not my style, nor is it what you’re here for. I mention this quirky delay because it was amusing. When you’re deep in a preseason game with even the backups long gone, something amusing might just be enough to keep you entertained.
Browns Storm Back, Exposing Bottom of Jets’ Roster
New York is clearly in it to win the Super Bowl this year, and they’re a very talented team. Their depth isn’t bad, but it has some shaky spots. If a few injuries come along though, they could have a problem because the bottom of their roster is weak. Preseason games don’t tell you a whole lot about the players who will take the majority of the snaps on Sundays, but they do give you looks at backups versus backups. The Jets jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the first half before taking a 16-7 advantage into halftime. Cleveland would pitch a shutout the rest of the way.
The Browns scored a TD in each of the final 3 quarters and played turnover-free football, enabling them to erase their deficit and score 14 unanswered points to take the lead. Defensively, the Jets were alright. Nothing special, but good enough to win. The Tim Boyle- and Chris Streveler-led offenses though? 0 points over an entire half of football. The team also couldn’t run the ball all night, averaging just 2.3 yards per carry on 23 attempts. This shouldn’t be an issue if players stay healthy. You have to believe that Aaron Rodgers and Breece Hall will do much better. The offensive line needs to protect them though, because the cupboard is a bit bare behind the Jets’ offensive stars.
Each week of the preseason, I’m going to try to highlight a few rookies that stood out. With only one game this week, that limited my options, but I’ve still a couple to discuss, both from the Browns. First, we have 4th-round RT Dawand Jones. Jones got a ton of playing time, and I liked how the big man moved. At 6’8″ and 375 lbs, his biggest question mark was always going to be his agility. I thought he looked pretty good. There were some struggles (he did commit 1 holding penalty that was declined), but overall I was impressed with Jones’ skillset. With some more training, he could become a lockdown RT.
Next, and you knew this was coming, is 5th-round QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Easily outshining Kellen Mond in their battle for the backup QB job behind Deshaun Watson, DTR showed good athleticism buying time in the pocket and making plays outside of it. He finished 8/11 for 82 yards and a TD through the air while running for 36 yards on 6 attempts. Much of this production came against 3rd stringers, so take it with a grain of salt. What is indisputable is what he did on RB Demetric Felton’s TD run. DTR came and LEVELED a defender on a block. That’s unteachable and will endear the rookie to his teammates right away.