ATLANTA — The Cleveland Browns beat the Atlanta Falcons Sunday night in a game that featured several Browns starters, including nearly all of the offensive line, a few offensive weapons, some of the team's newest defensive players and quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Here are the takeaways from the Browns final preseason game:
For the second week in a row, the standout play featured wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge and his guitar-strumming celebration. But what makes this week different was that there was another star of the play involved—one franchise quarterback.
While Hodge's catch was impressive, almost more impressive was Mayfield's precision on the pass and his footwork to get into position to make the throw. Setting his feet and flipping his body into position, Mayfield made his pass against the grain in the face of Falcons inside linebacker Mykal Walker.
That play showcases the work offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt has done with his quarterback and Mayfield's work he's put into conditioning this offseason and through training camp.
About the offense
The first two drives featured Mayfield and company starting on the field. The opening drive was less than ideal, but that is to be expected as the starters who had not seen game action yet this year shook off some rust.
Two batted balls for Mayfield, in addition to dropped passes from wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge and tight end Austin Hooper, left the Browns scoreless on the drive. But when they got the ball back, things began to gel and after some impressive runs and receptions from running back D'Ernest Johnson, the Browns were in solid position.
Hodge redeemed himself quickly, bringing in a 20-yard reception followed by the touchdown reception from Mayfield.
The first two drives that featured Mayfield also featured the starting offensive line, aside from center JC Tretter, who was replaced by Nick Harris for the preseason game. Wyatt Teller, Joel Bitonio, Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills Jr. kept Mayfield's packet clean and showed exactly why they're the No. 1 rated o-line in the league headed into the season. While it was no surprise, it's always nice to see.
Wide receiver/running back/return specialist Demetric Felton continued impressing as the regular season approaches, with four receptions for 15 yards, an 11-yard punt return and a 37-yard kick return. His production throughout training camp and through the three preseason games has made it difficult to picture the Browns leaving him off their 53-man roster this week.
In the battle at tight end, the top of the depth chart is clear. David Njoku, Austin Hooper and Harrison Bryant are the guys. But with head coach Kevin Stefanski's appreciation for the position, having more available on the roster seems like something he'll want to do. Fighting for a fourth tight end spot, Jordan Franks showed up big Sunday. The tight end had four receptions for 45 yards and forced a fumble after quarterback Kyle Lauletta threw a pick, allowing offensive lineman Colby Gossett to recover the ball and keep Cleveland in possession. His efforts Sunday were bound to turn some heads within the Browns organization.
Wide receiver Davion Davis showed off his play-making abilities again Sunday evening with five receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown. While he won't be playing in the first two games of the regular season, he won't count against the 53-man roster as he serves a suspension for an alcohol-related traffic incident from 2019, giving the Browns two weeks before having to make any decision about the surprise camp talent.
With Cody Parkey hurt, placed on the Injured Reserve list and then released, the kicking job is Chase McLaughlin's for the winning. But he hasn't been named the starting kicker yet, still needing to showcase his skills to the team.
On Sunday, McLaughlin was set up for regular season game situations, including a tough 56-yard field goal attempt that showed his range might be just under the 56-yard mark, missing the attempt off the crossbar at the end of the first half.
In all, McLaughlin hit a 32-yard field goal, a 28-yard field goal and made an extra point. But on his final extra point attempt, McLaughlin looked razzled, shanking the kick far right and opening the case for the kicking competition to continue on.
About the defense
Some of the newer Browns defense players took the field Sunday night against the Falcons, including linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. and John Johnson III.
Cornerback A.J. Green, who has had an impressive camp, made solid effort on a late ball, helping prevent a deep touchdown pass from Atlanta near the end of the first quarter. Green had four tackles in the first half, three of which were solo. He would get three more tackles through the rest of the game and he even caught a punt, which was both strange and hilarious (it's the preseason, after all).
If he wasn't a lock before Sunday night, defensive tackle Malik McDowell all but solidified his spot on the 53-man roster after showcasing his ability to break through opposing o-lines, dominate his match-ups and get pressure on the quarterback. In the first half, McDowell manhandled the Falcons center and recorded two tackles while splitting a sack with defensive tackle Sheldon Day.
The star of the night was defensive tackle Jordan Elliott, who dominated the Falcons offensive line to stop their run game and made plays in the offensive backfield. The pressure Elliott delivered paid off with a fumble recovery off Falcons quarterback Josh Rosen in the third quarter.
G Drew Forbes (knee)
53-man roster hopefuls
McDowell and Elliott had strong outings, helping to solidify themselves as starters at the position, but the defensive tackle room is packed, making general manager Andrew Berry's job this week extra difficult. Andrew Billings, who has been praised as the strongest guy most of the team has ever met, could find himself on the outs despite that strength and his experience. Marvin Wilson also finds himself in the same position as Billings.
Berry also has tough decisions with his running backs. With another strong outing from Johnson, and Felton making a name for himself at multiple positions, players like John Kelly will find themselves on the outs of the roster. But Kelly is a strong runner who pushes forward for extra yardage at every chance he gets and will likely find a place on an NFL roster before the Browns can stash him away on the practice squad.
The Browns will have plenty of other decisions to make across the roster as they whittle down their numbers to 53 before the 4 p.m. Tuesday deadline.
While the preseason doesn't count for much, it does give the team, and fans, a good look at the depth of talent on a team, and one thing's for sure: the Browns are facing a good problem to have with more talent than they have roster space.
On Sept. 12, we'll get a look at how that talent and depth pays off as Cleveland kicks off the regular season against the Kansas City Chiefs—a game the Browns and their fans are very much looking forward to.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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