CLEVELAND, Ohio – The best that can be said about Jacoby Brissett in his only appearance of the preseason is that he came out unscathed.
After knocking his right throwing hand on a defender in practice Thursday but quickly shaking it off, Brissett coming out of the 21-20 loss to the Bruins in Saturday’s preseason finale healthy was a tremendous accomplishment.
Beyond that, not many conclusions can be drawn from his six series in the first half, after which the Browns trailed 21-3.
Brissett, who will start the opener at Carolina on Sept. 11, completed just 13 of 23 attempts for 109 yards with no touchdowns and one interception for a dismal 50.8 rating.
“I think he played well,” coach Kevin Stefanski said. “Obviously, we’d like to move the ball more consistently as an offense early, just not get first downs. In terms of what we asked him to do, get us into the right plays, seeing the defense and delivering the ball at the right time, I thought he did a good job.
“I thought Jacoby saw it very clearly in terms of coverage and did a nice job operating in the huddle, at the line of scrimmage, at the sideline and things like that.”
Brissett’s biggest problem on the night was second-year quarterback Anthony Schwartz, who caught 1 of 6 targets for 8 yards and dropped three passes, including one that was batted at the line but hit him in the hands. Going into the game, he was credited with three drops in the first two preseason games, including two in the opener in Jacksonville. The goals were a team high during Brissett’s tenure.
“We talked about Anthony and Anthony talked to you,” Stefanski said. “He is very responsible. I know he wants to be better. I know he will work very hard. All of our kids are going to keep trying to get better, and I know Anthony will too.”
On Schwartz’s third and final drop, an easy pass over the middle on third-and-9, he was roundly booed by the home crowd — certainly not what a young player struggling with his confidence needs. Cade York picked up the mood with a 57-yard field goal on the next play that put the Browns on the board at 21-3 with 1:25 left in the half.
“As you saw, I kept coming back to him because of the trust I have in him,” Brissett said. “Look, it’s part of the game. There is nothing to beat him. I talked to him on the side like, ‘It’s just scar tissue. Just go back to work. Keep believing in yourself. When the page turns, you’re on the other side of it.’ Just keep nurturing him and keep giving him opportunities.”
Schwartz also ran into linebacker covering Harrison Bryant on a route in the left flat and went down before Brissett threw him the ball. It was easily picked off by cornerback Greg Stroman Jr., and Justin Fields (14 of 16, 156 yards, 3 TDs, 146.9 rating) converted it into a 24-yard TD to tight end Cole Kmet for a 21-0 lead with 3:29 left in the half
“I told (Schwartz) on the sidelines, ‘Look, you wouldn’t be in this position if they didn’t think you could do it,'” Brissett said. “At least love the part that they put you back out there no matter what. It’s just because they want to see you succeed, and they want you to see you succeed.’ I think he will do that. It’s unfortunate that those things happen, but it’s part of the game. I’m sure it’s like plays I’d like back and throws I’d like back. It is learning. This game is hard if we make it hard. I’m sure he’ll get over it.”
Schwartz’s terrible night began on the first play when a short pass to the left slipped out of his hands. Brissett, playing without five of his Pro Bowlers on offense, launched a deep ball down the left sideline for the speedy Schwartz, but it was just out of reach. He got behind two defenders, but failed to make the hard, one-handed catch.
“Oh yeah, definitely (he was open),” Brissett. “That’s why I threw it. We didn’t catch it.”
Brissett, with no help from his primary target, went three-and-out on three of his first four drives, and managed just four plays on the drive with the interception. Schwartz, whose only catch was an 8-yarder on the third possession, could have made something of the pass batted at the line in the second quarter, but dropped it.
“I didn’t see it,” Brissett said. “I heard the ball, and I looked to see where the ball was.”
Schwartz followed it up with the third-down drop on the next play, the one that drew the boos.
“All the receivers, they work really hard at this game,” Stefanski said. “You understand there will be drops. That’s how it works. It’s something that comes with being a receiver, so you just have to work through it.”
Stefanski was quick to squash any idea that Schwartz, the Browns’ third-round pick last year out of Auburn, could be cut. The final roster cut to 53 is Tuesday.
“No,” Stefanski said. “Respectfully, we’re going to make sure we address issues that are important to us, who our players are and how they respond to these issues.”
The Browns will now have to find a way to rebuild Schwartz’s psyche if he wants to make an impact this season. Stefanski predicted a big season from Schwartz, and he has a long way to go before Brissett can trust him to make the play.
In Jacksonville, Schwartz provided little help for starter Deshaun Watson, running an errant route on the first play and dropping two passes. He apologized to Watson and others, and vowed to reverse the manuscript. He did just that in practice the following week, and helped himself in the second preseason game against the Eagles. But he took a step back Saturday night and will have work to do this week.
“Right now, we’re trying to work,” Stefanski said. “These games are like in Berea. We’re trying to get reps for our guys and do a job there together.”
Brissett, who had Pro Bowlers Jack Conklin, Joel Bitonio, Amari Cooper, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt idle on the sideline, managed to connect three times for 36 yards with third-round receiver David Bell, including completions of 11 and 18 yards further. field goal drive. By then, the Bears had plenty of backups, but the offense was at least showing signs of life.
Brissett also connected on 3 of 4 targets to tight end David Njoku for 34 yards, including a long pass of 20 over the middle that was one of his best of the game. He also found Bryant on both of his targets for 15 yards, including a long gain of 11.
“We’re just going to keep banking more and more time, repetition and rhythm with those guys,” Brissett said. “To be able to throw those guys the ball in real action and come to the sideline and say, ‘Hey, this is why I put the ball here’ or ‘This is what I was thinking.’ It’s part of the process.”
Brissett, who lost starting right guard Wyatt Teller to a game-ending knee injury in the second quarter that is unlikely to be serious, was replaced at the end of the first half by Joshua Dobbs, who had a great preseason. Dobbs put 11 points on the board in the form of a 46-yard field goal by York at the end of the half, and a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Miller Forristall early in the fourth quarter. Dobbs, who was stopped last week against the Eagles on a hurdle attempt into the end zone, succeeded this time on the 2-point run to the left side, leaping over the left pylon.
He went 11 of 20 for 89 yards and that TD for an 83.1 rating. His long pass was a 19-yarder to Michael Harley Jr.
Although he is a crowd favorite and a dynamic dual-threat player, he has not replaced Brissett.
“Jacoby is our starter, yes, but I’m proud of Josh Dobbs,” Stefanski said. “He did a really nice job. Again, he’s someone who has worked very, very hard from the beginning when he walked in the door with us in the spring and until now. He plays well in these games. He is a very, very responsible teammate. Very pleased with Josh Dobbs.”
He stopped short of declaring Dobbs the No. 2 behind Brissett for the first 11 games.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t get into rosters like that,” he said. “I would just tell you Josh Dobbs did a great job. He did everything we asked of him, and I think his teammates recognize how hard he works.”
Brissett, who started taking the bulk of the first-team reps on Day 12 of training camp and started just one of the preseason games, feels he’s gotten enough work to be ready to start the opener Sept. 11 in Carolina .
“Sure,” he said. “Like I said, we’ve got two more weeks, so I’m going to get a lot more reps.”
Stefanski didn’t feel the need to surround Brissett with his full supporting cast in the more traditional dress rehearsal fashion, in part because he had such a good job with the starters in two days of joint practices against the Eagles.
“It’s a balance,” Stefanski said. “There were guys that we held up in this game, and you kind of take it case by case with each guy. We had a lot of good reps from Jacoby again in Berea. We feel confident in what he was able to do with the whole group of them.”
Josh Rosen, a longshot to make the 53, closed the game on 4 of 6 passing for 42 yards and a 1-yard TD run with 2:31 left that produced the final margin. His 2-point attempt to Javon Wims fell incomplete.
Stefanski was proud of York rebounding with kicks of 57 and 46 yards after booting a 58-yarder wide left.
“I think like anybody you like to see the ball go in, so it’s good for him,” Stefanski said. “He doesn’t lack confidence.”
Hopefully for the Browns, neither will Schwartz before long.
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