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DeShone Kizer launches Browns to win over Saints

Everybody loves a quarterback competition, so we're going to hear plenty about Cleveland's in the coming weeks.

I was going to fill this space with why Brock Osweiler will end up being the starter by default (because he's the easiest from which to move on), followed by Cody Kessler, and DeShone Kizer. That's still probably going to happen. But when the backups took the field in Cleveland, and Kizer led the comeback that will inspire hours and hours of sports talk radio along Lake Erie, things at least got a little interesting.

Just take a look for yourself.

But for every good thing Kizer did on Thursday night in a 20-14 win over the New Orleans Saints, he was equally as raw and ineffective. And Cleveland is a team that isn't quite ready for the heir apparent -- not in August.

Don't click away now, but here's the truth: Kizer is a guy who will show the most improvement in Year Two. He told teammate Kenny Britt last week things had slowed down for him between OTAs and camp, and while that might be true, he didn't look in comfortable rhythm Thursday night until the middle of the fourth quarter.

After forcing some throws into coverage during the Orange and Brown Scrimmage last week, Kizer was noticeably careful in the pocket on his first drive, often waiting an extra beat before letting it fly. He did the same before deciding to abandon the pocket and eventually getting sacked. One play before the 52-yard completion above, he held onto the ball for far too long, resulting in another sack.

But as the game progressed and second teamers became third teamers, Kizer settled in as much as a rookie can in his first game. He's blessed with a howitzer, and when married with ample footwork and quick mental processing that only comes with on-field and film room experience, it can look a little like the long completion above. Even better, on fourth-and-2 with the game on the line and an eight-man blitz in his face, a fast-learning quarterback can look like this:

Barring a world-beating preseason from Kizer and a drastic change in approach by Hue Jackson, the quarterback will begin the season as an understudy to Osweiler, Kessler, or both. That won't be entirely Kizer's fault, but it's best for the rookie.

It's been covered plenty already: Cleveland will only have to pay Osweiler's exorbitant salary for this season. Osweiler was flat-out bad early, then rebounded with a nice drive that ended with the Browns failing to score inside New Orleans' 3-yard line. Play-by-play man Mike Patrick gushed over Osweiler's finish and was surprised to see he finished 6-of-14 passing for 42 yards. Frankly, it wasn't that surprising.

The Browns seem to know what they have in Kessler, who didn't get a ton of playing time on Thursday but was somewhat effective. The great unknown is Kizer.

Kessler should get the start next week (unless Jackson wants to double down on Osweiler with the ones), with Kizer again taking the majority of the second half. If the Browns are forward thinkers -- we believe they could be -- they'll wait until Week 4 of the preseason to give Kizer a start.

In the meantime, the Kizer jerseys will fly off the shelves (it's the way things work in Northeast Ohio), the hype will build and the stat line -- 11 for 18, 184 yards, one touchdown -- will be repeated over and over. While it was a great start, the rookie still has a ways to go to ascend to the throne.

A few other notes from Thursday's game:

  1. With Myles Garrett lining up opposite Jamie Collins, the Browns now have a force on each end of the line inside the box. It showed when Garrett stuffed a run early in the first quarter, and again when Collins trailed a crossing tight end on a play-action boot to limit the Saints' gain to one yard. Nate Orchard wreaked havoc off the edge with the second unit, giving the Browns some semblance of depth. Gregg Williams' effect is evident, too. Cleveland's defense simply plays nastier than in years past.
  1. The Browns still have problems up the middle though, as demonstrated by Alvin Kamara and Travaris Cadet ripping off chunks on runs between the tackles. Danny Shelton was double teamed right out of the A gap on a Cadet run, and Tank Carder had a tackle for a short gain evaporated by Kamara, who simply kept his legs going right through the linebacker. It's also not a good sign when this is happening:
  1. Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis might not make the squad as a wideout, but he'll be on a team somewhere. The speedy return man made a fantastic diving catch near the end zone in the third quarter, and it would have set up a touchdown, had Cleveland not stuffed New Orleans on the goal line.
  1. Chase Daniel is as reliable as they come at backup quarterback, and was typically effective in his short time on the field. Garrett Grayson was more up and down, and Ryan Nassib was even more volatile, though he did engineer a nice two-minute drive that stalled inside Cleveland's 25. New Orleans could survive (and potentially thrive) while being forced to turn to Daniel, but beyond that would be tough.
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