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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Bears @ Browns – Preseason Game 4 Preview

Chicago @ Cleveland Preseason Game #4 – Preview

Well the fourth and final preseason is finally here, this means the regular season is just around the corner!  Expect to see many rookies, younger veterans, and players who are on the verge of getting cut get ample playing time this game.  No matter how the contest shakes out, both of these teams will look completely different on opening day (September 9th).

Offense:  Brandon Weeden will not play in this game per Pat Shurmur’s press conference.  Fans will have to wait until the regular season to see a passing touchdown from him.  Colt McCoy will start instead – he has been the backup all three preseason games and will be the backup during the season (provided the team does not trade or release him).  He has played well this preseason and I expect this trend to continue Thursday.  Seneca Wallace will get some playing time as well; his future with the team is uncertain and will likely be dependent on what happens with McCoy.  He has played average this preseason and the team knows what to expect from the veteran in extended playing time.  Thaddeus Lewis has garnered praise from coach Pat Shurmur about being a good developmental quarterback, his ability to latch on with a team (whether it’s with the Browns or another franchise) could rely on his performance against the Bears.

The preseason battle between Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson for the backup running back role finalizes on Thursday evening; it will be interesting if Jackson starts the game this week.  Hardesty has started the previous three games, but the coaches may want to change things up.  At this point, the only thing that has separated the two is Hardesty losing the football a couple of times.  Expect to see a fair amount of Adonis Thomas and Chris Ogbonnaya, as one or both may not be on the final roster.  Thomas has doubled as a special teams member, which could be an added advantage.  Having a player likely Ogbonnaya (who was solid when forced into action, due to injuries, last season) be in trouble of losing his job proves that the Browns are finally acquiring depth and talent at the running back position.

It’s fair to say Josh Gordon, Travis Benjamin, Greg Little, and Mohammed Massaquoi will all get a plethora of playing time this season – provided they are healthy.  That leaves Josh Cribbs (who will be a special teams ace again), Josh Cooper, and Jordan Norwood as the players who will be fighting to become a wide receiver on the team.  All three have made plays this preseason and Norwood was serviceable in the latter part of the 2011 season.  I believe he is ahead of the others at this point, but the final decision by the Browns will come after this game.  The tight end position is log-jammed with several players looking to make the final roster.  Ben Watson has been injured all preseason, and I am not sure what the front office’s plans are for the veteran in 2012.  Evan Moore, Alex Smith, and Jordan Cameron have shown their abilities in the passing game, while Smith appears to be the best blocker.  Dan Gronkowski may be the odd man out, as he has been given fewer opportunities in the preseason games.

Entering the season, I anticipated the offensive line to be one of the team’s strengths – this was not the case last week.  Adjustments will be made and the unit does not have scouting reports in preseason so I’m not alarmed (right now).  Seeing who can fill in after injuries or ineffectiveness by starters should be the coaches’ objective during this game.  John Greco, Ryan Miller, and Garth Gerhart look to be in the rotation as the season approaches.  Mitchell Schwartz will be the starting right tackle to start the regular season, but could have his playing time reduced if he struggles and a reserve proves they can be just as capable.  Oneil Cousins has not distinguished himself this preseason and may be no longer with the team in a few days.

Defense:  The continual rotation of defensive linemen has given many opportunities for players to prove their worth.  The release of Marcus Benard, following his elbow injury in the Eagles game, will open up another roster spot for a player like William Green, Kiante Tripp, Ronnie Cameron, or newly acquired Ernest Owusu.  I feel more confident about this position group heading into the season than I was a few weeks ago – they continue to impress in one aspect or another.  Rookies Billy Winn and John Hughes have shown they can perform but will face many tests in the upcoming season.  Whether the team can stop the run is a large question for the Browns in 2012, hopefully opponents will no longer be able to get a lead and shorten the game (by running the ball effectively) en route to a victory.

I look forward to watching the linebackers get extended playing time in this game; even if it the schemes are simplified, the faster, stronger, better players will stand out.  The younger athletes must maintain their responsibilities in the passing game – whether in man-to-man or zone coverage.  Additionally, the ability to get off blocks and continue to hold opponents to shorter rushes will be scrutinized.  Rookie draft pick Emmanuel Acho has been placed on injured reserve and will not play in 2012.  Look for first year pro Craig Robertson to likely take his roster spot now.  Quinton Spears is another younger veteran who was pressed into playing time last season; he hopes to remain with the team following this game.

So far Joe Haden has been impressive during the preseason; his possible suspension means the secondary will have to play flawlessly (in his absence) to prevent a huge drop-off.  Opposing cornerback Sheldon Brown has not played exceptionally, but will continue to start until someone beats him out.  The only people giving him a run for his money, as well as potentially taking over for the injured Dimitri Patterson until he heals, are Trevin Wade and Buster Skrine.  The secondary appears to be another area of depth – which is a great thing with such a long season.  Watch to see if undrafted rookies Tashaun Gipson and Johnson Bademosi can stay with the team (much like James Dockery did last season) as they have been getting some playing time in the preseason.  I like the safety trio of Eric Hagg, T.J. Ward, and David Sims and am unsure of what the Browns will do with the recently injured and last year’s starter Usama Young.

Special Teams:  Phil Dawson and Reggie Hodges have their spots locked down; as long as they don’t develop the yips, I’m positive about them going into the season.  The special teams have to prove last week was a fluke in the poor punt coverage and protection – that has been my only concern with the group during the preseason.

Coaching:  One final game (hopefully) of boring play calling on both sides of the ball; with many of the Browns’ starters sitting out, things will be very simplified – even for the preseason.

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Review of Eagles @ Browns – Preseason Game 3

Review of Preseason Game #3 – Philadelphia @ Cleveland

Unfortunately, the new owner Jimmy Haslam was in the stadium (Dawg Pound, Press Box, etc.) for the overall poor performance by the Browns.  The good thing is that the game does not count, but the Browns have got to put this behind them and get a whole lot better before the rematch on September 9th.

Offense:  I liked seeing Brandon Weeden continue to take chances down the field throwing longer passes – he completed a majority of these.  There’s been a theme this preseason that he has come out and done well in the first series.  The quarterback was able to complete a few in tight spaces and move the ball; one thing that must improve upon is his sense of and reaction to pressure.  Weeden must protect the football when defenders are closing in on him; there have been a few fumbles lost which kill great drives.  No interceptions were thrown, however, and when incompletions occurred they were not off-target by a good amount.  I hope Brandon can work more with his receivers on timing routes, this game revealed they are not completely in sync at this point.  Once again, there were no touchdowns thrown by the starter – perhaps he is saving them for the regular season?  The backup Colt McCoy was status quo – he took sacks and ran too early and often when pressure came.  I feel these are his natural reactions; he gives up on plays as opposed to extending them and possibly finding an available option down the field.

I give Montario Hardesty some credit, he ran hard every time he touched the ball.  He did not have any long gains or “flashy” plays, but a couple of solid yards each time.  The fumbling issue has got to get resolved or Hardesty will not play; it’s as simple as that.  It doesn’t matter if the ball was hit by a defender’s helmet or was stripped, turnovers are not welcome.  The final depth chart could include a new backup behind Trent Richardson (who needs to play every game – without the starter, the Browns’ running back spot is average at best).  Brandon Jackson, seeking to become the primary backup, also ran with fire and made some catches in the backfield.  If he can continue to accomplish this task where Hardesty has had issues, Jackson will have another reason why he should see playing time in the regular season.  It was interesting to see Adonis Thomas play at the third running back spot (over Chris Ogbonnaya).  Is he really the next best running back or are the coaches evaluating him and his roster spot is not guaranteed?  This may be answered on Thursday against the Bears.  The ball carrier did show some speed against the Eagles, but who knows whether this may be enough when final cuts come down.

The wide receivers (the lone bright spot of the offense) did a great job getting open, and I see substantial improvement from their dismal 2011 season.  Mohammed Massaquoi and Josh Gordon continued to impress on longer receptions; I have faith they will make their mark in the fall.  Greg Little did not play well – his setback was evident, as he appeared to not be on the same page as Brandon Weeden.  I will give the second year veteran the benefit of the doubt as it is preseason, but Little has to maintain his focus all game long (like every receiver).  The position group dropped a few passes when defenders closed in, this cannot happen in the regular season if they expect to sustain drives and score points consistently.  Reserves Jordan Norwood and Evan Moore both put in solid efforts and made some plays.  They are fighting for their jobs and need to continue to stand out if they want to be cogs in this season’s offense.

The offensive line faced a huge test against the Eagles and failed miserably; there were missed assignments, penalties, and turnovers committed as a result of dreadful play.  Little mistakes can loom large and cause disaster for the Browns; these must be cleaned up ASAP.  The line lost the line of scrimmage battle and unfortunately the team’s passing offense is not good enough to overcome this disadvantage.  I was very disappointed in the unit’s play and hope they do not embarrass themselves this season – they have shown the ability to play well but simply did not.  Jason Pinkston, in particular, had a rough game with penalties and allowing defenders past him.  The Browns will face tough and fast defensive lines all season long, so the guys up front have got to work better as a whole, or the health of starters (like Weeden and Richardson) and could be in jeopardy.

Defense:  In spite of giving up a few touchdowns on short drives, I thought the defense had a decent-to-good outing.  They were put in a tough spot several times but continued to work hard against the Eagles.  The defensive line, I thought, held up well against the run and pass.  Billy Winn, Juqua Parker, and Brian Schaefering made some good stops of LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis, and Chris Polk while the Browns allowed only fifty-five yards on the ground.  Likewise, Jabaal Sheard and Emmanuel Stephens put constant pressure on Nick Foles as he dropped back to pass.  Overall, the unit played pretty well (despite not recording a sack) and I look for continued improvement, as the team gets healthy during the season.

Dump-offs (i.e. screen passes) were the Achilles’ heel of the defense as they gave up several longer gains on these plays.  In the first half, the linebacker corps were pretty much invisible – not a big play or bad mistake was made.  James Michael-Johnson, Craig Robertson, L.J. Fort all recorded a couple good tackles against the run in the second half.  Michael-Johnson did do a nice job in pass coverage in the second quarter.  Once again, no one in this unit stepped up and dominated, but perhaps blitzes and different play calling will allow a linebacker or two to force turnovers and cause havoc for opposing teams.  This is still a huge question mark for the defense, and I am curious to see how they play on a weekly basis.

The starting secondary also looked good for the most part; Joe Haden had a terrific interception and some nice tackles on screen passes.  Trevin Wade and Buster Skrine continued to get better and did not allow the Eagles’ receivers to make big plays at their expense.  I really like David Sims, I hope he makes the team and plays in dime (passing) packages; he had another interception, which was nullified by a terrible roughing the passer penalty.  He works hard and can be an asset on this team.  Sheldon Brown was the only player in this group that did not play well – he was beat deep on one play and almost gave up a long touchdown (but the receiver was ruled out of bounds).  The veteran will likely be picked on during the regular season, and I hope he was just going through the motions and will be going all-out when the games matter.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Eagles @ Browns – Preseason Game 3 Preview

Preseason Game #3 – Philadelphia @ Cleveland – Preview

As the preseason rolls along, the ever-important third game arrives for the Browns.  As expected, this game will be handled much like the second game with the starters playing the first half.  If they can get a repeat performance like the one in Green Bay, than it will be safe to say the team is heading in the right direction as the season nears.

Offense:  Moving the ball and keeping from turnovers and sacks should be the main priority for Brandon Weeden.  He was successful in this department the previous week, but he is due to throw a touchdown – this would definitely help his confidence (and development) as he has not been able to do this in the preseason.  Fans should continue to expect completions of shorter passes – I also hope Weeden takes a couple of shots down the field.  Both backups will get a decent amount of time on the field as well; per Shurmur the backup job will not be announced until the week of the first regular season game.  The final preseason game against Chicago will be the final hurdle for McCoy, Wallace, and Lewis to determine the pecking order (assuming all remain on the roster).

As hoped, the Browns were able to score a rushing touchdown last week, consistency now is key for this position group.  Hardesty and Jackson must continue to fight for those extra yards – this is their last major chance to prove their worth to the coaching staff.  Also important, the team cannot afford any injuries to any of these guys (especially with Richardson still not 100%) – this will be very positive if the Browns can escape this game unscathed.  Cuts will begin a few days after this contest – Chris Ogbonnaya and Adonis Thomas appear to be on the bubble at this point.  One or both may not be on the team next week, so it will be interesting to see what kind of situations the coaching staff puts these players in.

As Greg Little made a good jump from preseason games one and two, I look forward to Josh Gordon replicating this from preseason games two and three.  Eliminating his drops and proper route running (i.e. attacking the football in the air) are his two main corrections of his current flaws – I hope several plays are called for him to see if adjustments are made.  Also, will Travis Benjamin, Mohammed Massaquoi, and Carlton Mitchell return from their injuries?  The first two will likely see playing time this season, but Mitchell may not be with the Browns much longer.  We know the play calling will be simplified, therefore we will not see elaborate routes run by the receivers.  It will come down to Browns receivers against Eagles defensive backs – I look forward to this challenge to see how the athletes respond.

The Browns’ offensive line, for the most part, has been rather boring – which is a great thing.  There are no alarming issues and rookie Mitchell Schwartz continues to gel with the four incumbent starters.  Jason Babin and Trent Cole will give the right tackle some difficult competition and challenges every play.  Once again, I do not envision blitzes coming the Browns way so I hope the offensive line can keep the quarterbacks from being sacked during the Eagles’ pass rush.  As far as tight ends go, Jordan Cameron’s return should give the offense an extra weapon this game.  With Ben Watson being injured and Evan Moore and Alex Smith not impressing coaches and fans (as of late), how this position shakes out when the roster cuts loom is rather unpredictable.

Defense:  The Browns will face a top ten running back for the first time this year in LeSean McCoy.  It will be a great test to see if last week was a fluke when the Browns shut down the running attack of the Packers.  The Eagles will probably not want to not risk an injury to McCoy however; so they will reduce his number of carries, but as long as he does not have a long gain or two the defense will have done its job.  Dion Lewis and Bryce Brown will more than likely get a fair amount of carries – the Browns defensive line will have a challenge to contain these athletes.  With the uncertain status of Frostee Rucker, Juqua Parker, and Aythba Rubin, the younger players will get additional playing time which will help them out, as well as provide the coaches more evaluation opportunity when finalizing the fifty-three man roster.

D’Qwell Jackson finally returned to practice this week and may play in this game on Friday.  It will be great to see him back on the field but I do not expect the starter to be in for very long.  James Michael-Johnson, L.J. Fort, and Craig Robertson will join Jackson and Kaluka Maiava early on in the contest.  Again, this position group has been solid – not exceptional but not terrible – and if they can eliminate any disasters, they can be viewed as a bright spot.  A few things that I would like from this group are hard hits and possibly a forced fumble.  The Browns have created several turnovers this preseason, but they came mainly from the secondary.  If the linebackers can join in, then the defense can improve from just being a “bend but don’t break” unit.

The various injuries to Michael Vick and backup Mike Kafka means the Eagles will likely employ rookie Nick Foles for majority of the game.  The Browns’ secondary should force the signal caller into difficult situations leading to mistakes and putting his team at a disadvantage.  Philadelphia still has a very strong wide receiver corps so their passing attack should still be solid.  Depending on Dimitri Patterson’s health, the younger, more unproven guys (Skrine, Dockery, and Wade) will get another great opportunity heading into the season.  David Sims has surprised many people with his play and I hope it continues on Friday.

Special Teams:  The release of kick Jeff Wolfert was no surprise, as Phil Dawson is the man at this position.  Other than that, there is no big news for special teams – expect to see the Browns continued rotation of several different kick and punt returners in this game.  These players will not be replacing Josh Cribbs during the season but they could be nice backups or fill-ins if health issues arise.

Coaching:  Pat Shurmur said that although the team will utilize a simplified game plan (in terms of calling the plays), the Browns would continue to “work on a few things”.  Last week included several shorter passes and heavy use of the running attack – will this week be more of the same?  Will they use more vertical routes with receivers and tight ends?  We will find out in a couple of days.

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Review of Browns @ Packers – Preseason Game 2

Review of Preseason Game #2 – Cleveland @ Green Bay

The Browns came away with a dominant 35-10 victory over the Packers – most of their points were scored in the second half, but there were several positives to take away from the game as a whole.

Offense:  Brandon Weeden, in my opinion, put together a performance that can win some games in the NFL.  He did not throw a touchdown, but lead several scoring drives (including a rushing touchdown); most importantly he did not turn the football over.  If he can move the team down the field and keep the defense from being put into tough situations, the Browns’ chance for success will improve greatly.  I noticed he had several shorter pass attempts – a product of the West Coast Offense.  My confidence in Weeden’s ability to complete these has risen from last week; I just worry about the screen pass (which has almost been intercepted a few times this preseason).  The backups played solid as well, I hope both continue to develop where there is not too much of a drop-off should they be forced into action this season.

Montario Hardesty’s fumble could have caused calamity the entire night for the Browns.  Giving the ball to the opponent on the first play leading to a touchdown is very deflating to a young team playing on the road.  Fortunately, the team was able to rally (mostly behind Hardesty) and get the victory.  Should an early mistake occur in the regular season, fans would hopefully not have to worry.  I could not say that over the past few years – this is team growth at its finest.  Both Hardesty and Brandon Jackson had good games and got into the end zone.  When Richardson returns, I expect his backup to get around ten carries or so, almost what both got in Green Bay.  Hardesty was a little more productive but had the turnover.  Next week against the Eagles could possibly be Jackson’s last opportunity to become the main backup, but as of now I believe the team values Hardesty as the guy who can spell Richardson or even start during the season.

I thought Greg Little had a nice bounce back game from the preseason opener, his catch and run to the one yard line was pretty impressive (considering the pass was a touch behind him).  I have high hopes he will be the number one target for Weeden this season.  Josh Gordon had a few good receptions but must continue to work on his route running and has to eliminate his drops.  I know he is a work in progress but he can be a key contributor to this offense in 2012; I hope he can correct his errors during the preseason so he can hit the ground running September 9th.  I really liked Jordan Norwood’s performance, he had a couple of good receptions with the second string players.  Without Benjamin and Massaquoi playing, the wide receiver unit made some plays for the offense.  If opponents have to use help in coverage (i.e. safeties) this season, the Browns will finally be able to open up their play calling, and fans may see an exciting offense.

The offensive line opened up some nice holes for the Browns’ running game, no matter who was in the backfield.  Likewise, none of the quarterbacks were sacked during the entire game.  Mitchell Schwartz improved greatly from week one; some of this could be working through growing pains or simply facing a defensive line not as stout as the Lions.  Nonetheless I will continue to see how he progresses next Friday; the offensive line has a potential to be great this year.  Backup Oniel Cousins had a tough game with penalties and missed assignments – his fate could be determined in the next few days.  The remaining backups were serviceable as well and hopefully depth is being built for the regular season.

Defense:  Finally, the Browns’ defense was able to prevent their opponent from running all over them.  Whether it was by design, or the Browns were forcing Green Bay to pass, the Packers had only sixty-nine yards rushing as a team.  Winning the point of attack (upfront) consistently will be key for the Browns defensive success.  Defensive line members Brian Schaefering, Marcus Benard, Billy Winn, and John Hughes played pretty well and held their own against the Packers’ offensive line.  Emmanuel Stephens showed great speed running downfield during his fumble recovery.  I really like the depth with this position group, as starters Aythba Rubin and Frostee Rucker, as well as part-time starter Juqua Parker, did not see any snaps during the game.

The younger players in the linebacker corps stepped up – LJ Fort, Craig Robertson, and James Michael-Johnson did not appear to be overwhelmed or out of position when in the game.  Entering the season, I had questions regarding this position group and considered it a major weakness for the team.  After Chris Gocong’s injury, my fears continued to grow.  However, with Fujita and Jackson not playing, it’s safe to say the Browns’ linebackers were not noticeable for the wrong reasons.  It will be interesting to see them play when offenses use all of their playbook and run crossing routes and force these athletes to make plays.

The first series for the secondary was not a good one for Joe Haden; he gave up a touchdown to Jordy Nelson on an amazing catch and throw.  However, following that the secondary limited the Packers to smaller gains through the air.  Sheldon Brown had a great strip in the first quarter and continues to look excellent in preseason action.  For the second time in two games David Sims had an interception; this could potentially help his chances making the roster when cuts are made.  James Dockery and Trevin Wade had a few tackles each and were there in coverage – they will likely be called upon during the season.  After a tough showing in Detroit, Buster Skrine had a better outing with a pass deflection.  The improvement is there for this group and I hope it continues when facing very talented teams like the Eagles.

Special Teams:  The kicking and punting units continue to be solid; Reggie Hodges and Phil Dawson are doing terrific jobs at this point in the season.  Adonis Thomas and Josh Cooper both had a nice kickoff returns, they are both fighting for roster spots and exceling at special teams could give them an advantage over others.

Coaching:  For the most part, I have no complaints with the play calling during the game.  The offense stuck to the West Coast Offense approach and the defense was rather vanilla in schemes and coverage.  I cannot wait to see what these younger linebackers and secondary players can do when given blitz and rush assignments, but that will have to wait a few weeks.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Browns @ Packers – Preseason Game 2 Preview

Preseason Game #2 – Cleveland @ Green Bay – Preview

Well, after a short week and several injuries, the Browns head north to battle the Packers.  The fact that their third preseason game is against the Eagles (whom is also their first regular season opponent), I expect this contest to include the starters playing longer than one would normally expect.  Therefore, this will be more of a realistic test for the team heading into the 2012 season.

Offense:  Brandon Weeden has now played in an NFL (preseason) game against a solid team; he will face another stiff test against one of the best franchises in the league.  He finished off his first contest with an interception and was unable to redeem himself afterwards.  I cannot wait to see how Weeden responds, I believe he is strong mentally and previous week’s performance (whether it’s good or bad) will not carry over.  He will possibly make another mistake in this game, but I hope he continues to limit these quickly.  As far as the backups go, I envision Colt McCoy going all out when he enters the game.  He is looking to beat out Seneca Wallace and Thaddeus Lewis and make it hard on the Browns to keep him on the bench.  Should he get traded, McCoy can use this opportunity as an audition for a starting job on his potential new team.  His progressions in the passing game and looking to throw more downfield will continue to help his cause (assuming he can complete these at a respectable rate).

This game may give one running back an advantage when deciding who will complement Trent Richardson in the regular season.  Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson will go first and second respectively in the game to make his mark.  I hope someone (either of the aforementioned players or Chris Ogbonnaya) can hit a long gain or two and put at least a little fear in the Packers’ defense.  Catching short passes and running downfield will be a staple of this offense, so I hope one of the backs (especially Hardesty) can step up in this department.  A rushing touchdown in the game would be nice, since the team had only four last season.  Finally, with the five and seven step drops Weeden will use on his passes, the blocking aspect must be important when evaluating the running backs.

The apparent (and disputed) concussion of Mohammed Massaquoi and injury to Travis Benjamin, whom both may not play much or at all on Thursday, opens the door for a couple other wide receivers to get noticed as viable options.  Josh Gordon and Greg Little must step up and get on the stat sheet – even if it’s a preseason game.  I hope to see what Jordan Norwood and Josh Cooper can do against first teamers, as they have an outside shot of getting playing time this year.  Also, Josh Cribbs may lineup at wide receiver in this game – he has been average historically at this position but he may have improved a few things this offseason.

Simple blocking schemes should once again be expected by the Browns’ offensive line – these players will likely go unnoticed provided they are playing adequately.  Unlike in Detroit, I look forward to the quarterbacks remaining upright and having time to read the defense and throw.  Shurmur stated he did not like mixing the starters with the backups, so Mitchell Schwartz will be the only rookie to go against the Packers’ first team.  Improvement is vital here, as he did not have a good opening game and he could be in a position battle for starting right tackle if his struggles continue.  For all starters and backups, avoiding false starts and holding penalties are very crucial as coaches consider these when making personnel decisions.

Defense:  The recent acquisition of Cedric Benson will likely cause the Packers to give their new running back several carries to find out if he’s worthy of playing time down the road.  This will be another opportunity for the Browns’ front four to make an impact on the game.  This unit badly needs to come together, regardless of who is playing, and not allow the opponent to run at will.  Additionally, I’d like to see Jabaal Sheard and other defenders get by the Packers’ offensive line on a few occasions.  Granted, Aaron Rogers knows what to do when facing pressure, but it would at least be comforting to Browns’ fans.

The linebacker race is still pretty wide open, and it’s obvious they need playmakers (outside of D’Qwell Jackson).  The coverage skills of these athletes could be tested often as Green Bay has several talented offensive weapons who can find openings in the middle of the field.  This unit was one of the weaker areas of the defense last season, but this is where the younger (and faster) players can hopefully improve the team.  I am optimistic that the game will begin to slow down for James Michael-Johnson – he will be relied upon this year to strengthen the position group.  It will be interesting to see if training camp standout (and undrafted rookie) L.J. Fort gets a chance to work at linebacker during the game, and more importantly how he fares.

During the preseason, the largest test the secondary will face will be against the Packers.  I expect this group for the Browns to struggle but hopefully gain some experience and possibly confidence.  I hope Trevin Wade (rookie 7th round selection) starts the game in nickel coverage packages.  He will likely be covering a solid option for the Packers, and it will be a great trial by fire to see how far he’s come since being drafted.  Additionally, second year player James Dockery played well in the opener, and giving him a chance against solid competition should help his development.  This is time for the Browns to build depth and gauge expectations when starters are not in regular season games, for one reason or another.

Special Teams:  As long as the team has reliable coverage and does not give up a large return or two, I will be content with this aspect of the team.  The punting and kicking units should be fine once again.  Will Jordan Norwood, Travis Benjamin, and anyone else make a big play in the return game?  That is pretty much the only area to keep an eye on (at this point) when discussing the special teams.

Coaching:  It’s extremely hard to criticize the coaching staff for play calling in the preseason, as most teams use the exhibitions as tests for different scenarios and what the team can accomplish as opposed to defeating an opponent.  That being said, pass-heavy play calling will be likely with Trent Richardson out and Weeden needing experience.  I hope Dick Jauron incorporates some plays where the defense forces the action more; not all-out blitzes but having defenders working on their techniques to get into the backfield early.

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Review of Browns @ Lions – Preseason Game 1

Preseason Game #1 – Cleveland @ Detroit – Review

After watching the Browns snatch a 19-17 victory in the Great Lakes Classic, let’s take a look at what happened.  Among the several penalties (which was embarrassing – but not a huge surprise considering this is a very young roster), there were many areas that have got to get better before September 9th.  There were a few bright spots as well – I look forward to the team to continue to get a feel of the game while hopefully gelling as a whole.

Offense:  One thing that stood out to me immediately is Brandon Weeden’s continued ability to throw the ball deep with ease.  He was, for the most part, able to hit receivers for moderate to large gains.  I also liked him throwing incompletions when there was no place to fit the football.  While facing pressure, he avoided taking sacks, which were drive killers in 2011.  However, he did make some rookie mistakes as well – his fumble came from not being able to feel the pressure from the defense.  Weeden also threw an interception and had another one dropped – here the defenders made terrific jumps on the routes.  I wish Greg Little would have fought for the ball on the interception but I understand that it’s preseason.  I expect Weeden will learn about feeling/anticipating pressure from opponent’s pass rush and corners disguising coverage while making the necessary adjustments.

Colt McCoy generally “lived to see another day” on most plays – there were the expected dump offs and runs.  He did not impress enough to fuel a quarterback debate (thankfully), but maybe we saw some growth.  I liked the few times where he stepped up in the pocket and fired the ball downfield, i.e. the ball to Cameron.  If he’s going to have any chance to see playing time this season, he needs to take more chances than he did last year.  He must also find better ways to avoid taking sacks from defenders.

The running game was adequate, but I didn’t expect to see explosive plays without Richardson playing.  Montario Hardesty had a few short runs; perhaps he can come in for spot duty when the Browns need a couple of yards.  Unfortunately, he also displayed his chronic problem with catching passes – I don’t expect too many screen passes his way in 2012.  Brandon Jackson made a few nice plays running and catching, but he will likely have to outperform Hardesty by a good margin in order to some playing time in the regular season.  I would like to see him get the start in either of the next two preseason games to see how he performs against the first team.

A few receivers – mainly Travis Benjamin, Jordan Cameron, and Josh Cooper – were able to have a couple of receptions and gain yardage.  With improved quarterback play, expect this position group to make a much larger impact on the game.  I was a disappointed with Josh Gordon and Greg Little’s (zero combined catches) performances, but I cannot wait to see how they respond at Lambeau Field.

The offensive line allowed a fair amount of pressure against the Lions front four.  This is one of the strongest units in the NFL, but the Browns must improve here in the coming weeks if they want to give the offense a chance to be successful.  Mitchell Schwartz was a part of the problem on Weeden’s fumble, but I’m not too concerned with the right tackle at this point.

Defense:  Well, the run defense picked up where it left off in 2011 – not good.  Kevin Smith and Stefan Logan seemed to run easily through Cleveland’s front seven a few times.  I’m hoping Aythba Rubin’s absence was a factor, but this could be another long season if these trends continue for this area of the team.  As the game wore on, the Lions rushing yards per attempt decreased, but the Browns were far from dominant in shutting the other team down.  The Browns may have to rely heavily on forcing turnovers to stop opponents – the Sheldon Brown interception was very large on the second defensive series.  To the team’s credit, their situational defense (where the offense is somewhat predictable – i.e. a run on 2nd and 10 and pass on 3rd and 7, etc.) was somewhat solid.  Overall, there is much room for improvement, but fans can take solace here.

The lack of a pass rush all game long for the Cleveland Browns was frustrating for their fans.  Whether it was by design or not, the defenders were not able to make it hard on Lions quarterbacks.  Even if simple rushing schemes were called, the front four should have had more of a push (at least a few times) against the Lions offensive line.

Along the lines of underwhelming was the  linebackers, who did not stand out (in a positive way).  The team lacked a sack, hard hit, or any big play from the group.  James Michael-Johnson seemed to be out of position a few times – I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, being a rookie, and look for him to continue to pick up the game speed.  When D’Qwell Jackson returns, hopefully it will give this group some life, but for now this appears as a weak unit when referring to both veterans and rookies.

Joe Haden had a nice pass breakup and Sheldon Brown had an interception; overall the secondary had a decent to good game.  Calvin Johnson had a few large gains, but that is to be expected as he one of the best receivers in the league.  With Haden possibly being suspended and Dimitri Patterson getting injured, Buster Skrine did not help himself in Detroit.  Trevin Wade and James Dockery played well and may have an opportunity to move up the depth chart while other starters (may) miss time.

 Special Teams:  There was nothing exceptional in this department, however there’s nothing to get concerned about either.  Reggie Hodges (after missing the entire 2011 season with an Achilles tendon injury) had a solid night punting and Phil Dawson was status quo on field goals and kickoffs.  In the return game, Jordan Norwood had a few nice returns – hopefully he can continue to get opportunities and possibly spell Josh Cribbs should he continue to progress.

Coaching:  There was not much to see here either (as expected) – no flashy plays called on offense and no blitz packages on the defense.  One positive thing I took away was the fire that came from Pat Shurmur when debating a call with the official.  Many of his critics state he is too quiet and soft spoken, which wasn’t the case here.

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Browns @ Lions – Preseason Game 1 Preview

Preseason Game #1 – Cleveland @ Detroit – Preview

I cannot believe the 2012 season is finally here!  Granted the wins and losses do not count for another month, but it’s finally time once again for some gridiron action.

(During the season I will break down before and after what should/could possibly happen vs. what actually occurred for the 2012 Cleveland Browns.  I will break down each game based on four areas – Offense, Defense, Special Teams, and Coaching as well providing a prediction beginning in the regular season.)

The Great Lakes Classic (aka GLC) at Ford Field pits the Cleveland Browns against the Detroit Lions.  Let’s take a look at what fans should anticipate from Cleveland’s perspective.

Offense:  Well, it starts and ends at the quarterback position.  Since it is preseason game one, I envision all four quarterbacks on the roster getting playing time.  None will have tremendous numbers overall but I hope to see a few things during the game.  I’ve been hearing all spring and summer long about the arm of starter Brandon Weeden.  Against the Lions, I look forward to a couple fifteen-yard ins, twenty yard out routes, and even a fade or two.  More importantly, are the passes on the money and do they take little effort to complete?  I just look for promise in Weeden in 2012 – it begins in game one.

As for the remaining backups, I expect Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace, and Thaddeus Lewis to play consistent with their capabilities.  None will set the world on fire, but can they limit their mistakes?  Will McCoy continue to check down or will he try to force a throw downfield?  Will Lewis pull out all the stops to try and earn a roster spot?

Trent Richardson will be the focal point of the running game; I cannot wait to see his cutting ability, speed to outrun defenders, and even his skill at blocking defenders.  The only problem is he may play only a couple of series (if at all), so we will not see much of him.  The other thing to watch in the game is who jumps out to an early lead for backup duties.  Brandon Jackson (who was injured last season), Montario Hardesty (who has been injured the past two years), and Chris Ogbonnaya (a free agent pickup in 2011) will face their first “live” test.  Granted they will likely not go against Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, or Kyle Vandenbosch, but they still must prove they can perform when given an opportunity.  I would like to believe Hardesty comes out as the second-string back, as he was a second round pick a few years ago, but he’s got a ways to go to sew that up.

The disappointment in the Cleveland Browns’ wide receiver corps in 2011 and the potential in 2012 makes the group a focal point in the preseason.  Greg Little, Mohammed Massaquoi, and newly acquired Josh Gordon (with possibly Travis Benjamin getting looks in four or five receiver sets) will likely be on the field the first couple of series with the starters.  When evaluating these members – besides catching the ball and picking up yards, one word will be very important:  separation.  Can these athletes get a clean release off the line and have room to catch the football?  Also, can an under-the-radar player (like a Josh Cooper, Carlton Mitchell or to a lesser extent Jordan Norwood) impress coaches and fans and earn an opportunity to start in the next preseason game?  I look forward to a more vertical offense this season, but the offense will take time and mistakes must be curbed sooner rather than later.

I have faith (and why not) that Joe Thomas and Alex Mack will have, at worst-case, solid performances in the 2012 season.  I look to see if guards Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao continue to develop – will they open holes on running plays and not allow defenders to provide a rush during passing plays?  Mitchell Schwartz was the Browns’ second round pick and is expected to start in the regular season opener; many will track how he plays and if there are potential struggles.  I anticipate to finally see a solid unit on the field, with likely mental errors coming from backups and rookies later on in the game.  Jordan Cameron’s name has come up several times as very improved at the TE position; I believe given the opportunity he can be another weapon for the offense – especially in the red zone.  He must earn that job by being able to block, which has been his recent critique.

Defense:  It may become apparent fairly soon on whether the Browns have improved on their 30th ranked (in terms of yards allowed) rushing defense from last season; will the rookies and young veterans provide a wall that makes it at least difficult for opponents to run through?  I don’t expect John Hughes and Billy Winn to dominate the line of scrimmage, but if they don’t seem lost (i.e. out of position to make a play) and can be somewhat disruptive, they could appease some fans’ fears for the upcoming season.  Look to see whether they can beat their man off the ball and give the team another threat to sack the quarterback.  Do not discount Scott Paxon, Brian Shaffering, and Marcus Benard, who are also fighting for playing time while Phil Taylor and Aythba Rubin fully recover from their injuries.

James Michael-Johnson and Emmanuel Acho are two rookie linebackers have their work cut out for them.  As members of the highly instinctual and fast moving position group, these guys could get lost not being accustomed to the speed of the NFL.  Although they may struggle initially, look to see improvements and who can pick up the pro game quickly.  Kaluka Maiava and Michael-Johnson will likely get the first crack at replacing Scott Fujita (during his suspension – and possibly after that) and Chris Gocong.  This is their first chance to stand out from the others.  The defense is looking for another leader like D’Qwell Jackson – Maiava could provide that, especially since the team lost Gocong for the season.  I feel he will have to improve greatly from his 2011 performance in order to accomplish this however.

The coverage by the secondary will likely either be basic zone or man-to-man; Browns fans will not be able to see how the corners perform in more complex schemes (like bump and run coverage) until the regular season or in training camp.  Dimitri Patterson will likely be the favorite for the starting cornerback spot opposite Joe Haden, provided he outperforms incumbent Sheldon Brown – I do not expect Patterson to be shut down in the preseason but at least not allow big plays.  On the first depth chart, Usama Young  was listed as a strong safety as opposed to free safety.  How will he respond and will he be able to compete with T.J. Ward for playing time?  Buster Skrine and Trevin Wade will play later in the game on defense and can also garner notice via special teams earlier on.

Special Teams:  This aspect of the game will not be as important (in terms of potentially deciding the final outcome) as it will be in the regular season.  What players and fans can envision is improvement in the units as a whole – the rookies and younger veterans should improve upon the poorer areas from last season.  Covering kicks/punts, getting down the field quickly, and making plays are aspects where the team must get better immediately.  As long as the special teams do not give up a return for a touchdown and do not turn the ball over, there is little reason to be concerned this early in the season.

Coaching:  I expect play calling on both sides of the ball to be extremely vanilla; all NFL teams do not want to show much of their arsenal when it comes to strategies and capabilities.  Therefore, there’s not much in this area to zone in on, unless something goes tragically wrong.  In terms of firing players up, this will be the first time to witness new coaches like Tim Hauck, Brad Childress, and Nolan Cromwell on the sidelines.  Will they be upgrades from the former staff when getting the most from players?  Preseason game one could possibly give us an answer.

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2012 in NFL Season