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.