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.