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.