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.