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.