The Cleveland Browns' 35-10 victory over the Green Bay Packers was another step in the right direction for the Browns. It wasn't because they blew out the Packers in the preseason -- obviously, in normal circumstances, Aaron Rodgers alone changes everything if he were to play the whole game. What you like to see are the individual players who are executing well, particularly on the defensive side of the ball despite many injuries. My complete game review of the Browns vs. Packers game is after the jump.
|CLEVELAND BROWNS (2-0)||GAME #2||
GREEN BAY PACKERS (0-2)
PRESEASON GAME 2 - CLEVELAND BROWNS VS. GREEN BAY PACKERS (COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)
- Awarding the Game Ball: K Phil Dawson - Usually, I would prefer not giving the kicker a game ball in a blowout preseason game, but the effect that Dawson had on this game was big. On the team's first drive, he made sure the Browns didn't come away empty-handed. He drilled a 43-yard field goal, but after a holding call, Dawson had to re-try from 53 yards. He nailed it again. On the team's next drive, the Browns did not get a first down, but he still hit a 47-yard field goal.
When the Browns scored their first touchdown, Dawson had to kick an extra point 15 yards further away than usual due to a penalty. To close out the team's first two-minute drill, Dawson connected on a 52-yard field goal. He finally missed on a 56-yarder just before the half, but he had already done more than enough. I am a firm believe in a team having confidence. Even though Brandon Weeden did not have a ton of yards on some of his drives, the fact that Dawson prevented them from ending in a turnover on downs just has to make the players, the coaches, and the fans a little more relieved.
- Goat of the Game: OT Oniel Cousins - I don't know if I've ever seen a guy contain the rush on the outside of the field goal unit than Cousins did. He had one Dawson field goal called back due to a hold, and then he had a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty called on him after an extra point. To make matters worse, for him being the veteran lineman when the second stringers come in, he has performed rather poorly at left tackle. I still think he'll make the team since he's more fit to be a right tackle, but it almost seems like the team could find a better player off the street.
- Rough Start for Hardesty: As soon as that it was raining in Green Bay, I was a little worried. This is a Browns team that has played atrocious in the rain over the past several seasons, whether it be in the preseason or in the regular season. Part of that has had to do with fumbles by Peyton Hillis. When I saw Montario Hardesty fumble the ball on the first play from scrimmage, I thought, "here we go again." Remember, Pat Shumur opted to move practice indoors earlier in the practice week when it was raining a little bit in Berea. Fortunately, the rain did not seem to play much of a factor the rest of the game.
- Good Defense, Better Offense: On the first pass of the game by the Packers, one might think that CB Joe Haden was beat by WR Jordy Nelson. Instead, as rufio astutely pointed out in the post-game thread, it seems like it could have been a cover-two defense, with S T.J. Ward being more responsible for getting to Nelson. On third down, QB Aaron Rodgers went back to the same play, and this time Haden was right there with near perfect coverage. Nelson made a heck of a catch despite the fact that Haden had his arm in the way. It's a case where good defense was beaten by better offense. Something has to give sometimes, and the Packers were the beneficiary on that one.
- Assessing Weeden: I don't know if I'd say Brandon Weeden made vast improvements in his second game. Instead, we got to see him make a lot more throws, and when that happens, you can evaluate him a little bit better. He throws an accurate ball and seems to be putting it right on his receivers. Ideally, you think that would help the receivers, but then you see Josh Gordon and Greg Little each drop a bass right in their breadbasket. We've really only seen Weeden take a shot deep down the field once, and that was last week against the Lions to Travis Benjamin.
Now for the downsides. First, whenever he takes one step backward, the play is over. The guy is not going to be evading pass rushers via the run, so I'd like to see him try to step up a little more to either let the defender blow right by him, or just go down (like Peyton Manning used to) and take the short loss. Also, there seem to be some issues on screen passes right now, even if that isn't Weeden's fault.
- Everything Wrong About the Screen: During the two training camp sessions I've been to this year, I thought the screen game worked well, particularly in the first one where Trent Richardson was involved. It has not well against the first- and second-teamers over the first two preseason games, though. The Browns tried to run a screen pass to Montario Hardesty in the first quarter, but everything went wrong with the play.
First, the play was killed as soon as Shawn Lauvao was blown backward by his defender at the snap. Lauvao was spun backward and right into Hardesty, the only intended target on the play. Timing is key on this play, and there really aren't any other viable options Brandon Weeden is supposed to look at. Then, Lauvao falls to the ground on his knees, right behind Hardesty. At this point, Weeden is backpedaling and about five guys are just hovered around Hardesty. Then, the guy Mitchell Schwartz is blocking gets by him, which I don't think was by design since Schwartz didn't seem to be part of the downfield action.
That's when Weeden makes the dumb play of still trying to force the ball into his running back. Not only is the pass rocketed to the left of Hardesty in an attempt to salvage the play, it's almost picked off by a charging defender. Weeden will learn, hopefully, when to just throw those ones at the feet of his running back and live to fight another down.
- Redemption for Ventrone: I wanted to see S Ray Ventrone make up for being last week's goat of the game, and he rallied back against the Packers with a good effort on special teams. That included one tackle on special teams, and coverage on a punt by Reggie Hodges in which Ventrone downed the ball at the one-yard line. Like him or not, the guy is consistently one of the first guys down the field after punts. In a weird sort of way, I think the long hair gives him an extra 'edge' this year.
- Hard Hitting for Ward: I feel like I am seeing a rejuvenated T.J. Ward at safety this preseason. The jury is still out on him for his pass coverage, but he has delivered a few (legal) hard hits this preseason, including one against the Packers on their second drive of the game. Off of playaction, Eric Hagg had a guy stood up after a gain of 9.5 yards, but then Ward came over and leveled him to the ground. When players like Ahtyba Rubin and D'Qwell Jackson are ready during the regular season, Ward will be a big asset against the run. Ward also came on a nice surprise blitz later in the drive to flush Aaron Rodgers outside the pocket, leading to an incomplete pass.
- Strip for Brown: The Packers went to work on CB Sheldon Brown during their second offensive drive of the game, throwing his direction three times when he had soft coverage on the receiver. On the third time, though, Brown stripped WR Randall Cobb of the ball, and DE Emmanuel Stephens had hustled over in the vicinity to capitalize on the recovery and set Cleveland up with great field position. Brown has been off his receivers the first two games, but he's already created two turnovers.
- Hating on Gordon: I'll continue to keep rooting for Josh Gordon to get better, but based on his play in practice and the first two preseason games, I remain firm with my opinion that he should not be in the starting lineup (or in the top three). He is clearly having issues running comeback routes or catching the most routine passes.
If I am the coaching staff, I would try to find a few plays that play more to his strengths early on in the season. I don't know if that means sending him down the field on fly patterns, having him try to find a soft spot in zone coverage, or the quick slant. They need to find a niche for the guy, and the comeback route isn't it. If Cleveland wants to have someone run a comeback route, Joshua Cribbs did a fine job on those plays a year ago.
- Officials Continue to Change the Game: Even though I think the officiating crew for the Browns vs. Packers game was better than the one from the Browns vs. Lions game, there were still some major issues. For example: Near the end of the first quarter, DE Juqua Parker jumps offsides on a third down play, before the snap. The right tackle jumps along with Parker. Then, the ball is snapped, and Aaron Rodgers scampers up the sideline for a 21 yard gain. The regular officials would have blown the play dead as soon as the right tackle moved. Sure, it still would've given the Packers a first down, but 5 yards vs. 21 yards is a pretty steep difference. The worst part is that these incidents are not isolated. If I wanted to nitpick an entire game, I could find a lot of similar things going wrong.
- Hardesty -- Nice and Quick: Not including his fumble, I thought it was another good game for Montario Hardesty. He's always moving forward for positive yardage, but we're seeing a lot more shiftiness from him this year. Either that, or the holes being created by the offensive line are just more improved. It's probably a combination of both, which makes the thought of having Trent Richardson in the lineup that much more exciting. Not that he had an issue in this game, but Hardesty's hands still remain my concern with him.
- Just an Extra Body: I hate to seem like I'm being extra hard on FB Owen Marecic, but there are too many plays when I focus on him and leave with the impression that he was really just an extra body out on the field. He's supposed to be a very physical guy, but I'm still waiting to see some of that in his play. Instead, I see a lot of guys getting by him or Marecic standing off to the side. Even on a punt return, it seemed like it was partially responsible for Joshua Cribbs' return not being able to go anywhere. He also couldn't hang on to a pass by Weeden. I'd love for this guy to be a smash-mouth fullback, but there's nothing distinguishable about him on the field.
- Wade Still Shining Bright: In his first action with the first-team defense at cornerback, Trevin Wade continued his stellar camp. I was worried to see him being carted away mysteriously later in the game, but he practiced the next day and was fine. It is going to be tough to sit this guy on the bench -- when Dimitri Patterson comes back, he will be fifth on the depth chart. Fifth, after how well he has been doing. Wade finished with two tackles and a pass defended.
- Defensive MVP: Besides Wade, the other rookie defender who I really like is OLB Craig Robertson. I really like his instincts against the run and pass, his ability to tackle, his hands, and his aggressiveness on special teams. I know James-Michael Johnson isn't known to be a playmaking machine, but I think the coaches should seriously consider letting Robertson start for the first three games of the regular season, especially if he continues playing as well as he has been. Robertson had a pick six called back after DE Brian Sanford had lined up in the neutral zone.
- Special Teams Tackles: The Browns had seven special teams tackles, one each from WR Rod Windsor, TE Alex Smith, DE Auston English, LB L.J. Fort, LB Craig Robertson, S Ray Ventrone, and CB Jonathan Bademosi.
- Quarterback Hurries: One thing you're not seeing a lot of from the Browns' defense this preseason are sacks. The one guy who has been registering a few quarterback hurries is defensive tackle Brian Schaefering, which is another reason I've leaned toward him sticking around over Scott Paxson.
- Backup Quarterbacks: It was a miserable game for Packers QB Graham Harrell, and that allowed the Browns' second- and third-teamers on defense to play aggressive. It had to be a defensive coordinators dream to watch all of your defenders play close to the line, tackle well, defend the pass, stop the run, etc. On the other hand, Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace each did well for the short period of time they were in the game. We even got to see McCoy do a nice little spinaway rollout to his left instead of always going to his right.
- Praise for Bernie Kosar: This might be the one millionth time over the past several years where I have gushed about Bernie Kosar's brilliant color commentary for Browns preseason games, but I don't care -- I'll do it again. The way he ripped apart Graham Harrell was just way too funny, and the insight he brings to each play, both pre-snap and after the snap, is unheard of with the national announcers. Just imagine if this guy had a telestrator to work with.
- Brownies: You have to like the fact that S David Sims has made two athletic plays on the ball for interceptions the past two weeks. ... P Reggie Hodges had two punts on the day, and both were downed inside the 10-yard line. ... The Browns were much better on third downs this week, converting on 10-of-18 attempts. ... TE Dan Gronkowski is catching the ball well, so it'll be very interesting to see how things pan out with this very deep group. ...The fact that RB Chris Ogbonnaya did not get reps over rookie RB Adonis Thomas can't be the greatest sign for him. ... WR Greg Little has found his niche -- fight for extra yardage off of a quick pass, or to settle down in a zone past the first down marker. ... Besides the normal crew of "injured" players, the only guy who didn't seem to play was OL Garth Gerhart. ... The offensive line in general seemed much better in run and pass blocking, including RT Mitchell Schwartz. ... It was the second most watched preseason game in Cleveland since 1999.
Up next, the Browns will take on the Philadelphia Eagles at home.