Takeaways from Cleveland Browns' First Preseason Game
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With so much youth on the field, primarily on offense, it came to no surprise that we saw a few players struggle. This is to be expected and isn't yet cause for concern—it was but the first preseason contest and the first live, on-field NFL experience for many of these players.
As long as the Browns learn from their shortcomings in this game and continue to build, there is still very much reason for optimism in Cleveland. The preseason is a time to learn from mistakes, get new players familiar with the team and prepare for all things great and small that will come the team's way during the regular season.
It's Not All Bad News for Brandon Weeden
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Brandon Weeden began his professional career on shaky ground, completing three of nine passes for 62 yards while losing a fumble and throwing a pick (and nearly tossing a second interception). While Weeden certainly could have looked sharper in his debut, his struggles weren't entirely his fault
Take, for example, that one turnover. It was a result of rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz failing to block Lions defensive end Willie Young, who stripped the ball from Weeden.
Schwartz admitted the mistake, saying, "It was my fault. Young went inside and I didn't react quickly enough," adding "I've got a lot of stuff to work on. Too much pressure. I've got to keep getting better, keep using my hands better."
Weeden's three completions on the night did look good, however, starting with his first, a 12-yarder to Mohamed Massaquoi. Unfortunately, Massaquoi suffered a concussion on the play and did not return.
Weeden's second flash of talent came in an outside-the-numbers throw to rookie receiver Travis Benjamin worth 34 yards. He also completed a 16-yard pass to tight end Jordan Cameron, but his night ended on an interception when he targeted—and stared down—receiver Greg Little.
Every pass he threw rookie Josh Gordon's way fell incomplete, though primarily, this was Gordon's fault—remember, he's got extra rust to shake off, considering he did not take the college field in 2011.
Despite the rough outing, Weeden did look decisive, and his strong arm was indeed on display. But, he's still a rookie, and it's clear he still needs to develop chemistry with his receivers and try to pare down the number of small mistakes.
At least he'll have time to do so, starting this week—head coach Pat Shurmur said that Cleveland's starters will play the entire first half against Green Bay and may even get time on the field into the third quarter.
Injuries, Injuries, Injuries
The Browns weren't able to escape Detroit without a number of injuries. There was Massaquoi's concussion, cornerback Dimitri Patterson sprained his ankle, defensive tackle Scott Paxson suffered a knee injury and tight end Jordan Cameron hurt his back.
A total of 15 Browns were held out of Monday afternoon's practice, and though not all of the players were sidelined because of injuries sustained in the first preseason contest, it certainly raises some questions about which starters may not be able to play against Green Bay come Thursday.
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Without Patterson, it will be rookie Trevin Wade (and not Buster Skrine) who will be the starting nickel cornerback this week. If Paxson cannot play, that means that Brian Schaefering and John Hughes will likely get time with the starters. And, if Massaquoi isn't cleared for contact, that will probably result in more time on the field for Josh Gordon, who needs it.
Every NFL team deals with injury over the course of a season—what's most important is how they respond to it. It's not enough to have depth without having a plan in place if someone cannot take the field. How the Browns handle these injured players and their replacements will be quite telling about what stage of their regular-season planning they are in.
The quicker they can figure out ways to mitigate losing players to injury in the preseason, the better prepared they will be for this situation happening in the regular season.
Stopping the Run
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One of the biggest offseason priorities for the Browns this year has been to figure out ways to stop the run. They've attempted to do so via adding new personnel to their defensive front seven, but with starters such as Chris Cocong and Phil Taylor off the field, their run-stopping skills are still yielding incomplete grades.
The first Lions' play from scrimmage was Kevin Smith's nine-yard run up the middle of the defense. The Browns then allowed two 11-yard gains on the ground, from both Smith and Stefan Logan, in the Lions' second possession.
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In the second quarter, the Browns gave up a 33-yard run, and on and on it went: Nine yards here, five yards there until the Lions had racked up a total of 198 yards on the ground with 33 rushes, averaging six yards per carry. Just four Detroit players carried the ball compared to a total of seven for Cleveland. The Browns had 30 total rushes for 120 yards, good for a four-yards-per-carry average.
While the Browns' rushing numbers are nothing to worry about—they have a rookie quarterback to get prepared for the regular season and three backups likely vying for one active roster spot, after all—their struggles in stopping the run in this game hearkened back to their 2011 troubles.
The Browns need to figure out how to consistently keep teams from averaging six yards per carry against them, starting this week. That's one area that needed immediate improvement, and if it doesn't begin to show on Thursday when the starters will take on Green Bay for at least two quarters, then it's time to worry.
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