Browns vs. Packers: Takeaways from Cleveland's Preseason Win over Green Bay
Yes, it was only a preseason game, but coming off a 4-12 season last year, every move forward is a sight for sore eyes for the players and Browns fans alike.
Here are some things we can take away from the Browns' win over the Pack.
Brandon Weeden Is Progressing
Brandon Weeden definitely made some positive strides in the win over the Packers Thursday night.
He improved. He wasn't amazing, and he wasn't great, but he did some good things.
Weeden went 12-of-20 for 118 yards with no interceptions and no touchdowns. These aren't earth-shattering numbers, but they certainly are an improvement over his 3-of-9, 71-yard, one-interception line against the Detroit Lions in Cleveland's first preseason game.
Weeden connected on some nice throws to Josh Gordon (two receptions for 38 yards) and particularly to Greg Little (four receptions for 45 yards), one of which Little nearly converted into a touchdown before getting stopped at the 1-yard line. Weeden spread his throws around to six different receivers in the face of some good pressure.
The Associated Press reported (via ESPN) that Weeden commented on whether or not he was making progress:
"I think so," Weeden said. "You've got to keep in mind last week was my first-ever start in the NFL, and it's just like a true freshman going into college and it's an even bigger jump coming up here. I didn't get down on myself about the way things went last week, and I just want to go out and get better, and I did that."
The AP also reported that Browns head coach Pat Shurmur commented on the difference in defenses that Weeden saw between Detroit and Green Bay, noting that the Lions used mostly a four-man rush in preseason Week 1:
"Today we played against a lot of pressure. So those are two different feels of the way the game goes, and I think Brandon got a chance to go through that," he said.
Weeden made some positive moves forward, but we also learned...
Weeden Has Some Work To Do
Weeden made some improvements from the Lions game, yes, but it is clear he has work to do.
The rookie QB made some horrific, risky throws against the Packers.
Case in point: Weeden got lucky when A.J. Hawk was unable to corral a pass that hit Hawk's hands. It was a horrible pass from a back-pedaling Weeden that Hawk should have picked off inside Packers territory, and it would have killed a Browns drive.
Another horrible decision was in the second quarter when Weeden tried to force the ball across the field to a Browns receiver. If Packers defensive back Casey Hayward coverts on that interception, it's a pick-six back the other way.
These are critical errors that Weeden needs to avoid. He has to make better decisions to minimize his mistakes if the Browns are to maximize their chances of winning games this season.
Hardesty and Jackson Could Take Some of the Load off Trent Richardson
We learned a little about the Browns' two back-up running backs in Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson.
Hardesty fumbled the Browns' very first offensive play, but rebounded nicely against the Packers first-teamers.
Hardesty said in a post-game interview with ClevelandBrowns.com that he thought he owed the team one and felt he had let the team down. He also said he never fumbled in college and hadn't fumbled since high school.
Motivation is a good thing.
Hardesty knuckled down and came back after that first play with a solid effort of 12 carries for 45 yards with one touchdown.
Sidelined for all of 2010 with a torn ACL, Hardesty also missed all of November last season due to a calf injury. If he is able to pick up some yardage while Trent Richardson is being rested or even with Richardson in the backfield at the same time, T-Rich's workload will be considerably lessened. This will help to keep Richardson as fresh as possible so he can do maximum damage to opposing defenses.
Jackson also is coming off a frustrating 2011 season where he missed the entire campaign with a turf-toe injury.
Jackson had 14 carries for 35 yards with one touchdown run, albeit against the second- and third-string defenses (according to ESPN) of the Packers.
Hardesty is probably the front-runner for second-string running back, but Jackson could provide some nice depth for the Browns backfield, which would keep Hardesty and Richardson fresh.
Jackson could contribute to a good, deep backfield, which also will certainly help Weeden; opposing defenses won't completely focus on the pass if the run game is effective.
Phil Dawson Is an Underrated Weapon
Phil Dawson is, without question, an accurate and very reliable kicker for the Browns.
He also is a kicker with an underrated strong leg, as evidenced by his field goals of 53, 52 and 47 yards against the Packers.
Last season, the 37-year-old Dawson surprisingly converted 7-of-8 tries from outside of 50 yards, and he has converted 17-of-27 of kicks from that range for his career.
If the Browns offense improves and moves the ball better, Dawson will get more field goal tries, and since he is an accurate kicker, he most likely will convert those attempts into points.
The Browns lost three games last season by three points or less, so an improved offense getting Dawson into position for more field goals will result in more points and more wins.
Dawson was the top scorer on the team last year with 92 points, which led second-place Josh Cribbs by an astounding 62 points. While it would be beneficial for the Browns to put Dawson in position for field goals more often, it would be a very bad sign if Dawson leads the team in scoring at the end of this season by an equally large margin.
David Sims Is Making a Push to Make the Team
David Sims is making a serious case for himself to be a fifth safety with the Browns after training camp ends. Eric Hagg, T.J. Ward, Usama Young and Ray Ventrone are probably the front-runners for the first four slots at safety.
Sims, who spent the last five weeks of the 2011 season on the Browns practice squad, already has two interceptions (including a 38-yard pick-six interception against the Packers) through two preseason games.
He also has been impressing at training camp.
CantonRep.com staff writer Steve Doerschuk wrote that Sims had two picks in practice Monday, "has been showing up left and right all month" and "Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron seems to light up when he watches the young man wearing No. 36."
Sims is following a very good formula for making an NFL team: Impress the coaches, make plays in practice and make plays in preseason games.
Not only that but it seems as if Sims is hungry for success and is motivated by the defending Super Bowl champion Giants cutting him last season after three preseason games:
"It hurt me," Sims said just before lunchtime today. "They had me questioning my ability. I know I'm good enough to play."
Sims seems to have the edge at an extra spot (if the Browns choose to go with five safeties) on the roster over rookies Tashaun Gipson and Emanuel Davis. If he continues to make plays in the preseason games and continues to make good impressions at training camp, it would be surprising to not see Sims get a spot on the active roster.
At the very least, Sims would have value on the practice squad, pushing and challenging the Browns' group of young receivers.
The Offensive Line Could Be a Strength
The offensive line has only allowed three sacks through the first two preseason games, and has allowed the Browns offense to move the ball downfield and put up some solid NFL offensive rankings.
Yes, it's preseason, but the numbers so far are very encouraging and deserve mentioning to give credit to the improving offensive line. The Browns currently rank fifth in the NFL at 27.0 PPG, fourth in YPG at 383.0, sixth in pass yards per game at 264.5 and 13th in rush yards per game at 118.5.
This has to give rookie OT Mitchell Schwartz and co. confidence moving forward as they inch closer to the regular season.
OT Joe Thomas has made five straight Pro Bowls at left tackle, and center Alex Mack got a 2011 Pro Bowl selection as a second alternate to replace the Jets' Nick Mangold.
Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland reported that Thomas has been extremely impressed with Schwartz. Thomas said of Schwartz back in June:
"For a guy coming in as a rookie, he's got great technique. He's a technician. I think he's got better technique than I did when I was a rookie."
"He's very impressive. His level of detail, study-wise, is also impressive. I don't think he’s had a mental error yet. As a rookie, that's impressive, to be running with the Ones.
This is extremely high praise from a five-time Pro Bowler.
With Thomas on the left side, Mack in the middle and a promising Schwartz on the right side, the Browns offensive line appears to be in very good hands for years to come.