Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini must be wondering what he’s done to cheese off Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson.
Then Saturday night McCarthy and Thompson humiliate the Cleveland Browns in Mangini’s first game as the Browns’ head coach.
Granted, it was only a preseason game, but both the Packers and the Browns have a lot to prove this season. The Packers are trying to prove that last season’s 6-10 record—only their third losing season in twenty years—was a fluke. And the Browns are trying to prove that their 10-6 2007 season—their best year since coming back to the NFL in 1999—was not a fluke.
The Packers made a much more convincing case Saturday night.
The starting offense, led by second-year QB Aaron “Thank you for not signing Michael Vick” Rodgers, was extremely sharp, the team got some major contributions from some perhaps unlikely players, and the revamped 3-4 defense (barely) pitched a shutout—all positive signs for a team that hasn’t played well since a 37-3 beatdown of the Bears on November 16, 2008.
But maybe Packers fans should curb their enthusiasm. Having to fill time, the normally spastic announcer Kevin Harlan admitted in one of his quieter moments that the Cleveland Browns were “not one of the NFL’s elite teams.”
Yes, and newly evicted Big Brother 11 contestant Chima was perhaps “just a tad unbalanced.”
What fans generally hope to see out of preseason games is a sharp first-string squad. They got that on Saturday, particularly out of the offense.
In leading the offense to two scoring drives of 78 and 69 yards, Rodgers looked very solid, made good decisions, went mobile when he had to and was patient when he could afford to be. Most impressively, he connected with five different receivers on five pass completions, notably the 53-yard touchdown strike he threw to Donald Driver to cap the game’s first drive.
Other players who contributed mightily to the offense included Matt Flynn, who was an extremely efficient 5-of-6 on his two drives. Flynn, who to my eyes is miles past Brian Brohm on the Packers’ quarterback depth chart, provided the night’s throwback to the “anything can happen” days of Brett Favre when he was able to scoop up a batted-down pass and run for a seven-yard gain in the second quarter.
Later on, when Brohm was largely unable to get anything done through the air, undrafted rookie free agent running back Tyrell Sutton and second-year RB Kregg Lumpkin kept drives alive.
Sutton in particular was impressive, rushing 16 times for 91 yards. And Lumpkin, who finished with 48 yards on just eight carries, had a eye-opening run in the fourth quarter when he implausibly turned a loss into a 14-yard pickup.
Trouble on the offensive side? Well, for a team that supposedly made limiting penalties in training camp a high priority, they committed way too many—nine for 52 yards. Seven of those were on the offense, and four came in one drive, pushing the team out of field goal range.
Also, while the play of Sutton and Lumpkin was a nice surprise, the fact that Ryan Grant, Brandon Jackson, and DeShawn Wynn didn’t distinguish themselves from running backs further down the depth chart may present a problem.
Having five competent backs is nice, but having one single stud and a couple of complementary players would be preferred.
Then of course, you have Brohm, who had for him what was the disadvantage of being the featured quarterback for the night. Playing the entire second half, Brohm completed only three of ten throws, with two interceptions, including his first throw of the game.
Brohm is quickly looking like a bust, and as a second-round pick, an expensive one at that.
With his incompetency on display, Brohm would have fit right in with the Browns quarterbacks, although Brady Quinn, in a battle with Derek Anderson for the starting job, distinguished himself Saturday as the best QB on the Browns roster.
Actually, Quinn led the Browns on two drives that should have amounted to 10 points, which is why I’m not quite prepared yet to declare Dom Capers’s new 3-4 scheme an unqualified success (hey, it’s one preseason game. Nothing is proven yet.).
On Quinn’s first drive, he led the Browns methodically down to the Packers’ 13-yard-line, where the drive eventually stalled. A holding penalty on the ensuing field goal led to a re-kick and a miss.
Later, in the second quarter, after Quinn ripped off four complete passes in a row, fantasy dud Braylon Edwards dropped a pure and easy touchdown throw from Quinn in the end zone. On the next play, Quinn was picked off by Packers safety Anthony Smith, one of four Packers interceptions on the night.
With Brett Ratliff playing the entire second half, the Packers’ shutout was then pretty secure. But the defensive unit, though solid, perhaps wasn’t quite as stout as the final stats (191 yards allowed, four interceptions) would indicate.
However, the new 3-4 scheme did result in much more pressure on the quarterbacks, which rattled Anderson and Ratliff, if not Quinn, quite a bit. It remains to be seen if the Packers will be able get the same results on the superior quarterbacks in the league, of which there are many.
While much of the pregame questions swirled around how defensive stars Aaron Kampmann and A.J. Hawk would adjust to the 3-4, the defensive MVP for the evening turned out to be inside linebacker Desmond Bishop, who recorded three tackles, a sack, and an interception.
Bishop’s play, along with the contributions of Lumpkin and Sutton, were examples of what makes preseason games tolerable—the fun is in seeing what players take advantage of their increased playing time by making contributions that may win them roster spots.
On Saturday night, the fun for Packers fans was also in seeing the looks of utter disbelief on Eric Mangini’s face as perhaps the reality of the long and difficult season he has coming became readily apparent to him.
The Packers travel to Cleveland this October to play the Browns in a regular-season game; given the misery that Thompson and McCarthy have already bestowed upon Mangini, I doubt that’s a Sunday he’s looking forward to.
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