Cleveland Browns Preseason: The Good, Bad, and Ugly Vs Green Bay Packers
The LeBron James fiasco this offseason prompted many Cleveland fans to state that, "Cleveland always has been, and always will be, a football town."
With that being said, Saturday night officially kicked off the return of the Browns to the minds and hearts of their fans around the world, taking on the Green Bay Packers in their first 2010 preseason match-up.
Notable players who were absent from the Browns' lineup included starting cornerback Eric Wright, linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, offensive lineman Tony Pashos, and rookie running back Montario Hardesty.
Cleveland's critics have blasted them this offseason for signing a "washed-up" Jake Delhomme, drafting a "system quarterback" Colt McCoy, having no established wide receivers, a linebacker corps of "unknowns," and having a rookie secondary—so how did they match up against the Green Bay Packers?
The Good: QB Jake Delhomme, TE Evan Moore
After hearing an offseason of skeptics saying Delhomme had nothing left in the tank, he proceeded to go six for seven in an impressive debut drive, resulting in a four-yard touchdown run by running back Jerome Harrison.
Delhomme showed veteran poise in the pocket, as well as great accuracy and touch on his passes, leading fans to believe Delhomme's treacherous last season may have been put behind him.
For the first time since Moore was cut from the Packers' training camp, he made his return to Lambeau Field, and this time left it with Packers' management inevitably kicking themselves.
Moore ran crisp routes, played physical off the line, and came up with two catches for 24 yards.
Enough can't be said about his hands, as it's becoming apparent why he was Trent Edwards' go-to receiver at Stanford a few seasons ago.
The Good: WR Brian Robiskie, K Phil Dawson
To say 2009 was a disappointment for rookie Brian Robiskie would be an understatement. The receiver barely saw the field until the end of the season and looked every bit overwhelmed.
Reports out of training camp had Robiskie making huge strides however, and he showed it on the field Saturday night.
Robiskie's route-running was much more precise with a year in the system and the mentoring of veteran Bobby Engram, hauling in three catches for 32 yards, with an outstanding touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone.
The longest tenured Browns player on the roster, Dawson continues to show why he's still here.
He nailed a jaw-dropping 58 yard field goal late in the game with yards to spare, and clinched the game as the final seconds ticked off from 46 yards.
Some kickers drop off in their later years, but Dawson seemingly just keeps getting better with age.
The Good: FS T.J. Ward, NT Ahtyba Rubin
Scouts pegged Ward as hard-hitting safety who "lays the wood" on every play, this time it seems they got one right.
Ward flew all over the field, making hits and wrestling receivers to the ground. He was beat deep on a pin-point Aaron Rodgers throw for a touchdown, but he was still tight in coverage, sometimes you can only do so much.
Rubin did a great job powering through double-teams in Shaun Rogers' absence, causing a fumble on the first play of the drive off running back Charles Grant, then showing impressive athleticism jumping to his feet and throwing a block for Sheldon Brown downfield afterward.
When Rogers returns, there will be a strong case made for Rogers to be moved to defensive end.
The Bad: Pass Rushing
I know what you're saying; what pass rushing? Exactly, problem No. 1.
Marcus Benard, Ahtyba Rubin, and Brian Schafering all forced Packer fumbles, but the pass rushing by the linebackers was non-existent.
Aside from one sack by Benard, Cleveland couldn't touch the Packer quarterbacks.
It's acknowledged that with Rogers on the line, the linebackers' job is easier, but there's no excuse for the lack of pressure.
Rob Ryan may just be warming up, but if the rookie secondary isn't to be picked on, the quarterback can't have so much time in the pocket.
The Bad: Running Game
It's still early, but Browns fans were excited about the trio of Montario Hardesty, Jerome Harrison, and James Davis. Unfortunately, it will have to wait a little longer to get a look at injured back Hardesty.
The combination of Harrison and Davis was underwhelming, as they teamed up for 13 carries and 49 yards, a 3.7 average.
Chris Jennings, the third back, looked very unimpressive in limited action, seeing three carries for 2 yards.
Peyton Hillis, backup fullback, caught the ball well out of the backfield, so that much should be encouraging to fans.
More will have to be done though if Cleveland wants to compete in the hard-nosed AFC North.
The Bad: Kick/Punt Returns
Returns were a strength last year, but aside from Joe Haden's 34-yard return, the combination of Gerard Lawson and Syndric Steptoe was downright laughable.
It's worth noting that Josh Cribbs didn't see any action in a returning role, which could mean Coach Mangini is saving him for the regular season, or Mangini is true to his words that Cribbs' will have a decreased Special Teams role this year.
Hopefully for the Browns, its not the latter, as Steptoe only managed three returns for 33 yards, and Lawson had two for 27.
The Ugly: Aaron Rodgers vs. Cleveland's Secondary
Aaron Rodgers vs. Cleveland's Secondary:
There's no denying the talent of Aaron Rodgers, as he systematically ripped the Browns' secondary apart.
It's noted that the coverage was actually pretty tight, but Rodgers took advantage of the height mismatches, putting the ball in a window only his receivers could grab it in. Rodgers went 12-for-13 with 159 yards and a touchdown.
If Cleveland wants to compete against Carson Palmer, Joe Flacco, and Ben Roethlisberger's cannons, the rookies will have to mature quickly.
The Ugly: Colt McCoy's Performance
Colt's performance can only be described as a disappointment.
The most impressive plays he made were with his feet, rushing for two first downs, but that's no way to get it done in the NFL.
In the air, McCoy went five for 10 with two interceptions before going out with a hand injury prematurely.
Why young quarterbacks suffer hand injuries every year in Cleveland is still unknown to me.
It's not expected McCoy will start this season however, so barring a Delhomme injury, there's no reason to hit the panic button on McCoy just yet.
The Ugly: Linebacker Coverage
Reports out of training camp indicated shaky coverage by the linebackers, namely Matt Roth and Marcus Benard.
The best coverage linebacker on the roster in my opinion would be D'Qwell Jackson, who is out with a pectoral injury.
Chris Gocong looked weak attempting to help the safeties defend the tight ends coming over the middle, who burned Cleveland on four completions.
Conclusion: Super Bowl Bound!
Just making sure you're still reading.
Realistically, Cleveland looked like a professional NFL football club. That's great news already for Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert. The offense was clicking and the Delhomme fears have been silenced for now.
The defense on the other hand was a bit suspect, but with such a complicated system, so many new and young faces, and a handful of key injuries to recover from, there's no reason to believe it won't improve by the end of preseason.
Lining up for playoff tickets this year may not be in Cleveland fans' plans, but playing like they did tonight, they're headed in the right direction.