Cleveland Browns: Winners and Losers in Week 3 Preseason Game vs Eagles

Samantha Bunten@@samanthabuntenAnalyst IAugust 26, 2011

Cleveland Browns: Winners and Losers in Week 3 Preseason Game vs Eagles

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    Last night in a 24-14 loss to the Eagles, the Browns appeared to hit their first major stumbling block of the preseason.

    It wasn't their first loss, but it was the first game where they really looked overmatched in a lot of ways. 

    Though the gap in the score wasn't that bad in the end, it was a very rough go for the Browns on Thursday night. The torrential downpour, a freak play, and some questionable calls by the officials certainly didn't help. 

    Still, aside from the many frustrating things that happened last night, some positives came out of this game for the Browns. Overall they did hang tough against a talented Eagles team.

    If nothing else, they sent a very important message to the league and to their fans from a psychological standpoint: We're not going to give up, and we're not going to let anybody push us around. In this sort of game, that may be the best we can ask for just three weeks into the preseason. 

    Following are the Winners and Losers from this week's contest against the Eagles. Be sure to share your own Winners and Losers in the comments below!

1. Loser: Browns Special Teams

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    I have to admit, if this had happened to any other team, I would have thought it was hilarious. What are the chances that a longtime NFL veteran and consummate professional like Sheldon Brown accidentally runs into Jordan Norwood as he's calling for a fair catch on a punt, causing the ball to hit him and the Browns to lose possession? 

    Coach Shurmur called it "unfortunate". It most certainly was. 

    The freak play led to an Eagles touchdown after their long snapper recovered the botched fair catch on the Browns' 13. 

    Granted, the mistake wasn't really anyone's fault per se. It looks like the Browns special teamers just got their signals crossed up.

    Still, it was a costly play in terms of the points it yielded for the Eagles. More importantly, it rattled the Browns' confidence right from the get-go in a way that may have affected them throughout the rest of the game. 

    Rookie James Dockery booted a punt in the third quarter to set the Eagles up for another score and Phil Dawson also had a chip shot field goal blocked. 

2. Winner: Browns' First Team Front Seven

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    The Browns' first team defense got it's first serious challenge of the preseason, facing down a formidable Eagles offense led by QB Michael Vick. Granted, the Browns D had already faced and beaten the Super Bowl champion Packers' in Week 1, but the Packers' offense was not at full strength and played only one quarter. 

    I'll leave my personal feelings about Vick out of this, but no matter who the opposing QB is, it's always nice to see your front seven (especially when there were so many questions about their abilities going into the preseason) contain one of the top-rated NFL passers. 

    The Browns' first team front seven did an excellent job of penetrating the Eagles offensive line and forcing Vick to throw on the run. The Browns were in Vick's face so much he didn't have enough time to find receivers and made mistakes. 

    Rookie Phil Taylor sacked Vick and forced a fumble and proved that he has the potential to live up to his first round pick status. 

    D'Qwell Jackson did well also, putting a hit on Vick that led to an interception by Mike Adams. The play was unfortunately wiped out when Jackson was unfairly called for roughing the passer, but it was still encouraging to see the Browns successfully executing aggressive pass rushing after there was so little of that last season. 

3. Loser: Browns First Team Passing Game

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    Colt McCoy had his first bad outing of the preseason, going 9-for-18 with 89 yards, an interception and no touchdowns. McCoy's passer rating was a paltry 41.2.

    McCoy looked as though he was having trouble managing the Eagles defense, and his receivers didn't really give him much help or bail him out any. Neither did his offensive line, which looked good in the first two preseason games and appeared to have hit a major hiccup this week.

    I don't think this was any indication of serious problems going forward for McCoy who, like every other QB out there, is going to have a bad game on occasion and whose performance will suffer against a good defense. 

    Mostly, it was an indication that the Browns offense as a whole needs to work on not allowing their momentum to be disrupted by a good defense and not allowing themselves to be rattled going forward after a mistake. 

    This performance in some ways showed how young they all still are. The less experience you have getting back on the horse after getting your bell rung, the harder it is to recover and put it behind you. 

    The first team offense was disappointing, to be sure, but they're going to make mistakes throughout the learning process. 

4. Winner: Montario Hardesty

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    It finally happened. Seemingly against all odds, perpetually injured RB Montario Hardesty finally made it out onto the field for the Browns.

    Even more amazingly, he made it back off the field afterward with all of his limbs attached. 

    Hardesty's performance wasn't anything spectacular statistically as he had five carries for 15 yards with a long of five yards.

    But the numbers were not the important part here. 

    What was tremendously important was that at long, LONG last, Hardesty finally appeared healthy and ready to go. 

    Last season Hardesty's absence didn't hurt the Browns all that much, thanks to Peyton Hillis' spectacular season, but as we've discussed many times, Hillis can't take that kind of beating year-in and year-out if he wants to live to see 30. 

    The Browns took a chance when they drafted Hardesty, and after last season, that looked like it was a very bad risk to take. This year, there appears to be reason to hope that it wasn't. 

    The fact is that the Browns need Hardesty. Badly.

    Despite his injury history, Hardesty's talent has never been in question. If he can stay healthy, he can be a contributor to the running game, giving Hillis a break and providing insurance in case newly-acquired Brandon Jackson doesn't pan out. 

    Granted, Hardesty will have to get through the entire regular season, not just part of one preseason game, unscathed before he'll really prove his worth. Given the circumstances, baby steps were the best we could expect at this point, and so far, Hardesty seems to be healthy and capable going into 2011.

5. Loser: External Factors Outside the Browns' Control

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    There were a number of external factors that had nothing to do with the Browns' play on the field directly that made this game ugly, sloppy, and just plain tough to watch, and it wasn't just the ever-charming, "boo"-happy Eagles fans.

    First, the Hurricane Irene-incuded torrential downpour not only created a strong sense of misery for everyone inside the stadium, it was so severe that it affected footing and field vision for the players.

    It's almost a wonder that we didn't see more silly mistakes from both teams due to the weather conditions. It's actually a miracle that no one was seriously injured. 

    This is the kind of stuff that gives the "I hate the preseason" folks good grounds for their stance; it's exactly this kind of weather in which teams' starters slip, fall or twist ankles and suffer season ending injuries in preseason games. 

    And there was one other major moment that contributed to the general sloppy, unpleasant feel of the game, which was Eagles coach Andy Reid throwing his challenge flag on the touchdown play in the fourth quarter. 

    Reid was called for unsportsmanlike conduct because (duh) the play would have been automatically reviewed anyway. Perhaps Reid just needs to brush up on the NFL rule book, but it looked more like he just got frustrated and hurled his flag in annoyance. 

6. Winner: Hanging in Against a Very Tough Opponent

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    Thursday was easily the worst outing of the preseason for the Browns thus far, particularly the first team, but that doesn't mean nothing good came of this game for Cleveland. 

    Our team is young, inexperienced, and lacks the star power of a team like the Eagles. In Cleveland we trade on hope because it's the only currency we have and sometimes we get a little over-optimistic and forget ourselves. 

    This game was a reality check for the Browns and their fans, but it wasn't without any positives. 

    Sloppy as the whole ordeal was, the Browns kept the score close against a very good opponent. The Eagles first team offense was expected by many outside of Cleveland to blow the Browns' doors off, and the Browns defense simply wouldn't let them. 

    The offense struggled more seriously this week, but while they made mistakes and had trouble executing, they certainly didn't lie down and die. 

    If there's one positive thing we can take away from this game, it's that it looks like the Browns are more than game for a dogfight whenever necessary. That's really the most we can ask from a team that is still learning. 

    It was an ugly, grey, and sloppy night in Philadelphia both literally and figuratively, but it appears there may yet be sunshine on the horizon for the up and coming Cleveland Browns.