The Browns’ first preseason game of the 2010 campaign was a tough matchup and an interesting test. The Green Bay Packers are an elite team loaded on both sides of the ball. In the regular season the Browns will face the defending champion New Orleans Saints, Tom Brady’s New England Patriots, and AFC Championship Game surprise New York Jets.
Those are the toughest looking games for the Browns at the moment and the Packers are right there with all three of them.
Time will tell, and things can change in the NFL overnight, but did the Browns just defeat one of the best teams they will see all year?
Just how much can Jake Delhomme improve the Browns…
The Packers have one of the best quarterbacks in all of football in Aaron Rogers – fresh off a pro-bowl appearance and set to embark on his third season as the starter. He is the reason they are a contender. He is young, throws the hardest ball in the NFL, and has had three pre-seasons and over 30 games of experience as a starter with his supporting cast. These are all things Jake Delhomme does not have going for him.
Yet Delhomme looked every bit as good Rogers in his brief time on the field. He was 6 of 7 for 66 yards out of empty backfield and four-receiver sets, leading the Browns to a swarming TD-score right off the bat. That, above anything else, was a great sign for the Browns.
It was a stunning sign even. My friends’ girlfriend who was watching the game with us exclaimed, “Who are these guys, like, catching and throwing the ball?” That was a joke but it’s also right on.
The Browns looked like a real team on that first series of the game – they didn’t struggle to do the simple things. The fastest way to give your team a completely new identity is to bring in a new quarterback. The Raiders, Redskins, and Eagles are all in the same boat; they are pretty much completely different teams now with new starting QBs.
The Browns have the chance to be a completely new team too. A team that doesn’t need weather to defeat more talented teams. A team that can move the ball and at least be competitive every week.
What else could you to take away from the game…
The first play of the game was a quick shot to Evan Moore out of a four-receiver set. This is not the way the Browns are going to open many games. They were looking to get Delhomme some aggressive throws when they knew his time out there would be brief. In the regular season it’s going to be harder to jump on a team like the Browns did.
Still, it was nice to see how comfortable Delhomme looked in a pass-first system. The Browns threw to set up the run and they haven’t had the kind of flexibility in a while. Another thing to take away is the Browns sported a decent running attack last year with some downright dreadful quarterback play as its compliment. With at least just competent passing in the mix, the running game could be even better.
Also on offense, Moore and Mohammed Massaquoi looked to be the early favorites to receive targets in the passing game. The quarterbacks also looked in Brian Robiskie’s direction often, and he could really make Eric Mangini’s first draft look a lot better if he’s a player. Peyton Hillis has the makings of a nice complimentary piece with his ability to catch the ball. The offensive line is going get some attention this year, as they totally stood up to Green Bay’s stout defense.
A major criticism of the Romeo Crennel era teams was they simply didn’t tackle well. T.J. Ward and Joe Haden, came into the game with reputations as sure tacklers. So far so good. Ward body slamming Donald Driver, and a hard shot knocking Ryan Grant out of the game were clear examples of the new era beginning to bloom.
Ward in particular looked fantastic in the box, and it made me feel good to see a rookie finally come as advertised.
The Browns also basically won the game on the ground, holding Packer running backs hostage and out gaining them in rushing 14 to 49 in the first half. That means both the defensive and offensive lines were able to stand up to one of the NFL’s best teams. Of course with Aaron Rogers throwing the ball, you don’t really need to run.
Joe Haden in particular learned a few lessons from him and the veteran Driver, but that’s to be expected. Driver’s 35 years old and has been in the league 12 years. He’s schooled many a young pup, but in many ways that is a typical NFL matchup for Haden. He is going to see players of that caliber every week; it doesn’t get a whole lot easier, or harder. For the most part however he didn’t embarrass himself, and the Browns will be pleased enough with progress for now from their top pick.
A knock on the Browns coming into this season, especially with Haden, is that they lack elite speed. They’re built to win ugly in the cold, not pretty on an indoor track. Ironically, one of the perceived weaknesses of the Packers is their lack of speed as well. Aside from wideouts Greg Jennings and James Jones, the Packers skill players are more tough than they are fast. Running back Ryan Grant, tight end Jermichael Finley, receiver Donald Driver, linebacker A.J. Hawk, and even top tier cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Al Harris fit that mold.
But the Browns did look slow for the most part in comparison, with the exception of Ward (who needs a cool nickname like “the Blade” at this rate). They let Packer backs streak across the field on screens and roll outs. They let receivers get behind them. The Browns’ linebackers looked stretched out, and in the end they could not get Roger’s off the field, save for one fumble recovery early on.
I was also looking to take away a hint of what kind of game Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll in particular were going to call. Last season’s horrendous quarterback competition was well a documented knock on Mangini’s preparation for a season. Part of that was the insistence on not giving away any of their plans for the regular season.
That said, I was disappointed to see them sit Delhomme so quickly. Maybe the fan in me wanted to see more of that first drive. Maybe Mangini and Daboll were looking for certain things from Jake and he showed them everything they needed to see right away. Even so, I got the impression they wanted to get Jake out of there on a high note, like his confidence is still an issue and they need to devote time to building him back up.
Remember when the first four passes Derek Anderson threw were in a game were the most important? It was basically the coaching staff’s job to make sure he completed a few easy throws early so he didn’t fold like a cheap lawn chair. The Browns need Delhomme to be more mature than that.
Not to say he isn’t either, I just think the entire team will revolve around Delhomme’s success and they could have benefited from at least one more series with him on the field. Look at Green Bay and their Super Bowl ready roster, they left Rogers out there for three full series.
Being secretive and saving their plays up for when it counted didn’t help anyone last year either.
Actually in Mangini’s defense, last season was a little different. Three of the four teams the Browns played in the preseason appeared on their regular season schedule (Packers, Lions, and Bears). Perhaps there was some wisdom in keeping some of their special packages on the hush hush. This year, none of the teams the Browns play in the preseason will be seen again.
The Browns’ first team also committed just one penalty, Phil Dawson crushed a 58 yard field goal, and their special teams looked fierce even without Josh Cribbs in the return game.
In all, there are obviously some kinks to work out, and the first team has to prove they can play that well consistently. But considering the level of competition and where they were at this time last year, it’s hard to look at this first preseason game against the Packers as anything other than a success.