The Browns square off against the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers on Saturday in their first preseason game. It’s been said this will be a great measuring stick for the Browns.
The Packers just won the Super Bowl, over the Pittsburgh Steelers no less, so they are where the Browns need to get.
Makes sense, except not at all. Not only do preseason games matter very little, but they often go a step further and transform themselves into cruel mirages. We’re all happy the lockout is over. It’s hard for fans to not get carried away when our guys finally hit the field – I am guilty of that too.
So this is just a gentle reminder to take what you see Saturday with an entire scoop of salt.
Last year, Jake Delhomme dominated the preseason, and I drowned myself in the Kool-Aid only to learn my lesson all over again.
In 2007, the Detroit Lions finished the preseason 4-0, then became the first team in history to go 0-16 in the regular season.
Speaking of mirages, the Browns played the Packers in their first preseason game last year, and won 27-24. The score after the first quarter (when the starters played), was 14-7. The Packers were pegged as a Super Bowl contender even back then, and the Browns jumped them.
Jake Delhomme came out like a house on fire, completing 6 of 7 passes for 66 yards in leading the Browns to an opening drive touchdown.
On the defensive side, T.J. Ward looked like the second coming of Ronnie Lott, tossing Packers receivers all over the place like dolls, and inspiring this impressive highlight video:
And as exciting as that game was, it was a far cry from what we saw when the season started.
T.J. Ward stayed hot for the first 5 or 6 games or so, then faded late, as rookies often do. His work against the Jets and Jaguars was particularly forgettable, as consecutive game-ending plays were scored on his watch.
Jake Delhomme stayed hot as well for the first 30 minutes of the season or so, then tailed off significantly the remaining 15.5 games. His bouts of reckless interception syndrome returned as if the preseason never happened. Injuries played their part as well, forcing the Browns to release him two weeks ago.
And as different as their regular seasons turned out, the Browns and Packers both finished last year’s preseason 2-2.
So, the goal for this year is to not get hooked by any preseason statistics, scores, or records. This year it’s all about the eyeball test.
With that being said, here are five things I’ll be looking for Saturday against the Pack…
Another fast start
Look for a repeat of last year. The Browns have more to accomplish this preseason than most teams––more work to do and more to prove. Look for them to build up their inexperienced guys and lean on whatever positive plays they can find. The Packers, on the other hand, will just be fine-tuning their championship arsenal, easing their way back into a season.
The Browns might also try to build up Colt McCoy. My guess is they put him in situations where he can make big completions and develop chemistry with his receivers. Something like last year where Delhomme’s hot start was a product of the “script” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll would compose to build up his shattered confidence. Short easy throws, come out firing when the Packers aren’t ready, then get him out of there on a high note.
Again, the Packers have far less to prove, so their first-teamers might be content to just stretch their legs out there.
What do Super Bowl champs look like in the preseason, and now, what do Super Bowl champs look like after a lockout?
The Browns have faced the Super Bowl winner from the previous season in only one preseason game in the expansion era––2008 against the Giants. That game severely hurt their season too, as Jamaal Lewis and Josh Cribbs suffered injuries that would hobble them all year, and Derek Anderson was knocked out with a concussion.
We’ve also seen how teams returning from a Super Bowl appearance can drag the following season. Are the Packers due for a letdown too? And how will that trend affect them given a lockout shortened offseason? We’ve never seen that one before, so look for it.
West Coast Offense
The Packers are known to run a version of the West Coast Offense the Browns are trying to install. Of course, not all offenses are the same, and the Packers on the move are going to look different. Still, how do these West Coast systems compare? For many of us, this will be the first time we see a Pat Shurmur play in action. How does it look, especially compared to the caveman offense we watched last year?
Compare the speed of the teams in the first quarter when the starters are in. The Browns were known for having one of the oldest and slowest teams in the league last year. They are trying to get younger and faster now, but will we be able to notice a difference yet? How fast will they look compared to the team that just won the Super Bowl?
Finally, just watch Aaron Rodgers
That is the kind of quarterback you need to win a Super Bowl. Ignore the stats and score, and go with the eyeball test here too. How does Colt McCoy look, compared to Aaron Rodgers.
And lastly, one thing I do not want to see
A rough outing by the offense learning a new system, veiled in excuses about how they are a work in progress, they are all young, etc. Word out of camp is the Browns and Colt McCoy are starting to come together. If they plan on being a real NFL team this year, then they should be able to produce something in a preseason game, Green Bay Packers or not. I am tired of excuses.