Sunday, August 21, 2011

Detroit thoughts

It is becoming obvious that the Browns this season will be a pass-first team on offense. And after the club’s 30-28 exhibition-game loss to the Detroit Lions, it is becoming just as obvious that coach Pat Shurmur’s offensive line needs a lot of work at protecting the quarterback.

Colt McCoy, barely touched in his first three series in the opening exhibition victory over Green Bay, was thrown around like a rag doll against the Lions, who did nothing fancy on defense.

Most of the pressure came from the left side of the Detroit defensive line, once again exposing a weakness on the right side of the Cleveland offensive line. That’s an area, if not addressed, that could pose big-time problems down the line.

Yes, McCoy had three touchdown passes. But he benefited from two short fields (34 and 21 yards) on two of them, courtesy of a fumble recovery and long punt return. From a positive viewpoint, though, it was nice to see Shurmur strike quickly after getting good field position on the first two.

On the negative side, it was discomforting watching McCoy take all those hits. He’s not big enough or strong enough to withstand that kind of punishment. That has got to stop. It’s a good thing he gets the ball out of his hands as early as he does or else he would have taken a more severe pounding,

Bear in mind this was just an exhibition game. Now consider what’s it going to be like in the regular season when the tempo and intensity of the game picks up. That’s something Shurmur and General Manager Tom Heckert Jr. have to be thinking about when dealing with the health of their quarterback. . . .

With exhibition game No. 3, the so-called dress rehearsal for the regular season, coming up Thursday in Philadelphia, Shurmur is well aware his club is clearly a work in progress. As he left the field at the end of the first half of the Lions game, he told the TV sideline reporter, “There are so many more things we have to do better.”

He did not delineate. He didn’t have to. Most of them are obvious.

In no particular order: Protect the quarterback better; cut down on penalties; put more pressure on the opposing quarterback; find wide receivers who get open better than the current crop; and tackle better, especially in the secondary. . . .

If he can stay healthy, look for a strong season from middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. It is becoming apparent he is much more comfortable in the 4-3 scheme than he was in the 3-4.

For years, the main complaint with Jackson was his inability to make tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. His boosters claimed it was because of the scheme favored by Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini. Detractors believed it was because he wasn’t strong enough to play the position.

There was nothing wrong with his instincts for the game. It was his inability to make plays that resulted in negative yardage. His tackle totals were high, but were offset by the lack of big plays. He’s already made several plays behind the line of scrimmage thus far.

Quick observations:

Some of the problems encountered in the Detroit game will be addressed Thursday in Philly with the expected return of outside linebackers Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita, safety T. J. Ward, left guard Eric Steinbach, tight end Ben Watson and running backs Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty, who were dinged up and sat out against the Lions. Wide receiver Mo Massaquoi is still questionable. . . . Liked the quick-twitch moves of return man Jordan Norwood. Would like to see more of him as a receiver. . . . Richmond McGee’s second game as the punter produced far more inconsistent results than his debut. The rookie needs to step it up. . . . The Browns should be scouring the waiver wire for at least one veteran wide receiver – two would be better – because McCoy needs all the help he can get on the outside if the west coast scheme is to be successful. . . . What’s wrong with rookie fullback Owen Marecic? Two dropped passes in two games. Had much better hands at Stanford. He needs to settle down. . . . Considering Phil Dawson’s inability to kick the ball deep into the end zone on a consistent basis on kickoffs, the Browns should seriously consider keeping Jeff Wolfert around as a kickoff specialist. Don’t underestimate the importance of such a specialist. . . . Other than Armond Smith’s 81-yard touchdown run early in the second half, no one below the first team stood out. Smith then subtracted those points by losing a pair of fumbles. . . . The Browns can do a lot better than Jarrett Brown as their third quarterback. He’s going to need a lot more than a strong throwing arm to stick around. . . . If another concussion sidelines tight end Evan Moore, label him fragile and injury-prone. He’s a great target in the red zone, but does not help when on the sidelines.

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