Observations after watching the Browns and Green Bay Packers play what was generously called a game of professional football Friday night . . .
I call these four meaningless games teams play before the launch of the regular season in the National Football League exhibitions. The league obviously detests the word and calls these efforts pre-season games.
What the Browns and Packers slogged through in the 17-11 Green Bay victory was clearly an exhibit of truly bad football. But what else did you expect when the teams played someone other than themselves for the first time in more than seven months?
It’s just nice to see the game once again, right? Of course the score does not matter. Just getting out there and hitting someone other than your teammate is what counts. Sure it’s nice to win. But it was just an exhibition, one that produced more safeties (three) than touchdowns (two).
The cry of same old Browns is bound to reverberate around Cleveland and its environs after this one. The 2016 season will not produce the kinds of results most Browns fans want. We saw a microcosm of that against the Packers.
This will be a learning season under new coach Hue Jackson. The team initially has to learn how to compete. That won’t be easy with a roster cleansing by the new front office that has shredded both sides of the football.
Then once it learns how to compete, the team will begin learning how to win; learn what it takes to win. Right now, it is too young and relatively inexperienced to jump to that phase. Perhaps next season.
That will take time as evidenced by the Packers loss, a tiny slice of what we can expect for the next roughly four-and-a-half months. Friday night was just a sneak preview of a bad team.
There were, of course, some encouraging, yet all too brief, shining moments. Like rookie Cody Kessler throwing a touchdown pass to fellow rookie Rashard Higgins on his first NFL pass for the Browns’ lone scoring visit to the end zone.
No, it doesn’t really count. And neither do the two safeties Kessler took after being overwhelmed by the Green Bay defense with the ball in the shadow of his goalpost and playing behind what seemed like a fifth-string offensive line that played ole’ football in pass protection.
Factor in that the club’s first units played only two series each and there is no way one can determine what lies ahead. Also factor in that Packers stalwarts Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews III, Randall Cobb, Julius Peppers and Jordy Nelson were in street clothes.
Did the Browns’ first-unit offense look bad in its two efforts? Not really. The pinnacle was reached on the first play of the evening when Robert Griffin III and Terrelle Pryor hooked up on a 49-yard strike. No one can question the strength of The Third’s arm.
Then he spoiled it later by leading tight end Gary Barnidge too much on a seam route and wound up with his first pick of the season. It was a bad throw.
Backup quarterback Josh McCown almost put the Browns on top in the second quarter with a 25-yard scoring pass to tight end Connor Hamlett that was taken away because McCown delivered the ball a yard beyond the line of scrimmage. The Browns settled for a long Patrick Murray field goal.
The final score is somewhat deceiving. The game was not that close. The Packers owned the ball for nearly 40 minutes and ran 80 plays to Cleveland’s 44. The Packers ran the ball 41 times for 151 yards
In those 20 minutes of ownership (just eight in the second half), the Browns racked up 11 first downs, three by penalty, and a meager 172 yards. The Packers had just 19 first downs, but converted nine of 22 third-down opportunities.
On the plus side, Cleveland committed only five penalties, including a running-into-the-punter no-no that extended a Green Bay drive. Other than that, both sides of the ball played disciplined football.
So who stood out on offense?
It looks as though Terrelle Pryor’s transition from quarterback to wide receiver has progressed to the point where Jackson feels confident enough to work him into an offense that could use some size at the position.
Running back Duke Johnson Jr. touched the ball only once against the Packers and ripped off an 11-yard run off tackle in what very well could be a portent of things to come for a running game that needs to improve.
Elsewhere, Barnidge looked right at home in his limited time; Higgins showed the ability to get open; and there is a paucity of quality depth along the offensive line (most notably at tackle with Erie Ladson and Cory Tucker). On at least three occasions, Kessler was given little time to throw the ball and was drilled. He logged three of the four Cleveland sacks allowed.
The good and bad on defense . . .
Keep an eye on the run defense as the exhibition season unfolds. We don’t know what the first unit can do to fix a huge problem because it hit the bench after two series. But it sure needs to be addressed.
Rookie linebackers Emmanuel Ogbah, Scooby Wright III and Dominique Alexander all flashed.
Ogbah showed good speed for a big man and could be one of those hybrids who can play with his hand on the ground or from a two-point stance. He led the team with six tackles (all solo), two quarterback hits, a pair of tackles for loss and a sack.
He and fellow rookie Carl Nassib accounted for the team’s two sacks. Nassib looked clumsy at times, but the big defensive end showed the ability to at least get close to the quarterback with his long arms.
Wright and Alexander played in the middle for most of the second half and acquitted themselves well, Alexander in particular. He showed a disciplined aggressiveness that had to catch the attention of defensive coordinator Ray Horton. He had five tackles (all solo) and a tackle for loss.
On the down side, two words: Barkevious Mingo. On the one chance he had to sack the quarterback in the fourth quarter, the linebacker whiffed. Instead of wrapping up Marquis Williams, he pushed the Green Bay quarterback, who spun away and picked up a first down on a fourth-down play.
Punter Andy Lee averaged 51.3 yards with his four boots. One pinned the Packers at their 1-yard line and resulted in a Cleveland safety for the first score of the game. No problems there. . . . Placekicker Patrick Murray showed a strong leg with a 46-yard field. . . . Raheem Mostert had an uneven game with a 27-yard run from scrimmage, 52 yards in four returns and losing a fumble after running 20 yards to catch a short punt following the Cleveland safety.
Summing up, it is way too early to form any solid opinions about the 2016 Browns based on the first exhibition. There was some good, some bad and some awful. Next Thursday’s exhibition at home against the Atlanta Falcons should unlock some of the mysteries of this team.
For certain, The Third and his first-unit teammates will get significantly more reps. Same with the other side of the ball. And we’ll get a look at top draft pick Corey Coleman, whose training camp exploits have drawn raves. Assuming, that is, his hamstring woes disappear.
In the end, though, it sure was nice Friday night, regardless of the outcome, to get back into the football mind-set.