How to Watch Exhibition Game #1

The flip answer is “With the sound off” Newsnet 5 is now airing the games, so there is a chance Solomon Wilcots won’t be cluttering up the telecasts with his string of banalities. But the preseason announcers never tend to add much.

Homer mode should be in high gear, because most of the pundits are picking the Browns to win anywhere between 2-4 games. You’re better off with the radio team, which tends to be so busy describing what is happening that it has no time to shill

The answer you’d expect– “Ignore the score”– isn’t accurate. It’s very helpful to see see how each unit looks against its counterpart. If Washington were to win 31-27 on a late score, that means nothing. But if, say:

  • Washington’s first string were to outscore the Browns #1 unit 7-0
  • Cleveland’s #2 unit ‘won’ 17-0 and
  • The third-string Browns were stomped 24-10

Those splits would tell you Cleveland’s draft picks and second-year players–almost all of whom are #2 on the depth chart– played very well  It would suggest that those guys might be ready to make an impact.

Of course if the coaches don’t switch units at the same time– last year Washington coach Jay Gruden pulled his starters off sooner than Mike Pettine, but left his #2 players in longer– then you can’t learn much.  Unless someone outperforms (or underperforms) based on the opposition.

Don’t react too strongly to the MCF on offense. The first two words of the acronym are “Mongolian” and “Cluster”– and that is almost certainly what we will see.

To begin with, remember how awful the offense looked a year ago– at the end of exhibition season, there was question if they would ever be able to score points.

And this year the Browns have the following issues:

1. Another new offense. It might be based on the blocking and running schemes Kyle Shanahan put in last year, or might not be. According to the Browns, the quarterback must use it uses 15-16 words to call plays.

2. A rookie coordinator. John De Felippo has a resumes that isn’t exactly distinguished. His college experience consists of:

  • A graduate assistant at Notre Dame in 2001 and 2002, under Bob Davie and then Tyrone Willingham
  • Quarterbacks coach at Fordham (2000), Columbia (2003–2004, coach Bob Shoop) and San Jose State (2010, under Mike MacIntyre, who promoted him to coordinator in 2011.

In the NFL, he has worked at:

  • “Offensive quality control” which usually means you break down the tape) for the New York Giants in 2005-06 (under Tom Coughlin)
  • Quarterbacks coach for the Raiders in 2007 (under Tom Cable) 08 (Lane Kiffin), 2012-14 (Dennis Allen) and Tony Sparano (after Allen was fired).
  • QB coach for the Jets in 2009 (Under head coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer)

DeFelippo might be immensely talented… but other than Coughlin, he didn’t have any mentors I would hire to shine my shoes (and I wear sandals mostly). Thinking about what we’ve seen from Pat Shurmur, Maurice Carthon, Brian Daboll, et al… I’ll be happy if the offense commits less than half a dozen unforced errors.

But wait, there’s more.

3. Terrible quarterbacks. At this point, the best quarterback on the roster– bny far the best– is Thad Lewis, who has a 2-4 record as a starter, an 81.4 career rating and 5 TD passes against 4 interceptions.

The #2 guy– and this isn’t close either–  is Connor Shaw, who lost his only start against a Ravens team that needed a win to make the playoffs, and kept the game close until late in the fourth quarter, despite injuries to both his hand and leg, His game stats (55.2 rating, no TDs and 1 interception) are poor, but Shaw is very arguably ahead of the competition on merit.

The #3 guy is 36-year-old Josh McCown, who has, since being drafted in 2002, had only two stretches (6-7 in 2004 and 3-2 in 2013) where he has not sucked. He’s 17-32 with a 76.1 rating and a 61-59 TD-INT ratio.

The #4 guy, Johnny Rehab, might be poised to make amazing progress after his rehab and rededication to football… but all we know now is that he lost both starts, posted a 42.0 rating and threw no scores and 2 picks.

4. A crowded backfield that has been unimpressive. Shocking as it is for me to link to a Mary Kay Cabot story in a positive way, this piece on RB coach Wilbert Montgomery’s frustration is correct. Montgomery was a star for Dick Vermeil (who took the Eagles to the Super Bowl) and he coached Marshall Faulk and Stephen Jackson. If he’s upset, it’s not a good sign.

5. A train wreck at receiver. Dwayne Bowe is hurt, and he also appears to have developed schizophrenia (he compared McCown to a Pro Bowl QB). Brian Hartline is not impressing, so it looks like Andrew Hawkins and some role players.

6. An offensive line without Joe Thomas. He wasn’t seriously hurt when Danny Shelton rolled up his leg, but since he’s only going to play 1-2 serieses, why would you even play him at all?

Presumably the team will not be as bad as it looks by opening day.

Look for highlights. Practices can’t tell you much– only if someone is very improved or way far behind.

Exhibitions don’t reveal a lot more– but because they take place in pads, against real opponents (who don’t know your plays and don’t tell you what they’re planning), you get some information.

The big benefit occurs if something you have been reading gets confirmed by the game. For example, second-year CB Pierre Desir (last year’s #4 pick, who missed almost all of 2014 with injuries) is allegedly tearing up practices, no longer looking like a Division 2 star trying to catch onto the NFL. If he knocks down 2 passes and picks one, the writers weren’t seeing mirages.

I could give you a list of names to look at, but it’s better to just watch what happens. The two I’d be curious about are LB Scott Solomon (who looked astonishingly good in limited time when he was picked up very late last year) and WR Vince Mayle (this year’s #4 pick, who was converted from RB by Mike Leach, the former Texas Tech coach now in charge at Washington State).

Allegedly, Shaw has also been working diligently to improve his throwing mechanics, and has picked up both his velocity and effective range, so pay attention to that.

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