Exhibition Game 1 Review: @ Green Bay

It’s foolish to get upset about the score of an exhibition game. Especially the first game, where the majority of players won’t even be on the team two weeks from now. As I explained earlier, the point of an exhibition game is to see if any rookies lived up to the hype– and if any players still on their rookie contracts have progressed.

For that reason, I won’t rage at length about the Browns performance in their 17-11 loss. I’ll just sum it up by using a technique made famous by Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson and Ron “The Ghoul” Sweed.

Ladies and Gentleman, your 2016 Cleveland Browns!!!

If the Browns had gone out trying to destroy the hopes of fans, they could not have done it more successfully. The optimism about Head Coach Hue Jackson centers primarily on his reputation as a wizard with quarterbacks. But of the four quarterbacks:

  • #1 Quarterback Robert Griffin went 3-7 for 18 yards, throwing an interception on the Green Bay goal line. (Yes, we’re ignoring that one pass, because we already knew he could that.)
  • His backup, 37-year-old Josh McCown, looked like the UFL player he used to be– going 1-4 for 5 yards, taking a sack, throwing an uncatchable jump ball (too high and also out of bounds) pass in the end zone, and turning another throw into the end zone into an illegal forward pass.
  • Austin Davis took a very large step towards getting cut, by completing less than 50% of his passes (4-9), averaging less than four yards a pass (32 yards) and missing three open receivers.

Davis’s performance is the most frightening, because he could be the key to getting something useful out of the season. The Browns have four quarterbacks. One will be cut or traded. Of those four men, two were picked by the current regime; McCown had a 93.3 rating last year. Unless he plays exceptionally well, Davis will get cut.


For me it this decision would be easy. Aside from being 37 and on a team that says it expects to lose 10+ games for at least 2-3 years, McCown’s 2015 rating was as deceiving as possible.

The Browns went 1-7 in his starts, because he didn’t play well. He was sacked 23 times on 292 attempts, losing 137 yards. He lost a league-leading 6 fumbles and had a pathetic 13-10 Touchdown / Turnover ratio (I’m adding the rushing TD and the fumbles).

If you recalculated his rating to reflect those things, it would be down in the 60’s. ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating, which does that, graded him at 53.92, 24th in the league.

In addition to his poor play, McCown (who stands in the pocket until he sees an open receiver or gets sacked) got injured three times during the season– playing behind a line that featured Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz (meaning, a lot better than this one).

Given RGIII’s tendency to get hurt– he’s missed at least one game in all four seasons– the odds that both McCown and Griffin will be unable to play for at least one game.


So if Cleveland starts the season with McCown and not Davis– and the first two go down, the Browns will be stuck with Kessler’s “Smooth As Silk” Whiskey, who threw two passes and was sacked three times– twice for safeties.

When he reached for Kessler’s in the third round of the 2016 draft (the same round Mike Holmgren ordered the team to draft Colt McCoy) Jackson said people needed to trust him. Kessler’s completed a 10-yard pass when the Browns took over on the Green Bay 10. Other than that, he looked completely overwhelmed.

Kessler’s doesn’t have the size (6’0″) or the arm strength to be an NFL quarterback– his whole sales pitch rests on his ability to read defenses and make the right decisions (even if he struggles to get the ball to them). Instead, facing Green Bay’s fourth or fifth-string defense, he lived up to one of the knocks on him: “gets rattled when he faces a strong pass rush.”

Last night he looked like a poor man’s Matt Cassel. Meaning than none of the quarterbacks played well.


The two idiots broadcasting the game– Mike Patrick and Solomon Wilcots– embarrassed themselves yet again by raving about how improved Ray Horton’s defense looked. Apparently neither bothered to read any of the Green Bay papers– or talk to anyone connected to the team.

The big concern in Green Bay after last season is depth. The team is getting old, it gets hurt a lot and when players go down, they struggle. Green Bay started the year 6-0 then lost four out of five. They beat three weak teams to get to 10-4, but backed into the playoffs, by losing to two playoff teams: Arizona and Minnesota.

So the goal was to use the pre-season to give non-starters a chance to win jobs or play themselves off the team. It’s why Green Bay wanted to play in the NFL’s Hall of Fame game and was livid when the game was cancelled by bad weather.

As a result, Green Bay decided not to play nine of their 22 starters:

  • Four offensive starters: QB Aaron Rodgers, C Corey Linsley and WRs Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb
  • Five defensive starters: CB Morgan Burnett and linebackers Julius Peppers, Jake Ryan, Sam Barrington and Clay Matthews

That’s most of the skill positions. RB Eddie Lacy had only four carries (he averaged six yards per rush, gaining 24 yards). The Packers are also looking to use the fullback less and two tight ends more, so they threw most of their passes to the tight ends– and didn’t play veteran tight ends Richard Rogers and Jared Cook much, so they could see what they had.

The quarterbacks who played the game are competing for a spot on the practice squad. The winner of the battle will be cut— Green Bay will hope to sneak him through waivers.

So the guy you saw in the first half wasn’t Rodgers– the five-time Pro Bowl players and two-time MVP. It was Joe Callaghan, an undrafted free agent from that noted college football powerhouse, Wesley College.

Not “Wesleyan”– Wesley. It’s a Division III school in Delaware. The second-half quarterback, Marquise Williams was also an undrafted free agent– although he at least came from a school you’ve heard of (North Carolina).

Based on what I saw, Callaghan is clearly the guy. He averaged less than six yards a completion; he took a sack. But he also went 16-23 with one touchdown, against Cleveland’s first and second-team defenses. And on many of those misses, the player was open and he threw a terrible pass. He can move and he’s not easy to bring down.

Williams is clearly a better athlete, but he struggled a lot more (6-14 for 55 yards and a pick), against the rump end of the roster.

And wouldn’t it be nice to have a team that felt it could do this? Just spend one of the pre-season games trying to sort through the depth?

Suddenly Ray Horton’s defense holding the vaunted Packer offense to less than two touchdowns doesn’t look so impressive. The rusher gaining 45 yards on 9 carries (an even 5.0 per attempt) was Brandon Burks, another undrafted free agent– this time from Troy. He actually did worse against the scrubs (6-26) than he did against the good players (2-19).

The leading receiver in both receptions (5) and yards (52) was another UFA– TE Justin Perillo, a third-year player from Maine. The runner up in both categories (3-28) was TE Kennard Backman from Alabama-Birmingham. The good news is that at least he was drafted by Green Bay. (The bad news is that it was in the sixth round.)

 

“But what about the Cleveland pass rush?,” I hear you ask. There’s some good news and bad news. Because the Packers wanted to give their quarterbacks time to throw, they did use their first or second-team linemen for much of the game. But Linsley– their starting center– was hurting. The center makes the blocking calls.

Cleveland’s pass rush looked impressive– and the stats they produced were great. But I watched the defensive parts of the game three times; on most of the spectacular plays (definitely the safety and all but one sack) there were two Green Bay linemen in the same zone, looking for someone to block– and a Browns lineman with nobody blocking him.

You can say it was because of Horton’s great blitz calls. Or you can figure it was confusion on the Green Bay line. I’ll go with the latter.

I was impressed by the speed of some of those guys. Of course, I should be impressed:

  • They drafted DE-LBs Emmanuel Ogbah in the second round and Carl Nassib in the third round in 2016,
  • NT Danny Shelton (#1), LB Nate Orchard (#2) and DE Xavier Cooper (#3) were drafted in 2015,
  • They reached for LB Chris Kirksey in round three in 2014,
  • LB Meowkevious Mingo was the sixth pick in the entire draft in 2013.

On a team that knew how to draft, those seven players would be destroying opposing offenses.

Given the holes in the Green Bay defense– you’re playing a 3-4 without , it’s difficult to find a lot of emphatically positive takeaways. Raheem Mostert might be a good player– he’s a converted wide receivers who can fly. So far, Philly, Miami, Baltimore and Cleveland have given him a shot. He makes mistakes (like the free kick he dropped) and isn’t terribly durable (5’9″, 190).

So  5 carries for 43 yard (and going 4 for 16 when you take out the one big run is OK) might be a sign that things are going well. Or he might get blown up in the next game, if he has to play against real linebackers.

I thought the most impressive day belonged to Terrelle Pryor. He caught the big pass thrown to him, caught another and make a good try on the ball McCown threw out of bounds. Not only did he get open, but he battled for the ball and showed reasonable hands. If he has another game or two like that, you can talk about how maybe he had developed.

Anyway, on the whole, a very bad performance, even for exhibition game #1. Nothing you can take to the bank– and the worst part of the game (quarterbacking) was supposed to be Hue Jackson’s specialty. The season is already off to a scary start.

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