I had to wait a couple of days before first watching the Cleveland Browns at Detroit Lions preseason contest due to my living many hours away from both markets, and a complete lack of desire to pay money to watch preseason football online. I did read a lot of negative Cleveland fan reaction about the game on both Friday and Saturday, and thus I expected a disaster upon viewing the exhibition contest. What I saw, instead, was a sloppy game largely highlighted by mistakes made by players on both teams, one that the Browns won thanks to a late field goal.
Thoughts on first Cleveland Browns preseason game of 2012: QBs
Looking just at the game box score would lead one to believe that Colt McCoy thoroughly outplayed Brandon Weeden, the 28-year old rookie who was recently officially named Cleveland's starting quarterback. Then you remember that Weeden, not McCoy, was playing against the first team Detroit defense, and the "start Colt!" cries seem a bit ridiculous. Weeden very much so looked like a guy playing in his first ever NFL game on Friday, turning the ball over twice (one fumble and one interception) and completing just three of nine passes. He was also lucky to not have been picked off by Bill Bentley during Cleveland's second drive, when Bentley couldn't make the grab after successfully jumping a route.
Weeden also showed poise and he lacked the "happy feet" that we routinely see from rookie QBs during his brief amount of time on the field. His most impressive ball was a 34-yard pass to Travis Benjamin down the sideline. For me, Weeden's biggest lesson of the day was that you can't stare down receivers at this level, regardless of your arm strength. Just ask Derek Anderson.
My biggest question after watching the game: Where was this Colt McCoy last year? McCoy, more auditioning for other teams than trying to earn back his starting role at this point, aired it out on three occasions, he hit Jordan Cameron over the middle for a gain of 42 yards, and he seemed much more confident and loose than we saw throughout the 2011 campaign. Whether it's maturity, the fact that he's not feeling the pressure of having to "prove himself" to his coaches, or simply the fact that he was playing against second and third teamers, McCoy was as solid as you could ask from a #2 quarterback.
Thoughts on first Cleveland Browns preseason game of 2012: Free education
Rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who will start for the Browns this September, got a true introduction to NFL football on Friday night. He was beaten up front three times by my count, he was guilty of a false start that put the Browns into a third-and-15 situation, and he was unable to contain defensive end Willie Young on a play that ultimately ended with Weeden turning the ball over on a sack-fumble. To his credit, Schwartz played nicely against the second team Detroit defense after those minor hiccups, but you can be sure that he'll be spending a good amount of time in the film room over the next several days.
Thoughts on first Cleveland Browns preseason game of 2012: Promise
A popular complaint among Cleveland fans since, well since 2007 if you really think about it, is that the team's offense has been lacking a real play-maker, one who can stretch out a defense and also produce the "home run play" that changes a game. Trent Richardson could be that guy, but we'll have to wait until he heals before we can get an idea. I'm excited about seeing more of Travis Benjamin over the next month after what I saw in this game. Benjamin flashed his speed both on the previously mentioned connection with Weeden and on a couple of kickoff returns, and he should get more targets during the team's next three season warm-ups. Benjamin will likely start the season as a number three option at best, but that doesn't mean he can't contribute in big ways. New York Giants WR Victor Cruz started out last summer in the same position, after all.
Thoughts on first Cleveland Browns preseason game of 2012: Familiar problem
There's no nice way to say it: If the Lions would have been interested in winning the game, they may have finished with over 300 total rushing yards on Friday night. A Cleveland defense that was third-worst in stopping the run in 2011 was nothing short of awful during the first half of this contest, surrendering 115 yards on the ground in those 30 minutes of play and showing zero signs of improvement from last December. It's worth mentioning that the Browns were without four key run-stoppers, most notably D'Qwell Jackson. Jackson, who led the NFL in solo tackles last year, is expected to be just fine moving forward. Even with him on the field, however, it appears that the Browns are again going to struggle against the better rushing attacks in the league this fall.