The Green Bay Packers (0-1) continue their 2012 preseason Thursday when the Cleveland Browns (1-0) travel to Green Bay. The game starts at 7:00 p.m. CT, and will be aired later Thursday night on NFL Network.
A year ago, the Browns beat the Packers in the preseason opener, 27-17.
Here are five things you could watch during the 2012 edition:
(Note: the title has changed from a very demanding “5 Things to Watch” to just “5 Things You Could Watch but Certainly Don’t Have To.” These are merely suggestions for your viewing pleasure, not demands. Besides, the old title is past being worn out.)
1. Harrell’s extended look
After playing well into the fourth quarter last week in San Diego, Packers back up quarterback Graham Harrell figures to get another long look when the Browns visit Green Bay Thursday. In nine series last week, Harrell led two scoring drives but went three-and-out on six others.
A couple of things stuck out from Harrell’s 2012 debut after re-watching Thursday multiple times:
- It is clear Harrell knows this offense and where to go with the football. On a majority of drop backs, Harrell made the correct decision in regards to getting the ball out to the right target. Far too often, however, Harrell delivered an inaccurate throw. He left a boatload of yards on the field in San Diego.
- The pocket presence isn’t always there. Unlike Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn, Harrell lacks the creativity to manipulate the pocket and make plays when things start to break down. On the one play where he did step up and shift the pocket, Harrell delivered a third down completion that kept the drive alive.
- He is still more comfortable in the two-minute offense. When the tempo sped up and he went back in the gun, Harrell looked liked a different quarterback. Twice he confidently hit Randall Cobb on plays in the middle of the field, then the Packers ran a perfect pick play to get Cobb wide open for a score. It was an impressive drive after the offense had been man-handled for the first 27 or so minutes.
Harrell has correctable issues. The inaccuracies (especially on a couple of simple throws) and his lack of pocket presence are directly related to Harrell’s lack of live-action experience in the NFL. Mike McCarthy is getting him that experience now. Let’s see if he shows improvement from week-to-week and if the consistency level increases against the Browns. Harrell is still plenty capable—from both a physical and mental standpoint—to be Rodgers’ backup in 2012.
2. Newhouse finally back
A concussion suffered during the Packers “Family Night” scrimmage has kept Marshall Newhouse on the sidelines for the better part of two weeks, but the Packers starting left tackle will be making his return Thursday against the Browns. For Rodgers and the No. 1 offense, Newhouse’s return couldn’t have come any sooner.
In San Diego, the first-team offense—a unit that helped lead the Packers to the second-most points in NFL history a year ago—was able to muster just 32 yards on three drives with two turnovers. Newhouse’s absence was painfully obvious, as backup Herb Taylor made Chargers rookie Melvin Ingram look like the next coming of Derrick Thomas. On Rodgers’ final snap, Taylor allowed Ingram to blow past him and into the back of the NFL MVP as he delivered a forth-down throw, which floated harmlessly into the arms of a San Diego defender.
With Newhouse back in the mix, the first-team offense needs to re-establish some kind of rhythm. It’s only the preseason, but keep in mind that Rodgers was 37-of-47 for 395 yards and four touchdowns during four 2011 exhibition games. Having Newhouse back to protect his blindside should help get the Packers’ offensive machine back up-and-running.
3. A healthy Daniels
Availability has been a concern for Packers fourth-round defensive end Mike Daniels, but it appears he’s finally healthy (knee, groin) and ready to contribute. Daniels returned to practice this weekend and should be a full-go against the Browns Thursday.
The Packers will certainly want to see how the motor and toughness Daniels showed when healthy translates to a live game setting. For some camp observers, Daniels has been the most impressive rookie defensive lineman. It would also be nice to see Daniels make it through Thursday without picking up another nick. This is a guy who should be able to play a significant role on the much-improved Green Bay defense line if available.
4. You’re up, Casey
The wheel continues to spin at cornerback opposite Tramon Williams. Davon House stated his claim to be the team’s starter with a strong overall showing against the Chargers, but he dislocated his shoulder and likely won’t play for the remainder of the preseason. Sam Shields remains out with an elbow injury, and he isn’t likely to return until next week at the earliest.
That leaves a golden opportunity Thursday for 2012 second-rounder Casey Hayward, who figures to see a bunch of snaps against the Browns after lining up with the first-team defense for the better part of the last week. In fact, he’s likely to start Thursday. McCarthy said this week that Hayward tested out well in Green Bay’s preseason opener despite giving up a few completions. With a strong performance, Hayward could put himself on a path towards starting Week 1 of the regular season.
5. Longer than expected test for defense
OK, maybe “test” is too strong a word here, considering the Browns were ranked 29th in total offense and 30th in scoring last season. But there are new offensive pieces in Cleveland and head coach Pat Shurmur plans on playing his first-team offense into the second half Thursday.
Teams don’t typically play their first-team offense that long in the second week of preseason, so defensive coordinator Dom Capers will get a unique chance to see his defense live against another starting offense for the better part of two quarters Thursday.
Specifically, keep an eye on how rookie Nick Perry attacks the rebuilding right side of the Browns offensive line, and also how the secondary matches up against Cleveland’s rag-tag group of receivers. The Browns started fast against the Detroit Lions in the preseason opener but faded quickly when protection started breaking down. Capers’ defense could gain some confidence with a strong showing Thursday.