Welcome to the second season of Opposition Research, where I take a look at Packers opponents and give you the inside scoop about who they are and what they’re expecting from a game against Green Bay. The outcome of preseason games may be meaningless, but I’ll try to give you some insight about the team on the opposite sideline this Saturday, the Cleveland Browns.
Coming into this season, the Browns are…looking to South Beach for a hint of what’s to come. Clevelanders may still be smarting over LeBron James’ decision to leave the banks of Lake Erie for the sunny Miami beaches, but they’re also hoping that something from Miami will find its way to their city in 2010. You see, after a miserable 1-15 season in 2007, the Miami Dolphins hired Bill Parcells to take over the organization and clean house. In a matter of days, Parcells gutted the front office and the roster, rebuilding the team from the ground up. With all new coaches and many new faces on the roster, the Dolphins rebounded all the way to the top of the AFC East in 2008, earning a playoff berth after an 11-5 season.
In Cleveland, ex-Packers coach Mike Holmgren has been tasked with a similarly Herculean feat – to take one of the league’s worst franchises and return it to respectability. Holmgren has taken to the challenge with gusto, switching up the roster and moving pieces around (like wiping out the entire Browns quarterback stable and bringing in Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace until rookie Colt McCoy is mature enough to take the reins). Unlike Parcells, who immediately tossed Cam Cameron to the curb, Holmgren has expressed confidence in Eric Mangini, going so far as to promise not to prowl the sidelines and back-seat coach. Holmgren isn’t expecting miracles in 2010, but he and Mangini hope that Delhomme follow two other veteran QBs who have lifted their new teams up:
Jake has that [Brett] Favre kind of easy-going personality where he can get along with anybody and [Chad] Pennington’s attention to detail, which is nice. After dealing with those two guys over time, it has been really fun to work with Jake.
There’s nothing going on in Cleveland. There’s no real estate. There’s no social life, no social networking. All the people who have something going on leave Cleveland. So Cleveland has nothing, and I came in there with a New York-type of essence. So what? That was the attitude I came in with. Like, this is who I am. They didn’t like the flash.
They’re also making some spectacular haikus about the Browns 2010 season. My favorite?
Forget the record
Make me proud again Walrus
I’ll toss you some fish.
But when it comes to football, fans are coming to terms with the fact that, even if Jake Delhomme bites as a quarterback, the Browns passing offense has nowhere to go but up. Fans are also trying to be practical about their pie-in-the-sky aspirations, hoping for a 7+ win season, a top-3 rushing attack, and a run defense stouter than at least 12 other teams in the league.
The Browns’ expectations for this preseason game are… modest. Coach Mangini noted that the Browns were unable to hang with the Packers for even a quarter of last year’s game, falling behind early and mustering only three points off a field goal that barely made it through the uprights. Mangini’s made it a priority to get off to a fast start this season, going so far as to risk personal injury to achieve wins before the team’s bye:
I want to accelerate it as quickly as possible. If I could press the fast-forward button I’d probably get carpal-tunnel syndrome pressing it so much. I want it as badly as anybody and more importantly I want to be able to provide that for everybody here.
With respect to this week’s outing against Green Bay, Coach Mangini “feels that the Packers should at least be in for a bit of a larger challenge through that first 15 minutes of play.” In fact, one fan laid out what he’ll be looking for when the game gets underway:
Haden vs. Jennings
Brown vs. Driver
Now those are fantastic matchups to watch (for at least a series or two).
Something to chew on… the 2010 Browns will have a lot of new veteran faces. Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme. Seattle quarterback Seneca Wallace. Seattle/KC receiver Bobby Engram. Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson. Saints linebacker Scott Fujita. Eagles linebacker Chris Gocong and cornerback Sheldon Brown. That’s quite a facelift. Will it have any impact?
What We’re Up Against: Once again, it’s really just Josh Cribbs. Simply put, the Browns weren’t good in 2009 – the offense ranked last in total yards and 29th in points, while the defense ranked 29th against the pass and 28th against the run. Where the team was good was special teams, where Cribbs averaged 27.5 yards on kickoff returns and had four K/P returns for TDs. If the Packers want to show immediate improvement over their 2009 squad, they can start by keeping Cribbs from breaking tackles and speeding toward the end zone.
The Browns also discovered, toward the end of the 2009 season, that Jerome Harrison could run…to the tune of 561 yards in the last three games. If Harrison can continue to find holes behind the solid Browns offensive line (where Wisconsin grad and All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas is stepping into a leadership role) and Cribbs can continue to make plays all over the field, and if you give Delhomme the benefit of the doubt at quarterback (although the guy did throw three picks in last Thursday’s practice), the Browns offense may be able to cobble together a handful of wins. Maybe.
Meanwhile, the Browns defense (which looks to improve under coordinator – and Rex’s twin – Rob Ryan) has already been hit by the injury bug, with cornerback Eric Wright sidelined with a hamstring injury and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson’s season a question mark after Tuesday night’s practice. Jackson was hoping to return to form as the leader of the Browns defense after tearing his pectoral muscle last October, but he now waits for news on whether the injury to his OTHER pectoral muscle will be severe enough to keep him off the field in 2010 (he’s probably out 2+ months). Tough break for a guy coming back from injury. What’s more, nose tackle Shaun Rogers, defensive lineman C.J. Moseley, and defensive back Coye Francis are on the PUP list and won’t see the field at all.
With Wright out, the Browns will give the starting nod to first-round pick Joe Haden, who is eager to get playing time against a top offense. The rookie has gotten time against the Browns first-team receivers Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie, and while the reps will no doubt be useful, neither receiver can hold a candle to the caliber of players he’ll face (for a while) on Saturday.
This is the first preseason game of 2010. I think we see what Joe Haden is made of, but apart from that, I think that this game will give Shawn Slocum and the Packers coaches an idea of how much better the special teams coverage units could be this year.
I think that Packerhaiku.com needs to be updated, because the “recent” haikus are still from just after the Browns game last year…
Browns scored first field goal
They were not heard from again
Bring on the Vikings!
Can you do better?