Browns - Falcons Game Preview

There are some things like about the upcoming Browns-Falcons pre-season match-up at Cleveland Browns Stadium. For example, soon it will be over, and the coaching staff can start preparing for the Colts. Regardless of the nature of final pre-season games, the Owl has flown over with his thoughts on the team's approach to the game and some interesting sub-plots to watch...

Nothing is forgotten as quickly as the last preseason game, coaches like to say - not because they don't care about it, but because then the coach can start getting ready for the game that count.

As far as Coach Butch Davis is concerned, the game Thursday night between the Browns and Falcons in Cleveland Browns Stadium is getting over just at the right time, because it means he has 10 days instead of eight to get ready for the season opener against the Colts Sept. 7.

"You like to have the game as early in the week as possible because it gives you time to get guys healthy as much as anything," Davis said. "A couple times it was a struggle getting guys healthy to practice for the week of the game."

Davis has some definite goals in mind for the final tune-up. One of them  is to see his center, Jeff Faine, match up against the Falcons defense of three linemen and four linebackers. The Titans, Packers and Lions all played a 4-3 defense.

"Jeff is playing well, but this is a totally different defense than any we've seen," Davis said. "There are a lot of zone blitzes. This will be a challenge for him. Plus they'll play with a nose guard directly over him, so this will be the first time he'll be covered all game instead of being across from a linebacker."

The Browns face a tenacious 3-4 the second week of the season when they meet the Ravens in Baltimore. Inside linebacker Ray Lewis, injured in the game in Cleveland last Oct. 6, is healthy and raring to go. The Browns have had difficulty with a 3-4 in the past, particularly when they play the Steelers.

Davis has bigger concerns about the defense, particularly the secondary. Can they stop anybody? Do they know whom to cover? Can Lewis Sanders overcome his nagging hamstring? Will Anthony Henry let his natural ability take over? Can Robert Griffith bounce back from his broken finger and be the leader he vows to be?

Last week Davis singled out the defensive line and it responded with its best game of the summer. The defensive backs, however, were exposed as young and uncertain. Griffith and Sanders plus Michael Lehan (ankle) returning from injuries should help, but until they stop somebody, the group is still suspect.

Thursday they face Falcons quarterback Doug Johnson, pressed into service because Michael Vick is out with a broken leg.

Vick would have been a good test. He likes to roam from the pocket, something Lions' quarterback Joey Harrington did very effectively last week. Vick's replacement, Doug Johnson, is more a pocket passer.

"We have to continue the emphasis on the things we've been doing all preseason," Davis said. "We'll work on the scheme, run defense, the pass rush with the four down guys without relying on blitzes to get pressure on the quarterback."

The Browns are 0-3 in preseason games after the Titans, Packers and Bills wiped them out.  The Falcons are also 0-3.

The Browns were winless only once in the preseason, and that happened way back in the days when the NFL would trudge through six exhibitions. The Browns were 0-6 in 1972. They lost their regular season opener that year, 26-10 to the Packers. They were 2-3 after five games, then caught fire, won eight of their last nine and made the playoffs with a 10-4 record. The Dolphins beat them in the first round of the playoffs.

"You don't go into any game with the idea that you don't want to play to win, but there are other underlying things equally important," Coach Butch Davis said. "But you'd like to finish on a positive note."

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