The Cleveland Browns have a rather bizarre preseason schedule as they face three preseason opponents that are on their list of regular season opponents. The first test of the preseason comes against one of the most historic franchises in NFL history as the Browns travel to Lambeau Field.
Packers Offense versus Browns Defense
The Packers are no longer answering questions regarding their past with Brett Farve as they believe they have found their future in quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is one of the most proficient young passers in the game today. Aaron has a terrific arm combined with pocket presence and leadership but his clutch ability is beginning to shine even at such an early stage in the young man's career. Possessing a 3rd down quarterback rating of 105.8 is outstanding.
The Packers have an outstanding tandem of weapons at receiver with veteran Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. Jennings is coming off of a terrific season in which he hauled in 80 receptions for 1292 yards.
Carrying the load for the Packers is running back Ryan Grant. Grant is a powerful back that has a deceptive burst combined with a one-move-and-go philosophy. The key to stopping Grant is getting penetration into the pocket and forcing him out of his initial path.
If the Packers have a question on offense, it is the offensive line. This group appears to lack the same physicality that is expected from a Packers line. There is talent along the line but if this offense is to carry the Packers to another NFC North title then the line must improve their overall level of play.
The Browns Defense has what many Browns fans have desired for a long time - a Ryan calling the shots. Rob Ryan is instilling his own philosophy into this defense and there is excitement in the air. Rob promised a more aggressive defense and if he delivers Browns fans may build a statue in his honor.
Top to bottom this is the most talented defensive roster the Browns have fielded in some time. With talent comes competition. Although most of the defensive roster appears set, there are several key starting positions up for grabs along with backup positions. At the end of the day, roster spots will be earned as well as lost in this one.
The corner tandem of Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald will have their hands full with Jennings and Driver. Their jobs will be much easier if the Browns can do what they haven't been able to do for since the days of Michael Dean Perry and generate a consistent pass rush.
Providing that pass rush will be the front seven for the Browns. Shaun Rogers is unstoppable at times but it is unrealistic to expect Rogers to carry this defense solo for sixteen games. Those around him must step up and contribute. For players like outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, defensive end Corey Williams and inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson it is time they stepped up and took this defense to the next level.
Browns Offense vs. Packers Defense
The Packers are in the process of converting from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Dom Capers. They hoped to have B.J. Raji at the nose for this game but the 9th overall selection has yet to come to terms with the Packers. (Ed. Note: Raji has come to terms with the Packers since this article was originally published.) This 350-pound monster will be a tremendous addition to the Packers defense.
Former Buckeye linebacker AJ Hawk will be looking to make it a difficult night for his brother-in-law, quarterback Brady Quinn. Hawk has been a decent player since his arrival in the NFL but he has yet to have the kind of impact most expected from him when he was drafted 5th overall four years ago. He may very well have that kind of impact now with the switch to the 3-4. He has the physical skills along with the intelligence to amp up his production for the Packers.
The big questions for this Packer defense is who will provide the pass rush. Veteran Aaron Kampman along with rookie Clay Mathews should be asked to fill that role. If they can't get to the quarterback it will be a long year for veteran corners Al Harris and Charles Woodson.
The Browns will be looking to answer a number of questions regarding the offense. The starting quarterback position remains up for grabs between the former Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Anderson and the former first round draft pick Brady Quinn. With no separation in camp it will be preseason games that decide this competition. It will be very interesting to see how Eric Mangini divides up the time at quarterback.
The Browns also have major questions to answer at the tight end position. With Kellen Winslow now residing in Tampa, it will be up to players like Steve Heiden, Robert Royal and Martin Rucker to replace the prolific tight end. The Browns will be using more two tight end sets and now is the hour for players to earn additional playing time.
Everyone should be excited to see the rookie receivers (Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi) battle with the veteran receivers (Mike Furrey and David Patten) for positions alongside Braylon Edwards but it is special teams ace Josh Cribbs that has me the most excited. If this young man can learn the position, the sky is the limit with his size and speed combined with a natural physicality and toughness.
The Browns offensive line has bulked up. The additions of players like John St. Clair and Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack along with a healthy Ryan Tucker and rookie center Alex Mack should do something that wasn't possible last year and that is to move the pile in short yardage and also wear teams down with physical play. This line has been as soft as the zones the defense has played. It is time for that to change.
Don't expect Jamal Lewis to receive a great number of carries as the Browns look to keep the veteran running back fresh for the long haul. This however will give Jerome Harrison and rookie James Davis a great opportunity to showcase their skills. This trio of backs could very well surprise a lot of people this year if the offensive line can produce.