By Tony Grossi
Everything was better for the Browns Thursday night in Green Bay.
Brandon Weeden found a rhythm with a full half of playing time. The Packers’ zone-blitz did not wreak havoc. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz went unnoticed and unscathed.
The linebackers tackled ball-carriers and the defensive backs broke up passes. When the Browns took a lead, they swarmed Green Bay backup quarterback Graham Harrell and had him throwing hither and yon. They gave up only 69 yards rushing and a 3.8-yard average after getting gashed for 198 and 6.0 last week in Detroit.
Penalties were down. Injuries did not mar the night.
The Browns rolled the Packers and punctuated a 35-10 victory with a safety when Harrell was harried for intentional grounding in the end zone on pressure from end Auston English and just-acquired tackle Ronnie Cameron. More on Harrell later.
And all that good stuff happened to the Browns after they began the game with another first-play downer. Montario Hardesty lost a fumble on the first play, and Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson capitalized three plays later with a beautiful pass and a great, physical catch over Joe Haden in tight coverage on a 20-yard touchdown play.
The fact that play didn’t demoralize the Browns was encouraging.
Hardesty, filling in again for rehabbing starter Trent Richardson, recovered for 45 yards and a touchdown run from 1 yard. He also had a nice blitz pickup on a Weeden completion.
Weeden, seeking to redeem himself from a less-than-stellar preseason debut, supervised four scores in six series – three Phil Dawson field goals and the touchdown by Hardesty.
Overall, Weeden was 12 of 20 for 118 yards and no turnovers. He looked in command against all the blitzes thrown at him by Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. He suffered drops by Greg Little and Josh Gordon, who also ran a wrong route and did not distinguish himself much other than his first two catches for 39 yards.
Other offensive performances of note belonged to Little, who set up the first touchdown with a 24-yard catch-and-lunge to the Packers’ 1; some decent running by Brandon Jackson and a 1-yard touchdown; and field goals by Phil Dawson of 53, 46 and 52 yards. He also had to re-kick a field goal and an extra point of 35 yards because of Oniel Cousins penalties.
The Browns were so much in control, the Packers’ faithful started deserting Lambeau Field in a third-quarter light drizzle.
The Browns played their starters the whole first half. The Packers lifted theirs after one quarter. Still, the Browns had to feel good about their second preseason win because they received good performances from young defensive players such as linebacker Craig Robertson, who had an interception erased by a penalty; cornerback David Sims, who had his second interception in two games and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown; and cornerback Trevin Wade. Wade, though, left the sideline area on a cart with an undisclosed injury in the fourth quarter.
Haden broke up three passes after the Nelson TD and Sheldon Brown turned in his second turnover in two games when he stripped a ball after a reception by Randall Cobb. Defensive end Emmanuel Stephens plucked the ball in mid-air and trundled for a 13-yard return.
Much of the defensive carnage came against Harrell, whose shoddy play might scare the Packers into seriously discussing a trade for a veteran quarterback to back up Rodgers. Harrell was 12 of 24 for 100 yards, with two interceptions and the grounding penalty in the end zone.
The Packers may inquire about Colt McCoy, who didn’t receive as much time as expected because the Sims’ interception touchdown return robbed him of one series in the third quarter.
McCoy had only one possession, and he took the Browns 75 yards for a touchdown, completing 4 of 6 passes for 58 yards. McCoy was confident afoot and very accurate with his throws.
Seneca Wallace and Thaddeus Lewis mopped up for the Browns in the fourth quarter. Wallace completed 3 of 4 passes for 44 yards.
It’s still considered a longshot in Green Bay that Packers GM Ted Thompson would part with a draft pick for McCoy, but Harrell’s unnerving performance could change his mind.
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