NFC North: Brandon Weeden

Game day with Gruden: Packers thoughts

November, 4, 2013
11/04/13
2:45
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Jon Gruden has spent the better part of the past week studying the Green Bay Packers in advance of Monday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

A few hours before the ESPN "Monday Night Football" analyst would head over to Lambeau Field to call the game, he spent some time with me discussing the Packers’ 5-2 start to the season.

The former Packers assistant coach (1992-94) offered his thoughts on the play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the new-found success in the running game with Eddie Lacy, the revamped offensive line including rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari, the defense’s performance without injured outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, his memories of the Packers-Bears rivalry and more.

Here’s Gruden on:
  • Rodgers’ play since losing receivers Randall Cobb, James Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley to injuries: “It’s similar, and it’s amazing. It’s always been the quickest release, pinpoint accuracy but it’s the scrambling ability, the decision-making, the mastery of this offense that separates him. But his ability to adjust with a new supporting cast not only at wide receiver but at running back and on the offensive line is quite amazing to me.”
  • Whether the running game is for real: “It is for real and as a matter of fact, it’s formidable. Nobody talks about the line here. Where they’ve made the biggest strides is in their offensive line. They switched both guards [flip-flopping T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton]. They’ve got a new starter at center [Evan Dietrich-Smith], who’s better than the center they had last year [Jeff Saturday], and this left tackle is a pretty good player.”
  • Bakhtiari’s play: "He’s getting better and better. He’s got to eliminate some penalties and some rough edges in his play, but he can move his feet, he can run block. And [right tackle Don] Barclay’s a guy that in the running game is a pretty good player. Without Finley, they put [Andrew] Quarless in there and some of these other tight ends that are blocking tight ends, John Kuhn is a good blocking back and the lead dog is a helluva runner, No. 27."
  • Maintaining the pass rush without Matthews: “The last couple of weeks, no disrespect, but they’ve sacked Brandon Weeden, a young quarterback, and they’ve sacked Christian Ponder, who I don’t know what they’re doing at quarterback. They’ll get a chance to see a really good offensive line tonight, but [defensive coordinator] Dom Capers has leaned on an inside pass rush that’s different. Mike Daniels is a good inside rusher, and some of the inside blitzes that he’s called – A.J. Hawk’s got three sacks in one game – but what’s good about him is they’ve got an inside pass rush with Datone Jones, even though his numbers aren’t there, he does a great job of creating for these linebackers, and Mike Daniels is a bear to block. So when they get the outside guys back, Perry and Matthews, the outside rush with the inside rush will be very good.”
  • The Packers’ weaknesses: “Well, we’re still early in the season. Defensively, let’s see them go up against a top-flight quarterback with these injuries that they’ve had. But I don’t see a lot of weaknesses, man. Can they pass protect when they have to? If they fall behind and get into predictable passing situations, can the right tackle handle it? I don’t know that.”
  • The Packers’ chances if they had to play a road playoff game at San Francisco, Seattle or New Orleans: “If they can run it. What happens to them is they’ve always seen a split-safety look in coverage, and it forces Rodgers to hold the ball a long time to attack those coverages, and the pass rush has eaten him up. They’ve give up a lot of sacks. Now, they’re running the ball against those looks, so now they’re seeing an eight-man front or a seven-man box, and they’ve got one-on-one with these healthy receivers. That’s when they’re going to be at their best.”
  • His favorite Packers-Bears memory when was an assistant coach: “It was perfectly clear to us, we have to win this game. In 1992, Mike Holmgren made that perfectly clear. I remember I got my first game ball in this series. He gave me a game ball. I came up with one play that actually worked. Halloween night, 1994. It was Brett Favre’s 36-yard touchdown run. He called it on third-and-2 in a monsoon, and Favre ran around the right side and picked up a block from Edgar Bennett, and I got a game ball. And I stuck it right in Andy Reid’s face.”
On the day former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith got the job, he said that one of his priorities was to beat the Green Bay Packers.

First-year Bears coach Marc Trestman made no such promises about this rivalry, but it goes without saying that he's eager to end Chicago's six-game losing streak to the Packers.

The last time Chicago beat Green Bay was on Sept. 27, 2010, on "Monday Night Football." The teams meet again in prime time Monday night at Lambeau Field.

ESPN.com's Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and Bears reporter Michael C. Wright break down the matchup.

Rob Demovsky: We all know how much Smith wanted to beat the Packers. He stated as much the day he got the head coaching job. What has Trestman's approach to this rivalry been like?

Wright: Rob, my man, you know that rivalries have to cut both ways in terms of wins and losses for it to be truly considered a rivalry. Counting the postseason, the Bears have lost six in a row and nine of the last 11. So, if anything, this is more Green Bay dominance than a rivalry. But the interesting thing about Trestman is he's a guy who likes to compartmentalize everything. He looks at today rather than the past or the future. So while it sounds cliché, Trestman is looking at the Packers as just another opponent on the schedule. That's just the way Trestman likes to operate, and I think for him it sort of makes things easier.

I keep looking at Green Bay's sack numbers, and I'm a little surprised the club is still in the top 10 in sacks with Clay Matthews out the last three games and other key members of the defense missing time. What is Dom Capers doing over there schematically to keep up the production?

Demovsky: I figured when Matthews broke his thumb, Capers would have to blitz like crazy. Now, he's picked his spots, but he hasn't gone blitz-happy like I thought he might. However, he has been sending different pass-rushers to keep offenses off guard. One game, against the Baltimore Ravens, linebacker A.J. Hawk came a bunch and sacked Joe Flacco three times. Also, they've finally found a defensive lineman with some rush ability in second-year pro Mike Daniels. Three of his team-leading four sacks have come in the past two games.

As long as we're on the topic of quarterbacks, in 2011, backup Josh McCown played a halfway decent game against the Packers on Christmas at Lambeau Field, but he threw a couple of interceptions. What do you expect from him this time around as he starts in place of the injured Jay Cutler?

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsThe Packers have limited Brandon Marshall to 8 catches for 80 yards in their past two meetings.
Wright: Believe it or not, I expect little to no drop-off from McCown in this game. The biggest difference between now and then is that in 2011, McCown joined the team in November, fresh from a stint as a high school football coach in North Carolina, and four weeks later became the starter. So he basically came in cold and still played relatively well. This time around, McCown has become immersed in the offense from the ground level, when Trestman first came on board, and even had some input as the team constructed the scheme. In fact, during the offseason, McCown was holding film sessions with all the club's new additions to teach everyone the new offense. So he's got complete mastery of the offense just like Cutler, which is why McCown came in against the Redskins and the offense didn't miss a beat. Obviously, McCown doesn't possess Cutler's arm strength. But he'll make up for that deficiency with anticipation. I'm quite sure the Bears won't scale down the offense to accommodate McCown at all, because they don't need to. So I expect McCown to play well. I'm just not sure Chicago's offense can keep up with Green Bay's in what I expect to be a high-scoring game.

Speaking of high scoring, the Packers put up 44 points on the Minnesota Vikings. How is Green Bay handling the preparation process for the Bears?

Demovsky: Well, they certainly don't have as much time as the Bears do, considering the Bears are coming off their bye week. But the Packers have gotten themselves into a rhythm. They've won four in a row after their 1-2 start and look like a different team than they did the first three weeks of the season. Mike McCarthy probably doesn't get enough credit nationally, but show me another coach who has stared injuries in the face and hasn't blinked. What other team could lose playmakers like Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jermichael Finley and Matthews and still keep winning? That's a testament to the program he has established here. You can argue with some of his in-game coaching decisions, but you can do that with every coach. What you can't question, though, is the team's preparation.

The Bears, obviously, have had their share of injuries, too, losing Cutler and linebacker Lance Briggs. What's a bigger loss -- Cutler to the offense or Briggs to the defense?

Wright: Well, Cutler's replacement is a veteran in McCown who has plenty of experience and a ton of weapons surrounding him on offense, while rookie Khaseem Greene will likely fill in for Briggs on a bad defense that will also feature rookie Jon Bostic in the middle. From my vantage point, losing Briggs is much more significant. The Bears have already proved to be horrible against the run (ranked 25th), and that issue certainly won't improve with two rookies at linebacker and a defensive line decimated by injury. It's also worth noting that Briggs made all the defensive calls and served as somewhat of a coach on the field for Bostic. Given that Green Bay seems to be running the ball so well, the current situation with Chicago's front seven could be devastating.

Now that the Packers are running the ball so well, how has that changed the way the offense is called? It seems Green Bay runs well regardless of which running back they line up in the backfield.

Demovsky: It's remarkable -- and even a bit stunning -- to see Aaron Rodgers check out of a pass play and in to a run play at the line of scrimmage. That kind of thing hasn't happened around here in a long, long time -- probably not since Ahman Green was piling up 1,000-yard seasons nearly a decade ago. Teams no longer can sit back in a Cover-2 look and dare the Packers to run. Because guess what? The Packers can finally do it. It also has given the receivers more one-on-one opportunities, so it's helped the passing game, too. Right now, this offense almost looks unstoppable.

If the Packers keep playing like this, they might be tough to catch in the NFC North. What are the Bears' prospects for staying in the NFC North race until Cutler and Briggs return?

Wright: To me, this game is the measuring stick for making that determination. But I'm not really confident about Chicago's chances, and that has more to do with the team's struggling defense than Cutler's absence. There have been conflicting statements made about Cutler's recovery time frame. Some teammates think he'll be ready to return by the time the Bears face Detroit on Nov. 4, while Trestman said the plan is to stick to the minimum four-week time frame prescribed by the doctors. Either way, if the Bears lose to the Lions you can kiss their prospects for the playoffs goodbye. The Bears might be able to afford a loss to the Packers because they'll face them again on Dec. 29. But a sweep by the Lions kills Chicago's chances to me because just from what we've seen so far, it appears one of the wild cards will come out of the NFC North with the other coming from the NFC West. Obviously it's too early to predict that, but that's the way things seem to be shaking out.

Without two of his top receivers and tight end Finley, Rogers still hit 83 percent of his passes against the Vikings. Is that success a product of the system, a bad Minnesota defense, or is Rodgers just that good at this point?

Demovsky: The more I see other quarterbacks play, the more I'm convinced it's Rodgers. For example, seldom-used receiver Jarrett Boykin makes his first NFL start two weeks ago against the Cleveland Browns, and he ends up with eight catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. How many catches do you think he would have had if he were playing for the Browns that day? Their quarterback, Brandon Weeden, completed only 17-of-42 passes. That's not to minimize what Boykin did or what players like Jordy Nelson do week in and week out, but Rodgers is special, and special players elevate the play of those around them. Look at what Greg Jennings has done since he left for the Vikings. Now tell me the quarterback doesn't make the receiver, not vice versa.

Speaking of receivers, other than Anquan Boldin, who lit up the Packers in the opener at San Francisco, they've done a solid job shutting down other team's No. 1 receivers -- most recently Jennings and Cincinnati's A.J. Green. How do you think the Bears will try to get Brandon Marshall involved against what has been a pretty good Packers secondary?

Wright: This question brings me back to the 2012 massacre at Lambeau Field on Sept. 13. The Packers bracketed Marshall with two-man coverage, and the Bears struggled tremendously. Shoot, cornerback Tramon Williams caught as many of Cutler's passes as Marshall, who finished the game with two grabs for 24 yards. Obviously, this offensive coaching staff is a lot different than last year's group. So the Bears will go into this game with a lot more answers for that coverage. I definitely see McCown leaning on Marshall and trying to get him involved as early as possible, but the only way he'll be able to do that is for the Bears to establish the rushing attack with Matt Forte so the quarterback can operate off play action. When the Bears go to Marshall early, expect to see a lot of short passes that will enable the receiver to gain some yardage after the catch.

Over the years, Green Bay has been pretty successful at limiting the impact of return man Devin Hester. So I was a little shocked to see the Packers give up a kickoff return for a touchdown to Cordarrelle Patterson. As you probably know, Hester is coming off a pretty strong return game against the Redskins. Do you think the Packers fix the problems they encountered last week, and minimize Hester's impact?

Demovsky: Part of the Packers' problem on special teams has been that all the injuries have created a trickle-down effect. Here's what I mean: On the kickoff coverage until they gave up the 109-yard return to Patterson, they lined up six rookies, two of whom weren't even on the opening day roster. The Packers always have feared Hester, as they should, and in various games in recent years have shown they'd almost rather kick the ball out of bounds than give him any return opportunities. He's one of those special players who make rivalry games so entertaining.

Packers prepare for another backup QB

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
2:35
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- For the third straight week, the Green Bay Packers are preparing for a quarterback they probably did not expect to face.

Is that a disadvantage for the Packers?

It hasn’t been so far. They beat both the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings -- two teams that were forced to change quarterbacks because of injuries.

They face the same task Monday night at Lambeau Field against the Chicago Bears.

However, the Bears, coming off their bye week, have had plenty of time to prepare veteran backup Josh McCown for Monday night. McCown, who finished the Oct. 20 loss to Washington after Jay Cutler sustained a torn groin muscle, will make his first start since the 2011 regular-season finale.

Here’s a look at how the opposing quarterback dynamics have changed over the past three weeks:

McCown
Cutler
Chicago Bears

Who the Packers thought they’d face: Cutler, under new coach Marc Trestman, was off to a solid start. With a passer rating of 91.7, he was on pace for the best mark of his career. Trestman was hired in large part because of his work with quarterbacks, and he made an immediate impact on Cutler, who had only one game with more than two interceptions this season. Other than his three-interception game in a 40-32 loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 4, Cutler had largely avoided those disastrous stretches that have plagued him during his tenure as the Bears’ starter. The Packers will likely still see Cutler this season. They don’t play the Bears again until the regular-season finale on Dec. 29, and Cutler is expected to return well before that game.

Who they will face: The 34-year-old McCown, a third-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2002, is not a complete stranger to the Packers. He started for the Bears at Lambeau Field on Christmas night 2011, only a month after he was signed following a thumb injury to Cutler. In a 35-21 Packers victory, McCown threw one touchdown and two interceptions. He has played in only two regular-season games since then, including 2½ quarters this season against the Redskins after Cutler’s injury. In relief, McCown completed 14 of 20 passes for 204 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions for passer rating of 119.6 -- his highest mark in a game since Dec. 2, 2007.

Freeman
Ponder
Ponder
Minnesota Vikings

Who the Packers thought they’d face: The Monday night before the Packers’ Oct. 27 game at Minnesota, the Vikings turned over the offense to Josh Freeman, who had been signed two weeks earlier. Though Freeman was horrific in his debut, completing just 20 of 53 passes in a 23-7 loss to the New York Giants, he was expected to start against the Packers until it was discovered after the fact that he sustained a concussion in the loss to the Giants.

Who they faced: The Vikings decided to go back to opening day starter Christian Ponder rather than veteran Matt Cassel, who led them to their only win this season. The Packers had plenty of film on Ponder, who took over as the Vikings’ starter on Oct. 23, 2011, against Green Bay and held the job through the first four games of this season. In perhaps his last shot to regain the starting job, Ponder was ineffective against the Packers on Sunday, throwing for just 145 yards on 14-of-21 without a touchdown or an interception in the Packers’ 44-31 victory.

Hoyer
Weeden
Cleveland Browns

Who the Packers thought they’d face: The Browns had seemingly resurrected their season when they benched starter Brandon Weeden in favor of journeyman Brian Hoyer. After an 0-2 start with Weeden, the Browns went to Hoyer. He won his first two starts but then sustained a torn ACL in his third start, an Oct. 3 win over the Buffalo Bills.

Who they faced: Weeden came on in relief and led the Browns to a win over the Bills and then was named the starter against the Lions on Oct. 13, the week before the Browns came to Green Bay. Weeden lost to the Lions and then was so bad against the Packers, throwing two interceptions while completing just 17 of 42 passes, that the Browns benched him in favor of Jason Campbell the following week.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Admit it, you thought the Green Bay Packers' pass rush would disappear without linebacker Clay Matthews.

And you thought defensive coordinator Dom Capers would need to resort to mass blitzing in order for his unit to muster any pressure whatsoever on opposing quarterbacks.

In the two games since the four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker broke his right thumb, neither has been the case.

[+] EnlargeClay Matthews
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsInjuries to Clay Matthews and other pass-rushers have forced the Packers to get creative when applying pressure. So far, so good.
In fact, even without their best pass-rusher, the Packers have put more heat on quarterbacks and have done so by blitzing less often. In two full games without Matthews, the Packers have recorded eight sacks and, according to ProFootballFocus, they have combined for five other quarterback hits and 31 hurries.

"I think, all in all, our pass rush has been good," Packers outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene said. "Yeah, our goal is three [sacks] a game, and we got five and three, so that's on target."

The sack and pressure numbers from the past two games have almost already matched what the Packers did in four games last season when Matthews was out with a hamstring injury. In that stretch, they combined for only seven sacks, six hits and 38 hurries, according to PFF.

In the past two games, wins against the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, Capers has sent more than the standard four pass-rushers on 32.2 percent of the opponent's dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In the first four games, he did so on 39.5 percent of the opponent's dropbacks.

Against the Ravens, he sent five pass-rushers on 25 percent of Joe Flacco’s dropbacks, six rushers on just one snap and never sent seven. Last week against the Browns, he sent five rushers on 25.5 percent of Brandon Weeden's dropbacks, six rushers on 6.4 percent and seven rushers on two snaps. In fact, Capers rushed only four on the Browns' last 17 pass plays of the game.

Halfway through the game against the Ravens, the Packers lost another outside linebacker, Nick Perry, to a foot injury. Combined with a bruised shoulder that limited outside linebacker Mike Neal against the Browns, the Packers started with a pair of rookies, Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer, at outside linebacker against Cleveland.

"Part of that is based on the fact that you have to be careful not to get too exotic with these new guys," Capers said. "Their head will be swimming, and you aren’t going to get much done. You say, 'Let's have them be able to play their base fundamentals and technique, then we’ll take our shots in terms of when we do come with pressure.'"

That’s not to say Capers hasn't blitzed. He has sent inside linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks. It's just that sometimes he does so without rushing more than four.

In Matthews' absence, six different players have recorded sacks. Four have come from the inside linebacker spot (A.J. Hawk with three, Jamari Lattimore with one), two from cornerbacks (Micah Hyde and Tramon Williams), one from the defensive line (Mike Daniels) and one from the outside linebackers (Perry).

"That's just a testament to the guys we've got," said Daniels, who has two sacks this season. "Guys are ready to go. We had a great camp. I always go back to that camp because I think it set a crucial tone. You can see all the work coming out right now."

The Packers rank eighth in the NFL with 20 sacks despite not having a player rank in the top 46 individually.

"So much of our pass rush is based on if we can play the run well," Capers said. "Get the game to be one-dimensional, and then we feel like all those things the players like to do, we can do that. We've been able to do that because people haven’t been able to run the ball against us. We’ve had five, five and three sacks, so we’ve had 13 sacks in the last three games, but there’s been a number of quarterback hits, too."
Aaron RodgersMike McGinnis/Getty ImagesEven without two of his top receivers, Aaron Rodgers threw three TD passes to lead the Packers.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It’s starting to look like it might not matter who the Green Bay Packers line up at receiver.

A street free agent cut last season by the Jacksonville Jaguars?

An undrafted rookie promoted last week from the practice squad?

As long as Aaron Rodgers is the one throwing them the ball, they will be productive.

What other explanation could there possibly be for what happened at Lambeau Field on Sunday, when seldom-used receiver Jarrett Boykin, turned away by the Jaguars more than a year ago, led the Packers with eight catches for 103 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s 31-13 rout of the Cleveland Browns?

A week earlier, Boykin dropped two passes when pressed into action after Randall Cobb (fractured fibula) and James Jones (knee) were injured against Baltimore. On Sunday, Boykin and rookie Myles White, promoted from the practiced squad last week, took their places, and the offense, while perhaps not turbocharged like usual, still had plenty of pep.

Considering what the Packers were missing, including tight end Jermichael Finley -- who left on a stretcher after a scary neck injury in the fourth quarter -- it might say more about Rodgers than anyone else.

Imagine what Boykin and White (who caught one pass for 9 yards) would have done with, say, Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden -- who completed just 40.5 percent of his passes on Sunday -- throwing them the ball?

“Yeah, that would’ve been tough,” White said when that scenario was proposed to him after the game. “But I’m just glad we’re here.”

That the Packers didn’t completely abandon their preferred three-receiver set just because Jordy Nelson was the only one of the original trio still standing tells you everything you need to know about Rodgers. Sure, they relied more than usual on their tight ends, and running back Eddie Lacy (22 carries for 82 yards and one touchdown) had another productive day.

But minus two of his top three receivers -- and then without his playmaking tight end for the final 10 minutes -- Rodgers still threw three touchdown passes without an interception. He completed 25 of 36 passes for 260 yards and finished with a passer rating of 117.8.

“I don’t think it would have been able to be possible, not without [No.] 12,” White said, referring to Rodgers. “Because he’s a genius out there on the field.”

Perhaps the smartest thing Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy did was to get Boykin involved early with a couple of short passes. On the Packers’ opening possession, Rodgers threw a hitch to Boykin, who gained 4 yards. On third-and-8 on the next possession, Rodgers went to Boykin on a stop route for a 15-yard gain, and they were off and running.

“I think he’s a confidence guy,” Rodgers said. “So we wanted to make sure we got him some plays early.”

Both of those drives ended with touchdowns -- the first on a 10-yard pass to Finley and the second on a 1-yard run by Lacy -- and the Packers proved they could function with this hodgepodge cast.

The Packers needed Boykin and, to a lesser extent, White because the Browns blanketed Nelson with their best cornerback, Joe Haden. Nelson still managed five catches for 42 yards and a touchdown, but Rodgers knew he couldn’t force the ball to him every time.

So, wisely, he didn’t.

[+] EnlargeJarrett Boykin
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsSeldom-used Jarrett Boykin played a starring role Sunday, with eight catches for 103 yards and a TD.
Rodgers targeted Boykin more often (10 times) than Nelson (six) and White (two) combined. In the second half, Boykin delivered a pair of big plays. His 39-yard catch and run set up Nelson’s 1-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, and then, Boykin scored one of his own, when he stretched out for the goal line at the end of a 20-yard reception.

“I felt like we were on a better rhythm today,” Boykin said of his connection with Rodgers. “Just a little bit of like dialing in and him giving me what he wants me to do and me focusing on what I need to do to get in an area to where he can make a terrific pass.”

Who knows how many more injuries the Packers will sustain? If Finley’s scary-looking neck injury is serious, even more will be placed on Rodgers.

But, after a day like Sunday, when the Packers (4-2) moved into first place in the NFC North, there’s little reason to think the Packers -- more specifically, Rodgers -- can’t handle it.

“There’s a lot on his shoulders, and he handles it well,” said Packers backup quarterback Seneca Wallace, who signed with the team last month. “I’ve been around some good quarterbacks, and there’s a lot of pressure on him, and he handles himself well, tremendously well.

“A lot of the stuff he does, people don’t understand because you’ve got the Peyton Mannings and the Tom Bradys who get all the attention but handles himself very well no matter what.”
Eddie Lacy and Brandon WeedenUSA TODAY SportsThe Packers may have to rely more on their run game, while Browns QB Brandon Weeden seeks to recover from a forgettable outing.
The Green Bay Packers have made it past a difficult stretch in which they played four playoff teams from last season in their first five games.

And they came out of it with a respectable 3-2 record.

The Cleveland Browns, despite going from Brandon Weeden to Brian Hoyer and now back to Weeden at quarterback, also aren't out of anything yet at 3-3.

ESPN.com Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and Browns reporter Pat McManamon break down the matchup:

McManamon: Rob, what will Green Bay do at receiver with all those injuries, and how much will it affect the offense?

Demovsky: It's bound to have a significant impact. Randall Cobb more or less became the focal point of the passing game last season and if anything, that intensified this season. Sure, he's only a slot receiver and the Packers still have the deep threat of Jordy Nelson on the outside. But in this offense, a lot of those quick-hit passes -- especially against teams that blitz -- are directed to the inside. No team used more three-receiver sets than the Packers had until Cobb went down last week against the Ravens. They had used a three-receiver set on 90 percent of their snaps. That number likely will go down beginning this week against the Browns. They might have to rely on their new-found running game more than ever. But with fewer threats in the passing game, teams might be able to load up to stop running back Eddie Lacy.

The Browns have offensive issues of their own, Pat. Brandon Weeden's turnovers in the loss to the Lions looked like killers, especially that backhanded, underhand flip. How can they get him to play smarter?

McManamon: That backhanded, underhand flip will live for a long time in the annals of Cleveland Browns misplays since 1999, Rob. A lengthy list just got longer. As for getting him to play smarter, that's the challenge. And the challenge has gone on for 18 starts. Weeden actually started fairly well as a 29-year-old rookie, but he struggled the end of last season and this season he's played in fits and starts. Which of course won't be good enough against Green Bay. With Brian Hoyer injured, the Browns have few other options -- it's not like Tom Brady is on the streets waiting for a job -- so they will stick with Weeden. But you have to wonder whether the Browns aren't coming to the conclusion that what they see is what he'll be when it comes to this 30-year-old quarterback.

Rob, Weeden does not read the rush well and does not move well. The Packers are ninth in the league in sacks. Is that yet another bad recipe for Weeden and the Browns offense?

Demovsky: It remains to be seen whether they can keep up their sack pace. They did it without Clay Matthews last week, getting five sacks at Baltimore, but now they're going to be without another outside rusher, Nick Perry. Matthews and Perry each have three sacks on the season, which ties A.J. Hawk for the team lead. At some point, those injuries have to slow down their pass rush. The one thing that's helping them is they're playing the run very well, probably the best they have since they led the league in rushing defense in 2009. After shutting down Ray Rice last week, they're up to third in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (78.2). That's putting teams in a lot of third-and-long situations, which allows defensive coordinator Dom Capers to blitz. That's how Hawk got all three of his sacks against the Ravens.

Perhaps the Browns can help protect Weeden if they run the ball effectively to keep the Packers from rushing like crazy. What are their prospects for doing that?

McManamon: Running the ball would protect Weeden. But it helps to have a ... well ... a running game. At present, the Browns are in make-do mode with the running game, and as the season continues that will more and more become a problem. Since the trade of Trent Richardson the Browns have relied on aging Willis McGahee, young Bobby Rainey and fullback Chris Ogbonnaya. These guys give effort, but there's only so much they can give. McGahee can't run outside, Rainey is inexperienced and Ogbonnaya is what he is. The Browns rank 22nd in the league by running for 86.8 yards per game -- though they are averaging 3.9 yards per carry. If the Browns want to run, they will have to commit to it and pound it out, something I am not sure they can do.

Rob, the Browns have had 19 starting quarterbacks since 1999 -- and it appears next year or soon after that number will hit 20. Do the Packers and their fans realize just how fortunate they have been these many years to have Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers?

Demovsky: They should. There are only a handful of organizations who can say they've had the kind of quarterback transition that the Packers had. The 49ers with Joe Montana to Steve Young come to mind. Maybe the Colts have that now with Andrew Luck following Peyton Manning. Not only was Favre a great quarterback, but he was there week in and week out. Rodgers is pretty much the same way. Those guys rarely get injured and when they do, they still play.

Most Packers fans here are still fond of Mike Holmgren, for leading them to the Super Bowl XXXI title. His tenure with as a Browns executive was much shorter. What impact, if any, did he have on the organization?

McManamon: Let's just say the feelings for Holmgren are a lot warmer in Green Bay -- odd as that sounds -- than in Cleveland. Many fans feel Holmgren's epitaph with the Browns should be "As a president, he was a great coach." A lot of that is frustration at constant losing. Some is frustration at the job title and salary scale Randy Lerner gave Holmgren. More still that Holmgren never took on the coaching duties himself. On balance, Holmgren's tenure was no worse than many, and better than some. He and GM Tom Heckert brought in some good players who are helping the team win now. But with any regime change comes more change, and Joe Banner has gotten rid of some of Holmgren's guys -- notably Richardson. Holmgren's biggest gamble was selecting a quarterback in the first round a year ago who is now 30. But Weeden clearly would have been helped by more continuity in the front office.

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- For the first time in his litany of incidents in the NFL throughout his four-year career, Ndamukong Suh might have a case for being fined egregiously.

The NFL reportedly fined the Detroit Lions defensive tackle $31,500 for a hit on Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden on Sunday. Suh hit Weeden on two separate occasions, but neither one was flagged and neither one seemed all too bad.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh and Brandon Weeden
AP Photo/David RichardNdamukong Suh was fined $31,500 for this hit on Browns QB Brandon Weeden, which did not draw a flag in Sunday's game.
Perhaps that's just in comparison to other plays Suh has been fined for in his career, which include a suspension for stomping on a player, blocking another at the knees and a kick to the groin.

However both plays Sunday looked fairly clean live. Yes, this is why the NFL goes over plays after the fact, to find illegal things that may not have been called, but this is the first time one of Suh's fines seem questionable. And a screen stop of the play shows Suh’s helmet going into the chest of Weeden on an incomplete pass to Davone Bess in the first quarter.

But the question there is where was he supposed to go? The game moves fast. The hit clearly came in the pace of play. In this particular instance -- and let me stress this instance only -- he may not have been trying to hit Weeden with his helmet.

And again, he wasn’t flagged for it.

Part of Suh’s problem here is he is a repeat offender and his fines escalate over time so that likely goes into the large figure.

Suh said Wednesday he always feels like he is under a microscope. This might be an example of him being overly scrutinized.

He brings some of that scrutiny on himself with his play. Some of it is probably unwarranted. But as he said Wednesday, life isn’t always fair. And it’s not. It probably explains how Suh deals with these things.

He seems to shrug them off, like he did publicly when asked about losing the appeal on his $100,000 fine from Week 1. He just kind of moves on to the next week and the next play and, apparently, the next inevitable play that will be monitored by the NFL.

One thing Suh hasn’t done, though, is think about leaving the game because of the attention, even though he said recently that once he's done with football he’d probably move out to the woods somewhere.

“I have a very strong group of people around me that take care of me and understand,” Suh said. “I think you just roll with the punches. Not everything is going to go your way in life.

“I understood that, grew up that way. It’s just like, for me, I wanted a Nintendo 64 when I was little. My mom said no.”

To be fair, up to this point the NFL has not been overly heavy-handed with Suh this season. He was not fined for what appeared to be an inadvertent elbow to the head of Arizona offensive lineman Eric Winston.

But the message is clear. This is the price of being Ndamukong Suh lately. For every questionable hit he delivers, he might also take an ever-increasing hit to his bank account.
CLEVELAND -- Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden appeared to have all day. Legitimately, second-upon-second to dissect the Detroit defense during the first half and find open receivers working against cornerbacks.

Considering the efficiency of the Lions front four in the past and how good they had been at both pressuring quarterbacks and also stuffing runs when necessary, this became surprising. The slowest quarterback in the NFL, with the longest time before pass in the league entering the game, got all of the time necessary to make the reads.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Ndamukong Suh
AP Photo/Tony DejakNdamukong Suh and the Lions got to Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden in the second half.
Meanwhile, Cleveland was able to run the ball well with Willis McGahee and gave Weeden the appropriate time -- he even had a rare scramble Sunday -- while Detroit couldn’t gain pressure.

“We ran the ball extremely well in the first half,” Weeden said. “That opened up a lot of things, play action, in the passing game. The guys up front, I thought, played extremely well.

“That’s a talented front four, they are deep, they rotate guys in that are also really good.”

Cleveland doubled defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh often during the first half, leaving it up to the rest of the Lions’ defensive line to make plays. It didn’t always go well.

The Browns hit their season-high rushing for a game in the first half when they gained 115 yards. Much of the yardage came on a 45-yard run by receiver Travis Benjamin, but there were holes to be had.

“Things were coming out a little bit faster and they were doubling, chipping, stuff like that,” defensive end Willie Young said. “Stuff that we get on the normal. Just have to continue to keep pushing and keep moving forward. Even when they are getting rid of the ball fast, doubling.”

In the second half, the Lions front four did. They pressured Weeden more, eventually hitting him five times and pressuring Weeden into throwing two interceptions to linebacker DeAndre Levy. They also sacked him twice and shut off the Cleveland running game.

The Browns rushed for 11 yards in the second half.

“Oh yeah. We made them one-dimensional,” Young said. “We took them out of the run game and couldn’t help but to pass and that allowed us to be a little more precise on our rush.”

The rush also looked more like the Lions front four typically had looked most of the season, when they used their depth and rotation to help turn the game.

Three halftime thoughts on Lions

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
2:45
PM ET
CLEVELAND -- This was not a pretty half for the Detroit Lions. Not at all. Here are three quick thoughts on what has been going on.

1. Front four struggling badly: Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden is slow. He takes forever to throw the ball. And he's getting enough time that if he wanted to, he could dig up some dirt, plant some seeds for flowers and potentially watch them grow before finding an open receiver. The Lions have been really good at getting pressure with their front four in every game this season, even against Green Bay last week, but they have basically let Weeden go untouched most of the day. The Browns also have a season-high 115 yards rushing ... and it's the first half.

2. Calvin Johnson isn't 100 percent and the other Lions receivers aren't helping: Johnson has two drops in the first half, which is very uncharacteristic for him, and has not been on the field for his typical amount of plays. The other Detroit receivers, meanwhile, can't catch the ball. Sure, some of them are high on the degree of difficulty scale -- including a diving one for Patrick Edwards -- but quarterback Matthew Stafford is hitting his receivers in the hands a lot of times and they just aren't holding on to the ball. It's not a good look for a team still without a healthy Johnson.

3. Why not more Reggie? Reggie Bush has been used fairly infrequently in the offense so far. He has not been thrown to at all and has seven carries for 14 yards. The lack of carries kind of makes sense because Cleveland is doing a good job up front, but being unable to get him involved in the passing game is surprising.
The last time the Detroit Lions traveled to Cleveland, the game didn’t count. It was preseason and most of the guys on the current roster barely played in Ohio that night.

One who did, Detroit running back Joique Bell, made a different sort of impact.

Bell leveled a streaker in the game, something that received a lot of attention at the time. When approached about it this week, Bell initially said he didn’t remember taking out the streaker.

Then, when he was asked if he was lying about not remembering it, he laughed.

“Yeah,” Bell said. “Nah, we’re not focused on that. They have a picture, never mind, nobody’s brought that up.”

Streaking aside, here are four keys for Detroit to beat Cleveland on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson
AP Photo/Darryl WebbThe Lions need Calvin Johnson on the field if only to create opportunities for their other playmakers on offense.
Calvin Johnson’s health: This won’t truly be determined until a couple of hours before Sunday’s game, but the Lions need some form of Johnson on the field against the Browns. The chances of him being fully healthy are minimal -- he probably won’t get completely there until the bye week at the end of the month -- but at whatever level Johnson can go at, the Lions need him.

He opens up everything else for Detroit, even if he is only able to run a limited selection of routes. His presence, healthy or not, will force Cleveland to at least shade a safety over toward his side. In doing so, it will open up the running game for Reggie Bush and Bell and open up the opposite side of the field for tight ends and receivers to work. It might not be everything for Detroit, but it certainly is a help. Johnson on the field could also help...

Keeping Matthew Stafford upright: The Lions' offensive line had done a good job protecting Stafford until last week, when Green Bay sacked him five times. Stafford held the ball longer and had more time until release than he did in any game this year. Part of that goes to Johnson’s health, but they have to be able to give him enough time to make his progressive reads, especially if Johnson isn’t in the game. The fifth-year pro has done a good job finding the open man and putting the ball in good spots when the line gave him some time to read what was going on, but they need a rebound performance against a tough Browns front.

Hit Brandon Weeden early: Detroit rarely blitzes -- they send five or more pass-rushers on just 16.4 percent of dropbacks -- and are still able to cause issues for quarterbacks. Weeden is not a fast quarterback; has an average time before the pass of 4.34 seconds on a play. In the NFL, that’s an eternity. For Detroit’s defensive line, that’s a reason to be very, very excited about what could happen Sunday. It is unlikely the Lions’ front four will allow Weeden anywhere close to that time. If they can force him into poor decisions, that could mean big plays for the back seven in terms of interceptions and pass break-ups.

Limit Travis Benjamin’s chances: The Browns have the second-best punt return average in the league and a lot of that has to do with Benjamin, who is averaging 15.1 yards a return. That’s second among regular returners only to Tandon Doss' 16.7 yards a return. So as effective as Lions punter Sam Martin and his coverage team was against Chicago and Devin Hester two weeks ago, they need to continue being effective there this Sunday. Benjamin already has a punt return touchdown this season and could be a game-changer. Martin has to be smart on his targets and his ball placement Sunday.

Or, as Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said, Benjamin is “super fast.”
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- In the hyper-regimented world of the NFL, a team trading its top running back hours after naming its third-string quarterback the starter qualifies as a major disruption: not just for the Cleveland Browns, but for the Minnesota Vikings, who play them this weekend. In fact, it's such a departure from the normal routine that the Vikings spent more time on Thursday morning talking about the hardship of trying to find film on Brian Hoyer and Willis McGahee more than the help of not facing the injured Brandon Weeden or the departed Trent Richardson.

[+] EnlargeBrian Hoyer
AP Photo/Scott BoehmBrian Hoyer will be making just his second career start on Sunday.
Only defensive end Jared Allen would admit a little joy about the news -- "I'm not going to say I didn't smile about it," he said -- but the rest of the talk from the Vikings' defense about the Richardson trade was centered on what an inconvenience it is.

"It's a little bit mixed up right now, but it's the NFL. I think everybody has to adjust at some point in some phase," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "It's tough, but preparing for a team, knowing what they have, is tough also. The coaches are good about doing the research, seeing what guys can do. It's a (Rob) Chudzinksi, Norv Turner-type of scheme. They do have some characteristics they've shown in the past."

That might be enough to keep the Vikings from drifting to the school of thought that the Browns, who are also 0-2, will be a pushover this weekend. Hoyer is making just his second NFL start, and McGahee -- who was reportedly set to sign with the Browns pending a physical -- has only started more than 10 games in a season once since 2007.

But the Vikings, who are also 0-2, can ill afford to take anyone lightly at the moment. Williams said they'll focus more on the Browns' scheme than the people running it, while looking at tape of Hoyer in the team's fourth preseason game and whatever they can find of the Browns' running backs.

In the process, the Vikings hope they'll avoid turning the Browns' turmoil into an advantage.

"They know," Williams said. "I know our guys are mature enough and professional enough to not fall into the trap that maybe my boys at home, looking at fantasy football, think that, 'Oh, Dad, you've got 'em.' Our guys are brighter and smarter than that."
Phil Taylor, Adrian PetersonGetty ImagesPhil Taylor and the thus-far stout Browns run defense gets a major test in Adrian Peterson.
A pair of teams desperate for their first victory square off in Minneapolis this weekend when the Minnesota Vikings host the Cleveland Browns.

The Vikings are coming off a last-second loss in Chicago, after which players were venting about the defensive call that led to the Bears’ touchdown with 10 seconds left. Minnesota goes from Minneapolis to London for a date with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Vikings are in dire need of some positive momentum.

The Browns, meanwhile, have scored just 16 points in a pair of losses, and already have made major changes. They will start Brian Hoyer at quarterback this weekend with starter Brandon Weeden out because of a thumb injury. Meanwhile, the Browns traded running back Trent Richardson on Wednesday, parting with their top playmaker in exchange for the Indianapolis Colts' 2014 first-round draft pick.

As the teams meet for the first time since 2009, ESPN.com Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson break down the game:

Goessling: Matt, the last time these two teams faced each other, it was on opening day in 2009, Brady Quinn was under center for the Browns and Brett Favre was playing his first regular-season game in a Vikings uniform. How things have changed since then. The Vikings have their own quarterback issues -- Christian Ponder probably keeps his job for now after a solid second half in Chicago last week, though he’s in serious need of some consistency. With Hoyer at quarterback, Richardson gone to Indianapolis and Josh Gordon coming back from a suspension, what can we expect from the Browns’ offense?

Williamson: I was feeling optimistic about Cleveland's offense going into Week 3 with Gordon returning and the disaster at the right guard position seemingly resolved. But now Weeden is out and Hoyer is in. That doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the loss of Richardson, who should be the foundation of this offense as a runner and underrated receiver. I truly think the Colts got themselves a great young back. But that leaves the Browns in a very precarious situation in the backfield. It is going to be a long year on this side of the ball.

The Vikings had an outstanding rookie class in 2012 and made three picks in the first round of this latest draft. Although there are obvious concerns at the quarterback position, Minnesota has quietly established a fine young nucleus. What roles do you see for its three first-round picks for this game, as well as going forward in 2013?

Goessling: It’s interesting you bring that up, because Cordarrelle Patterson's role -- or perhaps his absence -- has been a big topic of conversation this week. He got only five snaps in the Vikings’ first game, and had just six as a receiver last Sunday, even after he ran the opening kickoff back 105 yards for a touchdown. He’s young, and raw, but he might also be one of the most dangerous players the Vikings can put on the field, aside from Adrian Peterson. Coach Leslie Frazier all but called for Patterson to be on the field more during his news conference Monday. The challenge for the Vikings is to either work him into their base offense or go to enough multiple-receiver sets that they can use him, but I don’t doubt we’ll see him more going forward.

That could be especially important considering how good the Browns have been against the run in their first two games. They’ve allowed just 59.5 yards per game -- how will they fare against Peterson this weekend?

Williamson: Well, facing Peterson is obviously the ultimate challenge, and his run blocking, including the tight ends and fullbacks, is quite good as well. But I am very impressed with the Browns’ run defense -- and it starts up front. I believe that Phil Taylor is on the verge of stardom; his battle with John Sullivan, an excellent center in his own right, in the middle of the formation, will be crucial for the success of Cleveland’s interior run defense. But the Browns also have very good size at outside linebacker and do a nice job containing the outside run; their second- and third-level defenders get to the ball carrier well.

I mentioned before that the right guard position has been a nightmare, but the Browns’ excellent set of offensive tackles, Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz, also has struggled much more than would be expected against two formidable defenses. As you know, Jared Allen is still playing at a very high level. But as some might not know, Brian Robison is also excelling this year and Everson Griffen is a highly athletic and intriguing end, too. Could Minnesota’s defensive ends rule the day?

Goessling: They certainly could. They struggled in Week 1 in Detroit, as Matthew Stafford found Reggie Bush on a number of early screen passes before the rush could get home. But the Vikings put consistent pressure on Jay Cutler last week, and Allen caused a Cutler fumble that Robison returned 61 yards for a touchdown. The Vikings also have not played at home yet, which means they will have the advantage of the crowd disrupting the opposing offense’s snap count for the first time this year. Minnesota has enough issues on the back end of its defense that it needs a strong pass rush to cover up for some of those deficiencies, and if the defensive line can get to Hoyer, the Vikings should be able to slow the Browns down and win the game.

To close this up, what’s the biggest thing you think the Browns need to do to win the game? What kind of a shot will they have without Weeden and Richardson?

Williamson: I really don’t like Cleveland’s chances at all, but its defense could keep this game close and limit Peterson’s production. Of course, Ponder could have a very poor game, or the Browns could score on defense or special teams. But I can’t see their offense this week moving the football with any sort of consistency. As Cleveland's front office is doing, it is time to start looking toward next year.

 

Reviewing Thursday's events at FirstEnergy Stadium:

Cleveland Browns 24, Detroit Lions 6

Preseason record: 1-1

Of interest: The game started with a drop by tight end Brandon Pettigrew and continued on in sloppy and uninspiring fashion for the Lions. ... There were a few highlights, most notably from defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and because this is August, we'll start with them. Suh collapsed the Browns' pocket several times and quite amazingly ran down Browns tailback Trent Richardson on the far sideline, while Fairley blew past All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas on an outside rush and also stopped Richardson on a screen play. But Suh committed a silly personal foul, one of three for the Lions in the first half and four overall, and the Lions couldn't get out of their own way for most of the game. … The first-team offense was largely punchless without receiver Calvin Johnson (minor knee bruise), punting four times and scoring only on a 48-yard field goal by David Akers on its fifth and final possession. ... In all, the starting offense managed 73 yards and four first downs in the first half. ... The team's only other score came on a 33-yard field goal by Havard Rugland in the third quarter. ... Quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 11 of 16 passes but only for 74 yards, and while we got a few glimpses of Reggie Bush's potential as a flat receiver (five receptions, 44 yards), he managed only 15 yards on eight carries. … Meanwhile, the second-level tackling from the Lions defense was brutal -- the most glaring was Ashlee Palmer's failure to tackle Josh Gordon on a short pass -- and the Browns' presumably weak passing game lit them up all evening. Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell combined to complete 20 of 26 passes for 223 yards and three scores. Weeden caught the Lions in a botched man coverage on one touchdown and split safeties Don Carey and Glover Quin for the other. ... The best news: The Lions reported no significant injuries.

Local coverage: Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "The Lions got a glimpse of life without Calvin Johnson on Thursday, and it wasn't pretty." Coach Jim Schwartz said "it was very disappointing to see the way we played without Calvin because I thought there was opportunities for guys to make plays." … Drew Sharp of the Free Press: "[I]f Jim Schwartz’s overriding objective coming into the Cleveland game Thursday night was lulling the rest of the NFL into believing the Lions hadn’t changed their bumbling ways, he succeeded." … Stafford, via Justin Rogers of Mlive.com: "Obviously Calvin was out tonight, but that's no excuse. We can't use it as an excuse. We can't use it as a crutch. We have to have other guys step up and make plays." … Rogers also reviewed the Lions' 60 yards in personal foul penalties. … One bit of humor on the night: Lions running back Joique Bell knocked down a streaker who made it onto the field. Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News has the gory details.

Up next: Thursday against the New England Patriots at Ford Field.
PHOENIX -- So the main media attraction Tuesday at the NFL owners meeting was the AFC coaches' breakfast. There isn't much to be gleaned about NFC North teams from that group, so I decided to circulate among the AFC North coaches -- whose teams are on our collective 2013 schedules -- to check in on their offseason progress. A few snippets:

Baltimore Ravens
Issue: The team has been gutted by free-agent departures and is awaiting word on a decision from free agent safety Ed Reed. As a result, this team belongs to quarterback Joe Flacco like never before.
Coach John Harbaugh: "Joe’s going to do a great job of just continuing to get better in everything that he does and rallying the guys around him. He’s going to take those young guys under his wing and he’s going to push those guys forward. He’s going to be a big part of building our offense. We're going to build it around Joe, but you also build it around your offensive line. You've got to have a great offensive line. You've got to have playmakers outside who can make plays for Joe and you’ve got to have a great running back, so it's still a team game."

Cincinnati Bengals
Issue: The team is in a contract stalemate with offensive lineman Andre Smith, leaving the Bengals in a precarious spot with an important player.
Coach Marvin Lewis: "I'm not in charge of contracts. I don't think it's unsettling for me. It'll happen when it happens. If not, we'll move on and get another guy. I think Andre would have preferred to have this done by now, most importantly."

Cleveland Browns
Issue: The Browns have yet to follow through on plans to add a competitor for the starting quarterback job currently held by Brandon Weeden.
Coach Rob Chudzinski: "I see it as creating competition. That can be from a number of different places that you create competition. We have some guys there and we're going to coach them all and coach them all hard. We're going to give them all opportunities to show what they can do. … Competition comes from within, too. As coaches, we have to bring that out in them. I have no doubt we'll be able to bring that out."

Pittsburgh Steelers
Issue: Safety Troy Polamalu missed nine games because of a calf injury last season, a year after the team encouraged him to participate in all of its offseason program.
Coach Mike Tomlin [In response to a question on whether the team wants Polamalu to change his offseason regimen]: "I want him to be ready, and I think he wants to be ready, like everyone. I'm not going to make more out of that than what it is."

Preseason: Sluggish Lions start

August, 11, 2012
8/11/12
7:40
AM ET
Reviewing Friday's action at Ford Field:

Cleveland Browns 19, Detroit Lions 17

Preseason record: 0-1

Of interest: Coach Jim Schwartz expressed disappointment about the overall play, but I interpreted that sentiment to higher expectations as a franchise. This was a typical, sloppy opening preseason game. … Defensive end Willie Young made a nice early play to strip Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden, and rookie cornerback Dwight Bentley had an active and ultimately encouraging outing, recovering from an early 34-yard completion against him to get in position for two interceptions. He made one and dropped another that probably would have gone for a touchdown, but Bentley didn't seem to do anything to threaten his position with the first team. … The safety position remains a weak spot, as Amari Spievey sat out because of concussion-like symptoms. Remember, Spievey missed a portion of the offseason program because of headaches stemming from a concussion he suffered in January. … The first-team offense didn't score in three series, two of which ended in punts and one by a Matthew Stafford interception that should never have been thrown. … Those around the country who are rooting for rookie quarterback Kellen Moore to make the team didn't see a lot to be encouraged by. Moore completed 4-of-14 passes and continues to display an arm that doesn't appear to have enough zip, at least at the moment, to make it in the NFL. … Receiver Titus Young didn't play because of the expected birth of his child. … Say what you want about the Browns' run defense, but the Lions rushed for nearly 200 yards. Joique Bell registered 89 yards on 16 carries, while Keiland Williams added 71 on nine carries.

Local coverage: Schwartz via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "Let's be clear, preseason games, we don't use them as a barometer and they don't count. But you want to play well. Win or lose, you want to play well, and I don't think we played well. We didn't play well on offense, on defense, special teams, from the beginning to the very end. And again, we had a chance." … Early returns on the Lions' offensive backfield were encouraging, writes Rod Beard of the Detroit News. … Schwartz had a tough assessment of Bentley, via Justin Rogers of Mlive.com: "It's too inconsistent play for a cornerback. Give up the deep ball -- that's something that we shouldn't allow to happen -- and we were 50 percent on making interceptions. I don't think that's a good day at all for what he can do. I mean, he has a chance, if he knocks the deep ball away and makes two interceptions in this game, to have done something for himself. Fifty-50 isn't going to get it done." … Don't be concerned about the first-team offense, writes Birkett of the Free Press. … The Lions have stirred up the populace, writes Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News.

Up next: Friday, Aug. 17 at the Baltimore Ravens

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