People often think that because the final score of preseason games is meaningless, the entire concept of preseason is meaningless. Not true. The end result of preseason games is meaningless because a.) teams don’t showcase a lot of their actual plays, and b.) starters are taken out early.
Preseason in its entirety, however, is very meaningful because it allows teams/players to compete against real competition, take legitimate hits, and see what sort of talent they have to work with in the year ahead.
It matters. Plus, with basketball done and college football not having started yet, there's nothing better to watch on TV.
With all that in mind, here are three things to keep an eye on -- from both teams -- during tonight’s Green Bay Packers versus Cleveland Browns showdown.
Green Bay Packers
1. Wind patterns, apparently. Because Lambeau is currently in the middle of relatively sizable expansion project, the team is keeping a watchful eye on how newly constructed items impact wind patterns in the stadium.
While speaking with reporters recently, head coach Mike McCarthy noted that special teams will need to adjust to their altered surroundings during the preseason: “We need to understand the wind,” he said. “With the design (of) the south end zone, it’s a significant structure. It potentially will change. I would say it definitely will factor in the southwest with the wind coming through that part of the stadium.”
2. What will the running game look like? Presumably because they felt like they needed to take some pressure off Aaron Rogers’ shoulders, Green Bay went out and signed Cedric Benson. As you could probably imagine, the move was met with a mixed reaction. Benson obviously brings a certain hard-nosed running style to the table, but in some people's eyes he’s not exactly the type of back you expect to see on a championship-level team.
It’s worth noting that, for what he’s had to work with, Benson has proven himself to be pretty solid at what he does. Maybe playing behind a legitimate offensive line and beside the best quarterback in the game will rejuvenate him and highlight certain parts of his game that we didn’t even know existed. Maybe. It’s unknown at the moment if Benson will play tonight but, even if he doesn’t, keep an eye on what the Packers do with their running game. If Benson doesn’t work out, you may start seeing Alex Green and Marc Tyler taking his carries as the year progresses.
3. Can everyone stay healthy? Whereas preseason is very important to the development of younger teams, veteran groups like the Packers already know each other pretty well. The games are still good because they allow players to shake off rust and get into some sort of groove, but all those benefits instantly get washed away if even one guy gets hurt. Last week, Desmond Bishop suffered a torn hamstring in the team’s loss to San Diego. D.J. Smith will do his best to step in for him but, still, wow.
Plain and simple: the Packers can’t afford to lose another player who’s that impactful.
1. How will Brandon Weeden look? In his first ever game as a pro, Weeden threw for 62 yards and an interception on three-of-nine passing. He lost a fumble, too.
While nine passes admittedly isn’t a huge body of work to judge a guy off, saying that the 28-year-old probable starter (if he keeps this up, he won’t be) needs to improve would probably be an understatement. For his part, Weeden acknowledged that he made some mistakes after last week’s outing, and he pledged to fix those mistakes next time. We’ll see.
2. Does Cleveland even have enough pieces to put a defense on the field? On top of losing their highly-touted rookie running back, the Browns have also lost a bunch of pieces on defense to an assortment of injures.
Here is how the injury report looks, via USA Today: “linebackers D'Qwell Jackson (shoulder) and Chris Gocong (torn Achilles), tackle Phil Taylor (torn pectoral), nickel back Dimitri Patterson (ankle) and end Frostee Rucker (leg) are all either out or questionable for the contest.” No bueno. On the bright side, this will give Cleveland an opportunity to see how deep their defense really is. Whether that’s a gift or curse is debatable, though.
3. How long will the starters play? Over the past week, Pat Shurmur has said repeatedly that his guys will play for at least a half in this one – maybe even more. It remains to be seen if he's serious about that, though. Given the fact that this team has already been bitten by the injury bug, it’s tough to envision Cleveland leaving their starters on the field late in the second/early in the third quarters to compete against Green Bay's backups.