Preseason football games are as important as your mind will let them be.
A poor first game can be written off as a lack of cohesion, especially when new systems are being installed by first-year head coaches.
A good performance can create visions as grandeur as zealots will allow, which often includes mention of a Super Bowl.
The Cleveland Browns' showing in a 27-19 win over the St. Louis Rams last Thursday undoubtedly falls somewhere in the middle. There was a lot to like at first glance, but the coaches probably spent most of Friday analyzing everything that went wrong.
If coach Rob Chudzinski could bottle quarterback Brandon Weeden's performance and spread it over a 16-game season, the Browns might be a legitimate playoff contender. Weeden was 10-of-13 for 112 yards and one touchdown in orchestrating two scoring drives that registered 10 points.
There's a different look to Weeden this year, much of which usually can be attributed to a second-year pro feeling more comfortable in his skin. Weeden appears to have added a little upper-body strength to go along with a more confident, comfortable approach.
No one will ever doubt Weeden's ability to zip the ball to all points on the field. Give him time in the pocket and he'll make every throw offensive coordinator Norv Turner might ask of him.
Areas in which Weeden needs to improve are pocket comfort and awareness. When protection begins to collapse, Weeden has a tendency to hit the panic button and make ill-advised throws. He needs to develop the type of pocket presence that has made Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger successful for close to a decade.
Beyond the Weeden factor, the win over the Rams should be a wakeup call to running back Montario Hardesty, who missed the game with a hamstring injury. Hardesty has been injury-prone from the time he began his college career at the University of Tennessee. With Dion Lewis and Brandon Jackson showing their capabilities as backups to Trent Richardson, Hardesty would appear expendable.
Defensively, the mantra of coordinator Ray Horton is to attack and then attack some more. That sounds all well and good to the fan base, but it can be a risky approach against an intelligent quarterback that will take advantage of vacated short zones.
It's all about getting home (pressuring the quarterback) when blitzing. Former Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan talked a big game when in town, but his words often rang hollow on game days. Horton must be careful to avoid the same pitfalls.
There's a feeling that right cornerback could be a persistent problem. Chris Owens sat out the Rams' game with a foot injury, but there are no assurances he's the answer even when healthy. Whether Owens, rookie Leon McFadden or Buster Skrine gets the call, you can bet that opponents will work that side of the field.
The kicking and punting games gave Chudzinski more to ponder as replacements are sought for kicker Phil Dawson and punter Reggie Hodges. T.J. Conley appears to have an edge over Spencer Lanning in the punting duel, but more action needs to play out.
Rookie kicker Brandon Bogotay has a strong leg, but he was wide left from 54 yards out. Dawson would have nailed that in what proved to be favorable wind conditions.
Shayne Graham supposedly has a weaker leg than Bogotay, but he got good depth on kick offs and made a 41-yard kick goal. The advantage would seem to be with Graham, but Bogotay's young age and strong leg might work in his favor.
In addition to Weeden, another standout was Travis Benjamin, who took a punt 91 yards for a touchdown. Benjamin, who had a 93-yard punt return last season, used nothing but speed to turn the corner and cruise the final 30-plus yards.
In summation, Weeden was better than expected, Benjamin might make fans forget Josh Cribbs, Sheldon Brown might be missed at cornerback and no one will replace Dawson.