Previewing Cleveland Browns 2013 Regular Season Schedule – (Part One)
Sunday, Sept. 8 vs. Miami Dolphins, 1:00 p.m. ETs
Breakdown: A fair amount of storylines will surround the beginning of the 2013 regular season. First centers around the signal callers for each squad – Ryan Tannehill for the Dolphins and Brandon Weeden for the Cleveland Browns. Each is entering his second year in the NFL; the visiting quarterback is following up on a season that included twelve touchdowns, thirteen interceptions, 3,294 yards, and a 58.3 completion percentage. Meanwhile, Weeden put up fourteen touchdowns, seventeen interceptions, 3,385 yards, and completed 57.4 of his passes in 2012. It’s easy to see that these two had very similar statistics – the guy who can elevate his game more during the offseason will likely give put his team in a better situation to win the opener.
Another similarity between the two franchises occurred during the April draft, as defenders Dion Jordan and Barkevious Mingo were both selected in the top ten. There will, no doubt, be a comparison between the duo of pass rushers during the contest – perhaps one of the rookies can make a game-changing sack or turnover.
Finally, Browns’ fans will not forget the team’s opening day record since returning to the NFL in 1999. It currently stands at 1 – 13, and has included defeats of all different magnitudes. I hope coach Chud can explain (growing up a Browns’ fan and former assistant) the importance of the contest and how getting to 1 – 0 could be paramount for the franchise. After owner Jimmy Haslam’s problems arose with his business (Pilot Flying J), securing an opening day win might deflect from the off-the-field distractions.
Sunday, Sept. 15 at Baltimore Ravens, 1:00 p.m. ET
Breakdown: After opening up on the road, the defending Super Bowl Champions return home to face the Browns. They will be coming off of a ten-day layoff as well, as the Ravens start the season on a Thursday night. Since this format began in 2004 (with a single primetime game to start the season), the champs won all eight contests before the Giants dropped their first game to the Cowboys last season. Granted, the game will not be the season opener, but there will be a great deal of emotion within the stadium. This includes the handing out of Super Bowl rings for the members of the 2012 Baltimore Ravens.
One of those athletes is veteran outside linebacker Paul Kruger – who agreed to terms with the Cleveland Browns in March. The spotlight will definitely be on the player before and during the contest; I anticipate he will (more than likely) play well but will not dominate around the line of scrimmage.
The Baltimore Ravens (and Joe Flacco, specifically) have been a thorn in the side of the Browns over the past few seasons. Since 2008, the opposing signal caller’s rookie campaign, the home team has never lost a head-to-head matchup. Both contests last season were very close (23 – 16 at M&T Bank Stadium and 25 – 15 at Cleveland Browns Stadium) in 2012, but the Browns were unable to score the upset. Hopefully 2013 is a new season, a new mentality, and the beginning of a new winning streak against the “old” Cleveland Browns.
Sunday, Sept. 22 at Minnesota Vikings, 1:00 p.m. ET
Breakdown: Beginning in 1982, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome has been the home to the Minnesota Vikings. However, 2013 will be the last campaign where this will be true – demolition will begin next February and the team will have a new home going forward. Following a pair of intra-division contests at Detroit and Chicago, this will be the Vikings’ home opener. Once again the Browns will face a tough task of going on the road against a playoff team from a year ago. However, as fans can recall, the NFL goes through many changes each year – rosters can improve or become worsened, and the same goes for individuals within the organization.
After a 2011 season that ended with a torn ACL and MCL, Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson lead the league with 1,898 rushing yards the following year. No one anticipated him to garner the MVP award while carrying his team to the playoffs, let alone have a productive season. That being said, he will be even healthier in September and continue to be the franchise’s focal point of their offense. In the offseason, the Browns loaded up in their front seven (including a few athletes who can rush the quarterback effectively). However, while this is extremely important, if they cannot slow down the rusher, they could have a long afternoon.
There is no clear edge at quarterback in this contest, as third-year pro Christian Ponder has not had a great career up to this point. He totaled fewer passing yards than Weeden (2,935), and had eighteen touchdowns and twelve interceptions – while completing 62.1 percent of his passes. Many believe that the former Florida State star cannot handle pressure well – defensive coordinator Ray Horton must find a way to force mistakes and give Weeden and offense more opportunities to score. Keeping Peterson off the field would also be a nice strategy for the Browns as well.
Sunday, Sept. 29 vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 1:00 p.m. ET
Breakdown: In 2012, the Cleveland Browns broke their two-year drought against their AFC North foes; they did it against the Bengals at home. At (the newly named) First Energy Stadium, if the Browns can play how they did in the second half against their in state rival a year ago, they can finish the first quarter of the season with a victory. After scoring twenty-seven and twenty-four points (along with 439 and 328 total yards) against a tough Bengals defense last season – I can see a jump in their totals this season for three main reasons.
The acquisitions of Davone Bess and David Nelson give the Browns’ offense two additional receiving targets that were not there in 2012. Additionally, Dion Lewis (whom the team recently traded for) may not get a ton of carries at running back, but his returning ability – coupled with Travis Benjamin’s – should improve upon an area of the team that was dominated by Josh Cribbs for eight seasons. Also, after suffering growing pains in their rookie seasons, I anticipate Trent Richardson (who was not completely healthy last season), Josh Gordon, and Brandon Weeden to improve upon their output from a season ago. A large portion of this growth can be attributed to the new coaching staff.
I have confidence that coach Chud and offensive coordinator Norv Turner can adapt their playbooks to the personnel on the team, this is something that has not been done by previous regimes. This includes more rushing attempts for Richardson (not relying primarily on the pass), taking more shots downfield (which has been Josh Gordon’s forte), and getting many athletes involved. I understand that the offense will not resemble that of the 2007 New England Patriots (most points scored in a season in the NFL), but they should be much better than they have been as of late. If that holds up, it will be up to the defense – specifically the secondary – to slow down the tremendous targets of A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham, and rookie Tyler Eifert.
Recap: With the limited success of opening day and within the division, its hard to be bullish on the Browns during the first four games of 2013. However, while this team still appears to be unpredictable – they can pretty much play with anyone. One or two wins over this span is the likely favorite, but hopefully the team can surpass this and excite the fan base.