Cleveland Browns 2013 Regular Season Schedule – Analysis (Part Two)
Thursday, Oct. 3 vs. Buffalo Bills, 8:25 p.m. ET
Breakdown: For the first time in four years, the Browns will get to host a night game (the last time was a 13 – 7 upset over the Steelers in 2009). The home team will get a chance to avenge their 24 – 14 loss to the Bills in 2012, one where they faced Ryan Fitzpatrick. However, in April the Bills traded down in the first round of the draft and then selected quarterback E.J. Manuel; the Browns may now be facing their first rookie signal caller of the year. One would expect the opposition to rely heavily on their rushing duo of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson (who were very productive last year before Spiller’s injury). I would assume the defensive game plan for Ray Horton would be similar to that of when they face the Vikings just two weeks prior.
Although he was not the largest free agent acquisition of 2013, veteran David Nelson will seek revenge from the franchise that chose not to re-sign him. The undrafted wide out from the University of Florida had a solid season in 2011 (sixty-one catches, 658 yards and five touchdowns), before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the first game of 2012. Hopefully after successful rehab, the receiver can warrant his contract and find the end zone against his former teammates.
I have much more confidence that this year’s offense for the Browns can do a better job than last year’s unit. They face a defense that did little to upgrade itself over the offseason (only a pair of mid-round defensive backs were added) – the Bills’ defense ranked tenth in passing yardage but thirty-first against the run. Limiting the opportunities of the Bills playmakers (including rookies Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin) could be the difference in this matchup.
Sunday, Oct. 13 vs. Detroit Lions, 1:00 p.m. ET
Breakdown: A 38 – 37 Lions’ victory (on the final play of the game) occurred the last time the Browns met up with their rivals to the north in the regular season. Four years later, they play each other again – two regimes later for the Cleveland Browns and ample roster turnover for both teams. Two holdovers from that contest are Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson. The former is coming off a respectable year (4,967 yards passing, twenty touchdowns, seventeen interceptions, and a 59.8 completion percentage), following a tremendous 2011 season with forty-one touchdown passes, sixteen interceptions, 5,038 yards and a 63.5 completion rate. Johnson nearly eclipsed the 2,000-yard receiving mark (1,964), but it still earned him the most all-time by an NFL wide receiver. Clearly the Browns’ secondary will have their hands full in this meeting.
This matchup can be a barometer for the pass rushers on the team – have Barkevious Mingo, Paul Kruger, Quentin Groves, and Jabaal Sheard picked up this 3-4 system? If they can flush Stafford out of the pocket consistently, the quarterback will have to release the football quicker than he would have wanted. Due to the fact the Lions put it up a ton (most in the league in 2012), opportunities to create turnovers and dire situations might be abundant. Doing so will only help the inexperienced secondary – outside of Joe Haden and T.J. Ward.
In terms of yardage and touchdowns allowed last year, the Lions’ defense never ranked below eighteenth. Brandon Weeden must be careful in his decision-making but still look for big plays down the field. Also, I would like to see several innovations from the offense – including employing multiple backs (i.e. Dion Lewis) and getting the quicker players like Travis Benjamin the ball with room to run. I believe this offense finally has a great deal of speed – it’s time to take advantage of it.
Sunday, Oct. 20 at Green Bay Packers, 4:25 p.m. ET
Breakdown: After a couple of seasons that included matchups in the exhibition, the Browns finally head to Lambeau Field for a regular season tilt. Outside of a few division meetings, this may be one of the most difficult games for the Browns in 2013. Facing one of the best quarterbacks in the league (who just signed a new, expensive contract extension last month) for a perennial Super Bowl contender, and most feel the visitors will have little chance for success. However, although they may have to play perfectly in many aspects, it might not be impossible to score the upset.
In 2012, the Packers started their season at 3 – 3 before winning nine of their next ten contests; perhaps this game might be at the right part of the season for the Browns. On the other hand, they went 8 – 1 at Lambeau Field last season; including the Wild Card playoff game. Offensively, Brandon Weeden must focus on avoiding the pass rush. Clay Matthews will try his best to make a few plays and create havoc for the Browns’ quarterback. While some felt the Packers’ defense was not great last year, they were ranked in the top half of the league in every statistical category (in terms of yardage, points, and touchdowns allowed).
Aaron Rogers got a couple, new teammates to fill the running back position with Eddie Lacy of the University of Alabama and Johnathan Franklin of UCLA. This is on the heels of an offense that was ranked 5th in points, 13th in total yards, 2nd in passing touchdowns, and surrendered the fewest interceptions in 2012. Barkevious Mingo and the rushers must perform a difficult task of taking down Rogers – even his hurried throws have produced solid results. This is what Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi envisioned when they took a pass rusher over a cornerback in the first round –opponents are capable of picking their spots when standing upright. Even the best of the best can struggle against the Packers’ passing game.
Sunday, Oct. 27 at Kansas City Chiefs, 1:00 p.m. ET
Breakdown: A great deal has changed from when the Browns last faced the Chiefs in 2012; a new coach, general manager, and quarterback are just a few of the modifications of the reigning worst team in the league. Perhaps the Browns will take advantage of the regime that has had so much turnover where the Chiefs will not be on the same page. Quarterback Alex Smith has had an up-and-down eight-year career –the Browns will attempt to catch him on a Sunday where he is less than stellar. One thing is certain; the Chiefs’ roster will be nowhere nearly as talented as the 49ers ones of the last two campaigns.
The 2013 Draft was not a flashy one for the Browns’ opponent – they took a few offensive linemen (one being left tackle Eric Fisher), a linebacker, and a backup running back. Their front office clearly believed they had many pieces in place and just needed a dependable guy behind center. The third round selection – and Cleveland native – Travis Kelce looks to have a productive rookie season at tight end. Jamaal Charles should be the Browns’ primary focus however; he proved he could still be a huge playmaker in their last meeting (opening the contest with an eighty yard touchdown rush). If the front seven can limit the runner, I like the Browns’ chances in this contest.
The Chiefs’ defense was just as putrid as their offense was last year; they have invested in a few first-round defenders like Tyson Jackson, Dontari Poe, and Glenn Dorsey over the past few seasons – all of which have not lived up to their potential. I envision the Browns being able to move the ball effectively, beginning with running back Trent Richardson. Their secondary was upgraded with the acquisition of Sean Smith, but with just he and Eric Berry as solid defenders – the Browns should utilize their multiple targets in order to move the chains.
Recap: This four-game stretch will be critical in determining the team’s overall success. Three of the four contests are definitely winnable, and the Packers’ game is not a guaranteed loss. Should the Browns do the unexpected and sweep the second quarter of the season – national attention will follow. Realistically, the franchise will probably split this quarter of the 2013 schedule – possibly scoring an upset and losing a game they should not have.