Preview of Dolphins @ Browns – Game #1
It is finally here, the 2013 NFL regular season! It goes without mention the Browns’ poor record to kickoff the season, but hope and faith still remain with the fan base. The odds makers determined this game to be relatively even; the crowd will be loud (but that hasn’t stopped many opponents in the past). Davone Bess faces his former team, and the third and fourth quarterbacks taken in the 2012 Draft square off at First Energy Stadium. One positive is that the home team is undefeated at this newly named venue; they look to continue that streak on Sunday.
Offense: I can bet that Brandon Weeden will keep his eyes open for any U.S. flags on the field prior to the game. Besides not being swallowed by one, the signal caller must improve upon his dismal outing to start the 2012 campaign. He will not be facing one of the stiffest secondaries in the league (starters Jamar Taylor and Will Davis are injured) and he must capitalize. The Browns released Dimitri Patterson last year, and the veteran will likely see a good deal of playing time (for the visitors) on Sunday. The only real threat the quarterback will have is Brent Grimes, who is coming off a season-ending injury. A real opportunity is there for the Browns’ offense to start with a bang – I believe Weeden will have a respectable outing. The signal caller might only have a touchdown or two, but his turnovers and mistakes will be limited.
There has been a revolving door behind Trent Richardson at the running back spot. Out are Brandon Jackson and Jamaine Cook and in are Dennis Johnson and Bobby Rainey. Hopefully Michael Lombardi was able to acquire both a solid athlete to spell Richardson as well as a dependable kick returner. Both athletes had nearly a four yard-per-carry average as well as a touchdown in the preseason. I look for their production to continue, but Richardson will likely get a bulk of the opportunities. The Dolphins are the twenty-seventh ranked team against the run this season – granted it was in exhibition, but that is a perceived weakness that the Browns should look to exploit. I see Richardson having a big day early, and depending on the score, Chris Ogbonnaya or either of the two newcomers might get a crack at rushing the football late.
It’s time for Travis Benjamin, Greg Little, and Davone Bess to step up. This trio will be on the field a majority of the game, with Josh Cooper participating in spot duty. The visiting team only surrendered 173.4 passing yards per game in their August contests (good for fifth in the NFL). Each wide out may not get a ton of opportunities, so they must make the most of them. Their defined roles must be executed – Bess garnering third down conversions, Benjamin running fly routes, and Little getting open in the second level (ten to twenty yards downfield). The passing game will not put up a great deal of yardage, but catching the football and securing it will greatly help the confidence of Weeden as well as put the team in spots to succeed. Outside of Jordan Cameron’s monster second preseason game, the tight ends have been unproductive this year. The team picked up two rookies in MarQueis Gray and Keavon Milton on Sunday. I would be surprised if either saw the field on offense, thus it would appear that this unit might be quiet again. I hope Cameron can find the end zone once or twice but the Dolphins’ defense might not let that happen.
Many feel the Browns will not have issues with the outside of the offensive line this year. For good reason, tackles Joe Thomas and Mitch Schwartz will hold their own – however they open the 2013 season against pass rush specialist Dion Jordan. The rookie is big and fast; he will have success getting to Weeden but not so much to single-handedly tip the scales his team’s way. However, with Cameron Wake on the other side, Weeden will be forced to deliver his passes quickly (and perhaps errantly). I anticipate a few sacks, but as long as the Browns’ quarterback protects the ball then the offense should be ok. Oniel Cousins won the starting right guard job – the veteran will get beat from time to time but opening holes in the running game is paramount. Otherwise he could get the hook and rookie Garrett Gilkey would be inserted. Nonetheless, running plays will be geared more to the left side – using a strength to help the offense.
Defense: The healthy rotation upfront will be on hand for the home team, and I look for this being a huge advantage – especially late in the contest. Fresh legs and inserting Ishmaa’ily Kitchen and Billy Winn (who could be starters in the league) should keep pressure on the visiting offense all game. I would like to see several big hits and a forced fumble (or two) from this unit. If the linebackers breeze by the offensive tackles, the Dolphins game plan will change to more runs up the middle. This is where Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, and Desmond Bryant come into play against the twenty-ninth rushing team in the preseason. Additionally, I hope the defensive line does what opponents did to them in 2012. Rushing up field, getting their arms up, and batting down passes – causing frustration and possible turnovers.
It’s now time to see whether Paul Kruger can get off to a great start in Cleveland. The free agent acquired in March is expected to have a big season and is facing a Dolphins’ squad that features a pair of struggling offensive tackles. I envision multiple sacks and tackles for losses for Kruger and Jabaal Sheard – Mingo’s status is uncertain but if he takes the field then production will follow. Troubles with stopping the run have been a thorn in this franchise’s side since returning to the league in 1999. Craig Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson will have their hands full attempting to contain Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. The defensive duo has played well in August, but the regular season is another animal. I think the visiting team will do well on the ground, but the Browns will prevent large gains.
The biggest question mark for the defense has been its secondary; they have done little to quell those fears. Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline are a solid pair of targets, and whoever lines up away from Joe Haden can have a big day. I doubt Buster Skrine will shut down his opponent, but he will be successful if he can keep from committing penalties and getting beat. Chris Owens and Leon McFadden are the wildcards; if they look the way they have been – Ryan Tannehill will take advantage of those mismatches. The Browns’ secondary will succumb to both solid plays and catches by receivers. If they drop this game, it will (more than likely) be because the visitors flung the football all over the field. However, I feel the secondary will be good enough to give the Browns an opportunity to win.
Special Teams: Travis Benjamin, Christian Yount, and Spencer Lanning are the only three special teamers who have played well with the Browns in 2013. The kicker, kick returner, and coverage teams still need to prove they can be reliable. In a contest that could come down do a field goal or a botched punt; the Browns must win this aspect of the game. I have faith that Lanning can do well, but it all comes down to making kicks and limiting the opponent in the return game.
Coaching: I am very excited to see what Chud and Turner can do with this offense; they won’t have all of their tools just yet but should put Weeden in spots to do damage on the field. Of equal anticipation is the defense under Ray Horton – I suspect it will be similar to Rob Ryan’s defense a few years ago. However, this unit has young, fast athletes better equipped to terrorize Ryan Tannehill.
Prediction (My 2012 Record – 11 – 5): The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting different results. However, I must be insane, as I believe the Browns will win their first opener in nearly a decade. Weeden and Richardson get it done on offense, and while the defense gives up more than they want to – the Browns win 27 – 23.