Preview of Browns @ Jets – Game #1
After many months of waiting, the 2015 NFL regular season is finally here! I’m not going to display the Browns’ opening day record since re-joining the league in 1999, but let’s just say it is not good. However, this year features another winnable contest for the orange and brown. Let’s take a look into the contest in New Jersey.
Quarterback – Josh McCown had a bad exhibition game (Bills), a good one (Buccaneers), and a decent one (Redskins). All of those do not matter once the regular season starts, however. I anticipate him to be on the lower end of risk-taking, which might excite Browns’ fans. Still a few lengthy tosses should be expected – McCown just make sure to drop them in where only his teammates can catch them.
Running Back – Will Duke Johnson be available in this contest? He will provide the Jets’ coaching staff with something extra to game play for. However, if he does not recover from his concussion yet – I have faith that Isaiah Crowell can earn those tough yards between the tackles. Granted, the Jets have a formidable defensive front – but I have a feeling that the best is yet to come for the Browns’ backs.
Wide Receiver – Here is the wildcard spot for the away squad. Expectations appear to be low (at least listening to the media), but should this unit perform to their capabilities; they can tip the scales towards a victory. Travis Benjamin and Taylor Gabriel ought to continue with their under and drag routes, while Brian Hartline remains a possession receiver and a touchdown threat in the red zone. I foresee one or two scores from this group on Sunday.
Tight End – Making the tough catch in traffic and picking up key first downs is where my expectations lie for the team’s tight ends. Gary Barnidge always seems to come up with a huge grab, and this contest should be no different for the veteran. There might be one huge block by Jim Dray or a great play by Rob Housler in this game as well.
Offensive Line – I hope the unit upfront picked their game up during this week of practice. They were a far cry from the guys who paved wide alleys and gave the quarterback time to throw last season. I anticipate they will not be that good yet, but will improve from their display in the preseason. As usual, the right side of the line will get the most attention – call it homerism, but I expect John Greco and Mitchell Schwartz to get it done.
Defensive Line – It’s finally put-up-or-shut-up time for the Browns’ defensive line. Are they actually improved at stopping the run, or are they just as miserable as they were last season? A steady improvement should occur on a weekly basis; they will not be great but not horrific either on Sunday (Chris Ivory and Zac Stacy totaling just under 100 rushing yards combined). I look for leadership on the edge by veterans Randy Starks and Desmond Bryant.
Linebackers – I really hope that Scott Solomon can be a trusted outside linebacker opposite of Paul Kruger. Besides being the guy who sets the edge, he will be expected to rush Fitzpatrick on occasions. I’m not as high on him as I used to be, but I hope he proves me wrong. On the inside, the trio is expected to be stout – Kirksey, Robertson, and Dansby should have everything under control. An interception would not be surprising from this position group.
Secondary – We all know that Joe Haden struggles against taller wide receivers. Therefore, I figure Tramon Williams will line up more against Brandon Marshall. That would leave Haden covering Eric Decker – who is no slouch either. As we all know, how well the quarterback can get the ball to his targets is of vital importance. This Browns’ defense should make it difficult (via the rush and coverage) to see consistent completions.
Special Teams: I am pulling for the strong performance of the preseason to carry over for the Browns. Travis Benjamin will likely not have a punt return for a score, but he figures to flip the field a few times. Hopefully Travis Coons can remain perfect, as points are huge in this contest. Andy Lee will have a prominent role as well.
Coaching: Ground and pound will be the blueprint for Pettine and the Browns’ offense. Should that work early, look for some play-action and longer passes later in the contest. A completion or two can be a backbreaker for the home squad – but many things have to go right before the coaching staff deviates from a conservative game plan.
Prediction (My Record 0-0): It’s the opener once again, and it’s a winnable contest this season. This game will come down to special teams, limiting mistakes, and converting on third down. I give the Browns the advantage in the first two and the last category is a toss up – that provides enough confidence in giving the team a 24 – 20 win over the Jets.