Browns Game #1 Preview – @ Philadelphia Eagles
Well, here we are – the Cleveland Browns’ 2016 season is finally underway! Yes, this is the season opener and we know how unkind this has been for this franchise. But the team will hit the road in a very winnable game against another franchise that has a new coach, an unproven quarterback, and lowered expectations. Where have I heard this before? I figure there will be some big plays in this contest; but it might come down to not committing the big mistake. Let’s get to some analyzing:
Quarterback: Robert Griffin had a decent exhibition season, but how will things change when the regular season begins? I figure Hue will put his signal caller in situations to avoid sacks and possible injuries when being flushed from the pocket. Hitting the underneath routes in stride has not been his forte, but he must get this down to help with the “long ball” – which was his bread and butter in August. I could see a few short runs and a touchdown or two from the quarterback. Not committing a turnover is vital if the Browns want to win this game.
Running Back: For some reason, I could see solid performances by this position group of the Browns. Isaiah Crowell might not a tremendous amount of yardage, but he should find the end zone. Meanwhile, Duke Johnson ought to hall in a couple of passes and find room to run on the ground. Provided he can score a touchdown as well; this can be a great start for the running backs. Eclipsing the 100 yard total is a must by this duo, although it will not come easy.
Wide Receiver: On the flip side, I am not as confident in the wide receiving unit as I thought I would be entering the season. The obvious reason for this is that Josh Gordon will not be participating in this matchup. Additionally, Corey Coleman will more than likely not be up to speed and therefore rather mediocre in this game. Terrelle Pryor has been only been excelling at one aspect (fade routes) on the field – which begs the question, who will step up at wide out in this game?
Tight End: Gary Barnidge could be the wildcard for this offense in this contest. I do not anticipate on him being as productive as he was a year ago, but the veteran could make things easier for Griffin and company. Some key grabs to move the chains is the minimum I would accept from the position group. Anything above this would be icing on the cake. I am eager to see if a second tight end option can (begin to) establish himself in this matchup.
Offensive Line: For the first time since 2008, the Browns will not have Alex Mack snapping the football during the regular season. The turnover upfront had led to a great deal of fear by fans and media alike. Will Griffin come away from this game (relatively) unscathed after multiple drop backs? Can the unit open holes for Crowell and Johnson? I would not be surprised to see a guy or two struggle against the Eagles but hopefully they will be able to quickly recover.
Defensive Line: Will this be the game where the Browns escape their horrid run defense that has plagued them for many years? Not trying to be too pessimistic just yet, but the Eagles will more than likely have their way on the ground (as they will lean on this to primarily move the ball). I am not sure whether it will be Ryan Mathews, Wendell Smallwood, or Darren Sproles who will be doing the damage – but the trio might make the Browns pay. It’s simply hope (at this time) to believe that Danny Shelton and Jamie Meder can win at the point of attack and allow the guys behind them to make plays in a matter of seconds. Being proven wrong by the defensive line would be excellent.
Outside Linebackers: The recent shuffling of this unit has put a sizable amount of pressure on Nate Orchard and Emmanuel Ogbah – as their roles have increased significantly as a result. Frankly, I have no idea as to whether they will be able to get to the quarterback and affect the Eagles’ passing attack. Can these two (along with Joe Schobert) cover Sproles out of the backfield? I am a little fearful of that situation presenting itself, but hopefully the safeties will be able to assist their teammates in this department.
Inside Linebackers: Chris Kirksey and Demario Davis have been underwhelming during the preseason – outside of a few respectable plays. The Eagles will likely attack the middle of the field, via both the run and the pass. I cringe at the thought of Zach Ertz (Wentz’s safety valve) running free with the football against little resistance by the defense. Perhaps the linebackers can step their games up, especially when corralling opposing running backs. I do not anticipate this part of the team to stand out via great plays, but if they cannot be a glaring weakness – then that might be a victory in itself.
Safeties: Over the past few seasons, the safety positions have been able to make a few nice plays in games. However, that has yet to be the case in 2016 and the Browns are waiting for that big hit or critical interception from this tandem. I want to think that Jordan Poyer could lure the rookie quarterback into an errant pass and flip the field for the offense. Perhaps an outstanding stop on a toss sweep is what this group needs to get rolling.
Cornerbacks: I have little to no expectations for this position group – but perhaps going against a rookie can be a great starting point. The best case scenario is that Joe Haden locks down on one side of the field, while the other corners hold their own with help (in coverage) over the top. Jamar Taylor and Tramon Williams have not been exceptional in the preseason, but they should not be getting burnt by Jordan Matthews or Dorial Green-Beckham. Whether it’s a dink-and-dunk game plan or longer tosses, I still worry that the Browns are simply a step too slow.
Special Teams: A new kicker (who missed a chip shot in the preseason finale) and a brand new punter (who is not turning heads) are what the Browns currently have on their roster. Hopefully the coverage units can manhandle their competition, or else the team will get thoroughly beaten in the special teams battle. I predict the home squad will have a decided advantage in this phase of the contest.
Coaching: A bright spot is that this coaching staff is miles ahead of their predecessors; the talent might not be great on the field – but those in charge will provide the athletes opportunities to succeed. I only hope that Ray Horton can come up with a game plan to make the defense look respectable; if this is not the case, it could be a very long game (and season).
Prediction (My Record 0-0): This is going to be an ugly second half for the Cleveland Browns; the guests should keep it early going into intermission but the Eagles will pull away late. I figure this game will finish up 20 – 13, handing yet another opening game defeat for the orange and brown.