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Posted by Sep - 7 - 2012 0 Comment

Game One: Philadelphia Eagles vs. Cleveland Browns – 9/9, 1 PM, TV: FOX 8 Cleveland, Radio: 100.7 WMMS, Line: Eagles, -9 (43)

When the Browns open the 2012 NFL regular season this Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium, several story lines surround a game that in reality is fairly simple to dissect. The unusually large number of Browns rookies starting, and at key positions. The last season opener under the Lerner name. The Browns streak of opening day losses.  The debut on field of Trent Richardson, and his first snaps with fellow rookie QB Brandon Weeden. A defense starting as many rookies as the offense, if not more. Coming to town is a familiar foe in the Philadelphia Eagles. Familiar since they were just here three weeks ago in preseason, familiar in that they run virtually the same offense, familiar in that most of the coaches at key positions for each team have spent large portions of their careers working together, rather than against each other as they will Sunday. Yet, for all of these topics, any success for the Browns on the field Sunday can found in a few simple areas.

  • When the Eagles were here back on August 24th, their defensive line spent about as much time in the Browns backfield as Brandon Weeden did. Typically, you would like to avoid situations of that nature. The Browns offensive line is still trying to find its cohesiveness as a unit, and as that happens, Weeden and RB Trent Richardson will find themselves experiencing many growing pains. Particularly in the form of bruises growing on their bodies. The Eagles employ the now-chic-to-say Wide 9 technique, where the defensive ends start an extra couple yards outside of the offensive tackles, and speed rush or stunt towards the QB. In the preseason matchup, Browns O-linemen found it challenging to simply get in the way of the oncoming rush, let alone look to be able to do anything to stop it. The best way to neutralize it is to run the ball effectively. With that idea comes the hopes that Richardson’s recently scoped knee is not an issue, and he will be full-go come Sunday. The expectation is that he will start, but perhaps only see 15-20 plays. In the grand scheme of the 2012 season, that sort of prudent exercise makes quite a bit of sense. In the 3 hours the Browns jostle with the Eagles, Browns fans will lament any time someone not wearing number 33 touches the ball. When that is the case, look for Brandon Jackson to get the bulk of the work, supplemented by Montario “watch me make my first cut on the wa to the hole” Hardesty.
  • The Eagles’ offense is wrought with top shelf play makers at their respective positions. RB Shady McCoy is one of the top three RBs in the NFL; one who catches and runs the ball with equal aplomb. Enigmatic WR DeSean Jackson has great hands to compliment break away speed, and is a scoring threat for Philly from anywhere on the field. TE Brent Celek is one of the league’s more dependable tight ends, and makes both drive-extending catches and run sealing blocks. And he always seems to find his way into the end zone. Dictating who gets the ball is superstar QB Michael Vick, though many years and many miles away from his electrifying days as a young Atlanta Falcon. But make no mistake, he still has a flare for the dramatic and will hurt you if you take him lightly. If the Eagles do have an Achilles’s Heel, it is their offensive line. (Sound familiar?) They played well enough for the Eagles to start 3 separate QBs throughout the 2011 season. While the Browns defense will be without big Phil Taylor up front and some young LBs forced into service, some effectively executed blitzes and solid coverage would serve them well to keep this game close and within reach of an upset.
  • Anyone who has had to watch more than a single quarter of Browns football anytime in the last five years will tell you that again in 2012, special teams will play a huge role in deciding this teams fate each Sunday. More often than not (and more often than Browns fans would care to admit) the game will be placed solely in the hands of them. Fortunately for the Browns, punter Reggie Hodges returns, and with him the ability to gain wins in the battles for field position. Returning as he has for each season since ’99 is the venerable Phil Dawson, who put on a kicking clinic in Green Bay this preseason by drilling 2 of 3 FGs beyond 50 yards. Like fine wine, Phil has aged gracefully and is still one of the most dependable kickers in the NFL.And while the leage rules in 2011 that made kickoff returns a virtual thing of the past, Josh Cribbs’ punt return skills can tip a game over quickly. Something tells me that Browns special teams will get plenty of opportunities to make an impact on the game Sunday, and that could mean big plays.
  • Of all the offseason changes that I am looking for significant ROI from, it’s the hiring of Brad Childress as Offensive Coordinator. While Pat Shurmur will still reportedly call the plays, the offense has been orchestrated and schemed during the week under Childress’ tutelage. As well, his perspective both from the box and from experience will undoubtedly be called upon during the game. The question is, will you see his fingerprints on the offense over the course of the game, and season? Will inept play calling and game mismanagement plague the Browns again this year? Hopefully, the combination of a full and complete offseason combined with the infustion of Childress’ knowledge and experience will pay dividends for a young offense that has struggled mightily since Shurmur’s arrival.

So all that said, what should we expect to see Sunday? The indisputable facts are that the Eagles area team blessed with superior talent and experience. This is also the team (the “Dream Team”, as Vince Young cursed them with a season ago) that vastly underachieved in 2011, and does have their share of weaknesses. The Browns…well, nothing says they even belong on the field with these Eagles aside from the league schedule. Still, they are a much more talented roster than a year ago, albeit it young and inexperienced. The Browns now have players capable of creating and making big plays. But it will take more than the occasional big play to in games, it takes consistent execution and not making the mistakes young players make. Against an Eagle team that some think will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, that is a pretty tall order. I think we will see flashes of why guys like Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson, and Josh Gordon are here. But growing pains on the field will reverberate through the throng of fans on Sunday, and it may be another week or so before we see the first Browns win. I think the Browns will keep it respectable and cover the spread. But wins in only Vegas typically mean checks in the loss column.

Final score: Eagles 31, Browns 23.

 

 

Categories: Cleveland Browns, Featured

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