Oh yeah, it's time for Know Thy Enemy and that can only mean one thing: NFL football is about to start for real. Hallelujah! Can I get a witness? There’s nothing like it. But to be ready for the game, you got to know what the enemy has been up to. So I asked ChrisPokorny over at SB Nation’s Cleveland Browns blog, Dawgs By Nature, to give us a preview. He obliged and his preview is below.
Despite rumblings the past two weeks that Brady Quinn may start against the Cowboys due to a concussion Derek Anderson suffered at the hands of the New York Giants a few weeks ago, that is not the case.
Jamal Lewis is scheduled to carry the load again for the Browns. After a successful debut year last season, Lewis has lost 15-20 pounds and has been praised as being quicker and a little more elusive by the coaching staff. The Browns do have a possible utility running back in Jerome Harrison (much like Felix Jones could be), but he probably won't be used. On third-down pass situations, Jason Wright, the definition of a capable but simply average backup running back, will come in.
The passing game is where the Browns really thrive. WR Braylon Edwards cemented himself as one of the top five receivers in the NFL last season. He missed the final three games of the preseason due to a crazy incident where he didn't have his shoes on during practice and had his heel busted open. The stitches are out now, and that's not the type of injury that will linger or cause a problem with his gameplay. Opposite Edwards this year is WR Donte Stallworth. The jury is still out on Stallworth -- we have high hopes that he'll have a good rapport with
ball sprinkled in.
The Browns will miss veteran WR Joe Jurevicius' presence on third downs though. He was one of the best third-down receivers in all of the NFL last season, and Stallworth's specialty doesn't fulfill that role. Instead, we may look to talented TE Kellen Winslow a lot more often in third down situations. Winslow has been as unenthusiastic as you can get during preseason games, but his ability to stretch the field from the tight end position can cause matchup problems for whoever is lined up with him.
The offensive line has been hailed as one of the best lines in football now due to our strong left side of Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach. They are the heart and soul of our offensive line last season, with Thomas defending the league's best pass rushers without much issue.
The weaker side of the line appears to be on the right side. Originally Ryan Tucker was slotted in at right guard, but he suffered an injury during the preseason and may not be ready until Week 2 or Week 3. Then free agent pickup Rex Hadnot was scheduled to start, but he went down in our final preseason game. Now, veteran Seth McKinney is scheduled to start. The world is not over though, because
Much like the Cowboys, the Browns' offense is very potent. There aren't any significant changes besides the Stallworth/Jurevicius situation. Because
Click the link below to read about the defense and the special teams.
The starting defensive line is where things get fun for the Browns this year -- it's the first time fans are actually excited about what the unit has to offer. No more years of the underachieving Gerard Warren's, the backups that are starting (Simon Fraser), or the veterans that are past their prime (Ted Washington). The Browns invested this year's 2nd- and 3rd-round picks in acquiring Shaun Rogers from the Detroit Lions and Corey Williams from the Green Bay Packers. With
finish in the bottom 10% of the league at defending the run.
Williams is supposed to bring the element of a pass rush to the Browns. We haven't had a top-caliber pass rushing defensive lineman since returning to the NFL, but now it comes down to when the pressure will be generated: will the pass rush only improve against poor offensive lines, or will pressure actually be generated against a team like the Cowboys?
At the linebacker position, the Browns are sending out veteran Willie McGinest and pass-rusher Kamerion Wimbley on the outside of the 3-4. McGinest is past his prime, but is still a team captain on defense and will split time with the often-injured Antwan Peek. Wimbley has a lot of speed, but fans have been disappointed with his inability to be anything more than a pass rusher to the outside. He has yet to show an impressive inside move or the knack to drop back and defend in coverage. At inside linebacker, Andra Davis and D'Qwell Jackson are set to start. Neither are superstars at this point, but
The cornerback situation has been at the forefront of discussion throughout all of camp and the offseason. Our safeties -- Sean Jones and Brodney Pool -- appear fine, though Jones is the playmaker while Pool is more so the hard hitter. We're starting two second-year players at cornerback -- Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright. McDonald has shown a knack for recording a lot of interceptions in limited playing time, but both he and Wright have apparently been coached to keep a lot of things in front of them on defense, as not to risk a big play. That can be very frustrating, giving us the dreaded "bend-but-don't-break" approach if our defensive line can't generate a pass rush quick enough. The depth beyond them isn't worth mentioning -- let's just say that if an injury is suffered, the Cowboys' fourth-string no-name receiver will be a top fantasy player Week 1.
Browns Special Teams
On special teams, kicker Phil Dawson is proving to be automatic. He worked on his leg strength during the offseason, and has already drilled -- and I mean DRILLED -- a would-be career-long 56-yard field goal in the preseason. Dave Zastduil has been looking good on coffin corner punts during the preseason. The big issue we're facing is the possible absence of Joshua Cribbs. He is the best kick returner in the AFC, a solid punt returner, and one of the best special teams tacklers in the NFL. He suffered an ankle injury during the preseason and doesn't want to re-aggravate his injury by playing too quickly in Week 1. Still, the decision is up-in-the-air with him. If he can't play, then second-year man Syndric Steptoe will fill in for him.