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Dallas Cowboys 2020 opponent previews: Cleveland Browns

Today we preview the Cowboys Week Four opponent, the Cleveland Browns.

NFL: Cleveland Browns-Training Camp Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Browns File

2019 Record: 6-10 (Missed Playoffs)

Last Meeting: 11/6/2016 Cowboys 35 - Browns 10

Head Coach: Kevin Stefanski (First Year HC)

Key Additions: OT Jack Conklin, LB B.J. Goodson, TE Austin Hooper, S Karl Joseph, DE Adrian Clayborn, S Andrew Sendejo, RB Kareem Hunt (Re-Signed, WR Rashard Higgins (Re-Signed)

Key Losses: S Damarious Randall, LB Christian Kirksey, G Eric Kush, LB Joe Schobert,

Biggest Strength

When you look at the Cleveland Browns, it’s obvious their biggest strength is the weapons they have on offense. The first thing that pops off the page is their pair of All-Pro caliber receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Despite a down year as a team last season, the duo of Beckham and Landry still both hauled in 70 plus passes each and over 1,000 yards a piece.

Beckham was clearly not his usual self during his first year in Cleveland. In his five seasons prior to arriving in Cleveland, the wideout had earned a overall offensive grade from Pro Football Focus above 84 in all but one. The outlier year was 2017 when Beckham played in just four games. Last season, he rounded out with an overall offensive grade 68.7, the worst of his career. Despite a rough first season, you have to believe with his overall talent and improving communication with quarterback Baker Mayfield, Beckham will bounce back in 2020.

Landry, the often forgotten of the two, has become one of the most consistently solid receivers in all of football. The former LSU Tiger made his fifth-straight Pro Bowl last season, hauling in 80 plus catches for the sixth time in his six-year career. Landry has received high praise from PFF, grading out with an overall offensive score of over 75 in all of his six NFL seasons.

The talent on offense does not stop there, it actually just begins. The Browns complement their duo of extremely talented receivers with a pair of high-caliber running backs. The starter, Nick Chubb, was third in the league in rushing last season, gaining 1,494 yards and being named to his first Pro Bowl. His backup, Kareem Hunt, struggled to stay on the field last season, but is still a more than viable weapon out of the backfield when he is available.

The Browns were not satisfied this offseason with just a great duo at wide receiver and running back, they went out and made their tight end spot one of the best in the league. Cleveland added two-time Pro-Bowler Austin Hooper on a huge four-year, $42 million deal. The Browns did this despite having the talented David Njoku already on the roster. Due to injuries and coaching issues, Njoku played in just four games last season.

Not many teams can run out the group of offensive weapons that the Browns can. Cleveland has one of, if not the best, wide receiver, running back, and tight end duos in all of football. All this talent is without even mentioning third-year quarterback Baker Mayfield, who is possibly in for a big-time, comeback season under their new head coach, Kevin Stefanski.

The Cleveland offense preformed better in the second half of the season, scoring 23 or more points in four of their last six games, and with their talent on offense all returning for another go around, likely will be better as a whole in 2020. There’s no doubt the Cleveland offense is their biggest strength as a team.

Biggest Need for Improvement

The Browns struggled in many facets of the game in 2019. You could easily make the argument the need much more from their defense in 2020, which they do, but if they want to be real contenders it has to start with an improved offensive line. Last season, Cleveland allowed their quarterback to be sacked 41 times.

First-year general manager Andrew Berry recognized that something had to be done and wasted no time this offseason in adding some reinforcements. Berry brought in the best free agent offensive tackle, Jack Conklin, and drafted stud tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. Conklin and Wills will likely be accompanied by Joel Bitonio, J.C. Tretter, and Wyatt Teller on the line.

The additions look great on paper, but they need to translate to the field for Cleveland to be successful in 2020. The Browns are not a team that is going to win games with their defense leading the way. They need their offense to be the unit that carries them, and they need Baker Mayfield to bounce back in a big way. For this to happen, he has to be under less duress this season. Mayfield could have easily been sacked 10-12 more times last season if he was not able to move around as well.

Despite being the second-highest PFF graded team running the football, Cleveland had the fourth-worst graded run blocking offensive line. This speaks to the ability of Nick Chubb, but shows how he could possibly be even more productive if their line preformed better.

If the Browns want to turn this thing around in 2020, it starts with the offensive line. If they preform better, Cleveland has a real shot to make the postseason. If not, it’s hard to find a way they will be better than they were last year.

X-Factor

This one is a no-brainer. Baker Mayfield is the clear X-Factor on this team. The Browns will go as far as Mayfield goes, and we’ll learn a lot about how his career likely will progress from this season. It’s safe to say Mayfield got an upgrade at the head coach spot from Freddie Kitchens to Kevin Stefanski. Making things easier with a first-year coach, Cleveland faces the fourth easiest schedule in all of football in 2020.

Mayfield has to be better in 2020 than he was last season, and it’s pretty hard to see any way he wont be. He’s far too talented to put up a year of 22 TD/21 INT and a 78.8 QB Rating again. He will be better, but just how much better is the question. Everyone has seen how talented he is, but whether it was off-the-field issues or on-field performance, nothing went right in 2019 for the Browns’ signal-caller. 2020 is a huge year for Mayfield, not just in terms of bouncing back, but in terms of his long-term future in Cleveland overall.

How they matchup with Dallas

When the Browns and Cowboys square off in Week Four we could be in for a lot of points. Both teams have outstanding receiving corps and overall talent on the offensive side. Dallas has a clear advantage at the quarterback spot with Prescott over Mayfield, but the Browns’ rushing attack and weapons through the air are not to be overlooked.

On offense, Dallas should be able to pound the ball with Ezekiel Elliott against a Cleveland defense that was dreadful against the run last season. Through the air, the Browns will struggle with having enough talent in their secondary to keep Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb in check.

On defense, it will be interesting to see how the Dallas cornerbacks matchup with the two big-time Cleveland receivers. No matter who the Cowboys start at corner, Landry and Beckham will both have favorable matchups all game. I would also watch out for Austin Hooper in this game. Dallas has struggled against quality tight ends in the past, and with Byron Jones out the door these struggles could increase.

Overall this figures to be an offensive battle, but the Cowboys are clearly the deeper team. They have a much better offensive line, quarterback, and defense as a whole. It won’t be an easy game by any means, but I think Dallas gets out of this one with a win somewhere along the lines of 27-20.