As we prepare for the first Miami Dolphins game of the 2013 NFL regular season, we take a look at the Dolphins' Week 1 opponents, the Cleveland Browns. Coming off a 5-11 record, the Browns retooled the entire franchise, replacing their general manager and coaching staff, and are looking to rapidly return to relevance within the AFC North. We take a look this morning at some of the key story lines for the Browns heading into today's game:
1. New Coaching Staff - Rob Chudzinski moves from serving as the Carolina Panthers' offensive coordinator to the Browns head coach position. Maybe more impressive than the hiring of Chudzinski, however, is the staff he has added around him. After serving as the head coach for the San Diego Chargers for six seasons, Norv Turner was finally fired, letting him return to his position of strength, offensive coordinator. On the defensive side of the ball, the Browns add Ray Horton, who actually had interviewed for their head coach position, but when the Arizona Cardinals fired their entire coaching staff, Horton moved to the Browns to become the defensive coordinator.
Like Joe Philbin hiring Mike Sherman as his offensive coordinator, Chudzinski has surrounded himself with people with whom, and for whom, he has coached previously, and who will be able to help him in his first year as the head coach. How well the staff will come together will be a key to the season for the Browns, and they will get their first true taste of an NFL game today against the Dolphins. How Chudzinski controls the game and the decisions he makes will be interesting to watch.
2. Wide receiver questions - Josh Gordon, Greg Little, and Davone Bess will be a formidable trio for the Browns this season. However, against the Dolphins, Gordon will be serving the first of his two-game suspension. Gordon is clearly second year quarterback Brandon Weeden's favorite target, so someone is going to have to step up today. Bess could be that guy, and he is probably motivated to play against the team that traded him away this offseason. Second year receiver Travis Benjamin, the University of Miami track star and receiver, will likely see increased playing time with Gordon out.
Assuming Little is covered by Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes all game, that would leave Dimitri Patterson, assuming he is healthy after being listed as questionable in this week's injury report, and Nolan Carroll to cover Benjamin and Bess. Carroll has the speed to keep up with Benjamin, but it might make sense to put Carroll on Bess, since he has experience covering the former Dolphins receiver in practice. Grimes could keep up with Benjamin as well, given he covered Mike Wallace throughout training camp.
3. Pass rush - The Browns utilize a 3-4 defensive system, meaning they will be looking to pressure Ryan Tannehill with linebackers Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard with rookie Barkevious Mingo ruled out with a bruised lung. Browns fans are high on Kruger's pass rush abilities, but the loss of Mingo is likely going to hurt the Browns' ability to get after Tannehill.
The Browns secondary is not overly frightening, so pressure on Tannehill is important. If Kruger and Sheard cannot get into the backfield, then it could be a long day for the Browns defense.
4. Weeden's development - Browns fans are looking for the exact same progress from their second year quarterback, Weeden, as Dolphins fans are looking for from second year quarterback Tannehill. In fact, the two had very similar rookie seasons. Weeden has concentrated on his footwork this offseason, trying to get ready for his sophomore season. While a lot of focus from around the NFL media has been on Tannehill's development, the progress of Weeden could be the measure of success this season in Cleveland.
Will we see that progress against the Dolphins today?
5. Trent Richardson - Miami should have a dominant defense this year, but also have seen a lot of turnover among the front seven, specifically at the linebacker position. Will Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, along with Jared Odrick at defensive tackle, and Olivier Vernon now starting at defensive end, be able to slow down Trent Richardson, who will likely be to focal point of the Browns' offense?
Richardson rushed 267 times for 950 yards with 11 touchdowns, along with 51 receptions for 367 yards and 1 touchdown. He only averaged 3.6 yards per carry last season, which ranked him 40th in the league among runners with at least 100 attempts. If he is to be the main part of the Browns' offense, the Dolphins will have to be prepared to stop him early this afternoon.
One interesting point on the Browns' running game is, according to Dawgs By Nature's Chris Pokorny, during the preseason, Cleveland ran every time they were under center, but passed purely out of shotgun.
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