I am not one for instant hyperbole. In today’s society, everyone is quick to anoint last night’s performance, game or champion the best ever. Perspective is hard to have in today’s era of instant analysis and opinion.
But, honestly, has there been a crazier Cleveland Browns offseason?
Think about what has transpired since the Browns lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 13-9 on Jan. 1.
There was …
… the Browns losing the RG3 sweepstakes.
… draft day first-round selections of RB Trent Richardson, who the Browns moved up one spot to secure, and a 28-year-old quarterback in Brandon Weeden.
… the selection of WR Josh Gordon in the second round of the supplemental draft.
… big-time injuries to starting DT Phil Taylor and LB Chris Gocong.
… injury concerns about Richardson’s knee and his absence in the preseason games.
… Joe Haden’s pending suspension (banned substance)
… Scott Fujita’s pending suspension (Bountygate).
… the biggest news items of all: Randy Lerner sold the team to Jimmy Haslem and four days before the start of the 2012 regular season, former team owner and the man responsible for moving the franchise to Baltimore in 1996, Art Modell, died.
News is never slow in Brownstown.
Now, attention can be turned to the field where an actual game that counts will be played at 1 p.m. Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s an opener so we would be remiss not to mention that since 1999, the Browns are 1-12 in Week One games.
All but two of those season-opening losses have come at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
This is already the second time these two teams will play in Cleveland within a month’s time. On Aug. 24, the Browns and Eagles played each other in their respective third preseason game. Philadelphia won 27-10. In that game, the Eagles’ quarterback pressure from its front four and wide-nine technique was evident.
“They’re schemed to rush the passer,” Browns head coach Pat Shurmur said. “You just look at the way they’re lined up, wide-nine techniques, they crowd the ball and they get after you.
“What we’ve got to be able to do is first of all, we’ve got to be able to block them, whoever they put out there. The way they’re structured, they’ve got eight guys that can get after you.”
Philadelphia’s Jason Babin thrived in the Eagles wide-nine defense, finishing with 18 sacks last season. He will be matched up with Browns rookie right tackle Mitchel Schwartz. In the preseason game against Philadelphia, Schwartz looked overwhelmed by the Eagles’ pressure.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that those defensive ends are probably better athletes than the tackles they’re blocking against,” Browns offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. “You’re technique has to be excellent as an offensive tackle to slide out.”
Childress said there are various ways to block a wide-nine technique, especially mixing the Browns attack between pass and run. Enter the Browns’ running game led by Trent Richardson, who has been listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.
The rookie and third overall pick in last April’s draft has yet to see an NFL field. In order to slow down the Eagles’ pressure-filled defensive line, the Browns need to be able to run the football.
The Eagles offense proved last year they could run the ball with LeSean McCoy. In 2011, McCoy finished with 1,309 yards rushing and a league-best 17 touchdowns on 273 carries and he caught 48 balls for 315 yards and three touchdowns.
The Browns’ front seven, decimated by injuries, will be faced with a gigantic challenge right out of the gate: Slow down McCoy.
Because of those aforementioned injuries, the Browns’ front seven will be dotted with young players. It isn’t relegated to the defense. Of the Browns’ 53-man roster, 26 are either rookies (15) or second-year players (11).
None will be more scrutinized than rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden.
In the preseason, Weeden was 24-for-49 passing for 297 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.
“By all measures, this would be the next step for him,” Childress said. “The speed of these regular season games, I think he has come along just about like you’d expect a rookie quarterback to. I don’t think it has been too big for him. I think he has gone about it very methodically.”
Sunday’s game, like this offseason, will be anything but methodical for Weeden and his fellow rookies. More like chaotic, but if the Browns are going to ever improve it starts in week one.
Here we go, it is the first of 16 of these. Football is back.