Sep 18, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden (23) celebrates with Cleveland Browns cornerback Jamar Taylor (21) after a third quarter interception against the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Ravens defeated the Browns 25-20. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
The Cleveland Browns travel to South Beach for Sunday’s week 3 matchup against the Miami Dolphins. What must the team do to get its first win?
A long and less than enjoyable week in Berea is finally concluding as the Cleveland Browns are traveling to Miami to take on the Dolphins in a Week 3 matchup of 0-2 teams on Sunday afternoon.
For the Browns, it is a golden opportunity against a team undergoing a similar rebuilding process to notch that elusive first victory of the season.
But for any team that has been through what the Browns have this week, refocusing on the game at hand can be difficult. Of course, the numerous distractions the week brought could serve as motivation for an organization so heavily scrutinized.
Whatever the case though, the Browns need to focus on the smaller aspects of the matchup with the Dolphins and execute for 60 minutes. To do this, they will need to emphasize areas which have caused them to falter in their first two losses.
This game is critical for the direction of the season, so the Browns must pay attention to every detail. They certainly have a chance to win, but will still need to work hard for it even against a sub-par opponent. The following are five keys to this game for Cleveland to focus on.
Aug 18, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Cody Kessler (5) during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium, the Atlanta Falcons defeated the Cleveland Browns 24-13. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Due to the injury of Josh McCown, rookie Cody Kessler will be making his first career start on Sunday in Miami. As the 26th quarterback to start a game for the Browns since 1999, Kessler will have the spotlight directly on him throughout the game.
Due to this pressure, Kessler and the coaching staff must work together effectively to ensure that they are on the same page. For Hue Jackson and the offensive coaching staff, they must find ways early on in the game to incorporate a heavy dose of power running mixed with short, simple passing routes.
The goal for Kessler, at least on the opening two drives, should be to make only one read before finding his receiver. Simple routes are the best routes early on, even if Cleveland’s strength on offense is the downfield passing game. Kessler cannot be dropping back more than five steps early in the game, as sacks and turnovers could easily result from a deep drop.
The best plan early in the game is to mix Isaiah Crowell on power runs with play action five-yard passes to move the chains. These short passing plays should come off of three-step drops from Kessler, and the ball should be out of his hands in less than three seconds.
Not only does this open up deeper passing opportunities later in the game, it also gives Kessler some easy completions early on his first start to give him confidence. It will also assist an extremely inconsistent Cleveland offense in sustaining drives.
Sep 18, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Terrelle Pryor (11) runs the ball for a first down against the Baltimore Ravens during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Ravens defeated the Browns 25-20. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
To win a game without explosive rookie receiver Corey Coleman, the Browns are going to have to find some other source of production at the receiver position. If the offense is able to move the ball consistently and give Kessler confidence early on, it will be time for Jackson and offensive assistant Pep Hamilton to look to wide receiver Terrelle Pryor down the field.
Pryor has shown his ability to make contested catches on deep throws in the first two games. Though he has made explosive plays at times, the Browns haven’t used him to the extent that he could reach his full potential. He has a lot more to contribute to this passing attack, and without Coleman, this is his moment to shine.
Obviously, the Browns can’t become too predictable in going to Pryor, so they must incorporate others such as tight end Gary Barnidge, receiver Andrew Hawkins and rookie receiver Rashard Higgins into the offense. But it is clear which receiver on this offense is most capable of giving the Browns the explosive plays they will need to win this game. Hopefully, some of these can come in the end zone, and Pryor can give the Browns a much-needed jolt and finish a drive or two.
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For the offense to come together with a rookie quarterback under center, a lot has to happen. Not only does the offense need to find a rhythm early and gain consistency, they must have a deep threat later on to balance the offense out and put points on the board.
For the Browns this week, this comes in the form of Pryor, and Cleveland should not be shy to use the play making target.
Sep 18, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Terrance West (28) is tackled by Cleveland Browns nose tackle Danny Shelton (55) and inside linebacker Chris Kirksey (58) during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Defensively, the Browns still need to find some answers to prevent collapses, such as the one which occurred last week in the home opener. There are several areas in which Cleveland’s defense needs to solidify its play, as it remains inconsistent at best, but the place to begin is on the interior of the defensive line.
Danny Shelton had arguably the best game of his career last week, but considering his menacing presence, he could leave an even bigger imprint on the game. The Dolphins will be without Arian Foster at running back and need to start Jay Ajayi. Even though he may not have the skill of Foster, Ajayi has a unique combination of speed and power. In order to combat this, the Browns’ defensive line must have a good game, especially Shelton in the middle.
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In reality though, Miami’s most dangerous threats on offense are at the receiver position. DeVante Parker (who is questionable), Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills are each capable receivers. Former Brown tight end Jordan Cameron is also a capable pass catcher, especially against the Browns, as they allowed over 100 yards to Baltimore’s tight end Dennis Pitta last week. In response to this, Cleveland must have a plan to pressure quarterback Ryan Tannehill. This begins on the defensive line.
If they were to disrupt the rhythm of Miami’s offense, Cleveland’s defense would be placed in a very favorable position to limit the chunk plays that the Dolphins are capable of. This is a critical improvement for the Browns to make if they were to begin to turn their season around on Sunday.
Sep 18, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns safety Jordan Poyer (33) tackles Baltimore Ravens returner Devin Hester (14) during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Ravens won 25-20. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Winning the field position battle is a critical step to winning any football game, but especially an ugly one like what the Cleveland vs. Miami matchup is expected to be.
Normally, field position is regarded as the responsibility of the special teams unit, but this is far from the case. While the punting unit especially has a significant impact on field position, both the offense and defense have equal responsibility for this paramount aspect of the game.
Offensively, the Browns have to find a way to move the ball efficiently and methodically. They will not score on every possession, and may struggle to find the end zone in the first half with a rookie quarterback starting, but they need to still do what they can to shift field position when possible. This may mean taking fewer risks, but in this type of game, fewer risks offensively will pay off if they benefit field position.
On defense, the Browns need to back Miami’s offense as close to their own end zone as much as possible, and then apply pressure. Too often, the Browns get a stop, but not until the opposing offense gets to midfield. Cleveland has rarely gotten three and outs in the early stages of the season, which must change this week.
While getting a stop after three or four first downs may not seem any different then a three and out since neither situation harms the Browns on the scoreboard, field position is impacted, and the Browns must be cognizant of this.
Of course, it still comes down to the execution of the special teams unit to flip field position. But what too many fail to realize is the impact the rest of the team has on this critical aspect of the game. Especially in a game which will likely be low scoring and close, and most especially in the fourth quarter. The Browns must focus on the field position battle, and work hard to make this element of the game work in their favor.
Sep 18, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell (34) runs the ball for the Browns
Most Browns fans felt that the team lost last week’s heart breaker in the closing moments of the game. While they are not mistaken, as the team failed to execute in the final minutes, many overlook the roots of last week’s meltdown.
The end of the first half was truly the beginning of Baltimore’s comeback, as they scored, intercepted a Josh McCown pass, and scored again to pull within a single point at halftime, all within the closing minutes of the first half. This was just the latest installment of Cleveland’s struggles to close out the first half, as it has seemed to develop into a recurring theme the past few seasons.
The problem is this shortcoming is too often overlooked because an entire second half still awaits. But the need for the Browns to remain sharp throughout the entire first half and keep their focus is more than ever as they go up against an opponent hungry for their first win on Sunday.
This is not complicated, and there’s really no secret to it. Finishing a half effectively is the responsibility of every position and every player on the roster, as well as the coaching staff, which too often messes up clock management.
Then, of course, finishing the game is the final step. This was another area in which the Browns struggled last week. If the team is in a position once again to get a victory, they need to do everything they can to get a different result. This includes keeping the game simple even in the most important situations.
If the Browns can do this, they can find themselves in the win column after Sunday’s game.