The 0-8 Cleveland Browns meet the 6-1 Dallas Cowboys at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday. Check here for highlights, score updates and key players.
Cody Kessler is back in as the starting quarterback for Cleveland. The rookie has shown toughness and poise, but veteran Josh McCown has the better arm. For once, though, the Browns main focus won’t be on the situation under center. Instead, Cleveland must concentrate on shutting down the NFL’s most dominant running game.
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As the league’s official site noted: “The Cowboys are the only team in the NFL with 100+ rushing yards in every team game this season.”
The same source also detailed exactly how the rushing matchup favors Dallas: “The Cowboys have the NFL’s top rushing offense (164.9 rush yards per game), while the Browns have the league’s second-worst rushing defense (143.8 rush yards allowed per game).”
Highlights will be added and updated as they happen.
1. Ezekiel Elliott
Rookie Ezekiel Elliott is tearing into defenses behind the best run-blocking front in football. The Browns will need their big men in the trenches to compete with Dallas’ All-Pro interior.
It will demand man-mountain nose tackle Danny Shelton standing up to center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin. Shelton needs to produce because Cleveland boast inside linebackers who can get downhill quickly and stop running plays at their source.
Former New York Jets tackling machine Demario Davis still hits for keeps. But it’s newly acquired Jamie Collins who will be under the spotlight.
The Pro Bowler arrived in a shock trade with the New England Patriots. He was occasionally viewed as too much of a freelancer by the Pats. But Browns head coach Hue Jackson wants Collins to follow his own lead in Cleveland, per Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain-Dealer.
It’s an interesting approach for a player who boasts natural playmaking athleticism. However, sound run defense comes from discipline and fundamentals. It’s about gap control and setting the edge.
If the Browns aren’t disciplined, Elliott will gash them on the cutback runs he’s used to dominate the league in his debut season. Expect a monster game from the ex-Buckeyes star on his return to Ohio.
2. Terrell McClain
Of course, the best way for the Browns to nullify the Dallas running game is to establish their own. They have the weapons to wear down a lightweight Cowboys defensive front. Specifically, running backs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson.
Yet there’s one member of the Dallas D-line who won’t be easy to neutralize. Nose tackle Terrell McClain is quietly, very quietly playing some outstanding football.
The former Carolina Panthers draft pick is a hugely disruptive force inside. He’s blessed with a quick first step, imposing upper body strength and excellent hands usage.
McClain can cause havoc this week in Cleveland.
3. Duke Johnson
The Browns may struggle to get Duke Johnson going on the ground, but he can thrive as a receiver. Johnson is one of the league’s most adept pass-catchers out of the backfield. He’s averaging 8.7 yards per grab on 34 receptions.
The way the Cowboys bail into zones lends itself well to a running back who can turn short passes into positive gains. Even when Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli goes man coverage underneath, Johnson will give Kessler a matchup advantage against linebackers.
The Browns will begin Week 10 on the road against AFC North foe the Baltimore Ravens. As for the Cowboys, a tricky trip to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers awaits them next Sunday.