Cowboys at Browns Week 9: Game preview, odds, prediction

The 0-7 Cleveland Browns welcome the 6-1 Dallas Cowboys to FirstEnergy Stadium in Week 9.

Cleveland will be the underdogs on home soil, with Odds Shark tipping the Cowboys as seven-point favorites. Those odds make sense since Dallas has all the attributes to exploit the Browns’ biggest weaknesses.

In particular, the NFL‘s top rushing attack can victimize the league’s 31st-ranked run defense. Things could get ugly for the Browns once rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott gets rolling.

The ex-Ohio State star has been terrorizing pro defenses with his blend of track speed and sledgehammer-like force. It also helps Elliott is rushing behind the strongest run-blocking line in the game.

Cleveland’s chances of winning the vital battles in the trenches look slim. It’s easy to imagine nose tackle Danny Shelton will be suffocated by Cowboys guard Zack Martin and center Travis Frederick.

But Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton has to find a way to slow the run. He must get Dallas rookie passer Dak Prescott into obvious passing situations. The Browns have the edge-rushers to make Prescott uncomfortable in the pocket, including an exciting new weapon.

The trade to net linebacker Jamie Collins from the New England Patriots has given Horton a legitimate blue-chipper. Collins is versatile, but Horton should turn him into a full-time outside pass-rusher. The 250-pounder has the speed and strength to collapse the pocket from either side.

Collins was seen as too much of a freelancer in New England. But Browns head coach Hue Jackson wants the Pro Bowler to follow his own lead in Cleveland, per Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain-Dealer.

Jackson and Horton will also be delighted Joe Haden is still a Brown after the trade deadline. The quality cornerback was a target for one NFC South club, admits ESPN’s Ed Werder:

Haden can be Cleveland’s matchup answer to Cowboys’ game-breaking wideout Dez Bryant. But making that matchup count will mean shutting down the run.

Meanwhile, establishing the run will be key for the Browns offense. The Cowboys are a bunch of swarming speedsters on defense, but they lack size up front.

Cleveland can take advantage thanks to a terrific one-two punch on the ground. Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson boast the speed, toughness and vision to pile up yards against anybody.

Setting the duo loose against Dallas will mean controlling nose tackle Terrell McClain. Along with the Patriots’ Alan Branch, McClain is perhaps the most underrated interior D-lineman in football.

At least the Browns will have some continuity at quarterback this week. Veteran Josh McCown is set to start for the second game in a row.

He’ll need left tackle Joe Thomas to nullify Demarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys’ lone obvious pass-rush threat off the edges.

Odds

Line: DAL (-7)

Over/Under: 46.5

The Browns have been getting closer to that elusive first W in recent weeks. They should take heart from Prescott and the Cowboys showing some flaws against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8.

Still, it’s hard not to think the Dallas groundhogs will ultimately trample all over the Browns in Cleveland.

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