The Browns and Dolphins enter their Week 1 opener fairly evenly matched on paper. Quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill posted nearly identical numbers in their rookie campaigns, with Weeden throwing a few more touchdowns and interceptions. Both offenses toiled near the bottom of the league in 2012, while the defenses fared slightly better, finishing in the middle of the pack. At home, in front of what should be an electric crowd at FirstEnergy Stadium, the Browns realize this contest is very much up for grabs and a few factors could swing the tilt decidedly in the their favor.
- Quarterback Pressure
The Browns spent the offseason upgrading an already formidable pass rush with the signing of free agent sack specialist Paul Kruger and spending a top pick on rusher Barkevious Mingo. While Mingo is doubtful to play in this one, reigning team sacks leader Jabaal Sheard will likely get the go-ahead. The offensive line of the Dolphins has looked very susceptible at times in the preseason and lost their best tackle in the offseason when Jake Long signed with St. Louis. The Browns need to keep applying pressure and force Tannehill to beat them with accurate throws down the field.
- Establish Power Run Game
It’s a cliché in football that games are won and lost in the trenches, but in this particular matchup, success for the Browns offense needs to start up front. The Dolphins were stout against the run last season and recorded 42 sacks, so establishing the Browns’ offensive line will be paramount. Miami finished last season 13th in rush defense and 27th in pass defense, but having Brandon Weeden air it out from the get-go would be a mistake. If the Browns get Trent Richardson going, it will be a lot easier to then uncork Weeden on a susceptible pass defense, easing him into the game and building confidence moving forward. Don’t expect the Browns to be overly creative in the passing game early on.
- Limit Big Play Opportunities
Specifically, the Browns need to target Miami’s big acquisition of the offseason, speedster receiver Mike Wallace. Wallace struggled at times in Pittsburgh when it was his turn to be the go-to receiver. He will now have to show he can be the guy in Miami. Expect Joe Haden to run with Wallace whenever possible. Lost in all the Mike Wallace hype during the offseason is that the Dolphins lost their leading rusher Reggie Bush, who arguably makes his biggest contribution in the passing game as one of the best receiving backs in the game. Taking Wallace out of the equation could really bog down the Miami offense, with the lack of weapons in this offense. The Browns were gashed for big yardage through the air last season, so they have to blitz intelligently without putting too much onus on a vulnerable secondary.