Cleveland Browns: Fear the AFC North
By Thomas Moore
The Cleveland Browns are still chasing the other teams in the AFC North. So which opposing players worry the Browns the most?
The Cleveland Browns have worked hard this off-season to try and close the gap with the other teams in the AFC North Division.
A new coaching staff and front office, 14 draft picks (and two first-round picks in the bank for 2017) and a handful of free-agent signings have combined to get the Browns trending toward respectability.
The “under construction” signs will likely still be hanging for a while, however, especially when you consider that since returning to the NFL, the Browns are:
- 12-22 against the Cincinnati Bengals, and have lost 11 of the past 15 meetings
- 9-25 against the Baltimore Ravens, and have lost 14 of the past 16 meetings
- 6-29 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and have lost 22 of the past 25 meetings
Add it all up and the Browns are just 27-76 within the division, a .262 winning percentage that makes it increasingly premature to talk about setting aside a January weekend for a Browns playoff game.
The Browns have been tormented over the years by a variety of players, leading to today’s question for the Dawg Pound Daily staff: Which non-Browns player do you fear the most in the AFC North?
Roger Cohen, staff writer: Which non-Browns player in the AFC North do I fear the most?
In all seriousness I think all 159 of them. Doesn’t matter if it’s Big Ben … or the last guy on the Baltimore Ravens roster — some way, somehow, some nobody will find a way to beat the post-return Browns.
Back in the day — even when the Browns were dragging in the mid-1970s — there were division-rival players who seemed to always save their best games versus the Brown and Orange: Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Isaac Curtis comes to mind. (76 career receptions, 1,385 yards and 12 touchdowns against the Browns.)
Or more recently, can anyone forget the couple of thousand yards — sometimes it seemed on one carry — that Jamal Lewis racked up against Cleveland? (1,524 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in just 12 career games against the Browns.)
Heading into 2016, how could it be anyone other than Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger? If I’m not mistaken, Big Ben’s now 20-2 versus the Browns, including last year’s game at Heinz Field when Roethlisberger came off the bench with a busted foot to lead the Steelers to a convincing 30-9 win. There have been blowouts, last-minute drives and dozens of heaves for first downs or scores, many with Browns defenders draped over the quarterbacks massive torso. Doesn’t matter.
Only twice over the last dozen years — in 2009 and then in October 2014 on the Browns defense (and Mike Pettine’s) best day ever — has the team ever bested Big Ben.
But given what I’m expecting this upcoming 2016 season — my pick is still “the Other 159.”
Steven Kubitza, co-editor: The AFC North is undoubtedly one of the toughest divisions not only in the NFL, but in all of professional sports. The division features countless talented players, but one stands above the rest, especially when he goes up against the Browns.
Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown has absolutely torched the Browns in 10 career meetings. In those 10 games, he has 1,054 yards for seven touchdowns. To put that in perspective, he has 659 yards in 11 career meetings with the Baltimore Ravens, and 875 yards in 11 career meetings against the Cincinnati Bengals. This dominance against the Browns makes the two yearly meetings between the two teams nearly an automatic win for the Steelers, who are 9-1 when Brown takes on the Browns.
Brown has put up these numbers even with Joe Haden on the field for a majority of those 10 games. So even with a player who was once considered one of the top cornerbacks in the league, the Browns seem to stand no chance of stopping Brown in 2016.
Gio Castelli, staff writer: The most feared player in the AFC North outside of the Browns roster is Antonio Brown.
Brown has tormented the Cleveland defense throughout his NFL career. The Steelers No. 1 receiver and deep threat has tormented the Browns on both special teams and on offense. He seems to always find the end zone and has yet to be stopped by Browns corner Joe Haden or anyone on the roster for that matter.
In his six years in the league, Brown has posted gaudy numbers of 526 receptions 7,093 yards receiving and 38 touchdowns. Numbers well-worthy of a player feared the most. But his past three seasons is where Brown has earned the title as most feared player in the AFC North.
Brown has posted 375 receptions, 5,031 yards receiving and 31 touchdowns while dominating AFC North competition. It’s safe to say Brown has reached elite status in the league, and is looking to continue his dominance in the AFC North again this season as teams still struggle to slow him down.
The Browns must find a way to stop Brown on the field. A healthy Haden returning this season should help their cause in doing so. Until then, the Browns and other teams will continue to struggle to stop Brown from dominating on the field.
Joel Cade, staff writer: From an offensive line perspective, the one player I fear the most in the AFC North is Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
Heading into the 2016 season there is uncertainty for the Browns at the center and right guard position, as Cameron Erving is unproven and John Greco is aging. Atkins is quick, explosive and extremely productive defensive tackle in the mold of Warren Sapp.
At 28 years old, Atkins is two years removed from an ACL tear and entering the prime of his career. When healthy, Atkins forces double teams changing the math from a schematic perspective. Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward gets an honorable mention.
Jack Kopanski, staff writer: The most feared player currently in the AFC North would have to be Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. What makes him so dangerous is not just his skills as a passer, but the weapons he has around him.
Having Antonio Brown will never hurt any team, but add on the threat of a run game that LeVeon Bell brings and it forces the defense to keep one eye in the backfield, one in the secondary and one on Roethlisberger. Last I checked, that eye math doesn’t work out.
This is not to say Roethlisberger needs these players to be successful, as he is still arguably the best, most consistent quarterback in the division. With two rings under his belt already, and continuing to lead a team that is a perineal wild card threat if not a division contender, teams will still need to devote a lot of attention to Big Ben.
Thomas Moore, co-editor: The Cleveland Browns have consistently been on the bottom of the AFC North since 1999 because of their ongoing issues at the quarterback position.
More from Dawg Pound Daily
- How the Browns could maximize Nick Chubb in 2023
- Can Deshaun Watson get to Patrick Mahomes level for Cleveland Browns?
- 3 Cleveland Browns who should see an expanded role in 2023 and 1 who should not
- Is Marcus Davenport on the Browns radar in 2023?
- 5 Free agents from Super Bowl LVII Cleveland Browns should target
When you have the fourth-best quarterback in a four-team division, it is going to be an uphill battle to be competitive within the division and in the league as a whole.
The Browns went back to the veteran bridge quarterback store during the off-season in another attempt to solve the problem by signing Robert Griffin III, who will be backed-up by last year’s veteran purchase in Josh McCown.
Griffin, and most likely at some point McCown and, quite possibly even rookie Cody Kessler, will attempt to lead the Browns this year against a trio of quarterbacks who have feasted on Cleveland in their NFL careers. The group of Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger (20-2), Baltimore’s Joe Flacco (13-2) and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton (7-3) are a combined 40-7 against the Browns since entering the league.
Until the Browns can reverse those numbers, it is extremely difficult to talk playoffs, let alone a winning record. Having the worst quarterback in the division is simply no way to go through life, a lesson that the Browns have taught their fans on a weekly basis for far too many years.
That is why Roethlisberger, Flacco and Dalton makeup the three-headed monster hiding up the bed of Browns fans everywhere.
Next: Can Joe Haden stay healthy?
What do you say Browns fans? Which opposing player within the AFC North are you most concerned about when they face the Browns?