Cleveland Browns: Top 5 opposing receivers in 2016
There may not be a more bitter rivalry within the AFC North than when the Cleveland Browns face the Pittsburgh Steelers. This staple in every Browns season is renewed once again in Week 11 and Week 17 in 2016. Though the Steelers present a variety of challenges to a rebuilding Browns organization, one of the most notable is their seventh-year wide receiver, Antonio Brown.
Brown has made himself a name not only in Pittsburgh, but in all of football, finishing 2015 second only to Julio Jones in receiving yards. Even so, his 1,834 yards is no insult to his teammates, as he competes alongside capable receivers such as Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Naturally, this makes facing a team like Pittsburgh a completely different animal than an opponent such as the Giants. The Browns defensive scheme is now a balance, as they seek to give Brown enough attention to limit his production, while making sure opportunities for others still do not come easily.
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Overall, Brown is a very well-rounded receiver. He has speed and hands, and is shifty in the open field. While he won’t break the tackles that A.J. Green will, Brown has given the Cleveland Browns a whole host of trouble his entire career. Against the Browns, the 28-year-old has recorded more receptions, more yards, and more touchdowns than he has against any other team. He also excels on third down and in the red zone, delivering crushing blows to defenses in critical moments of games.
The overall talent of Pittsburgh’s offense is part of what makes Brown seemingly impossible to defend. In these two games, the Browns will need to rely on their safeties to be sharp, as cornerbacks will not be able to defend this potent offense on their own.
In a sense, this is good news, as breakout Cleveland Brown K’Waun Williams is poised to make strides in 2016. He will need to be special in the games against Pittsburgh if the Browns want to slow down the numerous threats the Steelers present offensively.
Pittsburgh’s pass offense ranked third in the NFL in 2015, largely due to Brown. In recent history, Cleveland has had a difficult time defeating Pittsburgh to say the least. Stopping their passing attack would go a long way in reversing this trend. If the Browns want to do this, their only option is to at least limit the damage the Steelers star receiver inflicts. Since he is one of the top receivers in football, and he has had more success against Cleveland than against any other team in his career, Antonio Brown will be the most difficult receiving threat the Browns will face in 2016.
For Cleveland’s young secondary, this upcoming season is going to be a form of “baptism by fire”. The challenging receivers the Browns have on the schedule this season seems unfortunately coincidental for a team that needs work in the area of defending the passing attack. This top five list did not even include other formidable threats, such as Brandon Marshall and the entire Patriots offense, who come to Cleveland in Week 5, Tom Brady‘s first week back from his suspension.
Next: Browns 2016 Depth Chart Projection
Still, facing all of these star receivers will be a good indicator of the progress the Browns secondary is making. It is paramount that this Cleveland defense makes strides immediately, and limits the role some of the most productive receivers in football that they face have.
If the Browns can overcome these daunting tasks, they will be in position for significant improvement in 2016.