The Cleveland Browns will open up the 2011 regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday and will look to improve off a preseason that left fans worried and a little dissatisfied. The Browns went 1-3 during the preseason and despite an impressive win against the Green Bay Packers, looked like a team going through some real growing pains and coaching changes.
The Bengals are in a similar position to the Browns as Cincinnati will ring in the Andy Dalton era in his first battle of Ohio. Cincinnati actually appeared to have a better handle on their gameplan than Cleveland did in the past few weeks, but played their starters much more often than Cleveland in the final three games.
Here are the keys for the Browns to beat the Bengals in Week 1 and build for the beginning portion of the 2011 season.
Keep Colt McCoy In Good Field Positions: The media seemed ready to label Colt McCoy as the next great quarterback after his first two preseason performances in August. Since then, the former Texas star has cooled off, but still seems to have a good grip on Pat Shurmur’s offense. The key for McCoy’s success throughout the first game will rest in his ability to manage his throws and capitalize on the field position the running game or special teams unit gives him. McCoy seems to have a tendency to panic when he is faced with 3rd and 10 situations, which ultimately leads to bad decisions and turnovers.
Trust The Defensive Line: So much was made out of Cleveland’s decision to start two rookies along the defensive line earlier in training camp, but Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard have both shown they belong as starters on the defense. Taylor started off camp slow, but came on against the Philadelphia Eagles while Sheard has been a consistent run stopper and containment player opposite Jayme Mitchell.
The Browns have to trust their rookies on the line to get consistent pressure on Andy Dalton and let their linebackers keep containment on the Bengals’ talented running game. Cedric Benson will likely see a large amount of work for Cincy, and a lot of the Bengals’ successwill be based off his progress running the football. Cleveland has improved significantly against the run over the course of their last few games and hope they have finally found a strong combination to keep their opponents in check.
Feed The Beast: Peyton Hillis was simply the driving force behind the Browns success during the 2010 season, but many fans and NFL experts are worried about his durability during the 2011 season. In the opinion of this Browns fan and writer, Cleveland really does not have the time or the resources to worry about the future of this NFL season.
The Browns will face a very tough schedule at the end of the 2011 season, but have a relatively simple road against some sub-par opponents in the early weeks. If Cleveland wants to have a winning record, they will have to ride on the legs of Hillis early in the year and try not to worry about the tough road they will have later in the season.