Are you ready for some football? Tomorrow night is the official opening night for the NFL as the Denver Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens kickoff in the Mile High City. For the rest of the league and their fans the games start Sunday or Monday. As the Cleveland Browns look to open their season with their new regime firmly putting their stamp on the team, we will preview matchups that could decide the game. Today we start with “the big uglies,” offensive lines versus the defensive front 7s.
Cleveland Offensive Line versus Miami Front 7
Browns Starting Line from Left to Right: Joe Thomas, John Greco, Alex Mack, Oniel Cousings, Mitchell Swartz
Miami Front 7 (4-3 Defense): DE Cameron Wake, DT Randy Starks, DT Paul Soliai, DE Olivier Vernon. LBs Philip Wheeler, Dannell Ellerbe, Koa Misi
The Browns’ offensive line is considered one of the best in the game with All Pro Joe Thomas and above average starters Alex Mack and Mitchell Swartz. John Greco stabilizes the left side of the line with solid guard play but right guard could be a struggle for the first half of the season. After losing the top two on the depth chart to ankle injuries, for at least 4 to 8 weeks, veteran Oniel Cousins is set to compete with rookie 7th round pick Garrett Gilkey for the right guard position. The Dolphins imported LBs Wheeler and Ellerbe this off-season to compliment the solid play of Koa Misi. Cameron Wake is a disruptive force on the defensive line and will give even the solid tackle pair of the Browns fits. The Dolphins traded up to draft hybrid LB/DE Dion Jordan from Oregon but he currently sits 3rd on their depth chart. Much like how the Browns plan to use their first round pick expect the Dolphins to use Jordan creatively, but sparingly, throughout the beginning of the season.
Advantage: Cleveland (but not by much) – The Browns offensive line should be able to contain the Dolphins front 7 outside of Wake and should be able to get running room for Trent Richardson. The Browns also plan to use TEs and FBs, to gain numbers advantages in blocking schemes, that also can leak out and catch the football. The Dolphins front 7 is solid and will not be an easy much up in anyway. Expect the Browns to struggle to run the ball up the middle and use more outside zone or counters to combat this weakness. The Browns also plan to deploy 3 and 4 wide receiver sets which will limit some playing time for the LBs and DTs.
Miami Offensive Line versus Cleveland Front 7
Miami Starting Line from Left to Right: Jon Martin, Richie Incognito, Mike Pouncey, John Jerry, Tyson Clabo
Cleveland Front 7 (3-4 Defense): DE Desmond Bryant, NT Phil Taylor, DE Ahtyba Rubin, OLB Paul Kruger, ILBs D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson and OLB Jabaal Sheard
The Miami offensive line is in transition. Last year as a rookie Martin struggled when Jake Long was hurt and he was switched over the left side. Long’s free agent departure made this switch permanent. Incognito has been in the league for a long time and is solid at his position with a history of getting under people’s skin. Pouncey has established himself as one of the best young centers in the league, along with his brother in Pittsburgh. Right guard is still up in the air and has been a weak spot for the Dolphins, to the point they brought in Danny Watkins who was released by the Eagles at final cut down. Clabo comes over from Atlanta where he started all 16 games for the last 5 years. Clabo is going into his 9th year and should provide solid if unspectacular play at the right tackle position.
The Cleveland front 7 is also in transition, back to the 3-4 defense. The Browns brought in Bryant and Kruger to solidify the change quickly and look to have the makings of a good young defense. Taylor has been a disruptive force whenever he is on the field, and as long as he is healthy should make Pouncey work hard and require help from a guard to block him. Bryant is also a penetrater who can hold his own against the run but likes to get into the backfield. Rubin is a standard 3-4 end who will each up blocks so the linebackers can flow to the ball. Rubin’s constant motor should keep the blockers engaged and unable to get to the second level in run blocking. Jackson is the leader of the defense and since Phil Dawson’s departure the longest tenured player on the team. Teamed with “ace” Robertson, Jackson provides steady, heady play in the middle. Free agent acquisition Kruger will get his first shot as a full time player and has shown he is worth his hefty contract in the preseason. Sheard has made a seamless transition to the OLB position from the 4-3 defensive end where he played in college and his first years in the NFL. Sheard, Kruger and the exotic zone blitz packages of new DC Ray Horton should give the Dolphins’ line fits all day.
Advantage: Cleveland – The Dolphins’ line may need time to gel, but playing against the Horton scheme could make that difficult. The talent infusion on the Front 7 should make the Browns a force this year. Unlike their defensive backfield, we will get to that in a later post, this part of the Browns’ D will be solid.
Browns fans did I overrate the home team? Dolphins fans how did I underrate your team? Let me know!