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By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Here are a few things we know about the Cleveland Browns: they’ve got rookies starting at quarterback and running back, they’re supposed to be one of the worst teams in the NFL, and most people expect the Eagles to beat them on Sunday.
The best way to find out more, is to talk to the people who see the Browns every day. I spoke to Chris Pokorny (@DawgsByNature) of the fantastic Browns blog Dawgs By Nature about exactly what the Eagles are up against on Sunday.
Spike: Brandon Weeden is part of a new generation of rookie quarterbacks who start right away. How do you think he’ll fare, and how has he looked so far?
Chris: Weeden did not have as many sustained drives that you would like to see from a rookie quarterback in the preseason, but he has done some things to turn heads so far. The number one thing is that his arm is the real deal. With the flick of his wrist, he can get the ball to our receivers with precision better than any quarterback on the Browns in recent memory. On the downside, he has had some issues holding onto the football due to protection issues. We’re hoping that the return of Trent Richardson alleviates some of the pressure he faced in the preseason. In terms of how he will fare, I think an optimistic take is that he’ll match what Andy Dalton was able to accomplish in Cincinnati a year ago.
Spike: Most writers have the Browns as one of the worst, if not the worst team in the NFL. Are they right?
Chris: Those writers are wrong. I’m not trying to sugarcoat things in Cleveland and act like the Browns are a playoff contender, but you are talking about a team that added a quarterback with a better arm, a running back who is being touted as one of the best to come out of the draft in years, two promising rookie receivers, and a new starting right tackle. The defense, which played quite well a year ago, is pretty much the same except for an injury or two. I think the teams in St. Louis, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Minnesota, and Miami are in worse shape heading into the season than Cleveland.
Spike: Fill in the blank and give a reason: The Browns will have a better ______ than most people expect in 2012, and here’s why:
Chris: The Browns will have a better pass-protecting offensive line than most people expect in 2012. They did not have a very good preseason, which was a bit puzzling given the talent they have across the board. Joe Thomas is one of the best left tackles in the league, and Alex Mack is an anchor at center. Both guards, Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao, were lower draft picks who started last year. They started rough a year ago, but by the end of the season, they matured into stable starters. The team invested a second-round pick in right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. This is the best offensive line in the AFC North, and if things click, they’ll end up being one of the best offensive lines in the AFC.
Spike: What will the Browns struggle with the most with the Eagles?
Chris: Even though I just praised the Browns’ offensive line, they’ll struggle most with the Eagles’ speed at defensive end. It was evident during the team’s preseason match-up against each other. When Brandon Weeden needs to make a quick decision, we can’t expect him to do that at a high level for four quarters. The Eagles will not take their foot off the pedal, and Weeden is going to make some mistakes.
Spike: If the Browns beat the Eagles, how will it happen?
Chris: Two words: Trent Richardson. He was held out the entire preseason, and fans were a bit worried at the first-team offense not putting a lot of points on the board during the preseason. He has the potential to single-handedly be a game-changer. If he propels the Browns’ offense to new heights, Cleveland has an underrated defense that can hold things together long enough to help pull off the upset.