Know Your Enemy: Cleveland Browns

When the NFL schedule came out, fans of the Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns circled this Sunday’s contest as “winnable”. Neither franchise entered 2011 with much momentum. The Browns boasted Madden 2012 cover boy Peyton Hillis. The Titans have recent eight-figure contract signee Chris Johnson. In last week’s games, the Titans’ punter Brett Kern had as many rushing yards as both men combined, a nice underscore to a typically unpredictable season.

I don’t know much about the Browns. That’s why I brought in reinforcements. In what I hope becomes a weekly feature, I’m going to chat with a blogger from the Titans’ opponent. I’ll call it Know Your Enemy. This week features Brendan Leister, editor of brownsblog.com.

Like my Ask Your Fantasy Football series, my questions will be in Titan victory formation blue and Brendan’s in not blue.

Will the Browns please let Marc Mariani return one kickoff? The Titans are the last team in the NFL to not return a kick.

Yes, Marc Mariani will get a few chances at kickoff returns against the Browns. Phil Dawson is getting older and he doesn’t have a very strong leg anymore. He was never known for getting many touchbacks in the first place. However, I’m not sure how far Mariani will be able to return the kickoffs against the Browns. The team’s kick coverage has been pretty stellar this season.

Colt McCoy: Is he the future at QB or just keeping the seat warm?

I believe Colt McCoy is the future at QB for the Browns. Everyone just needs to be patient with him. Last season, he was in a completely different system and he never got reps with the starters until midway through the season. McCoy is a perfect fit for Coach Shurmur’s west coast offense. McCoy is extremely accurate, makes quick decisions, and he can make plays on the move.

Does Mike Holmgren have the franchise heading in the right direction?

Mike Holmgren certainly has the franchise headed in the right direction. Before Mike Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert joined the Browns’ organization, the team didn’t really have a direction. Each of this front office’s first two drafts look great so far. The Browns went from being one of the oldest teams in the league last year to one of the youngest this year. In the NFL, an organization can’t be old and rebuilding. It never works. That was my biggest issue with Eric Mangini. He preferred keeping old players that had no value other than special teams on the roster over young talent. Right now, the Browns have plenty of young talent on the roster. I expect the Browns to be competing for the playoffs by 2012 at the rate this front office is rebuilding the team.

Who’s the one guy on offense/defense that the Titans need to shut down?

On offense, the guy every team has to at least contain if they want to have a chance against the Browns is Peyton Hillis. Hillis led the NFL in touches before he missed the game against the Dolphins with strep throat. Hillis has great hands and he’s also a bruising runner with deceptive speed. He’s the guy that makes the offense work.

On defense, there isn’t really one guy that jumps out at me, but the Titans will need to contain the Browns’ entire defensive line if they want to win this game. [Zach note: Joe Haden on Nate Washington is one of the more interesting one-on-one matchups.] The combination of Jayme Mitchell and Jabaal Sheard at defensive end and Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor at defensive tackle has been dominant over the past two games. Rubin and Taylor are each top five in the NFL right now for tackles by defensive tackles. Rubin has 2.5 sacks this season and Taylor has 1 sack. Mitchell has 1.5 sacks with a forced fumble and Sheard has 1 sack with a forced fumble. The defensive tackles are great at pushing the pocket. They are each very athletic for their size (320+). Sheard had a lot of trouble during the preseason and the first game of the season because he was playing right defensive end and he wasn’t comfortable there. He played left defensive end in college. Before the Colts game, the coaching staff decided to swap Sheard and Mitchells’ positions and ever since, they have been nearly unblockable.

Is there real optimism about this year’s team, or is the fan base waiting for the inevitable reversal when it’s time to play the Ravens/Steelers?

The fan base is optimistic that good things are coming in the future and that the team is headed in the right direction, but not many are expecting more than seven or eight wins. The schedule looks easy up until the last five games. Four of the last five games are against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Browns win ten games this season due to Pittsburgh’s age and injuries on the offensive line paired with the easy schedule outside of the division. Winning two or three of the last five games isn’t out of the question in my opinion. However, I’m sticking with my preseason prediction of an 8-8 record.

What do you do when you’re not covering the Browns for brownsblog.com?

I am a college student at Washington State Community College. I plan to transfer to Ohio University in Fall of 2012 and major in Sports Management. I plan to go into scouting and my goal is to work in an NFL front office someday.

I am an assistant coach/scout for a local HS football team. It’s a lot of fun. I helped coach the wide receivers and defensive backs before this college quarter started, but now I can’t make it to practices because of my schedule. On Friday nights, I scout our upcoming opponent and I take notes and then I go to the team meeting the next morning to break down film with the other coaches.

I am very active in my church’s youth group.

Will you be at the game on Sunday? If you’re not in Cleveland, where are you located?

I will not be at the game on Sunday, however, I did make it up to the Browns-Dolphins game last Sunday. I live in Marietta, Ohio. Marietta is in Southeastern Ohio, about 2 hours and 45 minutes from Cleveland.

Best memory as a Browns fan.

I’m only 18 years old [Zach note: Me too.] so I haven’t lived through the same memories that many other fans have. My best memory as a Browns fan is unquestionably when the Browns beat the Steelers on December 10th of 2009. I remember predicting that the Browns would win the game and people calling me crazy. The Steelers missed the playoffs and the Browns had a huge impact on it.

Worst memory as a Browns fan (lots of material here, I’m sure).

Once again, I’m only 18 so I am too young to remember the team getting moved and I wasn’t alive during The Drive and The Fumble. My worst memory as a Browns fan is when the Browns could have clinched a playoff berth on December 23rd of 2007 and they lost to the Bengals. I was never a Derek Anderson fan and he didn’t help himself in that game. He threw 4 interceptions and the Browns lost 14-19.

Thank you for this opportunity. It was a lot of fun. I hope I didn’t write too much. I just love connecting with other sports fans.

Thanks for the time, Brendan. Find him at BrownsBlog.

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