Week 03: Ravens vs. Browns
Location: Cleveland Browns Stadium, Cleveland
When: 4:05 p.m., Sept. 23
TV: WJZ-TV (Channel 13); Ian Eagle, Solomon Wilcots
Radio: WIYY-FM (97.9); Gerry Sandusky, Rob Burnett, Stan White
Last year: 6-10, last in AFC North Division
• The Browns finished last in the division in 2005 based on the fact that Baltimore, despite having the same 6-10 performance, had a better division record.
• Cleveland is playing the league's 14th-toughest schedule (opponents' 2005 win percentage: .512), but it is the easiest among the four AFC North Division teams. Just six of 16 games are against teams that made the playoffs last year.
• This is a team in transition. Of the 91 players that went to training camp, 70 of them were brought in by ex-Ravens and current Browns general manager Phil Savage and second-year coach Romeo Crennel, the former defensive coordinator of New England's Super Bowl teams.
• Cleveland has made the playoffs once since its return, blowing a 12-point lead and losing in the final ten minutes at Pittsburgh in a 2002 Wild Card game, 36-33.
• The Browns haven't been ranked in the league's top ten on offense since 1987 (ninth) and haven't been ranked higher than 23rd since 1994 (16th). Defensively, Cleveland hasn't had a top-ten unit since 1994 (seventh).
• Last year, Cleveland ranked 26th on offense (25th rushing, 23rd passing) and was tied with Seattle for 16th on defense (30th vs. rush, fourth vs. pass). The Browns were dead last in the AFC in average first downs per game and in red-zone offense (28.2 percent touchdowns) but fourth defensively inside the 20 (44 percent touchdowns allowed).
• Quarterback Charlie Frye (59.8 percent completions, 72.8 rating in the last five games of '05), a second-year Akron alum, was a Senior Bowl MVP the Browns hope will stop their Ravens-like revolving door at quarterback (Detmer, Couch, Holcomb, Garcia, Dilfer, et al).
• Frye will need healthy targets. Last year, Braylon Edwards tore an ACL and missed the final month and tight end Kellen Winslow, son of the San Diego great, has played just two games in his first two seasons. Winslow is the Daniel Wilcox of the Browns because he can line up at H-back and wide receiver, giving the Browns needed flexibility.
• Former Denver and Detroit running back Reuben Droughns is the featured back with ex-New Orleans Saint Terrelle Smith, one of the league's most underrated fullbacks, leading him into the holes.
• The Browns looked to free agency to bolster a 3-4 defense that recorded an NFL-low 23
sacks last year, acquiring DE/LB Willie McGinest (New England) and NT Ted Washington (Oakland). McGinest's 78 career sacks coming into the season is tied for sixth among active players. Former Raven Gary Baxter has been hampered by chronic chest injuries, but he and Leigh Bodden man the corners.
• Kicker Phil Dawson missed just two field goals in 29 tries in '05 and scored 100 points. Former Ravens punter Dave Zastudil grew up in the Cleveland area and brings his 43.5 gross average back to his hometown.
Here's a radical concept: picking a winner based on which team is better. No contest here.
Issue 1.22: September 21, 2006