So you're the Cleveland Browns and you're tasked with opening the season against the über-talented Philadelphia Eagles. You should be somewhat familiar with the Eagles because you played them in Week 3 of the preseason, but very few starters and key contributors participated that night.
It's OK, though, Pat Shurmur, Brad Childress and Dick Jauron—because I've been paying quite a lot of attention to Philadelphia of late (it's my job), and I have a few pieces of advice for how a team like yours can attack Philly on Sunday afternoon.
Shorten the game by running early and often
The longer you can possess the ball and run the clock, the better chance you'll have of pulling off an upset. You used the No. 3 overall pick in April's draft on a running back who's supposed to revive your franchise, so assuming Trent Richardson's left knee is OK, it would make sense to give Philadelphia's banged-up defensive front a steady dose of the former Alabama star.
That'll be the only way to keep the Eagles pass rush—a unit that had a tied-for-league-high 50 sacks last year and probably got better in the offseason—from making life extremely difficult for rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden in his career debut.
Remember, the Eagles are without Mike Patterson, and Jason Babin is less than 100 percent after missing the preseason with a strained calf. Babin and Cullen Jenkins aren't particularly good run defenders anyway, and there's no telling what Philly's gonna get from Derek Landri. Just avoid Trent Cole and you should have success.
The key is to keep the ball moving forward consistently. Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers missed more tackles than the Eagles did last year, and DeMeco Ryans is a tremendously overrated tackler. Rookie Mychal Kendricks is slated to start next to Ryans on the weak side, and Akeem Jordan, Brian Rolle and Jamar Chaney can be had in the second level.
A lot of those players want to prove that last year's struggles against the run were an anomaly—the result of being forced to prepare in abbreviated fashion following the lockout. So force them to prove it.
Target Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Brandon Boykin
As if you'll have a choice. With shutdown corner Nnamdi Asomugha lining up on one side of the field, I'm essentially suggesting that you have Brandon Weeden go the other way. Yup, take on DRC or the rookie Boykin, who is likely to spend a lot of time in the slot with Joselio Hanson gone.
Rodgers-Cromartie has been quite simply one of the league's worst cover corners the last two years. Might he be better with a full offseason to prepare in 2012? Sure, and it helps that he'll get to line up outside and work in press-man coverage for much of the year, but the Eagles don't have a lot of weak spots, and this still appears to be one of them.
The Eagles often split the field in the secondary, rather than having Asomugha rove. That gives the Browns an opportunity to exploit those soft spots with Greg Little.
Throw the kitchen sink at Michael Vick
You can only hope to contain LeSean McCoy, but a conservative defensive approach will only lead to a death by a thousand paper cuts Sunday. Instead, the Browns should take the go-big-or-go-home approach and do everything possible to force Vick into mistakes or out of the game.
Vick's pass protection isn't very good, and he doesn't make good decisions in panic situations, so bring heat often and roll the dice on big plays. If you can do that, you can win the turnover battle, which would make an upset attainable.
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