Today in Spanning Browns Town we will start our season preview where we will take a look at every opponent on the Cleveland Browns 2009 schedule.
This year the Browns once again open the season at home for what will be the 10th-straight time. This will also be the tenth anniversary of the Browns re-birth, and coming to town to help the celebrate will be Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings, who could also be bringing Brett Farve with them.
Last season the Vikings won 10 games, which was enough to capture the NFC North and make the playoffs. Under head coach Brad Childress they finally seem to be turning things around after the mess that previous head coach Mike Tice left them with.
This year they look to continue their success and should make some noise in not only their division, but also the rest of the NFC.
So just how do the Browns match up? Let's take a closer look.
With or without Brett Farve this is a very promising unit, but they are not terrible without him either. Sure having Farve behind center would take this team from being a contender in their won division, to possibly being a Super Bowl contender.
Even if they fail to land him they have enough offensive fire power to make a run at their division and possibly the conference crown on their own.
Many people feel that Sage Rosenfels is no more then an 8-8 quarterback, however when you look at his supporting cast their is reason for optimism.
He has the best running back in the league lining up behind him, and a pretty good core of receivers as well. Provided the Vikings do not end up with Brett Farve, Rosenfels will finally get an opportunity to be a starter.
His best season seems to have been two years ago with the Houston Texans when he completed 154 passes of 240 for 1,684 yards. He also threw 15 touchdown passes that season and had a 64.2 percent pass completion rating and averaged 7.0 yards per pass.
Last season he saw his numbers take a dip, although he also had less chances than the year before. He threw six TD's, while only completing 116 of 174 passes, and less yards (1,431). His pass completion rating was actually higher then the year before at 66.7 percent as did his average yards—8.2.
The big project is going to be getting him to stay away from throwing interceptions as he has thrown a combined 22 interceptions over the past two season.
Still you can't argue with what Rosenfels has done over the past two seasons. His ratings over the last two seasons where 84.8 in '07 and 79.5 last season. He is deserving of the opportunity that awaits him.
Tavaris Jackson has been viewed as more of a project-type of a player. He did finish the year as the starter and was the starter in the playoffs as well.
The story on this second-round pick from the '06 draft, though, has not been so rosy bright. He is said to have times where he can have all the talent in the world but the moments he shows his talent are few compared to the bad decisions that he makes. He looked awful in the playoff game and many feel he is no more then a career back up. Let's see if he can prove others wrong this summer.
If the Vikings land Brett Farve then the advantage clearly goes to them—without Farve their QB situation is not the much different then the Browns. The Vikings won't dominate the Browns without Farve, however I still believe who ever their QB is can get big things done against the Cleveland defense.
Minnesota has more offensive fire power. I give the Vikings the advantage.
Many regard Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to be the best football player in the NFL. Few if any can blame those who subscribe to that belief. Really, though, what's not to like about him?
The guy is performing at an alarming rate for opposing defensive coordinators. Last season he won his first rushing title with 1,760 yards, plus he is only the fifth player in history to accumulate 3,000 yards rushing in only two seasons. Peterson also said during the off season that he wanted to add seven to 12 pounds to help him withstand punishment better.
If he can do that and maintain his explosiveness he will be very difficult to keep up with.
To compliment Peterson the Vikings also have Chester Taylor, who may as well be a starter on many other teams. He had a very successful career with the Baltimore Ravens and it has only continued in Minnesota.
A dimension that makes him very dangerous is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Last year Taylor lead all running backs with 25 catches on third down.
Any team that has a running back with the capabilities of Adrian Peterson has the clear advantage. Jamal Lewis has a lot to prove after last season and after him there really is not that much in the Browns running back core.
Jerome Harrison had a very good season last year but it remains to be seen if he can do it again and we will have to just wait and see what rookie sixth-round pick James Davis brings to the table—provided he makes the team. I give the advantage to the Vikings.
The Vikings posses a very talented group of receivers that will only get better this season. Their big investment was former Bears wide receiver Bernard Berrian.
Last season Berrian finished first among all receivers with 40 catches and averaged 20.1 yard a catch. He is very speedy and the highlight of his season last year was a 99-yard touchdown reception—tied for the longest ever in league history—vs. his former team.
This years Berrian will get some help.
The Vikings wanted more production from this position so they spent the No. 6 overall pick on Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin. True there have been many other receivers to come out of Florida that have not panned out, but there seems to be something special about Harvin.
This 5'11", 195 lb. receiver is a big time playmaker and it is possible that he may play the same type of role that Devin Hester does in Chicago if the Vikings decide to have him return kickoff's and punts as well.
Harvin does bring some character issues, however, and he did suffer an injury that he struggled to come back from in his last year at Florida. If he can overcome those issues he can be exactly what Minnesota was looking for.
Sidney Rice the former South Carolina grad is a big man at 6'4" and he has a chance to do some big things for this group. A very serious knee injury limited his ability last season so health is a question for him.
Their Slot receiver Bobby Wade, who lead the team in catches the past two seasons, is back which should help whoever ends up at quarterback.
One of the big things the Vikings need is for their tight end Visanthe Schiancoe to continue the success he had last season when he caught the most touchdown passes of any tight end in the NFL with seven. It will also be important that he catch balls that are thrown to him over the middle.
The Vikings also brought back the league's top blocking tight end Jim Kleinasser which is terrific news for Adrian Peterson.
This group has a lot of talent and a lot of options for whoever the Vikings QB will be. But I am still not sure it is that much better then what the Browns have.
Berrian was one of the best receivers last season but is he part of the elite? Even if he is, the Browns do have their question marks in the secondary so it will be interesting to see what becomes of some of these match ups. There really is no clear advantage and both those teams are even at this position.
The Vikings have a very strong left side with Steve Hutchinson and Bryant McKinney, but there have also been a lot of disappointments with McKinney to this point. He finally did show that he can live up to his first round status somewhat last season but more will be expected from him this year.
Minnesota lost their center in free agency when Matt Birk went to the Baltimore Ravens. A man that they took last season in the sixth round of the draft, John Sullivan, is the most likely to replace Birk, though it's been suggested the Vikings will look at several other options during training camp.
There are some question marks on the right side of the line. The Vikings starting right tackle Ryan Cook was demoted because the team feels that he is extremely ineffective and prone to penalties. They have tried to remedy the situation by taking Oklahoma right tackle Phil Loadholt who is most likely to take Cook's spot.
A man the team also really likes to play on the right side is Aris Hicks but many say that he is nothing more then a backup.
This is another position that there is not real clear advantage for either team. The Vikings O-line seems to be built just like the Browns. Very solid left side but a very questionable right side at best. Both teams are even at this point.
This position is rock solid for the Vikings. Three of the members of this group went to the Pro Bowl last season (Jared Allen, and the tackles Pat and Kevin Williams).
Jared Allen is a total nightmare for an opposing offensive coordinator and his offensive line. He came to the Vikings by way of a trade with the Chiefs last season the move paid off. He brought a ferocious pass rush to the defense and accumulated 14.5 sacks.
Allen also took some pressure off of Kevin Williams, who was able to come up with 8.5 sacks last season. The other Williams, Pat, was a rock last season and helped establish the Vikings as the a defensive force for the first time since the merger, leading the rushing defense for three consecutive seasons.
It is unclear if Vikings will start the season with either Williams's. However, they could be facing a four-game suspension for using a banned diuretic. You could see Fred Evans, who did a decent job when he replaced Pat Williams when he had a broken right scapula. They could also use Leroy Guion who has played two seasons with the Vikings.
The advantage goes to the Vikings by far. Even if the Browns do not have to put up with the Williamses they will have to deal with Jared Allen. That will not be a small task.
After having surgery to repair dislocated toes in week four of last season, EJ Henderson will return to the Vikings lineup. Many felt that had he not been injured he would have had a Pro Bowl-type season. Now that he is healthy he is expected to finish what he started. He is not afraid to hit, and he brings intensity to the Vikings defense.
Former Iowa Hawkeye Chad Greenway also returns to the linebacking core. Greenway lead the team in tackles in '08. He showed some play-making ability as well. He is still a good young talent who should get better this season.
The Vikings also have Ben Leber who is considered a very reliable veteran. He was the glue that held things together for the Vikings after EJ Henderson went down with his injury. Should anything happen to Henderson again it will be Leber who will take over the play calling in the huddle and will be expected to hold this unit together again.
Right now the advantage goes to the Vikings. They seem to have good depth in this position and if EJ Henderson can play like he did last year, Minnesota's defense could be a nightmare to deal with.
Linebacker is still a big question mark for the Browns right now. They brought in David Bowens and Eric Barton who are familiar with Mangini's scheme. Neither of them are Pro Bowl-type material right now. I do like David Viekune and Kaluka Maivia, but they are youngsters and who really knows what they will be capable of.
The Browns have to find a way to get Kamerion Wimbley going. He really needs to show that his rookie season was no fluke. Many feel that this system could be just what the doctor ordered but time will tell.
At the corner back position the Vikings are solid. They feature former Ohio State Buckeye Antoine Winfield who has had an outstanding career and is one of the top tacklers in the league. Throw to his side of the field if you dare. Last year was his first Pro Bowl, and he can change a game anytime his is involved in a play.
Playing next to him will be Cedric Griffin. His playing style is almost like Winfield's. He is physical and loves to make tackles. It does not hurt him to give up throws underneath because he has an ability to stop big plays and make the tackles when needed.
The third round pick Asher Allen out of Georgia is also going to be in the mix at the corner position.
As far as safeties go, Tyrell Johnson is expected to get some playing time. He played in seven games last season while regular starter Madieu Williams was battling a neck injury. He is said to be physical and athletic. However, it is also part of his rep that he lacks the ability to make plays.
Madiue Williams is scheduled to start with Johnson having recovered from his injury. He has very good cover skills.
Jamarca Sanford was selected in the seventh round and could also be part of the Vikings game plan.
The Vikings have a huge advantage here. The defensive back situation, especially in the corner back spot, is less then desirable for the Browns.
I like Eric Wright a lot, but he and Brandon McDonald get embarrassed too often. Hopefully the Browns will be able to find a way to use Coy Francies, who they drafted in the sixth round out of San Jose State. He is athletic and could be very useful. Francies was a guy I took a look at before the draft and really liked coming into the draft.
Unfortunately things do not look much better at safety. They did bring in Abram Elam from the Jets to replace Shaun Jones, who they will more than likely miss more then they may think.
Who really knows with Brodney Poole. There was some excitement about him when he was drafted, but he seems to get hurt a lot and has yet to make huge impact.
Ryan Longwell returns to the Vikings and with the team knowledge he can be relied on when needed. He holds the team record with six field goals from 50 yards or more. He is also 51 of 52 chances from the 45-yard line in three years with the Vikings. If that is not reliable, then I do not know what is.
Chris Kluwe will return at punter. Last season he set a team record with a gross average of 47.6 yards a punt. He also made some not-so-great mistakes. He fumbled a ball in a game against the Bears which lead to a touchdown drive. He also chose to punt to Reggie Bush—twice!—in a game at New Orleans both of which were returned for touchdowns. It will be interesting to see how he rebounds this season.
As mentioned earlier, we could see Percy Harvin returning punts and kickoff's. If Brad Childress chooses not to go that direction, the Vikings also brought in Glenn Holt from the Cincinatti Bengals to do that job. Holt will mostly be used on kickoffs, though.
This is one area the Browns should not have any trouble competing in. Phil Dawson is just as reliable as Ryan Longwell. You can count on Dawson to make the long-range field goal as well if he needs to.
Josh Cribbs has proven to be a huge weapon. He seems to make a highlight-reel play every time he touches the football. It will not be good news for the Vikings if Chris Kluwe kicks his way through a tight game.
This should be a very interesting game, although for Browns fans very disappointing. Do I believe that the Browns are going to be severally out-matched? No. But I do think that Brett Farve or no Brett Farve the Vikings are the better team.
They have to much more fire power coming from their running game and even their passing game has a better chance of presenting match-up problems.
It is going to be very hard for the Browns to contend with the Vikings defensive line. Plus they have lost nine out of their last 10 openers at home. It could end up being close, but I like the Vikings to come away with a win in this one.
Predicted Browns record after week 1: 0-1
In the next Spanning Browns Town Season Preview we will take a look at the Browns opponents for week number 2 the Denver Broncos.
Greg Cooksey Spans Browns Town every Monday and Friday or whenever there is anything Cleveland Browns to talk about.
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