During the 2010 NFL season, each game will have one or more key individual matchups. In preparation for the season, let's hypothesize a little and look forward toward these potential on-field battles.
Cleveland faced Tampa Bay in Week One, so let's start there.
Last season the Buccaneers ranked last in total defense against the run. Harrison is at his best when he can bounce outside and take advantage of his speed and shiftiness. If Harrison can get outside the tackles and match up against Black and counterpart Geno Hayes, the Browns will open up the middle of the field for Delhomme and Hardesty if healthy.
At the end of the 2009-2010 season Jamal Charles evoked the classic WHO hit "Pinball Wizard" with his unique running style and matched Cleveland's Harrison yard for yard. Expect more of the same from the Chiefs. It will be up to Scott Fujita, Matt Roth, and crew to help contain Charles and keep the Chiefs from opening a gap on the Browns in Week Two.
The Ravens went out and acquired themselves a legitimate receiving corp while the Browns did the same thing with their defensive backfield. I'm pumped to see this game more than any other. I hope the linebackers keep Ray Rice and company contained enough that we actually see some downfield fireworks. This will be the first true test of our revamped secondary.
Carson Palmer is the face of the Bengals along with Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, and Antonio Bryant. The key to the Bengals however remains the power running of Cedric Benson, who has escaped suspension for his off-field altercation.
For the Browns linebackers and safeties to successfully bottle up Benson who runs in between the tackles, nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin must control his gaps and allow them the freedom to make plays behind him.
Talk about a rookie indoctrination. Welcome Mr. Ward to an incontrovertible Hall of Fame tight end in Tony Gonzalez. I'm sure defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will have his third cornerback on Gonzalez as much as possible, but when the Falcons go to three wideouts Ward may not have a choice but to cover him. I see this matchup clearly favoring Atlanta on those downs.
The Steelers bring Hines Ward and Mike Wallace in as their starters and I like Wright on Wallace and either Haden or Brown on Ward. Wright matches up well with Wallace's speed and finesse and Haden and Brown finally bring someone who will pop Ward in the mouth. Arnez Battle is a solid sub but nothing special so I give the Browns the edge, regardless of Leftwich or Roesthlidberger throwing the rock.
The New Orleans receivers (Devery Henderson, Marques Colston, Lance Moore, and Robert Meachem) all possess innate abilities to spread the defense and the Browns safeties (T.J. Ward, Larry Asante, Abe Elam, and Mike Adams) are going to have their hands full keeping track of their progress down the field. This in turn will open up the running game, but they can't get sucked in or else Brees will beat them deep.
If the Browns line can maintain their gaps and get some penetration, helping the linebackers bottle up the run, they can turn the Patriots into a one trick offense and force Brady and company into a throw-a-thon, which is something they are much better prepared for this year.
This may even be a game where we have a use for Brandon McDonald against Julian Edelman. The key will be how our linebackers cover the Patriots' new H-backs.
With Pro Bowl corners Darelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie on either side the Browns will be relying on their vaunted running game. No one is more critical to its success than their human sledgehammer, fullback Lawrence Vickers, who will be blowing up inside linebackers David Harris and Bart Scott.
Expect for Rogers to have his finest showing as a defensive end against Monroe, forcing the Jaguars to throw early and off target. They will settle in to their old reliable of Maurice Jones-Drew and the Browns linebackers and safeties will have a feast.
Once the linebacker releases Watson to Godfrey, it will be open season for Watson and Delhomme. Godfrey doesn't have the athleticism or the strength to hold off Big Ben and big chunks of yards should ensue.
What an excellent matchup. Will Marshall's height negate Wright's athleticism and big play ability? If Marshall gets off early then RB Ronnie Brown will be ultra-dangerous. This will be one of the more significant one-on-one matchups all year.
If the Browns OLBs get steady pressure on the Buffalo QB then the Browns should run away with this one. Matt Roth, Marcus Benard, and Chris Gocong are all capable of providing enough pressure to force the Bills to run straight into the heart of the Browns defense, which DC Rob Ryan will be waiting for.
Round two for the Ohio natives will have a different flavor and it will be up to the cornerbacks to contain Bryant, Ocho, and Owens and force the Bengals back to the ground. If they do that the Browns should prevail with their myriad of linebackers and hard hitting safeties.
By now the the Browns O-line should have jelled and will be ready for their final exam at the expense of the always fearsome Ravens defense. Led by Ngata, Suggs, and Lewis, the O-line will have its hands full but the opportunity for Harrison and Hardesty to pop big runs will be there when they over-pursue.
If Delhomme can keep his wits about him, dump off to Watson and his backs and throw an occasional fly route, this could turn into one of the upsets of the season.
There is nobody I would rather have calling a defensive game than Rob Ryan against Ben Roethlisberger. Ryan will pull out all the stops for this afternoon and expect the players to execute. If the offense can put up 16 points, I'd wager my money on the Browns.