The NFL lockout is over and the much maligned preseason is out of the way. It's time to get back to the business of playing football. On Sunday, September 11th, the Cleveland Browns will host their division and in-state rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Cleveland Browns are heavy favorites, but it won't be easy. Here are four keys to victory.
There is reason for optimism with second-year quarterback Colt McCoy. The third-round draft pick out of Texas entered 2010 as the third-string quarterback. Through a series of high ankle sprains, he finally got his opportunity against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Though they lost, his composure impressed more than a few.
Colt needs to make good decisions and continue his accuracy from the first two preseason games.
Cincinnati is one of the very few teams that the Browns should probably beat. They cannot afford to pull a Notre Dame and turn it over, especially in the red zone. Browns running back Peyton Hillis had his fumble problems in 2010; that will need to change going forward.
Rookie wide receiver Greg Little enters 2011 as perhaps the most intriguing prospect on the roster. Nobody doubts his physical gifts, but after missing all of 2010 to suspension, will the game be too big for him?
It's one thing to shine in camp and, after an impressive showing against Detroit in the preseason, he needs to prove that his focus is where it should be: on the game and not on punting the ball into the stands.
Likewise, Browns tight end Evan Moore has shown promise in limited regular-season action. Like Little, he has been impressive in preseason action. He's been so impressive, in fact, that he earned himself a contract extension. Making that potential show up on Sundays could be paramount to the success of this team.
Former Browns coach Eric Mangini was often criticized for being too hard on his players. That may have been the case, but the end result was a disciplined team. In 2010 the Browns averaged only 4.9 penalties per game, good for fourth best in the NFL.
Enter new Browns head coach Pat Shurmur, a “player’s coach.”
Will the change in style affect concentration on the field? The Browns cannot afford mental lapses. 1st-and-10 is hard enough; jumping offsides, holding, illegal contact and late hits out of bounds cannot be tolerated.