The regular season is here, and many words have been written about how the Browns match up against the Dallas Cowboys. Saving the best for last, Lane Adkins offers his thoughts on what Browns fans should expect to see against Dallas, and what the Browns need to do in order to beat the Cowboys.
Matching up against the Cowboys strength.... control the line of
scrimmage, which will not be an easy task against the Dallas Cowboys.
Offensively, the Cowboys are big and physical. This line plays well in tandem and can wear down a defensive front-seven due to their raw power and surprising agility. Starting left guard Kyle Kosier is out for this game due to a foot injury, which creates an area the Cleveland defensive line should attack with the powerful NT Shaun Rogers, DE Robaire Smith and stunts from the LB's.
Starting tackles LT Flozell Adams and RT Mark Columbo are physically imposing figures at the point of attack. A tendency with these Cowboys is they can become lazy at times, which leads to a drop in consistency. The matchup against the speed rush of OLB's Kamerion Wimbley and Shantee Orr could lead to some plays of interest, if the Cowboys linemen display this tendency.
Dallas runs to the strong-side frequently. The success of the Cowboys running game comes from behind RG Leonard Davis and RT Columbo, which was effective last year with RB Marion Barber sharing the workload. Heading into the 2008 season, Barber is now the feature back, with rookie RB Felix Jones spelling the bruising runner.
The Cleveland front-seven must be able to pressure QB Tony Romo. A critical aspect of the Browns defensive scheme will come from the ability to push the pocket into the face of this QB, while pressuring and containing off the edges. Rogers and DE Corey Williams must not only maintain gap integrity, but need to make plays at the point of attack.
This Dallas offense is diverse with Romo under center, but heading into the season opener against the Browns, the Cowboys will not be at full strength. At the reciever position, the Cowboys are struggling due to the loss of team depth, which could help mask somewhat the Browns concerns about their defensive secondary.
Defensively, the Cowboys are an aggressive unit, from the linemen through the defensive backfield. The strength of the Dallas defensive comes from the play of their front-seven, with OLB's DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis providing significant pass-rushing presence, pressure and consistency.
Under head coach Wade Phillips, the Cowboys blitz regularly out of their 3-4 defensive scheme. It is common to see a safety, CB, or LB flying in off the edge or stunting through the line.
While Ware and Ellis gain the accolades for the pressure they apply, DE Marcus Spears and Ellis expect to be a handful for the right-side of the Cleveland offensive line, where RT Kevin Shaffer and RG Seth McKinney reside. Anticipate a TE or RB chipping at the point to slow the push of these two athletic defensive standout players.
NT Jay Ratliff gets off the ball well and can be disruptive lining-up against C Hank Fraley. Fraley did not have a strong training camp, although the veteran played better in the pre-season finale against the Chicago Bears. The Dallas defense will look to pressure up the gut, which would eliminate the running lanes for Cleveland RB Jamal Lewis. While Lewis displays adequate ability to bounce the ball off tackle, the Cowboys will look to string out the RB. If Dallas is successful, it will be a long day for the Cleveland rushing attack and place further burden on the Browns passing game.
The fact of the matter is, the Dallas Cowboys would certainly accept forcing the Browns offense to become one-dimensional. While Cleveland displays the ability to be explosive in the passing game, the Cowboys feel compelled to win the battle in the trenches and keep the Cleveland passing offense in front of the defensive backs, while blitzing to create chaos for Cleveland QB Derek Anderson.
Containing QB Tony Romo is an important challenge and defining element for a Browns victory on Sunday.
Romo is a short-of-stature player with good arm strength who uses his physical ability and escapability to make plays in the Dallas offense. Romo relies on his agility to keep the play alive, buying time to make big plays downfield. This QB is not afraid to pull the ball down and scamper for yardage when necessary.
Like many bigger-armed QB's, Romo tends to rely on his receivers to make plays on the ball, he will throw into coverage and displays a tendency looking for the play downfield, before checking down to a RB or his favorite target, TE Jason Witten.
The challenge of the day will be for the Cleveland defense to contain Romo. With this Dallas offense having the ability to strike quickly from anywhere on the field, the Cleveland front-seven must keep Romo in the pocket and prevent him from getting outside the tackles or improvising on a broken play.
Romo is going to put numbers up, but pressuring the QB will lead to mistakes and take away from what drives his game and this Dallas offense.
TE Jason Witten and WR Terrell Owens are going to be the focus of the Cleveland defense.
In the 2007 season, Witten and Owens contributed approximately 2,500 receiving yards in a Cowboys offense which is basically unchanged heading into the 2008 season.
Witten and Owens are two of the very best at their respective positions, and Romo does a good job of getting each into the flow of the offensive sets. Due to the size, strength and quickness of each player, the opposing defenses struggle to contain the talented receiver duo. What separates Witten and Owens from most in the game is their ability to create and gain yardage after the reception.
Owens can muscle a DB in coverage, and has shown the capability to run through weak-arm tackle attempts, while still having the speed and quickness to beat a defender deep in his route. This WR can be taken out of the game when the flow of action is not coming his way. Often Owens is his own worst enemy, but he remains a standout player within the Dallas offensive scheme.
Witten has the ability to line-up as a customary tight-end type or out wide in the formation. Due to the rash of injuries at the WR position for the Cowboys, Witten and/or rookie RB Felix Jones could see time split wide to mask the Cowboy's weak depth.
Due to his physical qualities, Witten can and has excelled in multiple roles in this Dallas offense. Quite often, Witten is the primary receiver for Romo, though this TE has been a steady safety valve when the play breaks down.
To offset these two Dallas receivers, the Cleveland defense will give a different look to the Dallas offense and a look somewhat different than the base Browns defense utilizes.
Look for the Cleveland defense to man press more opposite of Owens in the set. Expect the Browns early to attempt to set the tempo with hopes the defensive line can be effective at the point of attack. If they are, the Browns defense will show LB's dropping deeper into coverage lanes, in an attempt to take away the slants and yards after reception that Owens and Witten are noted for.
A big challenge awaits the Browns defensive line and linebackers when Marion Barber comes calling.
Starting running back Marion Barber is a brute-force runner and will pound the ball at the Browns defense. Inside the tackles is where Barber does the majority of his damage, but the RB has deceptive quickness to the outside and can be a threat coming out of the backfield.
Barber has been effective in the Dallas backfield as a part-time player in recent seasons. He is very strong in short yardage and in the red-zone. Barber is physically imposing and packs a wallop, which lends to his ability to get into the end-zone against safeties and cornerbacks.
Stepping into the full-time role is a new thing for this back and the Cowboys. Many around the game look at Barber as a player who has prospered due to the role he has played and wonder whether he can retain his impact when carrying the load 25 times per game. The selection of RB Felix Jones in the draft was driven by the need to spell Barber and provide that important depth.
Keys for a Browns victory
- The offense must stay out of third-and-long situations. Third-and-long will dictate the Dallas defense to pin their ears back and get after the Cleveland offense.
- QB Derek Anderson must remain vertical and not force the ball into coverage while attacking the questionable Dallas secondary.
- RB Jamal Lewis must run effectively between the tackles. If the Dallas defense can force Lewis to run East to West, the running game will struggle.
- The offensive and defensive line must maintain the point of attack. Allowing Dallas to get off first will get them into the game and their physical strength is significant.
- Recognizing and picking up the blitz is imperative. The Cowboys like to blitz and create havoc off OLB Ware with a defensive back.
- Linebackers must flow to the ball. Barber is a horse, and the defense has to flow and hit the RB before clearing the first line of defense. If successful, the pressure falls onto Romo's shoulders.
- Defensive backs must remain technically sound, communicate and avoid the big-play. Breakdowns of a season ago and in this pre-season cannot be afforded to this Dallas offense.
- Special teams must contain the Dallas return game, unlike the play of the team in the pre-season.