Early Look at the Browns

The Browns were one of the biggest surprises in the league a year ago, recording a 10-6 record when most pundits expected the team to be one of the worst in the AFC.

Thanks to the strong play of quarterback Derek Anderson, it never happened.

Anderson, in his first full year as a starter, completed 298-of-527 passes for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns. He finished the year ninth in the NFL in passing yards, all the while holding off first-round draft pick Brady Quinn for the starting quarterback spot.

This year, Anderson has entrenched himself as the starter and the Browns are hoping to take the next step up in the AFC pecking order. The offense is explosive, led by Anderson and a pair of former first round picks and Pro Bowl performers in WR Braylon Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow. The two combined to catch over 160 passes and 21 touchdowns in 2007 and should be in position to put up similar numbers this year.

Cleveland also has the bruising veteran in the backfield, Jamal Lewis, and a developing offensive line that is among the top five units in the AFC.

Defensively it's a different story as Cleveland ranked 30th in the NFL in total defense in 2007, giving up 359 yards and almost 24 points per game. Not surprisingly, that prompted a change in coordinators as first-year coordinator Mel Tucker takes over for Todd Grantham.

The Browns should see some improvement up front this season with Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams taking over in the interior defensive line but plenty of questions exist with the linebackers and also in the secondary. Keep in mind Cleveland traded its best corner from a year ago, Leigh Bodden, to get Rogers.

Getting presure on quarterback Derek Anderson is obviously one of the keys for the Dallas defense Sunday afternoon in Cleveland.
Simply put, both Dallas and Cleveland have multiple weapons on offense that will be hard to stop no matter who they matchup against this season.

With Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Marion Barber, Terrell Owens and even Felix Jones in addition to the top offensive line in the NFL going against a defense that may be improved, but still not in the upper half of the AFC this year, advantage Dallas.

Still, the Browns offer of plenty of their own firepower on offense and could conceivably win a shoot out should the Dallas defense not get consistent pressure on Anderson or bottle up the running game.

As a side note, the Browns' 10-6 record a year ago was especially stinging to Cowboys fans because Dallas had the Browns' 2008 first-round pick after Cleveland traded up with Dallas in the 2007 draft to select Brady Quinn.

EARLY KEYS TO THE GAME: The Browns showed they can score in bunches a year ago, putting up 51 points in a week two win over Cincinnati and 41 in a week six win against the Dolphins. Considering it's the first week of the season, priority No. 1 for the Dallas defense will be limiting the production of Jamal Lewis. The veteran running back rushed for over 1,300 yards and scored nine touchdowns last season and will be at full strength to start the season.

Dallas must also be mindful of the Anderson-to-Edwards connection, which could develop into one of the more dangerous quarterback-wide receiver tandems in the AFC by the end of the year.

Still if the Browns can establish Lewis early, it will be hard to keep their explosive offense from putting up points in bunches, just like they did a year ago.

LAST MEETING: The Cowboys scraped together a 19-12 win on Sept. 19, 2004 in a game that saw Vinny Testaverde throw three interceptions to help keep the Browns alive for four quarters. Eddie George ran for 62 yards and a touchdown, and heard fans chant his name after a late 9-yard gain. Julius Jones, making his NFL debut, also hurt his shoulder in the game and would miss the next two months before returning to the lineup.

WHAT WE EXPECT: The Browns will have trouble stopping Terrell Owens and Jason Witten in the deep passing game, but don't be surprised if the defense gives up 21+ points along the way. Expect offense galore Sunday afternoon, but it's hard to imagine Dallas walking out of this game with a loss.

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