Now that the NFL season is here, I’m putting a twist on my weekly Blogger on Blogger series. Each week, I hope to enlist a blogger who regularly writes about the Ravens' opponent to help me break down the game. This week, I exchanged emails with Scott Sargent, who blogs about the Cleveland Browns for Waiting for Next Year.
MV: The Browns have undergone another regime change with a new general manager, a new head coach and two new (highly-regarded) coordinators. In what way will the Browns be different on the field this year?
SS: If this past Sunday is any sort of indication, in a world where the only item of importance is a win, there will not be much different with this year's incarnation when compared to those of yesteryear. The offense has been abysmal, even with the addition of two offensive minds; the defensive backfield (was) shredded. That said, in the spirit of fairness, the Browns' revamped front seven looks very, very good. Under the tutelage of Ray Horton, the Browns new 3-4 scheme led to several sacks with only three- or four-man rushes. They held the Dolphins to just 20 yards rushing on 23 attempts, this without stud defensive end Athyba Rubin, who was out with a calf injury. If there's any silver lining to this perennial disgrace, it's the trenches on the defensive side.
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MV: Paul Kruger is getting paid a boatload of money by the Browns and he had a sack in his debut there. What were your initial thoughts when they signed Kruger and do you think he will live up to that contract?
SS: The Kruger signing simply made sense. Not only did it address a huge need in pass-rushing and veteran leadership, it took away a key element of a rival's success. The contract, when detailed, isn't all too cumbersome. The team structured it with a roster bonus as opposed to a signing bonus that has to be spread through its duration — this is where the cap space this season comes in handy. If the team decides to cut bait in the middle, the cap hit isn't debilitating by any means. I was a fan of the deal then and continue to be at present day.
MV: The Browns, at least in my opinion, have had one of the NFL's most underrated defenses in recent years. How good can they be with Kruger and a healthy Barkevious Mingo?
SS: I agree with you on the underrated front. For years, opposing teams simply ran the ball to victory -- there was literally never a reason to pass. Now, this won't happen. The front seven is very, very good. Desmond Bryant continues to be a very underrated signing and the edge rushers you mentioned should draw schemed blocking all year long. The issue is, and will continue to be, the defensive backfield outside of Joe Haden. Haden is a legit shutdown corner. His peers, however, leave a lot to be desired. Three- and five-step drops destroyed them during Opening Day. It's difficult to envision it getting much better without putting both safeties over the top.
MV: Is this a make or break year for second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden? If so, which one will it be: make or break?
SS: It is undeniably a make-or-break season for Brandon. It's not much of a secret that this regime didn't select him. Mike Lombardi, the current general manager, even went as far as to call it a "panic" move. This offense is tailored to Weeden's strengths -- shotgun, downfield, Norvian. If he doesn't make it work now, he never will. Unfortunately, he's showing no signs that he will ever be "the guy."
MV: The Browns have not beaten the Ravens since they hired John Harbaugh as head coach and drafted Joe Flacco to be their quarterback. What must the Browns do to prevent an 11th straight loss to them?
SS: Aside from acquiring Peyton Manning before Sunday? Honestly, their only chance is to stick to a balanced approach, regardless of score. Trent Richardson needs to touch the ball more than a dozen times (as he did this past week). If they can get the run game going, the wide receivers will have a little more leeway on their intermediate routes. If the Browns try to turn it into a gun fight, it'll be over before they know what hit them. Personally, I think the 6.5-point spread is free money. That said, this team has a history of shocking Super Bowl champions. Crazier things have happened.
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