Good morning, Cleveland Browns fans, and welcome to gameday! Be sure to check out our game preview and prediction for the Browns' season opener today against the Miami Dolphins. In this week's edition of "The Sunday Five," I take a look at how Ryan Tannehill fared against Ray Horton in 2012, the importance of a win to the organization, the Billy Cundiff predicament, and more.
Although I did not have time to go back and watch the game, Ryan Tannehill faced the Arizona Cardinals' defense last year, when it was under the direction of Ray Horton. How did Tannehill fare against Horton? He completed 26-of-41 passes (63.4%) of his passes for a season-high 431 passing yards. Let's put that number into perspective: in his other 15 games, the closest Tannehill came to that number again was 290 yards, and he only averaged 205 yards passing per game. Is that a sign of trouble for Horton and the Browns' style of defense this week?
The Dolphins actually lost that game 24-21, although Arizona did need to rally with a last-second touchdown, followed by a game-winning field goal in overtime. The person who owned Horton's defense was Brian Hartline; that was the day he caught 12 passes for 253 yards and a touchdown. He had receptions of 80, 57, and 30 yards. Digging deeper into Tannehill's numbers, though, he was sacked four times, the second most times he'd end up being sacked all season. He also threw two interceptions and lost a fumble -- three turnovers for him, and four for the Dolphins' offense in total. The final time Tannehill was sacked resulted in a fumble with just 3:00 to go in the game, when Miami could've sealed Arizona's fate. Tannehill was picked off in overtime.
What's the point of this? Despite all of the yardage Tannehill got (and they weren't yards in garbage time), Horton's attacking defense paid off when it mattered. Horton has the benefit of having a lot of film to review from that game and see where his defensive philosophy against Tannehill went wrong, and where it went right. Horton seems like he has the inside edge to catch Tannehill off guard this week with some new wrinkles.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but winning this first game of the season is huge for the Cleveland Browns. A win would mean a lot for an organization that has posted a 1-13 opening day record since 1999; getting over that initial hump would be a trend-setter of sorts for the rest of the season, and it gives the Browns a chance to be atop the division. Even if the Browns lose a tough one on the road to Baltimore next week, they'd still be tied record-wise with them. Several players have went out on a limb this offseason to say the team will be explosive offensively and defensively. If that's the case, the injuries they've suffered shouldn't matter a whole lot. We'll see. I appreciate the confidence they are exuding, but now it's time to deliver against a Miami team that is good, but not great.
If there's one thing that will really face criticism, it'll be if Billy Cundiff misses a kick that costs Cleveland the game. Isn't doesn't matter when the kick takes place; if it's a reasonable field goal or chip shot (45 yards or less) and he misses it, a lot of people will rip the front office for not trying to bring Phil Dawson back, something that Joe Banner admitted to this week in an interview with the Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto. Kicker is one of the positions you really don't need to use "old age" as an excuse for. Dawson is coming off his best season and will surely be kicking for years to come.
As far as Cundiff goes, I think the Browns had some concerns about Shayne Graham on touchbacks. Despite his poor accuracy from beyond 50 yards, Cundiff does have a strong leg; he led the league by far in touchbacks back in 2010, the year before kickoffs were moved forward five yards. If the Browns are in range for a 52-yard field goal against Miami and it's not a 4th-and-short, I think they'll send Cundiff out despite his track record. Keep your fingers crossed, folks. You'd hate to see the team's handling of the kicker situation ruin everything else this organization has tried to build.
I am pleased to announce that Dawgs By Nature Radio is pilot testing a post-game show following today's Dolphins vs. Browns game! Josh Finney will host and will be joined by several staff members at DBN, and all of you are free to call in with your reflections on the game. The guys will talk about the standard post-game stuff, like what went right and what went wrong, etc. Hopefully the show takes place after a Browns victory, otherwise you might hear a lot of dead air or people on an angry rampage! The show is scheduled to begin some time between 7:30 PM and 8:00 PM EST, and we'll be sure to tweet out a bunch of reminders and post about it on here before the show goes live.
For the fifth bullet point of the regular season, I usually like to predict who the team's gameday inactives will be. It's a bit tougher during Week 1, since I don't know how much certain players are valued on special teams. With that said, here are my guesses for the Browns' gameday inactives against the Dolphins (there are seven inactives required): QB Brian Hoyer, TE MarQueis Gray, OG Shawn Lauvao, OT Martin Wallace, OL Patrick Lewis, DE Ahtyba Rubin, and OLB Paul Hazel. My scenario has the Browns rolling with seven offensive linemen total, with the backups being OG Garrett Gilkey and OT Rashad Butler. I also have Rubin inactive with a calf injury, but CB Buster Skrine active with a shoulder injury. Feel free to predict your inactives below.