As mentioned above, I'll be starting a new series this season. For each week, I'll give you guys 3 reasons I'm very optimistic for the week's game. Some of them (most) will be pipe dreams. Some people (almost all) will call me delusional. But that's neither here nor there. I'll throw my 3 reasons out there, and we can either laugh at me when I'm wrong, or praise me if I'm ever right. So let's get started:
1. Run, Defense, Run, Defense, Run
This is pretty much what I'm expecting the Browns gameplan to be for Sunday heading into Pittsburgh. The Browns haven't won in Pittsburgh since 2003. But, that doesn't mean they can't win Sunday. Under HC Mike Pettine, the Browns are going to try and establish an identity early in the 2014 campaign. Almost everyone expects that identity to be running the ball on offense, and focusing on defense.
In regards to the Browns rushing attack, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has to like what he sees when he looks at the matchup with the Pittsburgh defense. This was a Pittsburgh defense that was old and sluggish last season. They've made some changes, especially with the picks of Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt. Even with the youth injection, this is still a Steelers team that can be exploited.
The Steelers defense ranked 21st against the rush last year. As I mentioned above, adding Shazier and Tuitt should help add some young blood to that aged defense, but they're still vulnerable. According to Football Outsiders, the Steelers were in their dime package a league-leading 45% of their snaps last year. One would expect that number to drop considering the aforementioned additions, as well as replacing elderly safety Ryan Clark with younger safety Mike Mitchell. Pittsburgh will probably go back to more of their base fronts, but if the Browns look to add some power run attack, the Steelers will be a good opponent to try to jam it down on.
The Browns offense was assembled to win games like this. Run the ball early and often. Play solid defense. Win the turnover battle. Win the game. This recipe will be put to test Sunday.
2. Steelers Slow Starts
The Steelers have lost 3 straight openers. In 2010 and 2009 they won their respective openers, both games going to overtime in lower scoring games.
For the Browns, recent history is on their side with the Steelers coming out of the gate slowly. In those 3 straight losses, they turned it over a combined 10 times. Granted, that number is skewed quite a bit from their 7 turnover performance against Baltimore in 2011. Still, the point is, if the Browns want to get a W against the Steelers, they better take advantage of the Steelers recent inability to win their opener.
3. New Browns Team, Specifically Offense
Every year we talk about the Browns having a new scheme, new players, new QB, new coach, etc. And for the most part, that's true. However, for me, this year seems different. Could it be the fact that for the first time in a while I trust the front office? Probably. Could it be that I have faith in a unproven veteran QB to manage the offense, and also find comfort in an exciting rookie to back him up? Also, probably. Or even the fact that for the first time in a LONG time, I have faith that we have running backs that can actually run. It's a culmination of a lot of factors.
For the most part, the Browns defense is intact from last year, with the exception of a few new pieces here and there. On the other side of the ball though, it's a whole new ball game. Brian Hoyer will be starting, something he didn't do against the Steelers last year. Ben Tate will be the starting RB, he's only faced the Steelers once in his 3-year career (2 carries, 20 yards, if you're wondering). The Browns will be without Josh Gordon, who had one of his two RIDICULOUS games last year against Pittsburgh, 14 catches, 237 yards, 1 TD. So, we'll throw at them this year a bunch of has-beens and never-weres.
The point is, the 2014 Browns look a whole hell of a lot different than the 2013 Browns, especially on offense. I'll go out on a limb and predict Ben Tate and Terrance West combine for 125+ yards on the ground. Oh, and if we want to get real creative, there's a guy that no one is talking about that may make his debut...Yes, the Steelers are still preparing for Johnny Manziel to play Sunday. So we'll see what the Browns decide to throw out there.
There ya have it, Browns fans. My first of 16 weeks of giving you 3 reasons to be optimistic heading into the game. I think the reasons I've outlined above will set the groundwork for a Browns victory Sunday. There'll certainly be games this year that I'll have to scrounge for reasons to be optimistic. This week's game though, I truly do feel we've got a W in us. When the Saints come to town next weekend....well that's another discussion.
What do you think? Am I off my rocker for the 3 above? What are your reasons to be optimistic this week? Discuss!