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Browns vs. Steelers: A Historical Look at Cleveland's Leading Rushers in Openers - The Sunday Five

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Cleveland Browns fans, and welcome to gameday! Be sure to check out our game preview and prediction for the Browns' Week 1 matchup today against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In this week's edition of "The Sunday Five," I take a look at the Browns' planned approach toward WR Antonio Brown, how Cleveland running backs have fared in openers, what the team's first offensive plays have been since 1999, and more.

Bullet_mediumThe Browns have had some success on the defensive side of the ball with late-round draft picks or undrafted players being key contributors (Ahtyba Rubin, Tashaun Gipson, Buster Skrine, Craig Robertson, Armonty Bryant), but the same hasn't been true for the offensive side of the ball. That's why when you see how well a former sixth-round pick in Antonio Brown has played for the Steelers, it makes you a little hopeful that somebody, like perhaps Taylor Gabriel, can come in and salvage the Browns' wide receiver situation in 2014.

Speaking of Brown, though, Cleveland has got to find a way to cover him. In two games last year, Brown had 15 catches for 179 yards and 1 touchdown against the Browns. Joe Haden only faced him once (he was inactive in Week 17), but he gave up a game-changing touchdown pass to Brown after he was caught peaking in the backfield. This week, though, Browns head coach Mike Pettine said that Haden likely won't line up on the same receiver for the entirety of a game:

"I'm never a fan of giving an offense a steady diet of the same matchups and same types of coverages," Pettine said. "I just think it goes back to offensive coordinators are pretty good, because they gather information throughout the game. If you settle into a constant, they'll adjust accordingly."

We could see either CB Buster Skrine or CB Justin Gilbert get some cracks at Brown, but I can't see CB Pierre Desir getting that type of opportunity just yet.

Bullet_mediumIf you haven't done so yet, predict what you think the Browns' first offensive play will be against the Steelers. For fun, I decided to look back at the history of what happened on the Browns' first play since 1999. Enjoy the trip down memory lane:

1999: QB Ty Detmer passed to WR Leslie Shepherd for 13 yards.
2000: QB Tim Couch hands off to RB Errict Rhett up the middle for 8 yards.
2001: QB Tim Couch passed to WR Kevin Johnson for 28 yards.
2002: QB Kelly Holcomb hands off to RB Jamel White to the left for 3 yards.
2003: QB Kelly Holcomb passed to RB William Green for 29 yards (holding penalty).
2004: QB Jeff Garcia hands off to RB William Green to the right for 1 yard.
2005: QB Trent Dilfer hands off to RB Reuben Droughns to the left for 24 yards.
2006: QB Charlie Frye passed to WR Braylon Edwards for 74 yard touchdown (nullified via penalty).
2007: QB Charlie Frye hands off to RB Jamal Lewis to the right for 2 yards.
2008: QB Derek Anderson hands off to RB Jamal Lewis to the left for 3 yards.
2009: QB Brady Quinn hands off to RB Jamal Lewis to the left for 6 yards.
2010: QB Jake Delhomme passed to RB Peyton Hillis for 16 yards.
2011: QB Colt McCoy passed to QB Colt McCoy for -5 yards (not a typo).
2012: QB Brandon Weeden hands off to RB Trent Richardson to the right for 1 yard.
2013: QB Brandon Weeden hands off to RB Trent Richardson to the left for 9 yards.

During the 15-year stretch, the Browns have passed the ball 6 times and have run it 9 times. Oddly enough, all 6 of the pass attempts have been completed to a receiver. Two of the plays were nullified via penalties.

Bullet_mediumThe Browns haven't had the greatest history of when it comes to how their leading rusher fares to open up a season. I questioned the Steelers' run defense in my scouting report on them, and that leads me to question whether RB Ben Tate can crack the 100-yard mark in Week 1. I think he has the talent and system to do just that, but here's another historical flash back -- the Browns' top running performances each year since 1999 to begin the season:

1999: Terry Kirby - 5 carries, 10 yards, 2.0 avg.
2000: Errict Rhett - 14 carries, 64 yards, 4.6 avg.
2001: Jamel White - 10 carries, 52 yards, 5.2 avg.
2002: Jamel White - 12 carries, 42 yards, 3.5 avg.
2003: William Green - 21 carries, 86 yards, 4.1 avg.
2004: William Green - 22 carries, 65 yards, 3.0 avg.
2005: Reuben Droughns - 12 carries, 78 yards, 6.5 avg.
2006: Charlie Frye - 6 carries, 44 yards, 7.3 avg.
2007: Jamal Lewis - 11 carries, 35 yards, 3.2 avg.
2008: Jamal Lewis - 13 carries, 62 yards, 4.8 avg.
2009: Jamal Lewis - 11 carries, 57 yards, 5.2 avg.
2010: Jerome Harrison - 9 carries, 52 yards, 5.8 avg.
2011: Peyton Hillis - 17 carries, 57 yards, 3.4 avg.
2012: Trent Richardson - 19 carries, 39 yards, 2.1 avg.
2013: Trent Richardson - 13 carries, 47 yards, 3.6 avg.

Bullet_mediumWe've had a lot of news stories and featured content here at Dawgs By Nature as we kick off the regular season, but don't forget about our guys summarizing the press conferences for offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil. Here is a sample of what Shanahan had to say:

1. Shanahan seems to be leaning against a special package for Johnny Manziel, but not totally against it.

Shanahan was asked about the pros and cons of a Manziel package. He responded:

"I don't really know. We'll have to see. He gets out there, he gets to see a play, that's a pro. But you'll never know what he'll do to an offense, how a defense is going to play it. When a play works, it's a pro, when it doesn't, it's a negative. You really don't know until after the game."

Shanahan isn't typically known for rotating quarterbacks:

"I haven't done that before. I've played with a couple quarterbacks in one game, but it hasn't been a planned thing, it was because of injury, guys coming in and back out. That would be a new experience for me if I had to do that. You get a feel for it as you go, you learn from your experiences. You see what works, and when it doesn't work, you make adjustments and try to do it the next time."

Here is a sample of what O'Neil had to say:

On making play call decisions:

"I'm not nervous, I'm anxious. Pett and I have been together for awhile now and -- I'm mean it's different because we're both on the sideline together: last year he was on the sideline, I was up in the box -- but we communicate well on gameday, we'll probably mix and match who calls what and that's what we did throughout the preseason that worked pretty well for us and we'll go from there."

Bullet_mediumIt's time to predict the inactives for today's game. Here are my guesses for the Browns' gameday inactives against the Steelers (there are seven inactives required): RB Glenn Winston, OL Paul McQuistan, DE John Hughes, DE Desmond Bryant, S Jim Leonhard, CB Robert Nelson, and CB K'Waun Williams.

I had three obvious picks in McQuistan, Hughes, and Bryant, since all three are injured. Winston, Nelson, and Williams weren't too difficult to pick because of their lack of experience. The seventh one was very difficult to pick, though, when I took all of the special teams factors into consideration. Putting WR LaRon Byrd would have been a much safer bet, but I suspect he'll be active to help give the Browns some height in certain sitations. Leonhard is a reliable veteran, but the Browns would have five safeties active, creating a disparity at other positions. Johnson Bademosi stays on for special teams, and Jordan Poyer stays on because the coaching staff used him extensively in the preseason.