The 6-1 Dallas Cowboys will be in Cleveland on Sunday, traveling to play the win-less Browns for the first time since 2008 on the road. America’s Team always draws a great crowd – as Browns fans will try to recover from watching their Cleveland Indians lose Game 7 of the World Series, wanting nothing more than their first win of the season.
I also believe that Cowboys Nation will be well represented in the stands, including my own presence for the first time! I’ll be taking in my first ever Cowboys game, and feel pretty good about it ending up as Dallas’ seventh straight win.
Q: The Browns missed a great chance to get their first win of the season last week at home against the Jets. I’m sure plenty of fans are also pretty upset the Indians couldn’t pull out Game 7 in the World Series. What is the mood around this Browns team and their fans right now with the NFC leading Cowboys in town?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): The good news for the Browns is they’ve been flying under the radar, which is rare for this team. The bad news is the Indians are done and interest in the NBA won’t pick up for a while, so their 0-8 record (and, let’s be honest, soon to be 0-9) is front and center.
Fans were expecting a long, losing season, but the frustration is starting to grow. They see the plan being put together — acquire draft picks and start over from scratch — and the team has fought and been in most games, but I’m not sure how fans would stomach 0-16 or 1-15.
Q: The Browns could start Josh McCown at quarterback in his second straight game, or go back to rookie Cody Kessler. We know they will also welcome back first-round pick WR Corey Coleman. Obviously, Cleveland needs to find a way to put up point in this game, where do you see them having an advantage against Rod Marinelli’s defense?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): It could be Cody Kessler at quarterback as he’s cleared the concussion protocol and will be active. Hue Jackson will make his announcement on Friday. Regardless, the best shot the Browns have is to take advantage of the wounded Dallas secondary with their big target in Terrelle Pryor and the speed of Coleman who will line up in multiple spots — both outside and in the slot.
Q: If McCown does start against Dallas, what does he have to do to secure his spot as the starter moving forward for Hue Jackson, throwing against a Dallas secondary that will be without Barry Church and Morris Claiborne?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): McCown’s biggest strength is his arm, but the key is taking care of the football. He can be turnover prone. He also needs to get rid of the ball quickly. With a shaky offensive line, his penchant for holding onto the football could get him hurt again.
If Cody Kessler starts, he needs to show he can get the ball down the field. It’s the biggest question mark for him along with his durability. There should be some opportunities, especially with Coleman back, and he has to take advantage of them.
Ultimately, this has to be Kessler’s job, though. The Browns have to see what he’s capable of and judge his ceiling.
Q: The Browns added LB Jamie Collins this week ahead of this game, what role do you expect to see him in for his first game this Sunday?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): It appears they are going to use him at outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme, but he does have the ability to play inside should they choose to move him inside. I’m guessing that at some point he will be on the field in the nickel, as well, as opposed to Demario Davis, one of their inside linebackers. His coverage skills will be a welcome addition, as the Browns have had all kinds of problems with tight ends. It will help them to have another player that defenses need to pay attention to and will be interesting to see if it will open up some opportunities for a young pass rusher like Emmanuel Ogbah on the other side.
Q: The Cowboys and Browns are tied in sacks at 14 on the season. What does the Browns pass rush need to do to make Dak Prescott uncomfortable, coming off of a game where he looked flustered against the Eagles?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): The Browns best pass rusher is rookie Carl Nassib. He’s quick off the ball and bats down a lot of passes — he got three of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s in the first half last week. He’s also fast enough to chase quarterbacks down and smart enough to read screens and designed quarterback runs. They need him and Ogbah, who lines up at outside linebacker and defensive end, to bring as much heat as they can, because the inside rushers, who haven’t created a lot of quarterback pressure, will be tied up trying to deal with the interior of that Cowboys line. It’s also why I expect Collins to step in and play a fair amount. They need pressure from their outside linebackers.
Q: Which Cowboys defender in the front seven do you think scares Cleveland the most when it comes to trying to establish running backs Isiah Crowell and Duke Johnson?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): I’m going to be generic here, but really anyone who lines up in the middle is a problem. Cameron Erving has struggled at center to begin with and now he’s popped up on the injury report with a shoulder. This offensive line has already had to shuffle, losing left guard Joel Bitonio, who was having a Pro Bowl-type season. Interior defenders have given them nightmares.
Q: Who should the Cowboys be the most worried about defensively overall for Cleveland?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): I mentioned Nassib, their third-round pick last April. He’s been really good, even if he’s faded in second halves of games. Joe Haden isn’t the type of cornerback who will shut guys down, but he is one of the few players in the secondary who can force turnovers and he can make life difficult for a wide receiver. You can beat Haden, but he can also make plays on the football and create turnovers.
It looks like Dan sees the Browns defense doing their best to create pressure off the edge against Prescott, including with their newest addition Jamie Collins. Tyron Smith was absolutely dominant in week 8, but Doug Free will have to be ready for different looks at right tackle.
For the Browns offense, regardless of who starts at quarterback, it will be important for them not to turn the ball over, and find ways to get Coleman his touches. They will also have to find a way – with the interior of their offensive line struggling – to block the likes of Terrell McClain, rookie Maliek Collins, and even David Irving lining up in the middle of the Cowboys’ defensive front.
In the end, he sees the Browns falling to 0-9 at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys, who would improve to 7-1 on the season.
What are YOUR thoughts on the Cleveland Browns ahead of this weekend’s Cowboys game? Let us know! Use the comment section below to start the conversation.
You can follow Dan on Twitter @Dan_Labbe, and read his work at Cleveland.com! I’ll be on Twitter live from FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland @ShoreSportsNJ, and will be streaming live on Periscope at halftime.