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Opposition Beat: Talking Eagles-Browns with Cleveland’s WFNY

Sep 5, 2012, 12:26 PM EDT

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Every week during the 2012 season we’re going to hit up some of the most knowledgeable people on the Internet when it comes to the team the Philadelphia Eagles are playing that particular Sunday. Up first, Scott Sargent of the go-to Cleveland sports site Waiting for Next Year.


Kulp:Third-overall pick Trent Richardson didn’t play all preseason after having “minor” knee surgery, but is expected to be ready for Week 1. How large a role will he play in the offense versus the Eagles?

Scott, WFNY: If any, I think we’re looking at a two-down situation with Richardson on Opening Day.

I’m still not sold that he will be suiting up and starting for the Browns on Sunday, but if he does, I think that Brandon Jackson showed the front office and coaching staff enough during the preseason to justify — at least prospectively — the contract which he was offered a year ago. I don’t think Shurmur will necessarily “kid gloves” Richardson, but I’d be very surprised if his touch total eclipsed 20.

The Browns also selected 28-year-old Brandon Weeden 22nd overall in April’s draft and quickly installed him as the starting quarterback. In three preseason games, he posted a lowly 59.7 passer rating. Is he ready?

He has no choice, really. There will undoubtedly be some bumps in the road;  the strip sacks and fumbles upon contact are very concerning. That said, his throws have not been errant — his interception in the first game seemingly was a mistake on the receivers’ part and the dropped passes continue to plague the Browns’ offense. By no means am I expecting Cam Newton rookie-like numbers, but I still firmly believe that Weeden is an upgrade over Colt McCoy.

Cleveland’s offense has finished no better than 29th in total yards or points scored for four years running. Over that span, there have been seven different starting quarterbacks, no 1,000-yard receivers. Have they maybe misidentified the problem to some extent considering their most recent draft?

This has been a long-standing chicken-or-egg debate throughout Cleveland. Few believe that Colt McCoy was the actual problem last season, but many can agree that he was not exactly the answer either. Rather than loading McCoy up with weapons, the Browns opted to draft Brandon Weeden and give him some additional help — right tackle, running back, and multiple wide receivers. If anything, “problem” which you’ve laid out is philosophy.

Without getting too in depth, when the Holmgren regime came in, it was if they thought they could load up on defensive talent (Joe Haden, TJ Ward, Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard, Chris Gocong, Sheldon Brown, Usama Young and Scott Fujita were all added during the first two seasons) while simply coaching the offensive side with hopes of overachievement. It’s failed miserably as Ben Watson (perhaps Peyton Hillis) is the only player of name to have been a featured addition on the offensive side of the football. This has obviously been diagnosed and addressed.

The Browns offensive line gave up three sacks — including two strips — in the first quarter of their preseason encounter with the Eagles. They are starting a rookie right tackle who draws a tough assignment in Jason Babin. Any way this won’t be a bloodbath?

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about this. If Richardson does indeed play, the entire landscape is changed as I’d fully expect the running game to merely pick apart that wide-nine with belly- and draw-calls. That said, if Richardson does not suit up and the Browns fall behind and are forced to throw the ball more, it could get ugly really fast.

Cleveland had the second-best pass defense in the league in 2011, but word is cornerback Joe Haden could be facing a four-game suspension, though it has not come down just yet. What is the latest on that, and with or without Haden, how will a Browns secondary featuring 33-year-old Sheldon Brown and replacement-level Dimitri Patterson fare against DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin?

Counter to my feelings on Richardson, I would be shocked if the NFL levied a suspension between now and kickoff given their typical window for doing business. That said, if Haden is not available, it could be interesting, but not a total bust. Browns cornerback Buster Skrine can easily keep up with Jackson, and chase him down if needed, in the open field. Patterson is coming off of an injury, but is — as you guys know — undoubtedly serviceable.  Brown can be beat at times, but continues to be a solid leader in the defensive backfield. If there are any concerns at all to the pass defense, it may be the line’s relative inability to get to, and bring down, Michael Vick.

The Eagles traded a conditional draft choice to the Browns for David Sims. What can you tell us about the safety?

David Sims made a ton of fans in Cleveland over the course of the preseason. Esteemed columnist Terry Pluto wrote a fantastic feature on the kid just a few days before he was sent packing. A constant effort guy, he seems to always be around the ball. Granted, he made most of his impact against NFL reserves, but the kid undoubtedly belongs in the league and I’m glad to see him have landed with a team via trade instead of having to go through being released and wade in that pool with hundreds of other players. I can’t guarantee he’ll make an impact for you guys early on, but I would certainly not have much concern if he’s forced into action.

The Browns haven’t won more than five games in a season for four consecutive years. Odds they break that trend in 2012?

Very small, but only due to the schedule. I have them at 5-11 for this season, a half-game under the Vegas over/under of 5.5. I think an awful lot of things have to go the Browns’ way for a six- or seven-win season, and if we know anything about Cleveland sports, things simply don’t go our way.

That said, with 15 rookies making the final 53-man roster, having the best left tackle in the game as well as a handful of young core players, the future remains bright. We just have to hope our patience can get us there.

Many thanks to Scott for his time and be sure to check WFNY for all Cleveland sports ish.