By Abraham Gutierrez
Two teams looking for bounce-back seasons collide in “The Forest City” in the 2013 NFL season opener, as the Miami Dolphins invade FirstEnergy Stadium to take on a revamped Cleveland Browns team. Opening kickoff for this intraconference matchup is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET (12 p.m. CST) and it’ll be broadcast live on CBS-4 (Miami).
A Clean Slate
Cleveland begins the 2013 campaign with a clean slate, a new scheme and trying to erase the memory of a disappointing (5-11) season. After failing to make the playoffs for a fifth-straight year, team owner Jimmy Haslam decided to clean house.
Thus, second-year coach Pat Shurmur and (third-year) general manager Tom Heckert Jr. were fired last season, and the organization embarked on a mission to find a suitable candidate to fill their need for new offensive philosophy.
On January 10, former Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was introduced as the 14th (17th overall) head coach of the storied franchise. While unknown to the casual NFL fan, the 45-year-old is revered as one of the best young offensive minds in the league, and is certainly no stranger to the South Florida community.
After a successful playing career as a University of Miami tight end (1986-1990), Chudzinski returned to his alma matter as a (tight ends) coach and an offensive coordinator.
In less than 10 years, he would not only coach three All-American tight ends (Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey, and Kellen Winslow II), but would guide “The U” to its first National Championship in a decade as Larry Coker’s OC.
After bouncing around the league following his transition to the pros, Chudzinski hopes his third stint in Cleveland proves to be the charm.
Browns on Offense
After working together in San Diego, “Chud” recruited former Chargers coach Norv Turner to run his offense in The Forest City.
With explosive running back Trent Richardson coming out of the backfield, Turner will employ a vertical passing scheme, which consists of plenty of play-action fakes and deep strikes downfield.
Another key ingredient in the Browns offensive attack is second-year quarterback, Brandon Weeden.
After a disappointing rookie season, the “Dawg Pound” can expect the former OSU Cowboy to thrive under Turner’s system.
While Shurmur’s West Coast offense didn’t exactly fit into his natural skillset, allowing him to showcase his arm strength and freeing him up in shotgun formations might be just what Weeden needs to get back on track.
Look for tight end Jordan Cameron to become the team’s most improved player in 2013. The 6-foot-5-inch, 245-pound former USC Trojan is not only destined to have a breakout season, but he’ll also become Weeden’s go-to guy in crucial situations.
Browns on Defense
Defensively, the Browns will also showcase a fresh face that’s sure to provide a shot in the arm to last year’s 23rd-ranked defense. At Chud’s request, Cleveland hired 19-year veteran Ray Horton (Arizona Cardinals) as its defensive coordinator, giving this team an edge and a feared perception on “D.”
Considered a huge risk-taker, Horton’s 4-3, multi-front scheme is predicated around applying constant pressure on opposing QBs, which statistically proved to be very successful a year ago in the Arizona desert.
In 2012, the Cardinals defense was one of the best in the league, claiming the NFL’s lowest quarterback rating by opposing signal-callers, ranked second in third-down efficiency, and was third in red-zone defense.
How did they accomplish such feats? Very simple: By blitzing every chance they got.
Out of the 32 teams in the league, only the Houston Texans blitzed more than the Arizona Cardinals last season, which certainly makes them a high-risk, high-reward threat in 2013.
Horton will rely heavily on (strong safety) T.J. Ward, (cornerback) Joe Haden and (linebacker) Barkevious Mingo to remain healthy and out of trouble in order to lead a young yet talented bunch.
Needless to say, keeping Ryan Tannehill’s jersey clean will not only prove to be a tall task, but also one that the Fins will have to meet in order to come away with the “W” this week. The Miami Dolphins currently trail 7-8 in its overall head-to-head series against the Cleveland Browns.
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