Red Right 88

Life as a Cleveland Sports Fan

Browns vs. Bengals – Week 1

The Browns kick off the 2011 NFL season on Sunday at home against Cincinnati, looking to do something they’ve only done once since 1999 – win their season-opening game.

That’s right, the Browns are 1-11 in season openers during the past 12 years, with the lone win coming in 2004 as Jeff Garcia led the team to a win at home over Baltimore. What better way to open the new and improved Pat Shurmur era than with a win against the Bengals – who have lost their last three season openers.

Shurmur is looking to become the first Browns coach to win his debut since Bud Carson in 1989. Since then, Bill Belichick, Chris Palmer, Butch Davis, Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini have all failed to win in their debuts.

It wasn’t always like that, of course. Of the Browns first five head coaches, only Forrest Gregg, in 1975, came up short in his debut. And, of course, the Browns won the most famous opening day game in NFL history – their 35-10 beating of the defending NFL Champion Philadelphia Eagles when the Browns joined the NFL in 1950.

The Opposition

Cincinnati (2010) record: 4-12
Offensive rank (2010): 20th overall/13th passing/27th rushing
Defensive rank (2010): 18th overall/14th passing/19th rushing

What to Watch For

How effective can the Browns be on offense?

Starting wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi missed the entire preseason with a foot injury, starting left guard Eric Steinbach and projected third-down back Brandon Jackson are out for the season with injuries, starting right tackle Tony Pashos recently spent time in a walking boot and backup running back Montario Hardesty, who the Browns will need to rely on this year so Peyton Hillis doesn’t wear down, only carried the ball five times in the preseason.

Nobody said this was going to be easy.

If the Browns can take a lead into the second half, they should be able to control the clock with Hillis running the ball and McCoy running a short, accurate passing game.

On defense, the Browns catch a break as they will face rookie quarterback Andy Dalton rather than Carson Palmer. That should help the team as it continues to transition to defensive coordinator Dick Jauron’s “play fast, think less” 4-3 defense.

The Browns will have to control running back Cedric Benson. In their 23-20 win over the Bengals last year, the Browns held Benson to 60 yards rushing. In the 19-17 loss, Benson ran for 150 yards.

That may be easier said than done, as the Browns have been extremely poor against the run since 1999, with their average ranking being No. 28.

If the Browns don’t let Benson have a big day, they can go after Dalton with their new front four of Jayme Mitchell, Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin and Jabaal Sheard.

Browns corner back Joe Haden renews his SEC rivalry with wide receiver A.J. Green, which should be a fun match up to watch.

Bengals player that always seemed to torment the Browns

Wide receiver Isaac Curtis, who played for Cincinnati from 1973 to 1984.

Curtis always seemed to have big games against the Browns in the ’70s; in his first four years he caught 33 passes for 739 yards and 11 touchdowns against Cleveland.

Curtis caught 18 percent of his career passes, totaled 20 percent of his career yards and scored 23 percent of his career touchdowns against the Browns.

The Prediction

We’re confident the Browns will get the Shurmur era off on the right foot, breaking the bizarre opening-day losing streak in the process.

We also think the Browns giving 6.5 points is a bit much, so we look for the Browns to win, but not cover.

(Photo by The Plain Dealer)

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