The Cleveland Browns offseason and preseason is finally over. That usually means by the end of week one, its time to focus on next years NFL Draft. Not so this year.
With expectation high, the Browns are ready to win their first AFC North Division title, the franchise’s first division title since 1989 and make the playoffs for the first time in 17 seasons.
The journey begins Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium against the Tennessee Titans. The Browns ended their winless streak in home openers last year, just not the way they hoped with a 21-21 tie against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Browns have not won a regular season opener since 2004 when they upset the Baltimore Ravens. Sunday should provide a great opportunity to begin the season 1-0.
“I feel like these guys are excited to get ready to demonstrate the hard work they went through for the past six weeks. We are all excited,” head coach Freddie Kitchens said. “We know the fans are excited. Hopefully, the stadium is ready to roll early, and we will be there waiting.”
Kitchens will look to be the first Browns head coach since Bud Carson in 1989 to win his first game in his first game as the head coach. Kitchens has the talent on both sides of the football to win in 2019.
Defensive end Myles Garrett could have a field day putting pressure on Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. Tennessee will be without starting left tackle Taylor Lewan, arguably their best offensive lineman. Lewan is suspended for the first four games of the 2019 season due to a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Dennis Kelly will replace Lewan at left tackle
“We have been planning for Taylor not to be here for a few weeks now,” Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said. “We’ve kind of moved on and we are going to wait until he comes back to touch on it. We understand the challenge and where the strengths of some of these guys are up front for them – Myles (Garrett), (DTs Sheldon) Richardson and (Larry) Ogunjobi. (DE) Olivier Vernon is no stranger to making plays in the NFL. It is going to be a big challenge for us.”
Sunday will serve as a homecoming for Vrabel. The Titans head coach played his college football at Ohio State. Vrabel played his high school football for Walsh Jesuit in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio near Akron.
“I appreciate the education, the discipline and how it prepared me to move on and to go to college. I am thankful for guys like Gerry Rardin, the football coach there who up until a few years ago was still coaching. He had the opportunity to come down here and visit with us at Tennessee. I am proud to say that I went to Walsh and proud to say that I was coached by Gerry Rardin.”
Vrabel also remembers attending the final Browns game before the original franchise left and became the Baltimore Ravens. The Tennessee head coach was in attendance for the final game at old Municipal stadium in December, 1995.
“I love how they took off the bleachers,” Vrabel said. “You rip them off 12 at a time, carry them all way the down and dump them into the end zone and on the sideline. I think they ended up having to switch fields because I think all the stuff was piling up in the end zone. They were pulling the row of chairs off and everybody would start cheering in the 12th, eighth row and everybody would go crazy when it finally got dumped over onto the field.”
The Titans coach did not take home a seat from the old stadium.
Back to Sunday’s matchup, another area to watch is the kicking games for both teams. The Browns will go with rookie fifth round pick Austin Siebert. The Titans had to put Ryan Succop on injured reserve and replace him with Cairo Santos.
The Browns defense will have their focus on Titans running back Derrick Henry. The former Alabama Crimson Tide finished 2018 as one of the hottest running backs in the league. Stopping opposing running backs have been an achilles heel the last few years. The defense can not let Henry run wild on Sunday.
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“I think they are going to try to come in and try to establish the run game being on the road for the first game of the year,” defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said. “That is what they do and then create the vertical shots down the field.”
Quarterback Baker Mayfield makes his first career opening day start. Now we finally get to see what he will be like with all of his main weapons on offense out with him.
“Very excited to see what we can do, what we are capable of doing out there and adjusting off what they are doing,” Mayfield said. “Seeing if we can take care of some one on ones throughout the field.”
“We can take a look at all the film,” Vrabel said. “He is a talented, confident player that is accurate, a quick release, throws the deep ball well and is mobile. Those are all those things tough to defend, and when you combine them into one player, that is our challenge this week is to being able to get to defend those things that he does well.”
“I am excited to play together and see what we have,” running back Nick Chubb said. “We had a long, hard, tough camp and banged up on each other a little bit. I am excited to go out there and play some guys in a real game and see how we put things together.”
A big concern in regards to the Browns in 2019 is dealing with the hype. On paper the Browns look like a playoff if not even a championship team. The Titans are taking that as motivation to spoil the Browns home opener. Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker isn’t buying the Browns hype.
“Anybody’s hype does not concern me, the team or the organization,” Vrabel said. “It does not. We handle it the same way we do with anything else. We come in, we try to meet, we try to practice, we try to improve each and every day. And we try to study and learn the opponent. Understand how we need to play that specific week to give ourselves a chance to win the game. Prepare and go and compete. That does not change for anybody. This week is the Browns. I can’t control what anybody says about the Cleveland Browns or I can’t control what anyone says about the Tennessee Titans. I am just trying to get the team ready.”
The Browns are a five and a half point favorite at home.The game kicks off at 1:00 p.m. at FirstEnergy Stadium. CBS Sports will broadcast the game. The network will send it’s number one crew of Jim Nantz, Tony Romo and Tracy Wolfson to call the game.
If you can’t watch the game, tune into the Browns radio network affiliate in your area. A complete list of stations can be found on the Cleveland Browns website. Sirius XM Satellite Radio subscribers can listen to the game on Channel 228. Jim Donovan, Doug Dieken and Nathan Zegura will call the game for the Browns radio network.