All the work throughout training camp and preseason leads up to Sunday – the first regular season game. The Browns and Bengals face off in the 100th "Battle of Ohio" at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Let's look at three of the biggest keys for the Browns to find success against the Bengals in the home opener.
Deshaun Watson commands the offense
As QB Deshaun Watson steps to take the reins of the Browns' offense, one of the major factors will be how he takes charge. The Browns have worked through different offensive formations and bringing a level of versality that complements Watson's skillset.
Now it's time to put it into action in a regular season game. Watson is ready to showcase who he is at quarterback from the first game of a season and lead the Brown's offense.
And head coach Kevin Stefanski believes Watson is ready.
"I think you guys get the sense from Deshaun when you talk to him, and I spend a lot of time with him in the quarterback meeting, just meetings with just me and him and talking about all things," Stefanski said. "And I think he's in a very good place. Like he's told you guys, he's in a very good place. And I think he's had a strong offseason. I think he came back in April very determined, very locked in, like we've talked about. And I think this is all part of it as you go into the season. This is, as you know, a 17-game journey. And to get ready for that journey, it takes a lot of work, hard work in that meeting room on the field, and I think he's attacked all of it."
Yet, the Bengals' pass rush presents its own unique challenges, which could affect how Watson takes command of the Browns' offense and adjusts.
"It's a very good rush attack and they can hit you in multiple ways," Stefanski said. "They can rush three and they can get home with three. I've seen that happen with their guys. Great effort. Unbelievable. They're going to play through the echo of the whistle. And then I think their blitz package is good. They can drop eight, they can rush eight. The linebackers can blitz. So, they really keep you on your toes. I think their stunts and their games are very well coached, well executed. So, I think when you talk about their rush, I think it comes from a variety of different areas."
Check out photos of the team working to prepare for their first regular season game against the Cincinnati Bengals
Defend the Bengals' receivers
As the Browns debut their defense under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in a regular season game, the overall outlook of the defense will be an important factor in Week 1 against the Bengals. They are eager to showcase the work they've put in throughout the preseason.
Yet, in this specific matchup, the Bengals' receiving core presents a particular challenge as they complement one another.
"When it's all said and done, that's going to be one of the keys to this game is how well we do with run after the catch with their receivers," Schwartz said on Thursday. "Everybody wants to think it's all plays down the field, but five-yard completions that they run for 25 can be just as damaging to the defense."
In Greg Newsome II's eyes, the Browns' secondary and pass rush match up well against the Bengals' receiving core. Their success in limiting the Bengals' receivers will play a role on Sunday. It's a matchup Newsome is ready to take on. Whichever WR he lines up across from, Newsome sees an opportunity to go against one of the top wide receiver rooms in the league.
Having Denzel Ward back into the mix, as he was officially cleared from concussion protocol and is set to play on Sunday, adds more depth to their secondary and will help in defending the Bengals' receivers.
Wide receiver core adapts to Watson's improvisational skills
As the Browns' look to use the versatility of their offense and Watson's ability to adjust, the passing game can play an important role. Passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea is excited to show off how his receiving core has prepared for the season.
The Browns' wide receiver core – consisting of Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Marquise Goodwin, Elijah Moore, Cedric Tillman and David Bell – have also built a level of chemistry between themselves and Watson. How that connection plays out on the field allows can not only help them to adapt to Watson's skillset, but also execute properly. And O'Shea is confident in where his group is at in their understanding of Watson's skillset.
"Yeah, I think the group has adapted very well to Deshaun and his skill set," O'Shea said on Friday. "And I think that's important to know it's something that takes time and nothing more important than our practice on the field to get that right. And then ultimately, we need to transfer to that to the game field. But Deshaun is so talented in so many things that he does that we need to understand the player he is and then obviously play to his skill set, which I think that there's better awareness than we've had as we sit right here of just how they can play off each other and use their skill sets best with the guys we got out there."