The Browns are set to host the Ravens Sunday afternoon in their home opener and they'll do so without Robert Griffin III, who was placed on injured reserve this week after suffering a broken bone in his shoulder against the Eagles. But trust that head coach Hue Jackson and Cleveland are moving forward at full speed with veteran quarterback Josh McCown. There's no question, Jackson said, the Browns are as fired up to play with the 37 year old.
"I think that's the way we operate here. I don't think not having Robert – we would love to have him, I'm not saying that – but I think Josh has shown that he is very capable," he said Friday. "I think it would be different if people had not seen Josh play here and he did not have the success at times that he has had here, I think it would be different. But I think we know what we are getting. I think they know what kind of leader and what type of person he is and how he prepares, and so I think the offense is excited to go out there and play with him."
Here's four things to watch Sunday afternoon in Cleveland. It starts up front
Jackson, who has made it clear the Browns want to be a run-oriented offense, wants to see more out of Cleveland's ground game. Joel Bitonio said it starts up front with the offensive line. "We have to block the guys and make sure we are running to the right looks," the third-year left guard.
"(Baltimore has) a good front so we are just going to have to be physical with them and really stay committed to the run game, as well. I think that kind of hurt us in the first game. We did not really get into a rhythm, and it was no one's fault. It was just a play here, a penalty here. If we can get into a rhythm on offense, I think we have the guys that can run the ball." Added Crowell: "Really, just as a team, we have to go out there and just execute, get the play call and just everybody, all 11 men on the field just execute and do their job."
Browns running backs coach and run-game coordinator Kirby Wilson said the goal is for the offense to get into a rhythm, something that takes a team effort between the running backs and offensive line.
"You do that by controlling the line of scrimmage early. A runner has to be aggressive and attack the assigned hole and make sure that he has the proper reads," Wilson said. "Coming into this ball game, that's one of the things we want to establish early is controlling the line of scrimmage. Jackson added the Browns want to use both Crowell and Johnson more because he thinks "you have to have two very capable runners to make it in the National Football League."
"But when I said (Crowell) had not been turned loose, we just have to hand it to him enough times. If you have a runner you believe in, you have to give him the ball," he continued.
"He has to get a feel for the game and be able to play within the structure of what you are trying to accomplish with the offensive line. That's why I said I take responsibility for that. I think he is off to a good start. We just have to give him opportunities to go show his ability." No fly zone
Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton said he's happy Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who missed six games last year after a knee injury, is healthy and playing for Baltimore again. "He has command of their offense. He is a veteran. He is a Super Bowl winner. I like playing against good competition," Horton said. "He's back and I know (Ravens Head) coach (John) Harbaugh talked about the running game, he must be pleased with what Joe Flacco did in the passing game. It's a challenge to us every week."
Indeed, the Browns — which gave up 278 passing yards against Carson Wentz and the Eagles last weekend in Philadelphia — will have to be at their best to slow down the Ravens attack. Flacco completed 22-of-33 passes for 258 yards and a touchdown against the Bills defense last week, including a long ball to new Ravens receiver Mike Wallace.
"They have fantastic, young wide receivers and I am putting (Ravens wide receiver) Steve Smith (Sr.) in that because he is younger than me," Horton said, laughing. "They have fantastic wide receivers. It is going to be a challenge for us. They are a very solid offense that I think Joe Flacco has matured into. He just takes what you give him. Every once in awhile, he is just going to take a shot and say, "I have a big, strong arm. I am going to show you that I have a big, strong arm.' He is going to test you deep somewhere in the game."
Haden, who will likely be responsible for shadowing the veteran Smith, said success Sunday is all about preparation. "Just making sure that we study the film, understand what is going on and we just have to definitely make sure that they keep the ball in front of us. That is the biggest thing. They do a really good job of just taking shots," he said.
"They line it up and throw the dudes deep. They do a really good job of just making sure they take shot plays every single quarter. We are just making sure that they catch the ball coming back to the quarterback." Honoring the 'G.O.A.T.'
With legendary Browns running back Jim Brown set to be honored Sunday with a statue in his likeness outside FirstEnergy Stadium, Hue Jackson said he doesn't have to remind the current Browns of what Brown means to Cleveland. "I don't think I need to get that across. I think that is pretty easy to see and proven. He is amazing. That is all I can say to all of you. I just know my time with him has been second to none for me," Jackson said.
"I think he has been more involved with our players. I think he has touched a lot of our guys here and I think that is sometimes more important than a lot of other different things that we talk about. It is just what he has meant to Cleveland, what he has meant to this organization, what it has meant to him. I just think it's special." Haden said it's a "humbling experience" seeing Brown — who serves as a special adviser for the team — in and around the facility.
"Just seeing the GOAT, the greatest of all time to play football, to play the sport that I love. I am working my tail off to just be recognized as one of the best players to just be in the league," said Haden, a two-time Pro Bowl selection. "You have the guy that is the best player of all time just walking around talking to us. It is super humbling. He deserves many trophies, a trophy in front of the practice facility, a trophy in front of the stadium; wherever, he deserves a statue. It is a humbling experience being able to see him all the time. He is one of the best guys I have met."
Crowell, who said he's watched film of Brown in an effort to improve his own game, said "he was a great player, the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time), and I respect him a lot." Even the head coach finds himself in awe of Brown.
"The things that he has imparted to me I will always treasure and remember about this game and about this organization and about his love and passion for the Cleveland Browns and for the city, for the fans. He is a walking Cleveland Brown, at the end of the day that is what he is. That shows all the time and that comes right from him. That is from his heart, and it is special that way." Can Nassib continue momentum?
Thanks to an impressive performance against the Eagles, rookie defensive end Carl Nassib has earned a starting spot on the Browns defense. After Jackson spoke of Nassib's "tenacity" and fiery style of play, Horton echoed a similar sentiment on Friday, saying the 2015 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year "has been that way since he has been here."
"You learn their personalities as they go along. Very reserved at first when he first came in. Now, his dry, witty sense of humor is starting to come out. He is starting to talk to me more, and that is how you learn their personalities because I am not in the meeting room with them full time," Horton said. "He is totally different on the field than he is in the room. We like what he brings – passion and energy. We are going to start showcasing him. He will probably start commanding double teams and start watching him. They will all start seeing what he can do and how he plays all out all the time.
"I was very encouraged by him and obviously, very encouraged that he is going to get more playing time and more snaps. That is what we are looking for. We are trying to develop some young guys and see what they can do. It will be dictated by how well they play on the field, obviously. He has earned more playing time and he will get more playing time." Nassib notched a sack and a pass deflection last weekend.