In the opening week of the 2017 NFL season, the Cleveland Browns played the Pittsburgh Steelers tough before finally falling, 21-18. Pittsburgh was the better team. Because of penalties, the score stayed close. Nonetheless, the Browns deserve a lot of credit for how well they played. Clearly they are an improved franchise from the dismal 1-15 version of 2016.
However, the Browns allowed seven sacks in Week 1. Pittsburgh is a very good pass-rushing team, but the biggest problem in this area was DeShone Kizer. He has a ton of ability and is well ahead of the curve in the infancy of his career, but he needs to learn that he can’t hold the ball in the pocket as long as he did against the swarming Steelers’ defense. His receivers also didn’t uncover downfield as well as Cleveland needs.
Wisely, Cleveland bolstered its offensive line this past offseason with the addition of J.C. Tretter and Kevin Zeitler. Those two go along well with Joel Bitonio and Joe Thomas to give the Browns four quality starters up front. That is rare in today’s offensive line- starved NFL, but Kizer’s development aside, this group didn’t play as well as it can in Week 1.
In the other AFC North divisional contest, Baltimore went to Cincinnati and shut out the Bengals in extremely dominant fashion. The Baltimore Ravens‘ defense owned this game and allowed Joe Flacco and company to cruise in Week 1. Baltimore sacked Andy Dalton five times. There were very few passing plays in which Dalton wasn’t under pressure.
He threw four interceptions and the Bengals also lost a fumble in their 20-0 loss. It is a highly impressive performance by the Ravens’ defense, which should be among the best in football this year. Needless to say after Thursday Night Football, the Bengals have major problems on offense.
As is the case with the Browns’ entire roster and offensive line, Baltimore has gone through a lot of change on the defense from a year ago. The Ravens brought in Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr to bolster their secondary, as well as using their first four draft picks on defense even though there were (and still are) glaring holes on offense. Always an elite unit on special teams with a historically great placekicker, the Ravens’ formula for success is very obvious: Play tough, low-scoring games and make the ailing offense’s job as easy as possible. Needless to say, it worked extremely well in Week 1.
While there has been a lot of change, two stalwarts will meet yet again in this upcoming contest: Thomas and Terrell Suggs. The latter, at 34 years of age, and Thomas, at 32, have combined to play 26 highly productive seasons in the NFL. These are two of the very best of this generation at any position.
Impressive Pittsburgh rookie T.J. Watt gave Thomas difficult snaps without question. But as stated above, Thomas and the Browns’ protection scheme didn’t get much help from their young quarterback. Thomas is most likely a Hall of Fame player who has shown very little decline over the past several seasons. Thomas makes it look easy and is a total rock of consistency, despite playing almost the entirety of his career on one of the worst teams in the NFL. He played very well in Week 1, which should come as no surprise to anyone.
Suggs’ teams have had much more on-field success during his time in the league. While Suggs has been a fantastic player, his case for the Hall of Fame is not as strong as Thomas’. Suggs also played a very strong game in Week 1, sacking Dalton twice as Baltimore dominated the action.
Suggs has never been an overwhelming athlete. He doesn’t beat his opponents with speed or quick twitch movements any longer, but he is a master technician who has great toughness and competitiveness. Suggs is still very good in all phases of the position. The Browns will have a tough time running in his direction.
Suggs is the Ravens’ oldest defensive player. He made a great step in the right direction in Week 1 to becoming one of the very few players that have recorded double-digit sacks at age 35 or older. Suggs whipped Cedric Ogbuehi last Sunday, but the opponent this week is a totally different challenge altogether, albeit a very familiar foe.
It has been a joy to watch Thomas and Suggs all these years. Sunday should be no different.
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