Browns vs. Cowboys: Keys to the game

By Stephanie Storm
Beacon Journal sports writer

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1. Browns players who were with the team two and three years ago are looking forward to reuniting with outgoing Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who held the same job with the Browns from 2009-2010. But one guy who likely could do without meeting Ryan for the first time is Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden. Ryan is well known for his exotic blitz schemes that mix coverages — all designed to confuse an opponent’s offense and specifically the quarterback. And that’s the last thing Weeden needs, especially with having already thrown 12 interceptions and with an emphasis placed on him to play smarter.

2. Here’s what Weeden said when asked about Cowboys receiver and former Oklahoma State teammate Dez Bryant: “I saw things from him that I never saw anyone do route-running wise and catching the ball.” With 153 receptions for 2,079 yards and 18 touchdowns in 36 career games, Bryant has become a favorite target for Dallas quarterback Tony Romo. Covering the athletic, 6-foot-2 Bryant would be a tough task for the Browns even if they have Joe Haden, their best cornerback, in the lineup. Haden injured an oblique muscle Wednesday, and the Browns will make a game-time decision to determine whether he will play today. Haden sat out practice Thursday and Friday and is listed as questionable on the injury report.

3. In addition to Bryant, Romo also has veteran tight end Jason Witten, a weapon who cannot be overlooked. Witten has appeared in seven consecutive Pro Bowls (2004-10) and ranks second on the Cowboys’ all-time receptions (754) and receiving yards charts (8,447). He’s also third all-time in the NFL among tight ends in receptions and fifth in receiving yards. After a slow start this season, Witten began to come to life in October, hauling in 13 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown against the Chicago Bears on Oct. 1 and had a club-record 18-catch game Oct. 28 versus the New York Giants. In nine games this year, Witten has 66 catches — a high number helped by being Romo’s safety valve on check-downs and dump-offs — but for 585 yards and one touchdown. Still, the Browns need to limit Witten’s catches in an effort to prevent him from constantly keeping drives alive.

4. Browns offensive coordinator Brad Childress conceded Thursday that he and coach Pat Shurmur need to streamline and improve the play calling that plagued the Browns in the loss to the Ravens before the bye week. Weeden would likely second that motion after hearing Childress explain why having no clear-cut person calling the plays can lead to a communication nightmare: “We had communication issues, whether it’s indecision or whether I wasn’t speaking clearly, or Pat wasn’t speaking clearly, or we were caught on the last play.”

5. Look for the Browns offense to try to exploit Cowboys rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne, who could play tentative after committing five penalties in their victory over the Philadelphia Eagles last week. Claiborne, the sixth-overall pick in the draft, was flagged twice for being offside, twice for holding a receiver and once for pass interference. He also gave up a touchdown on a one-handed, acrobatic catch by Riley Cooper.

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