Can the Browns stop T.O.?
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns second-year cornerback Brandon McDonald knew this day was coming.
|James D. Smith/Icon SMI|
|Defending Dallas WR Terrell Owens will present a challenge to the Browns' young cornerbacks.|
When the NFL released its 2008 schedule back in April, McDonald not only saw the Dallas Cowboys looming in the season opener, but he saw a high-profile matchup against Pro Bowl receiver Terrell Owens coming to town in the months to come.
Now that week is finally upon McDonald and the rest of Cleveland's secondary, which has been much-maligned for its lack of size and inexperience this offseason.
McDonald, entering his first full year as a starter, instantly began gathering and watching film of Owens in anticipation for this battle with arguably the most complete receiver in NFL.
"I knew I had to be ready," McDonald said today. "I started studying right away in OTAs (organized team activities). I've been trying to watch film on him a little every day after practice. I've been watching him for a while, so I think I'm well prepared."
The Browns will start a pair of second-year cornerbacks in McDonald and Eric Wright Sunday against Dallas. Both players have shown flashes as rookies, but many are wondering if the pair are good enough to lead a team that's expected to contend for a division title.
Cleveland's secondary has struggled in the preseason with giving up too many big plays. It seems like a natural point of emphasis for Dallas' high-powered offense to exploit.
"We have to go out and take advantage of the opportunities whether it's a mismatch or not," Owens said in a teleconference Wednesday with the Cleveland media. "With every game presents a challenge in itself. It's not a matter of taking advantage of them being young corners or inexperienced corners. If they're in the National Football League, they can play at this level. So obviously if they're starting the coaches see something in them."
McDonald and Wright won't be alone. Browns starting safety Sean Jones says it's vital that the pair have enough help over the top to help Cleveland's young corners neutralize Owens.
That's player code for "expect a lot of double coverage."
"We have to know where he is at all times, and definitely keep somebody on top of him at all times," Jones said. "If we can keep the running game under control, it going to be a little easier for (the secondary) to stop (Owens)."
Jones brings up another concern for the Browns.
Led by running back Marion Barber, Dallas also should have the advantage against Cleveland's run defense, which was ranked No. 27 last year in rushing yards allowed. Not many teams match up well against Dallas' offense in general, and the Browns certainly don't.
The Cowboys have 13 Pro Bowlers returning from last season, are Super Bowl contenders, and are ranked No. 3 in ESPN.com's most recent power rankings.
"I think it's one of the most talented teams I've played on," Owens said. "I can't discount the fact that I played on the same field as Jerry Rice, Steve Young, Merton Hanks, Tim McDonald, Dana Stubblefield and Ken Norton (in San Francisco). So if you compare those guys with the guys we got in this locker room, those guys I just mentioned have won Super Bowls, and we're on a quest to try to win our first one."
Although on paper Owens vs. the Browns secondary appears to be a mismatch, McDonald says he, too, will be ready for Sunday.
"I'm looking for every challenge I can get," McDonald said. "The bigger names I can go against and maintain with them, and stop them even, I'm trying to get all I can get. I'm not shying away from any challenge and I'm not going to back down from the guy. I'm going to do what I do, and he's going to do what he does, and we'll definitely see who's going to win."