AFC North: Browns Stadium

AFC North Week 1 preseason preview

August, 11, 2011
8/11/11
1:30
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The 2011 NFL preseason will begin Thursday night with several games, including the Baltimore Ravens of the AFC North against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Here are four preseason storylines this weekend:

1. Cleveland Browns unveil new offense, defense against Super Bowl champs

Analysis: Cleveland could not pick a better measuring stick for a preseason opener. The Browns will debut their new West Coast offense and 4-3 defense against the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay is the NFL's top preseason team, according to ESPN.com's Power Rankings. Many eyes will be on Cleveland second-year quarterback Colt McCoy. The 2011 season is huge for McCoy to prove he's the future of the franchise. His season-long journey starts Saturday at Browns Stadium.

2. Andy Dalton era begins for Cincinnati Bengals

Analysis: Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis made Carson Palmer wait a full season to make his first NFL start. But Lewis believes his team is ready to be led by a rookie quarterback in 2011. Second-round pick Andy Dalton will get his first career start for the Bengals Friday against the Detroit Lions. Lewis said the young offense will play longer than expected for a preseason opener.

3. Baltimore Ravens LB Sergio Kindle makes debut

Analysis: Kindle was Baltimore's prized draft pick in 2010. But a fractured skull last summer ended his rookie season. Kindle will make his debut one year later against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Ravens hope Kindle stays healthy and improves their pass rush. Baltimore had just 27 sacks in 16 games last season.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers evaluate young players

Analysis: The reigning AFC champions do not have anything to prove in the preseason. Pittsburgh's opener is more for evaluating young players. The Steelers took advantage of the preseason last year. They gave plenty of reps to inexperienced players Ziggy Hood, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. By midseason, this trio contributed to Pittsburgh's Super Bowl run. This year the Steelers want extended looks at rookies such as defensive end Cameron Heyward, offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert and cornerback Curtis Brown to see if they can eventually earn spots in the rotation.
Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC North: Morning take: Flacco is getting a ton of heat this offseason for his postseason performances. He needs to quickly change that before he develops a label for not being clutch.
Morning take: The Steelers are set at the position but should bring Sweed to training camp to see if he can finally turn the corner. At the very least, Sweed has a chance to provide depth.
Morning take: Cleveland is getting a lot of love on the "Madden" cover. Browns Stadium is on the left side and downtown is on the right side. That's good publicity nationally for the city.
Morning take: Green could dunk a basketball when he was in eighth grade. That athleticism helped him become a dynamic receiving threat.

Browns have a lot riding on Colt McCoy

December, 17, 2010
12/17/10
1:18
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Colt McCoyScott A. Miller/US PresswireColt McCoy has three more games to prove he deserves to be the Browns' starting quarterback beyond the 2010 season.
BEREA, Ohio -- It felt as if there was a changing of the guard at the Cleveland Browns' training facility this week. After talking it over with president Mike Holmgren and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Browns head coach Eric Mangini named rookie quarterback Colt McCoy the starter for the remainder of the 2010 season.

Mangini gushed about McCoy's work ethic, quick learning curve and how the rookie wouldn't accept it when everyone in the organization -- from Holmgren on down -- said they didn't plan for McCoy to see the field this year. Instead, McCoy is projected to play eight games, which is half of the Browns' season.

McCoy landed his initial opportunity through injury, but he's regaining the starting job with solid play in five starts. He threw for 975 yards, completed 63.8 percent of his passes and had an 85.3 passer rating. The rookie proved to be the best quarterback on the roster and essentially forced the team into this decision.

"I wasn't really looking at this as just being the case where we're throwing a young guy in to see whether or not a young guy can do it," Mangini said. "I think Colt really did a good job with the opportunities that he had. I think he's earned the chance to play these three games."

Is McCoy the long-term solution in Cleveland? It's too early to tell.

But the Browns (5-8) and the rest of the NFL are about to learn a lot more about McCoy in the next three games against AFC North opponents. The first test is Sunday, a road game against the Cincinnati Bengals (2-11) and then there's back-to-back home games against the playoff-bound Baltimore Ravens (9-4) and Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3).

The training wheels are officially off for McCoy.

"It's no landmark day," McCoy said Thursday. "Today is the day that I know I'm the starter and I have to go out and play. I have to go out and get better and I have to go out and help us win."

McCoy's play down the stretch will affect a lot with the Browns, starting with the NFL draft. Quarterback is the league's most important position, and Cleveland has lacked stability there since returning to the NFL in 1999.

A lot of quarterbacks have passed through Cleveland's revolving door, including Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn and now Jake Delhomme. Poor quarterback play is one of the biggest reasons Cleveland has just one playoff appearance in more than a decade.

McCoy showed promise, going 2-3 in five starts. But five games do not make a solid season. Three more contests will provide a half-season's worth of film to evaluate the rookie.

"The No. 1 goal of the Cleveland Browns right now has to be finding out what they have in McCoy," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "They like what they've seen from him, but can he be the guy? Or do the Browns need to draft a guy or bring in a free agent? I think the Browns need to have a clear picture of that going into the offseason."

The Browns also need to find out whether McCoy can play in inclement weather. Garcia, Frye and Quinn didn't have the arm strength to throw against the heavy winds that come off Lake Erie in Browns Stadium during the winter.

McCoy's biggest asset is his accuracy, not arm strength, which raised some red flags when the Browns drafted the University of Texas product in the third round. McCoy didn't see a lot of bad weather as a four-year starter in the Big 12.

"I've played in the snow and wind in Kansas a couple times. I've played in Nebraska," McCoy explained. "We had some real wet games back home [in Austin]."

McCoy believes playing in bad weather is more mental than physical. But when he was pressed by the media this week regarding his arm strength, a confident McCoy fired back.

"I guess we'll find out, won't we?" McCoy scoffed.

Running the carousel in the AFC North also will be a great learning tool for McCoy. If Cleveland is to turn the franchise around and make a run at the postseason, it first has to win within the division.

The past three seasons the Browns are just 3-12 against AFC North opponents. It's a major reason former head coach Romeo Crennel was fired in Cleveland and Mangini is currently on the hot seat. If McCoy can get hot and pick up two or three wins against Cleveland's biggest rivals, everyone in the organization looks better heading into the offseason.

It's obvious the Browns have a lot riding on McCoy's performance in these final three games.

AFC North: Rating the stadiums

September, 17, 2009
9/17/09
11:35
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker

Jason Bridge-US PRESSWIRE
Heinz Stadium has the best atmosphere in the AFC North.

Complete stadium ratings: Team-by-team glance

Pittsburgh Steelers (Heinz Field, capacity 65,050)

Heinz Field opened in 2001 and quickly has become one the toughest venues for visiting teams. The stadium is most famous for its Terrible Towel-waving fans.

Its horseshoe-shape stadium leaves an open lot on the south end where many fans often spend time rooting for the Steelers and socializing. The biggest complaint comes from its natural grass surface, which gets beat up annually because of the number of high school, college and professional games are played on it every season. The Steelers often take advantage of this muddy surface late in the year.

Wow factor: 5 wows (out of 5)

Baltimore Ravens (M&T Bank Stadium, capacity 71,008)

Despite the Ravens still being a young franchise, M&T Bank Stadium already has established itself as one of the best -- and most underrated -- home-field advantages in the NFL. It’s the only place in the NFL where you can see top-flight, pregame dancing from future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, whose moves coming out the tunnel gets the crowd amped every time.

What also makes Baltimore’s stadium unique are the fans, who get twice as excited to watch the defense take the field than the offense. Not that Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed need additional help, but Baltimore’s defense always has a 12th man with the amount of crowd noise Ravens fans generate.

Wow factor: 4 wows

Cincinnati Bengals (Paul Brown Stadium, capacity 65,353)

Paul Brown Stadium sits in a beautiful backdrop of downtown Cincinnati. The Bengals were among the early batch of teams to install FieldTurf in their stadium full-time in 2004. Many teams have followed as Cincinnati has maintained one of the better turf surfaces in the league.

The crowd atmosphere in “The Jungle” can be tricky. When the team is rolling, it can be a tough place to play with a loud crowd. But when the team is struggling, which has been the case for much of the past two decades, it’s pretty easy for opposing teams to take over the stadium. It mostly depends on the type of season the Bengals are having.

Wow factor: 2 wows

Cleveland Browns (Browns Stadium, capacity 73,200)

The new Browns Stadium opened in 1999 near Lake Erie, on the site of old Municipal Stadium, which was one of the NFL’s toughest atmospheres at one point. But the new Browns Stadium hasn’t been able to match the same feel.

Some of it can be blamed on the team’s lack of success. Some of it is the new amenities. The spacious natural-grass stadium makes it the biggest venue in the AFC North division. But at the same time, the infamous Dawgpound and Browns fans are not on top of the visiting team and thus not as intimidating as it once was. It also doesn’t help that Cleveland is 1-10 in its last 11 home openers since 1999, which usually lead to poor seasons at home.

Wow factor: 2 wows

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