AFC North: Cameron Wake
September, 5, 2013
Getty ImagesSecond-year quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden will be worth watching Sunday.
The Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns finished with a combined record of 12-20 last season, so both teams have plenty to prove and are looking for fast starts in 2013.
Cleveland will host the Dolphins on Sunday in an interesting matchup of AFC teams. Both are starting second-year quarterbacks who are looking to take the next step.
Can the Browns utilize their home-field advantage? Will Miami pick up a key road win to start the season? ESPN.com's Matt Williamson and Dolphins team reporter James Walker debate.
James Walker: Matt, we can't start this debate without examining both second-year quarterbacks in this matchup. Miami's Ryan Tannehill and Cleveland's Brandon Weeden were forgotten players in the famed 2012 quarterback class. Neither put up numbers or led their teams to the playoffs, like Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson did. Tannehill and Weeden, however, showed flashes at different times throughout their rookie seasons. I've watched Tannehill up close since the day he arrived in Miami. You can see he has all the tools. Tannehill can make every throw and is a solid athlete who can use his feet when needed. Consistency is where he needs to take the next step in Year 2. Tannehill did a lot of good things in the preseason and had a 98.6 passer rating in exhibition games. He is coming into this Cleveland game with momentum, but I still want to see it in the regular season. Matt, what's your take on Weeden entering his second season?
Matt Williamson: I, too, am high on Tannehill and think this will be the season he puts himself squarely in the conversation with those names you mentioned as young star quarterbacks in this league, for now and the long term. I am also growing fond of Weeden. There wasn't a quarterback and offensive group -- personnel wise -- as miscast as this one in last year's West Coast offense. Weeden, with his big arm, is much better suited to stand in the pocket and make downfield throws -- which is exactly what quarterback guru Norv Turner will have Weeden doing behind an excellent offensive line. While I wish Weeden, 29, was a younger quarterback like Tannehill, I do expect a major step forward from Weeden in Year 2.
Walker: For Weeden to be successful, it will up to Browns tailback Trent Richardson to set the tone and keep Miami's defense honest. I really like this matchup between Cleveland's running game and the front seven of Miami's defense. I'm an old-school guy at heart, and this part of the game will be vintage, tough-man football. I've talked to various defensive players in Miami's locker room this week, and all of them have great things to say about Richardson. The Dolphins' defense prides itself on not allowing 100-yard rushers, and keeping Richardson bottled up will be a challenge. I think the winner of this battle at the line of scrimmage between Miami's defense and Cleveland's running game will heavily impact the outcome of this game. Matt, what is the biggest single matchup you look forward to watching?
Williamson: James, that is a great one for sure, and let's not overlook what an effective receiving threat Richardson can be as well. But I would say the matchup I most look forward to is Cleveland's top cornerback, Joe Haden, against Miami's No. 1 receiver, Mike Wallace. These two know one another well from numerous AFC North battles when Wallace played for Pittsburgh. If Haden, who is among the best in the league at his position, can more or less handle Wallace one-on-one, the Browns should be able to bring T.J. Ward into the box with regularity to stifle Miami's running game. If that is the case -- and I have my doubts how well the Dolphins will be able to run anyway in this contest -- Miami could be in for a long day trying to generate consistent offense and points.
Walker: Good point, Matt. I also think home-field advantage could be a factor in this game. If you look on paper, I don't think many can argue against Miami having more talent. But when you consider a young quarterback (Tannehill) going on the road to Cleveland, where the Browns will be hyped up with a rowdy environment for their opener, anything is possible. The Dolphins were 2-6 on the road last year. Miami was competitive in some road games but failed to do the little things and pay attention to detail. I don't know if the Dolphins have matured on the road in one offseason, and that will be one of the under-the-radar storylines to keep an eye on for Miami. Finally, Matt, what under-the-radar element of this game do you consider important?
Williamson: I am eager to see the play in the trenches on both sides of the ball. I have plenty of questions about Miami's offensive line, and the Browns are stout and powerful up the middle with Phil Taylor leading that charge. Cleveland also was highly dedicated to improving its pass rush this offseason and that could pay off immediately in Week 1 against Miami's protection. On the other side of the ball, Cleveland has a great offensive line that doesn't get talked about enough. But Cameron Wake should prove to be a massive challenge, and the rest of the Dolphins' defensive front is also quite impressive. The team that wins at the line of scrimmage should win this contest.