Dissecting Best Individual Matchups to Watch in Cleveland Browns' Week 1 Action

Andy McNamara@@AndyMc81Correspondent IISeptember 2, 2013

Aug 15, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson (33) against Detroit Lions strong safety Don Carey (32) at FirstEnergy Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports
Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

Week 1 action starts this Sunday for the Cleveland Browns, and it is time to dissect the best individual matchups to watch for in their home opener against the Miami Dolphins.

On to the offensive and defensive head-to-head battles.

Cleveland's Jabaal Sheard (OLB) vs. Miami's Jonathan Martin (LT)

The Dolphins may have acquired some new weapons for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but with a weak offensive line, will he have time to use them?

This is where sophomore left tackle Jonathan Martin comes in and why he must excel in giving Tannehill those precious extra seconds.

That will be no easy feat since he'll be trying to contain Cleveland's converted defensive end turned outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard.

However, Sheard has never played a regular-season game in this 3-4 base defense. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton described the third-year pro's transition as "fantastic" back on July 23 and commented that he was one of the surprises of OTAs and minicamp, per Waiting For Next Year.

The key for Martin is to utilize his 6'5" wingspan to fan out and guide the charging Sheard away from the quarterback.

The still relatively raw Martin versus Sheard, who is new to his position, could quietly become the most intriguing battle of the afternoon.

Cleveland's Trent Richardson (RB) vs. Miami's Dannell Ellerbe (MLB)

Norv Turner's offenses have always relied on a highly effective running game to set up the downfield passing attack.

This means a heavy workload for Cleveland's stud rusher, Trent Richardson. It also suggests he will be getting to know Dolphins middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe very well during the home opener.

Ellerbe's breakout season with the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens earned him a juicy $34.75 million contract over five years on the free-agent market this offseason.

The Hamlet, N.C., native had success down the middle against the Browns in their pair of 2012 meetings. Forcing two fumbles, collecting a sack and combining for 14 tackles are effective numbers.

No doubt Ellerbe is going to have the Orange and Brown's No. 33 locked in his cross hairs come September 8.

When Richardson accelerates to the next level of defenders, he'll need to rely on finesse rather than brute force to sneak past the sturdy 245-pound linebacker.

Recovered from nagging shin ailments in training camp and presumably fully healed from broken ribs that plagued him throughout his rookie season, a lot is expected out of T-Rich.

During limited playing time this preseason, the former third overall pick looked light on his feet and did not avoid contact.

In the second exhibition contest versus Detroit, Richardson carried six times for 33 yards and a long of 17. That 17-yard burst displayed his effectiveness to break tackles and explode past opponents.

Also encouraging was that he bounced right back up following a nasty hit along the sideline from Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Despite that, focusing on taking the edge and outside lanes when possible appears to be the safer bet for Richardson to gain large chunks.

It's not that the Browns should be afraid of Ellerbe when handing off, but why not take your chances with his less intimidating fellow linebackers, Philip Wheeler or Koa Misi, instead?

Cleveland's Joe Haden (CB) vs. Miami's Mike Wallace (WR)

Miami's highest-profile free-agent signing gets a major test right out of the gate.

At five years and $60 million, Mike Wallace will have his hands full with the anchor of Cleveland's secondary, Joe Haden.

Both player possess elite-level potential and want to immediately showcase their respective abilities following below-expectation efforts in 2012.

Haden got the better of their lone faceoff last season when Wallace was a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

That came on November 25 (Wallace missed the final game) in Cleveland's 20-14 home victory. He was targeted seven times with only one reception. In fairness, Charlie Batch was the quarterback for Pittsburgh, so Wallace could not benefit from his usual chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger.

It was an eight-turnover gong show for the visitors, and Haden contributed by intercepting one pass and forcing a fumble.

The Browns' shutdown cornerback had his best season in Eric Mangini's 2010 man-to-man defense, collecting six interceptions and 18 pass deflections. He seems to thrive on the physicality demanded of that style.

Under defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Haden gets to return to that type of strategy, which is bad news for Wallace.

Let's face it: Miami's Ryan Tannehill is no Roethlisberger when it comes to reading defenses or scrambling to save broken plays. This means Wallace is going to need to rely more on outmaneuvering Haden quickly while the Browns' pass rush crashes in.

Considering the consistent glowing praise Haden receives from coaches and players around the league as being ready to become one of the league's best corners, I don't like Wallace's chances come September 8.


An interesting side note is that two of the forgotten rookies from last season's stacked quarterback class are squaring off.

Ryan Tannehill of the Dolphins and Brandon Weeden of the Browns are each vying to be respected as legitimate NFL starters. We'll get to see who gains the early edge in 2013.

Andy McNamara is an international sports broadcaster and journalist.

Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyMc81


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