The Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers were busy this offseason.
Cleveland signed former Texan’s quarterback Deshaun Watson and traded Baker Mayfield to the Panthers.
Former Browns receiver Rashard Higgins also signed with the team.
Carolina re-built their offensive line by drafting tackle Ickey Ekwonu from North Carolina State and adding center Bradley Bozeman, and guard Austin Corbett.
The Carolina Panthers pick NC State TACKLE Ickey Ekwonu No. 6 overall.
91.1 PFF grade in 2021 (highest by an ACC TACKLE) 💥 pic.twitter.com/l5WnQy7ljp
— PFF College (@PFF_College) April 29, 2022
They also added corner Donte Jackson and safety Xavier Woods to an already potent defense.
With Watson serving an 11-game suspension, the Browns will need to perform at a high level in all phases if they hope to escape Carolina with a win.
Here are three Panthers the Browns need to focus on during the game.
1) Christian McCaffrey, Running Back
McCaffrey has played in 10 games total the past two seasons due to injuries.
When he’s healthy, like he was in 2018 and 2019, McCaffrey is a nightmare.
Carolina Panthers’ RB Christian McCaffrey is off the injury list and will play in Sunday’s week 1 game against the Cleveland Browns, per source. pic.twitter.com/TX0MOy91Xi
— NFL Football Everything (@nflfootballeve1) September 9, 2022
Last season, the Browns’ rush defense was 12th in the NFL in yards per game with 109.2 and gave up 4.2 yards per carry.
In 2019, the last season when McCaffrey played in all 16 games, he averaged 4.9 yards per carry.
He was also lethal as a receiver that year, pulling in 116 passes for over 1,000 yards and four receiving touchdowns.
Cleveland added a few pieces at defensive tackle during the offseason, drafting Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey and signing former Jaguar Taven Bryan.
However, Bryan was a backup in Jacksonville and Winfrey is still unproven as a rookie.
McCaffrey may not be back to 2019 form, but the hope is that Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, and the linebackers can keep him in check.
2) Brian Burns, Defensive End
During the offseason, the Browns lost J.C. Tretter, who they released and who then retired.
The center position remains questionable, but Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio can help eliminate mistakes no matter who the center is.
Against a very good Carolina defense, the line will need to stop Burns.
He is sneaky good and collected nine sacks last season along with 50 total tackles.
Answer: Brian Burns pic.twitter.com/XBn75oq4fB
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) October 25, 2020
In the past three years combined, Burns has 25.5 sacks.
Jack Conklin, Jedrick Wills, and friends must keep their heads on a swivel to ensure Jacoby Brissett stays upright and healthy against a front seven led by Burns.
3) DJ Moore, Wide Receiver
For the past three years, quarterback play for the Panthers has been downright abysmal.
Strangely enough, that hasn’t mattered to Moore.
Retweet if you agree DJ Moore is on another level 😱 pic.twitter.com/xXdNk0xEY0
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) January 9, 2022
Since 2019, Moore has averaged over 1,100 receiving yards each season.
He also caught 87 and 66 passes, respectively, in ‘19 and 2020 before leading the team with 93 last year.
Cleveland most likely will assign Denzel Ward to cover him and hope that Ward can disrupt the timing between Mayfield and Moore.
Honorable Mention-Baker Mayfield
Speaking of Mayfield, this will be his first game as a Panther and it happens to be against his former team.
The hype surrounding this game is huge, and make no mistake, Mayfield will want to show Cleveland’s management that they were wrong to give up on him.
Recently, NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger talked about Mayfield’s love of the revenge game.
NFL Week 1 Picks: The Baker Mayfield Revenge Tour Begins pic.twitter.com/JNW0eRdgnQ
— Top10 (@top10_mero) September 9, 2022
Baldinger noted that, after Mayfield left Texas Tech for Oklahoma while in college, he punished his former team each of the next three years by racking up 66, 63, and 49-point victories over Tech.
Of course, that was in college and Mayfield is going against his former teammates and coaches who know his tendencies.
It will be exciting to see if the Browns’ defense can humble their former outspoken QB.
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