Cleveland @ Cincinnati – Game #2 Preview
The Browns go on the road for the first time on Sunday and it’s also a divisional game – these are critical if the franchise wants to see progress. Recently, there have been several seasons for the Browns without winning a divisional game (0-6), including last year. If the team is truly going in the right direction, a win against the Bengals would be a nice, first step.
Offense: Sunday cannot come soon enough; I am over the performance of Brandon Weeden last week and want to see how he responds. I am confident the rookie quarterback can shake off what occurred at home and can start hitting on his easier throws (some of the issues were from the receivers not executing and some were Weeden lacking touch). To see if he really learned from watching the Eagles’ game film, the quarterback has to break his routine of locking his eyes on to a receiver, thus tipping off the defense and likely leading to an interception. Joe Flacco had a tremendous passing game against the Bengals on Monday night – granted he is on a better team, but it gives me hope Weeden can put up decent numbers in his second game. I can guarantee you he does not throw four interceptions, but I’m not too confident he will pass for over 300 yards either.
Likewise, I look forward to seeing Trent Richardson tote the football once again. Assuming he received a valuable learning experience, the running back should understand how fast the NFL is and how quickly running lanes close up. The Ravens put up 122 yards on the ground against the Bengals in week one – however the leading rusher only put up sixty-eight by himself. I do not expect Richardson to have a huge day in terms of yardage; I just hope he can be efficient. This means picking up 3rd and 1 consistently – something that could not have be said the prior week. If Trent is lacking explosion early (being he’s still not fully healed or just ineffective), I hope the Browns give Brandon Jackson a series or two of playing time. This would be for a change of pace – whether the backup is getting carries or catches out of the backfield. The team can then go back to the number-three overall pick later in the game; perhaps the rest and Jackson softening up the defense will be good for the team. Judging from last week, this should not make the Browns’ running attack any worse.
I believe the receivers have the potential for success against the Bengals’ secondary. The question is whether some of the guys can actually step up and make plays. Greg Little was invisible (when he wasn’t dropping passes) last week and needs to become a reliable target if this passing game wants to have any success. I could see the Browns running a few more routes over the middle, as the sideline throws were not open last week. If the team can be successful at these, which will cause the defense to adjust and therefore Weeden will target other areas of the field (like deeper and sideline routes). The tight ends did not do much in the game either – Jordan Cameron had a drop and Alex Smith was another open target missed by the quarterback. This is a position that should be relied upon to gain moderate yards and set up shorter conversions for the offense.
This may sound like a broken record, but as the offensive line goes – so goes the entire offense. The Browns can ill-afford to consistently lose the line of scrimmage battle; they currently do not have a quarterback who can win a game despite this. I’m willing to be patient with the rookie and second-year players – however I am pulling for vast improvement this week. Whether it’s keeping a tight end in to help the right tackle or using a running back to chip-block defensive ends, the Browns have got to make sure Weeden has time to throw and defenders are not there to greet Richardson in the backfield.
Defense: It’s going to be hard to replicate the defense’s performance against the Eagles – I do not see the Browns forcing five turnovers again. However, they can improve upon their rush defense, which gave up over one hundred yards to one guy yet again. Facing a good running back like Benjarvus Green-Ellis will be a challenge for the defensive line. It is going to be up to Aythba Rubin, Billy Winn, and John Hughes to win the point of attack in the middle of the field – forcing the Bengals’ running game outside. Hopefully, then the defensive ends can continue to get up the field and prevent longer running plays. Getting so much pressure from the front four was a great sight to see – a less mobile quarterback should yield (at least) similar results. If Frostee Rucker and Jabaal Sheard play like they did last week, the Browns can make it difficult for the Bengals’ offense.
The linebackers will be challenged more in the passing game this week. No offense to Brent Celek, (he’s a very good tight end) but the Bengals have a great target in Jermaine Gresham, whom is a threat for any defense. Also, the Browns gave up several receptions to the running backs last week; Green-Ellis is not known as a great receiver, but the Bengals might add this as a part of their game plan. Additionally, the corps have to step up in and fill the gaps against the Bengals’ running game. The defensive line is not perfect and L.J. Fort, Craig Robertson, D’Qwell Jackson, and Kaluka Maiava must be in position to make a play so the secondary is not forced to make a tackle twenty yards or so downfield.
We all knew the Joe Haden suspension was coming, and it was handed down on Monday evening. The cornerback will be out the next four games, and the Browns’ secondary (as a result) could have its problems. Dimitri Patterson will move up to starter and Buster Skrine will now become the Nickel cornerback over the next month. Last week, facing the number one receiver, Haden gave up a few big plays – you can bet the Bengals will force the ball to standout A.J. Green until the Browns can stop it. If Dalton and Bengals’ offense have success in the air to their wide receivers, it could be a long day for the Browns’ secondary. Also, losing Haden’s physicality will hurt the Browns as well; the opponent may try to see if his replacements can tackle and perform in bump coverage.
Special Teams: I love Phil Dawson and the fact he’s such a solid kicker, but I want to see him kicking more extra points and less field goals. I would be content with similar results in the coverage and punting units. The same can be said for the return game as well, although a very long return by Josh Cribbs or another returner would not be the worst thing for this team.
Coaching: The type of passing plays called by Pat Shurmur will be scrutinized heavily in this game, based upon the outcome of last week. Will they tailor the offense to be more friendly to Weeden by giving him shorter, low risk (in terms of being intercepted) passes? Also, Shurmur stated that he left in Richardson ten to twelve plays too many against the Eagles; it will be interesting to see if the team gives opportunities to other players this week. As with many things in football, play calling comes into question more when a team loses – let’s hope there is no play calling debate after week two for the Browns.
Prediction (My record 1-0): I think Weeden and the offense gets on track this week, the problem is how much of a drop-off for the defense (from week one) will occur. I believe the Browns will be there at the end; like last game the outcome could likely be decided on a couple of plays. I see the Browns pulling out a late victory 24-20.