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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Eagles @ Browns – Game 1 Preview

Philadelphia @ Cleveland – Game #1 Preview

The rematch is here, and this one counts!  The Browns have not been successful in regular season openers the past few years, as many fans painfully recall (1-12 record, and eleven of those have come at Cleveland Browns Stadium).  They face another difficult task with the Philadelphia Eagles, and the odds makers do not give the Browns much of a chance (around a nine point underdog).  Nevertheless, this is still the NFL and anything can happen when the two teams take the field.

Offense:  Brandon Weeden will face a defense that many veterans do not want to see, let alone a rookie making his first career start.  The Browns’ quarterback struggled against this same team two weeks ago, succumbing to two fumbles from the defensive pass rush.  I anticipate a couple of errors by the rookie; I just hope they can be lessened.  For example, if he throws an interception, I look for the defense to rise up and force a three and out (as opposed to a pick six by the Eagles, etc.)  If these types of things occur, the team could possibly have a puncher’s chance; otherwise there could be a lot of empty seats in the second half.  One thing the rookie may have at his disposal for the first time this season is the third overall draft selection Trent Richardson – which should help the offense immensely.

The Alabama product will have all eyes on him, due his high expectations and the fact he has been injured all preseason and kept from full contact for about a month.  When healthy and in the game, the Browns game plan will likely shift to more runs and screen passes to the rookie than if Hardesty, Jackson, or Ogbonnaya were playing.  One thing the team did not see from these three running backs, during the past few weeks, is an ability to break off a long run.  The team is banking on the rookie to accomplish this and cause the Eagles’ defense to adjust their strategy and play calling.  How many touches he gets is still up in the air, however, and the score may dictate – more than anything – their use of Richardson.

After a somewhat disappointing preseason, I envision Greg Little to come up with a few nice catches in this game.  Rookies Travis Benjamin and Josh Gordon will be targeted a couple times, but I would be surprised if they had big numbers in their first career game.  Facing a tandem like Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha will be extremely tough for the receivers to find an opening and have productive days; it may take a slot guy like Benjamin, Jordan Norwood, or Josh Cribbs to get the offense going.  Along these lines, the tight ends could compile some statistics as well – a now-healthy Ben Watson, Jordan Cameron, or Alex Smith could be the beneficiary in the Browns’ passing game when other teammates are not open.

Many people covering the team (and fans alike) still shudder at the Browns offensive line’s performance against the Eagles in the preseason.  I hope the unit watches more film this week than they have in a long while; they need to be aware of all the scenarios the Eagles front seven will present.  Defensive end Jason Babin is expected to return from injury and will give the Browns all they can handle; rookie Mitchell Schwartz will face the man who recorded eighteen sacks last season – not exactly a dream matchup.  It’s fair to say the offensive line for the Browns will probably struggle at times during this game.  I fear for injuries as a result but hope the team can hold up after a physical, first game of the season.

Defense:  The pairing of Jabaal Sheard with Frostee Rucker and/or Juqua Parker will be seen by fans for the first time this season.  The defensive ends will have to not only contain LeSean McCoy (the Eagles’ running back who rushed for over 1,300 yards last year), but also Michael Vick – who loves to bail on passing plays when he finds running lanes.  Rookies Billy Winn and John Hughes will be involved in a majority of plays during their first NFL game, the duo will try to stop one of the best rushing attacks in the league.  Helping them out is veteran Aythba Rubin, who holds the key for a successful rushing defense by the Browns – assuming he continues to be a disruptive force as he has been in the past.  With the fast and physical style the Eagles play, this is one of those games where a rotation of multiple players will help, as the defense stays relatively fresh throughout the contest.

D’Qwell Jackson will be the leader of the defense on Sunday (as well as team captain); injuries and suspensions could have rookies and second year players along side him during the game.  Proper communication is imperative between the linebackers, as one player slightly out of position could lead to a long gain or touchdown.  L.J. Fort, Craig Robertson, and Kaluka Maiava will be called upon to step up and limit plays consistently.  Judging by the speed and athleticism of the young Browns’ defense, I could see a few blitz packages (early on) coming Michael Vick’s way.  The containment by the remaining defenders will be the difference between a good or great day by the opposing quarterback and whether the Browns switch to more of a base defense.

The philosophy of the secondary could likely be dictated by Joe Haden’s availability in the game (based on his possible suspension for Adderall use).  Should the cornerback play, the Browns will employ more man coverage with help from safeties.  The coaching staff is confident that Haden can keep up with Jeremy Maclin and Desean Jackson, two of the better wide receivers in the NFL.  Should the University of Florida standout be held out of the game (by the league), the Browns will likely employ a more conservative (zone coverage) approach.  Having Dimitri Patterson, who has been injured most of the preseason, available will be huge to the secondary at the Nickel position.  However, second year player Buster Skrine has not shown an ability to cover great receivers – he would probably get the start opposite Sheldon Brown.  In this case, the coaches will use all the help they can (from the secondary) so the opponent’s potential for a great passing day is lessened.

Special Teams:  The issues that occurred the past couple of weeks in the special teams had better be cleaned up if the team does not want to get embarrassed.  The Browns have no margin for error when it comes to field position – any blocked punt will likely lead to a short touchdown, and poor coverage can lead to a return TD from a returner like Desean Jackson.  The Browns need to get an advantage here to make it as difficult on the Eagles’ offense as possible.

Coaching:  It’s finally time to see the full arsenal known as the West Coast Offense (2012 version) for the Browns.  I hope Shurmur does not put too much weight on Weeden’s shoulders early on – however if the rookie can exploit something, I hope the coach is not afraid to let the quarterback take a risk or two.  Therefore, in addition to several shorter passes to running backs and receivers, I anticipate Brandon Weeden running play-action plays and going deep a few times to keep the defense honest – this was rarely seen by the 2011 team.

With all the youth at the linebacker positions, I believe Dick Jauron will utilize the team’s pass rush more from the defensive line.  The younger players will likely be given fewer responsibilities until they prove they can handle them.

Prediction (My 2012 Record 0-0):  The Browns open up with an extremely talented team at home – I see this game as a test similar to the 2008 opener when the Cowboys came to town.  They trounced the Browns 28-10 that day, and I could see something like that happening again on Sunday.  I believe the Eagles will win 27-13.

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Posted by on September 6, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Review of Chicago @ Cleveland – Preseason Game 4 – and Final Roster Cuts

Review of Chicago @ Cleveland Preseason Game #4 (and Final Roster Cuts)

Well thankfully the preseason is finally over.  It was an overall pretty pathetic game by the Browns on Friday, but once again it does not count.  I hope the team took the same attitude from Pat Shurmur that the last game ithat it’s s not important (as evidenced many starters not playing) and just went through the motions.  Nonetheless, let’s take a look at what happened – as well as the cuts that followed.

Offense:  Well, Colt McCoy definitely underperformed – he went against second team players and did not look well.  The dump off on third down (leading to fourth down) and interception were very familiar to what we saw during the 2011 season.  Seneca Wallace had an adequate game and played better than I had anticipated.  I liked both of his throws to Cribbs, his scrambling ability, and the touchdown play.  It’s believed that his larger salary was part of the reason why the Browns did not keep Wallace over McCoy.   Thaddeus Lewis did not inspire any confidence by fans – a couple misfires and an interception off a deflected pass.   It seemed like Wallace played with more purpose than the other two quarterbacks; it was a touch shocking that he did not make the final roster.

Finishing off the preseason, Montario Hardesty has been very consistent in his play over the previous four weeks and that’s average.  He did have his longest run of the preseason in this game, for fourteen yards.  On another positive note for the previous second round pick, was that he did not get hurt or have any fumbles against the Bears.  Brandon Jackson ran pretty well against the reserves, and I hope the team can continue to find ways to use him in the regular season.  Depending on what happens with Trent Richardson, Jackson may end up being the “bell cow” for the first couple weeks.  Adonis Thomas had some nice runs later on in the game – but he did not win a roster spot with his performance.  Chris Ogbonnaya has been hurt, but will enter the season as the fourth running back for the team.

A few of the bright spots for the Browns’ were receivers Josh Cribbs (who likely will only be in on a several offensive plays during the regular season) and Rod Windsor (who was released).  Josh Gordon had one nice catch, but also had a lapse of concentration in the second half which lead to the interception.  I liked the fact the team left him in to get more reps, but I envisioned a little more production against non-starters.  It will likely be a few more weeks until Gordon begins to pick up the speed of the NFL.  I was disappointed in Jordan Norwood for not going up for the ball from McCoy, which resulted in the team’s first interception.  Josh Cooper had a drop and no catches – the undrafted rookie is now a part of the Browns’ practice squad.  As far as the tight ends go, the releases of Dan Gronkowski and Evan Moore were not complete surprises, but somewhat intriguing since the team gave Moore a new contract last year.

The offensive line was hard to gauge considering the entire starters did not play.  They gave up two sacks but did open up a few holes for Brandon Jackson and Adonis Thomas.   I cannot believe the team kept Oniel Cousins, who has had a less than stellar preseason.  I hope he improves and shows the last few weeks by him were an aberration.

Defense:  Brian Schaefering and Emmanuel Stephens both had pretty solid games for the Browns (Stephens was kept on the final roster while Schaefering was not).  The team’s pass rush and ability to stop the run not great, but most did not expect the defensive line to shut down the Bears’ running game as many carries were expected (and occurred).  I hope Stephens rotates in (for a couple of plays) at defensive end throughout the regular season when the starters need rest.  Also, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen is a defensive tackle the team claimed after final cuts.  I’m not sure of the team’s plans are, but he could see some unexpected playing time this year.

James Michael-Johnson made some good stops against the run at the linebacker position before he left the game with an oblique injury.  His status is uncertain, and I hope he comes back quickly as the unit needs as many players healthy as possible.  The pickup of Tank Carder by the team may be a sign that Michael-Johnson may not be fully healed for a little while, however.  L.J. Fort continues to be in the right place at the right time – he may be thrust into action early depending on the Michael-Johnson and Fujita situations.  I have high hopes for the rookie but know it will be very difficult for him, especially early on.  Finally, Craig Robertson continued to show he made the team with a couple nice plays and pass deflected.

The spotlight, in the early part of preseason game number four, was shown on the Browns’ secondary.  James Dockery and Trevin Wade had a few battles with wide receivers with mixed results.  Dockery made a nice deflection on a pass early on but was penalized for a pass interference when out of position and gave up another reception or two.  The undrafted second year player was unfortunate not to make the Browns squad.  Wade also had a solid defense of a pass near the end zone, but gave up a touchdown in the first quarter on an incredible catch and throw.  I did like the physicality of Wade (who missed the final cut) and love the way he comes up on run support – this is good to see from a cornerback.  David Sims had an up and down game as well, he made a couple tackles but gave up a short touchdown.  He was traded to the Eagles in somewhat of an unexpected move – he will return to Cleveland Browns stadium on September 9th.  I liked the Tashaun Gipson interception – perhaps it was the reason the Browns kept him on their roster. Undrafted rookie Johnson Bademosi has gone completely under the radar but still earned a roster spot.

Special Teams:  The good news is that Phil Dawson is still reliable – he made a few nice field goals.  The coverage on punts and kickoff continues to be solid, no matter who has been in there for the team.  Punting continues to be difficult for some reason – Reggie Hodges had a very short punt (less than thirty yards) which was a bit concerning.  Also, another blocked punt continues to be the story of the preseason; the only solace should be that player who was the main cause of this, was cut.

Coaching:  Not much to report here – the fourth game is run-heavy and teams cannot wait to get end the preseason.  I hope some great play calling comes next week for both sides of the ball – the coaching may have to adjust what they do depending on personnel, (i.e. running back, linebacker, etc.) but at least it will be more exciting.

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2012 in NFL Season