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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Review of Game #8 – Chargers @ Browns

Game #8 Review – Chargers @ Browns

A win is a win, no matter if the final score is 52-51 or 7-6.  The Browns were able to eke out a victory on Sunday after a hard-fought game.  It was definitely a team-win; as all units were relatively productive against the Chargers.  While it may not have been pretty at times, the Browns were able to up their record to 2-6 amidst heavy winds and rain in Cleveland Browns Stadium.  I loved the teams’ response to Pat Shurmur’s speech following the game.  The coach was about to give the team off Monday, but the players spoke up and stated they wanted to come in and work instead.

Offense:  I thought Brandon Weeden played pretty good, considering the circumstances.  He only had 129 through the air, but once again his receivers could have added to that total (dropping a few catchable passes in bad weather).  Two things that the signal caller was guilty of (which frustrated the fans), was overthrowing wide-open targets and getting his passes tipped.  The former was painful, as many felt Weeden had corrected his mistakes (of missing targets) from the beginning of the year.  Hopefully, this was an anomaly and will not occur the rest of the season.  The defensive linemen of the Chargers were able to swat the football at the line of scrimmage, almost intercepting a few.  This was concerning, as the Browns quarterback and linemen had worked hard to avoid these.  Weeden did take two sacks, which hurt the team, but also avoided a couple as well.  Several of his better decisions occurred when he threw the football away, as opposed to trying to force something that simply was not there.

This was the type of performance Browns’ fans were hoping to see out of Trent Richardson – twenty-four carries for 122 yards.  The running back carried the load on Sunday, and more importantly, had the lone touchdown of the game.  The Chargers had not allowed a 100-yard rusher in their last eleven games – this streak ended at Cleveland Browns Stadium.  I hope this gets the attention of Pat Shurmur that the team should employ the running game more in future contests.  With the hard rain coming down, I anticipated a poor snap or a fumble happening during a rushing play – neither of which occurred for the Browns.  One turnover for the team, and it might have cost the franchise a victory.  Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya contributed very little (seven yards on four carries), but Richardson was the story of the game.

I was not expecting the wide receivers to put up big numbers in the pouring rain and heavy wind.  Josh Gordon led the unit, with three receptions for forty-six yards.  He was unable to catch a difficult pass in the end zone, but he continued to get open and made plays when opportunities arose.  After dropping a huge pass on third down, Greg Little had a pair of second half catches and a nice block on a running play – not a great game, but the young veteran continues to be involved in the offense.  Unfortunately, a pair of rookies took a step back this week.  Travis Benjamin did not have a reception and fumbled an end-around toss from Josh Cribbs.  Also, Josh Cooper dropped the only pass thrown his way – ending a promising fourth-quarter drive.  I look forward for both to bounce back next week; the offense will need all their weapons for the important matchup with the Ravens.  Tight ends Jordan Cameron and Ben Watson each came up with a big catch; they did not have gaudy stats but they helped move the chains on a day where that was difficult.

The offensive line continued to show that they can pave the way for the Browns’ running attack.  It was great to see the unit open up holes; Shaun Lauvao even helped push Richardson toward the end zone.  I have confidence that this can happen regularly this year – if they can run on the second-ranked run defense they should be able to do the same against other teams in the league.  The Chargers threw multiple blitzes on passing plays, but fortunately the line was able to protect Weeden (for the most part).  I cannot remember when one lineman was clearly beat by a defender on a play – the only time the opponent was able to make it difficult for the offense was when multiple players occupied the same gap.  The group for the Browns continues to get better, and I want to see this trend continue next Sunday before the team hits their bye week.

Defense:  The Browns defense played a tremendous game – the unit faced a very good offense in the Chargers and prevented them from scoring a touchdown.  They held Ryan Mathews under 100 yards, a feat I was not anticipating (especially with Athyba Rubin being inactive for the contest).  Several players stepped up and made big plays for the Browns; one of those was rookie Billy Winn. The sixth-round draft selection played very well; recovering a fumble and sacking Philip Rivers.  Juqua Parker (who has been rather quiet as of late) kept pressure on the opponent and made some nice stops on third downs.  John Hughes had four tackles – leading the way for the defensive line.  Assuming Rubin and Phil Taylor get healthy and can play next week, the group has an opportunity to make it difficult for the opposition to try to gain yards on the ground.

The three leading tacklers for the team were linebackers – D’Qwell Jackson had fourteen, James Michael-Johnson tallied ten, while Kaluka Maiava came away with nine.  The collection did not have really any impactful plays (i.e. sacks or multiple tackles for losses) but they prevented long rushes, which was extremely important.  Another great thing that the group accomplished was the limiting of tight end Antonio Gates.  The veteran has had big games against the Browns in the past, but only had two catches for fourteen yards on Sunday.  Ronnie Brown led the Chargers in receiving with seven catches for eighty-five yards; the linebacker corps clearly had their issues with the veteran running back.  This appeared to be the only weakness for the group on Sunday – hopefully they do not allow Ray Rice to do the same next week.

I thought T.J. Ward played his best game of the year against the Chargers – his stop on an early, crucial 4th down and one halted the momentum of the Chargers.  The University of Oregon alum was in on several passing plays and put a solid hit on Rivers.  Joe Haden and Usama Young both played pretty well in coverage; every time the opponent threw deep, the duo was around the football and prevented receivers from making plays.  Haden also came away with eight tackles, the last line of defense helped limit Mathews and other rushers from breaking a long run.  Buster Skrine had a decent game – coming away with four tackles.  His deflection on fourth down sealed the game for the Browns, and plays like that will help him continue to see a fair amount of playing time. 

Special Teams:  The kicking game was a non-factor for the Browns; it would have been adventurous to see Phil Dawson try a kick in the weather though.  Alas, a touchdown was enough to win the game for the team.  Reggie Hodges had another tough outing but was able to pin the Chargers down nside the five-yard line once.  Josh Cribbs had a few moderate returns, nothing exceptional – but he avoided a costly mistake.  The Browns almost caught a huge break when Eric Weddle bobbled a punt late in the game.  However, he was able to recover it and gave his offense a chance to score.

Coaching:  The play calling was definitely more balanced that in previous weeks – most likely dictated by the weather.  It will be interesting to see if Shurmur gives Richardson the football a fair amount going forward.  Defensively, I thought there were several aggressive plays called for the secondary.  Dick Jauron figured pressure would cause Philip Rivers to not play as well as he could, and that appeared to be the case.

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Preview of Game 8 – Chargers @ Browns

Game #8 Preview – Chargers @ Browns

Back to the friendly confines of Cleveland Browns Stadium; the team heads home for a couple games before their bye week.  Up next is the San Diego Chargers, who will be coming off their own bye week – the veteran team is seeking to get over their recent loss against the Broncos.  However, the Browns’ opponent is also facing allegations of using stick‘em; an illegal adhesive that receivers use to allow them to hold onto the football.  The storylines are there for a contest that many may not follow.

Offense:  I would be surprised if the Browns switched up their offensive philosophy this week.  Brandon Weeden continues to get better each week and the upcoming opponent has had its issues against the pass.  The Chargers allowed over 300 yards and three touchdowns in their most recent game two weeks ago.  Granted that was against Peyton Manning, but I believe the Browns can have similar results on Sunday.  The deeper passes we saw to Greg Little and Josh Gordon should continue – they were successful (for the most part) last week.  Additionally, the shorter throws to Josh Cooper and Travis Benjamin were efficient as well; the crafty receivers were able to find an open space on the field and run away from defenders.  Unfortunately, the opponents have a better secondary than the Colts and the wide receivers will face a sizeable challenge.  I hope the Browns refuse to play conservatively though; they only way they will get better (and more importantly see success) is to take chances and try for the “big play”.

The status of Trent Richardson will determine whether the Browns run the football a fair amount or just sparingly.  When given opportunities in the past two games, the rookie was not running the way most were expecting.  Plays appeared to be wasted, as the team was unable to move the football.  If Richardson does not look to be near full health (in this week’s practice), I would rather see the Browns activate Brandon Jackson to complement Hardesty and Ogbonnaya.  The team could then employ a steady rotation, giving the offense a few options while keeping the opponent guessing.   In their last game, the Chargers largely shut down the Broncos running game (fifty-seven total yards), but that was likely due to the team needing to pass as they trailed the entire first half.  Worst-case scenario – I look for efficiency out of the Browns’ running attack (i.e. preventing the team from 3rd and ten, etc).  If one of the rushers can bust a long run, that is an added bonus.  Also, if that occurs, I look forward to Shurmur sticking with that player, as the potential for further success would be present.

Facing the likes of Eric Weddle, Quentin Jammer, and Antoine Cason – Peyton Manning was able to hit three different wide receivers for touchdowns.  This can be comforting for Browns fans, as it demonstrates that the Chargers can be thrown upon despite having an overall skilled unit.  I love the way the Browns’ coaches are calling plays that tailor to the strengths of the receivers.  Josh Gordon is a burner and can catches deep passes, while Josh Cooper may not be the fastest on the team but he can run precise routes and get open consistently.  Coming off one of his better performances, the Browns should continue to employ Greg Little in the offensive game plan.  The team looks like they finally have a guy or two that can stretch the field, while the younger veteran appears to be a beneficiary – making plays on under routes.  Each game Mohammed Massaquoi misses, the chances that he will be re-signed at the end of the year is reduced.  I want to see the University of Georgia product come out with fire and passion and give the team a reliable target, but he must be healthy for that to be possible.  It’s imperative the tight ends must make the most when passes come their way, especially in the red zone.  An added touchdown from Jordan Cameron or Ben Watson would be huge for the offense.

In terms of pressuring quarterbacks, it appears to be Jekyll and Hyde for the defense of the Chargers – they had no sacks two weeks ago and three in the prior contest.  Shaun Phillips, Jarrett Johnson, and long-time veteran Takeo Spikes have been heading up this department in 2012.  The offensive line for the Browns has been doing their job well the past few games; Weeden has been able to get passes away without fear of being hounded by defenders.  Alex Smith (provided he is activated this week) may be used to help out with rushing linebackers coming off the edge.  I want to see this unit push back the defenders on running plays – openings can be made for Hardesty, Ogbonnaya, and whomever else is carrying the ball.  You have to go back a few weeks, but Jamaal Charles had a solid contest a few weeks ago against the Chargers (eighty-eight yards and a touchdown).

Defense:  Seeing what the Colts were able to do last week, fantasy football owners of Ryan Mathews will (more than likely) be excited for this week’s matchup.  The running back has been averaging just over sixty yards on the ground and thirty receiving yards per game this season.  He and veteran Ronnie Brown make up an attack that could create difficulties for the Browns’ front seven.  There are two ways the team can force their opponent to throw the ball on almost every play – stop the run and get a lead.  Second-year pro Phil Taylor is returning from injury and practicing this week, but unfortunately he will not play.  As a result, the rest of the front four must improve and do it quickly for the former to come true.  Outside of the Giants’ game, the latter has not been seen this year.  Among the disappointment of the defense, the Browns have not put much pressure on opposing quarterbacks.  This can happen; as Rivers was taken down four times last game.  Jabaal Sheard and Frostee Rucker must play the part of Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller though, which is a very tall order.

Antonio Gates continues to be one of the best tight ends in the game and is the number-one threat in the Chargers’ passing game.  The linebackers will have their hands full and there’s a good chance they give up a big play or two to the Kent State alum.  Craig Robertson, who may have the task of guarding Gates, has made a couple plays in the passing game but has also looked slow while covering receivers.  I hope the Browns shade the safeties toward that side to help Robertson out in these situations.  D’Qwell Jackson and James Michael-Johnson did not play exceptionally last week.  There’s a good chance the two will be coached to focus more on stopping the run – I want to see them getting around offensive linemen and making crucial stops.  Overall, the Chargers have shown an ability to score points in bunches as well as being stagnant for long stretches.  The latter starts with the defense keeping their opponent out of rhythm – beginning with the quarterback.

Philip Rivers is the wildcard in this contest; forcing him into mistakes will be one of the biggest keys to victory (for the Browns).  He threw four interceptions in his last contest – one was returned for a touchdown.  The veteran has been susceptible to these over the last couple of years, and the defense must capitalize.  Pressure from the secondary will be very important – I liked the corner blitz used last week; it was effective (leading to a turnover).  I hope these continue for the Browns; utilized properly and the opponent will have less time to run their routes and make plays.  Last week, the team played well in defending the pass – an eye will be kept on this aspect of the game to see whether they keep it up or take a step backwards.  Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown must render the top two leading targets (Michael Floyd and Robert Meachem) ineffective.  Buster Skrine, T.J. Ward, and Usama Young are a few athletes who must continue their solid play – they did well last week but will have to come up in run support and stop a marginal receiver like Eddie Royal.

Special Teams:  It seems when it rains, it pours, for the special teams.  When one group is not doing its job, other units miss assignments as well.  They must be very close to flawless in this match-up, as the Browns are expected to have their issues both offensively and defensively.  The coverage units have somewhat cleaned up their act – if a silver lining exists.  The special teams must now eliminate their mistakes (i.e. penalties, blown assignments, etc.) that have plagued this team.

Coaching:  After it appeared Shurmur managed the offense well against the Bengals, the opposite occurred last week.  I hope the staff can find the weaknesses in the Chargers’ defense in order to gauge a proper plan of attack.  More importantly, I hope the coach takes risks (especially in critical spots) in terms of play calling.  Defensively, I want the Browns to make it miserable for Philip Rivers.  He has lost games as a result of not having time to throw – the defense must do its part.

Prediction (My Record: 4-3):  I see Weeden and the offense continuing to progress and putting up some points, even if Richardson does not play.  I think the run defense will struggle once again while Phil Taylor sits out.  The Chargers will pull this one out 31 – 27 and the Browns’ frustrations continue.

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Game 7 Review – Browns @ Colts

Game #7 Review – Browns @ Colts

One step forward, two steps back – I believe this was the worst game played by the Browns this season.  Considering their opponent, I was shocked and disappointed by the fact the visitors were defeated in almost every aspect of the game (and by an inferior squad).  I was hoping the positive momentum from last week would carry over, but instead a new losing streak begins for the Cleveland Browns.

Offense:  Brandon Weeden played a very good game, which would have been great if not for a dropped touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.  Instead, the rookie threw for two hundred sixty-four yards and two touchdowns –while completing 25 of his 41 passes.  He avoided sacks, turnovers, and even ran for a first down; Weeden’s game appears to be progressing nicely.  On a couple of misfires, Weeden threw it away from the defender (avoiding a possible huge mistake) and lived to see another down.  Once again, he was put in a position to throw the ball more than he should have, but the signal caller held up well and spread the ball around (to nine different receivers).  Weeden targeted both Joshes (Gordon and Cooper) on multiple occasions, and the pair led the way in terms of yardage.  My confidence with the Browns’ passing game has grown exponentially this season – the quarterback can heave it all over the field and get long gains.

I did not realize that running the football was optional; apparently this will be the case for the Browns in 2012.  Trent Richardson is still not 100% and that was evident – he had eight carries for eight yards and two catches for eleven yards.  At least the coaches took him out of the contest earlier than they did last week; I would expect the team to be careful to not risk further injury with their rookie rusher.  Montario Hardesty had twenty-eight yards on seven carries (a 4.0 yard average) – I was disappointed he did not have more carries in the second half.  I believe he could have had a decent game, as he continued to show his nose for any opening (created by the offensive line) and made the most of each carry.  Chris Ogbonnaya added three receptions for seventeen yards and had a six-yard carry.  This offense cannot afford to be one-dimensional; they must consistently run the football every contest.  Whether the offensive line is dominating, or the team simply needs to put themselves in manageable situations, carries should be given to whomever is healthy and can produce.

Greg Little came to play on Sunday; the second-year veteran found the end zone for the second time this year (matching his total from last season).  He came away with six catches for fifty-two yards; I look forward to seeing if he can keep this up in the coming weeks.  I think Josh Cooper is a keeper and I hope he sticks around with the team; the rookie made some nice receptions and appears to be a dependable target.  Josh Gordon, once again, had a touchdown on a long route.  He is the team’s deep-threat and defenses will have to make adjustments to account for him.  His drop was crucial and may have cost the team a victory, but I am not going to kill him over it.  He owned up to the heartbreaking situation (not using the sun as an excuse) – we can root for this becoming motivation for Gordon.  Ben Watson and Jordan Cameron combined for four receptions; the offense is clearly not centered on the tight end position.  The only difference between this week and last week was that they did not come up with the huge grab.

Protecting Brandon Weeden was a priority for the offensive line, and the unit did exactly that.  All game long, there was time and room for the Browns to throw – the play calls are working in that respect.  It’s hard to determine whether the line would have been productive in the running game as well.  I thought John Greco filled in admirably for Jason Pinkston and the team did not miss a beat without their starter (who may miss the remainder of the year).  No one on the Colts defense had more than six tackles, and Robert Mathis and Cory Redding were inactive for the contest.  I do not think the remaining defensive linemen would have been able to win in the trenches on a consistent basis (assuming more running plays were implemented).

Defense:  The most depressing/disappointing thing from this game was how effective the Colts running game was.  Vick Ballard and Delone Carter were doing their best impressions of Walter Payton and Barry Sanders; the Browns made the duo look exceptional (combining for over 140 total yards).  Against a unit that has struggled mightily all year long, the Browns failed to shut down their opponent on the ground.  I understand there are injuries along the front four, but the defense should be better against a runner who has had sixty-seven rushing yards through the first five games.  Losing the battle upfront is deflating enough, but the Browns were not playing the Washington Redskins of the 1980s and their fantastic offensive line.  Frostee Rucker and John Hughes led the way with three tackles each – this unit is not tackling, thus proving the opponent was moving the ball down the field regularly.  It will not get any easier the next couple of weeks for the defensive line; hopefully Phil Taylor returns as soon as possible to give these guys a boost.

Continuing with the theme of futility on defense, the linebackers did not do much to encourage the fans.  Throughout the game, no pressure was put on Andrew Luck, and the only sacks came from either the secondary or were caused by excellent coverage (and the defense getting to the quarterback after several seconds).  The Browns are severely lacking a playmaker (or two) in this unit and have been forced to play late-round picks and undrafted veterans due to injury and ineffectiveness.  James Michael-Johnson was invisible again – being in on just one tackle.  On a positive note, Craig Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson totaled six tackles each, with Jackson notching a pass deflection as well.  I thought Kaluka Maiava played one of his better games this season; garnering a sack and a hit on the quarterback.

It was not going to be easy covering Reggie Wayne, and the veteran had a solid performance (six catches for seventy-three yards).  The only other receiver to have a decent game for the Colts was Donnie Avery – the Browns pretty much held everyone else in check.  They allowed less than 200 yards passing and no touchdowns, which can win many contests in the NFL.  Granted, they faced a rookie quarterback with a talent-depleted unit, but perhaps it can be something to build upon (in future contests).  The three leading tacklers for the Browns were Sheldon Brown, Buster Skrine, and T.J. Ward – they did a good job tackling running backs who blew past the front seven.  In the second half, the defense finally woke up and shut down the Colts’ offense.  Joe Haden was not challenged and therefore did not have a big impact on the game (likely a wise decision by the opponent).

Special Teams:  A couple of holding penalties by Ray Ventrone killed the Browns’ in the field position battle and caused drives to start inside their own twenty yard line.  The team was able to overcome one of these, via a Greg Little touchdown.  Following the score, the snap during the extra point was not held properly and the team failed on the PAT.  Reggie Hodges also had a poor, twenty-yard punt after the Browns refused to go for it on fourth and one.  Overall, the Browns’ special teams got dominated, and even being marginally better could have contributed to a victory. 

Coaching:  The major topic emanating from the defeat was Pat Shurmur’s decision to punt rather than try a fourth and one (late in the game) from the 39-yard line.  Owner Jimmy Haslam was visibly frustrated, and the faithful in section 615 were not amused as well.  Additionally, Shurmur shied away from the running game in the second half (while the team never trailed by more than eight points).  I understand if the game is out of hand, but the head coach has been making some head-scratching decisions this season.

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Game 7 Preview – Browns @ Colts

Browns @ Colts – Game #7 Preview

Can the Browns continue their winning ways on the road on Sunday?  The 2011 team was able to pull off a victory in Indianapolis, but both teams have a couple new faces this season (starting at. quarterback).  Once again, I will be in attendance – I hope my presence (along with officially playing their first game under new owner Jimmy Haslam) will inspire the Browns to a victory.  Last week’s contest was hard fought, and the Browns must excel in all three aspects of the game to maintain success.

Offense:  For the first time, the Browns employed the running game more and reduced Brandon Weeden’s role against the Bengals – resulting in his fewest pass attempts (twenty-nine) this season.  This proved to be a great game plan for the rookie quarterback, who largely avoided mistakes (outside of an early tipped pass).  Last week, the Jets were able to put up thirty-five points on the Colts with only nineteen passes and forty-four rushing attempts.  I would not be surprised if the Browns used similar play calls this week; Weeden will still throw several passes, but the team will likely employ the run to set up passing plays.  Converting on third down (seven of seventeen last week) and hitting a few deep throws will be key for a successful performance.  The signal caller must keep his passes high (and away from defenders) following the release to avoid negative plays.  The Colts only have two interceptions this entire season, but the Browns should not take their opponents lightly; they still have a rookie quarterback who has succumbed to errors.

Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight combined for over 230 yards rushing for the Jets last week; together they were able to gash the Colts on the ground.  Montario Hardesty’s performance last week gave Browns fans faith that he can enter the game and produce, even if he has not been active for several weeks.  The trio of Richardson, Hardesty, and Ogbonnaya could do a number this week – provided all three are healthy and are put in the best position to excel.  If the rookie and veteran from Tennessee can each have ten to fifteen carries, along with Ogbonnaya getting a couple receptions, the running back unit will likely cause problems for the opposition.  I look for the Browns trying to get an early lead in this contest; thus allowing the team to rely heavily on the run until the defense can stop them – pitting their strength against the opposition’s perceived weakness.

Although the Colts barely allowed one hundred passing yards last week, it was largely due to the Jets’ success in the running game.  I have faith the Browns will be able to have a big game through the air.  Josh Cooper’s first-game production and Josh Gordon’s recent success have shown that the Browns can move the ball in crucial situations, as well as score on long plays.  Implement Mohammed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin (both returning from injuries), and the unit can become dynamic.  A consequence of multiple receivers stepping up  has been the elimination of entitlement for Greg Little.  The days of guaranteed playing time and opportunities for the young veteran are all but gone – he now has to prove he belongs on the field and is deserving of the football.  Last week, the tight ends of the Browns enjoyed success in many ways – Alex Smith did a great job blocking, while Jordan Cameron had a huge reception and Ben Watson recorded a touchdown.  Employing multiple weapons here will make it extremely difficult for the opposing, relatively young linebackers.

In the two victories for the Colts, the defense was able to get to the quarterback – notching a combined nine sacks.  It is imperative that the Browns offensive line keeps the team out of unfavorable situations.  Last week, the Browns had third and long a couple times and played conservatively (i.e. runs and short throws), and the team ended up punting as a result.  Several of these series almost cost the Browns the game; they cannot face longer yardage to gain consistently – whether it is due to sacks allowed or by penalty.  The offense can eliminate the latter by playing under control and blocking out the home crowd’s noise.  Sacks have largely not been an issue, as the Browns typically only lose ten to fifteen yards per game in these situations.  John Greco filled in well last week after Jason Pinkston left the game with an illness.  Going forward, I believe he can be an important part of the interior line that helps the offense produce yards (and more importantly points).

Defense:  Well, the bounce back game occurred for the defensive line; the Browns held the Bengals to a low rushing output (less than eighty yards total).  The Colts, in defeat, had forty-one total yards on the ground last week.  In the upset of the Packers, Donald Brown lead the team with eighty-four yards, as the franchise rushed for 119 total.  In keeping with trends, the Colts do not have a dominant “feature running back” (whom have given the Browns fits this year).  Billy Winn, John Hughes, and Athyba Rubin (assuming he’s healthy to play) must eliminate this part of the opponent’s offense and force rookie quarterback Andrew Luck to throw a majority of the time.  The past two weeks saw the Colts give up eight sacks – Frostee Rucker, Jabaal Sheard, and Juqua Parker, (among a few others) should be able to get into the stat sheet after tacking the opposing quarterback.  If the Browns can do what other teams have done to Luck and his offense as of late, they will get off the field and give Weeden and the offense more opportunities to score.

After facing a great tight end last week, the Browns will go against rookie Coby Fleener (a second-round draft selection).  The talented, Stanford product has been averaging almost four receptions a game for over thirty-six yards.  This may not seem like much, but he brings a big-play ability (catching and running for long gains).  As a result, the Browns may have to use safeties to keep up with the speedster.  Fellow tight end Dwayne Allen and running back Vick Ballard are also threats in the receiving game; the youth and speed of the linebackers can help the Browns guard these athletes however.  It’s been reported that Scott Fujita has a neck injury and will miss several games (at the very least); the lineup of D’Qwell Jackson, Craig Robertson, and James Michael-Johnson will likely lead the unit for the remainder of the season.  I anticipate this group continuing to grow – i.e. being in the best position possible during both running and passing plays.  Doing so limits the opposing offense and can potentially create turnovers with physical and instinctual play.

Joe Haden has another tall order this week, with the task of covering long-time veteran Reggie Wayne.  The star from the University of Miami has proven he is still one of the NFL’s best – averaging slightly over eight catches and 118 receiving yards per game.  Wayne can create a huge passing day for Luck, as well as pull coverage away from reliable targets like Donnie Avery and rookie T.Y. Hilton.  If Haden can play they way he did against A.J. Green last week (sans the one long pass), the Browns will have somewhat hindered the Colts’ passing attack.  I believe Buster Skrine and Sheldon Brown can keep up with the remaining wide outs – they both had solid performances last week and I can see something similar occurring.  Combining the opponent’s inconsistent rushing attack with the uncertainty of wide receiver output (except for Wayne), and I look for safeties T.J. Ward and Usama Young to be extremely active this game.  Dick Jauron should employ Ward in rush and blitz schemes to disrupt Luck’s timing – especially on the quicker throws.  Young will, more than likely, be asked to help in matchups where the Browns appear to be at a disadvantage.  He came away with interceptions in each of the past two weeks; I anticipate the veteran being around the ball again on Sunday.

Special Teams:  The Phil Dawson-Adam Vinatieri matchup is a tough one to call; both are fantastic kickers who will likely thrive in their opportunities.  The remaining special teams for the Colts are good – they employ several younger returners who get decent yardage but have yet to get “the big one”.  The Browns have limited their opponent the last few weeks in the return game; whenever it seems they have room to run, a player like Josh Cribbs is there to take down the runner.  I look for better punts this week by Reggie Hodges – perhaps a change of scenery (i.e. indoors) will help the veteran.  Assuming the offense can move the ball, Hodges may get opportunities to keep the Colts inside their ten yard line.  This has not happened too often this year, but if last week was an indication, he is able to get the job done.

Coaching:  As stated, I hope the Browns use their multiple running backs early and often to move the football.  Sprinkling in several throws of different distances is important too, including the successful slant route (which the Bengals took away last week).  Getting many receivers involved will be paramount for the offense – so long as the throws are not forced.  Having many options at Weeden’s disposal keeps the defense guessing, and the Browns need this.  I am optimistic the defense will utilize many blitzes and rushes; making it hard for Luck and their offense.  This should be one of the few weeks where playing man coverage will work to the Browns advantage.

Prediction (My Record: 4-2):  I think this is where the Browns are finally able to build off a victory; there’s a lot of positive momentum currently in the locker room and around the franchise.  After getting a huge win for coach Chuck Pagano, the Colts had a letdown last week.  I see the opponent playing somewhere in the middle this week and the Browns earning a 31-23 victory.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Review of Game 6 – Bengals @ Browns

Game #6 – Bengals @ Browns Review

Alas, the Browns finally get into the win column; I hope to see many more of these this season.  Production came from many different areas and players, some of which were not expected.  The young roster stepped up and added to the fans’ hope for this team going forward.  What was encouraging was the Browns’ ability to fight back when it seemed the team had little hope to get points – let alone a victory.

Offense:  On his 29th Birthday, Brandon Weeden did not disappoint.  The rookie quarterback had a more-than-efficient performance; throwing for 230 yards and two touchdowns.  His lone error came on a batted pass in the air, resulting in an interception. Only minimal adjustments appear to be necessary for the Oklahoma State product – mainly keeping his passes high while releasing the ball.  Weeden hit eight receivers, including his college teammate and the third-string running back.  It’s evident that the quarterback is good enough to get multiple receivers involved -regardless of who it is.  This is a sign of a good quarterback; a signal caller will not always have his “go-to guy” in the lineup, he will have to make do instead.  Granted, this isn’t Eli Manning missing Hakeem Nicks or Aaron Rogers without Greg Jennings, but it is a good sign when undrafted free agents can come in and make an impact in the passing game.

As expected, it was tough sledding for Trent Richardson (when getting carries).  The rookie had only thirty-seven yards on seventeen runs before leaving the game with a stomach injury.  It appeared holes were not made from the offensive line, but the runner was also not running with the authority fans have been used to.  Fortunately, Montario Hardesty filled in well – gaining fifty-six yards on fifteen carries.  His production was unexpected, but it was a huge boost to the offense as it struggled early on.  The second half (where Hardesty played a majority of the time) saw the Browns score a pair of offensive touchdowns and two field goals.  This was much more than the lone score in the first half; the running game was not dominant but it put the team in manageable situations where they could get points.

The story of the Browns’ receiving unit centered around the Joshes; the rookies had the first and second most yards for the team.  For the second week in a row, Josh Gordon hauled in a long touchdown strike – this one went for seventy-one yards.  Consistently hitting on these is huge for the offense; Gordon can be the team’s number one receiver if he keeps making similar plays.  Josh Cooper, an undrafted rookie also from Oklahoma State, had a pair of grabs for thirty-nine yards.  His totals were not flashy, but it appeared as if the professional game was not too quick for him.  I envision fairly solid performances going forward – the youngster will have chances now to study his production and determine the best way to match up with cornerbacks.  Greg Little had a few catches and found himself back into the receiving (statistical) category.  It wasn’t much, but perhaps he can build off this when heading into next week’s game.  Alex Smith was used strictly as a blocker and was not targeted, but Jordan Cameron had a huge catch in the red zone before the Ben Watson touchdown.  The tight ends worked well together and helped give the offense another option when it needed one.

The offensive line was not as stellar as they were last week, but the drop-off was not that significant.  Weeden was sacked twice on his twenty-nine passes – not great but not terrible either (the best part was that the quarterback protected the ball during these instances).  As the season progresses, the line has performed adequately or better in pass protection; I feel this will continue to strengthen.  As stated previously, the Browns running attack was not very productive.  Geno Atkins and Domata Peko each had five tackles and were around the ball when Richardson was rushing.  The run blocking by the offensive line (especially the interior) has been up-and-down in 2012 – hopefully next week will be a bounce back game for the group.

Defense:  Sunday’s game was another one that lacked a pass rush by the Browns.  Until the Bengals were forced to throw, the defensive front could not make it hard for Dalton in the pocket.  Jabaal Shard had a deflection, while Juqua Parker hit the opposing quarterback – otherwise there was little for Browns fans to be excited about.  Emmanuel Stephens led all defensive lineman with two solo tackles – this low output cannot occur if the Browns’ defense wants to be successful.  Rookies John Hughes and Billy Winn had rather quiet games, combining for three total tackles (granted they faced many double teams).  The defensive play of the game occurred when Winn picked up Andy Dalton’s fumble and ran down the field – essentially ending the game.  The team needs to get Athyba Rubin back as soon as possible; he would vastly help against opponents in the running game.  Granted the team gave up only seventy-six total yards, but this could have been even lessened with another solid athlete in the middle.

Craig Robertson led the linebacker corps with seven tackles.  The veteran played fairly well, with the exception of being unable to cover Jermaine Gresham on his fifty-five yard touchdown.  He does have his limitations, but the first-year player can be a viable member of this unit (in 2012 and beyond).  D’Qwell Jackson had a decent game (with six tackles) following his concussion; he was in on coverage a few times but was unable to be disruptive in the opponent’s passing game.  James Michael-Johnson and Kaulka Maiava had rather quiet games, combining for just five tackles.  I’m willing to cut rookie Michael-Johnson some slack, as it was the first time he saw extended action at linebacker.  Covering tight ends and limiting runs should be two of the primary responsibilities for linebackers.  On Sunday, the Browns’ unit underachieved in the former and was decent in the latter.  They face another good tight end next week; I hope they are up for the challenge.

There was a sizeable improvement in the play of Buster Skrine from the first meeting against the Bengals.  The second year athlete from Tennessee-Chattanooga had a team-high eleven tackles and nearly an interception.  He was not burnt deep (which was key); the same could be said about Sheldon Brown.  The longtime veteran was in on three pass deflections and had an interception and a touchdown.  His number of snaps may be reduced throughout the season, but I am confident when he is in there in passing situations (provided he covers the secondary or tertiary target).  Joe Haden slipped and gave up the long A.J. Green touchdown grab in the second half.  However, the cornerback also had a huge interception in the third quarter.  I did not expect Haden to play a flawless contest; he certainly did not but will get back to where he needs to be in the coming weeks.  Besides an interception from Usama Young, the Browns’ safeties did not make a huge impact on the game as well.  What T.J. Ward did best was blanket Gresham while others could not – he was relatively able to reduce a playmaker’s role.

Special Teams:  I think that it is safe to assume the Browns won the special teams battle on Sunday; Josh Cribbs had a sixty-yard punt return, setting up a field goal.  The former quarterback had a couple nice kickoff returns as well; his average of 31.5 yards was much higher than Brandon Tate’s average of 20.3 yards.  Reggie Hodges continued his woes in the punting game; the veteran averaged only 44.3 yards (compared to a 50.6 yard average to his counterpart).  He did have a nice punt downed at the five-yard line late in the contest however, making it extremely difficult for the Bengals offense. 

Coaching:  The offense awoke in the second half, while the defense contained the Bengals  – outside of one deep pass to A.J. Green.  It appeared correct adjustments were made at half time.  This has been a criticism of Pat Shurmur, perhaps he and his staff have finally gotten it and are able to figure out the best way to attack their opponent.  It will be interesting to see if this was a one-time occurence, or if continues on a weekly basis.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Game 6 Preview – Bengals @ Browns

Game #6 – Bengals @ Browns Preview

The Browns will have their first chance at revenge this season when they face their in-state rivals to the south.  Hopefully the combination of returning back home (with yours truly in attendance) and getting Joe Haden back will bring the locker room together and inspire the franchise.  Being the only defeated team in the NFL, the Browns need to get their monkey off their back ASAP; another opportunity to do so presents itself on Sunday.

Offense:  Down in Cincinnati, the Browns’ rookie quarterback had a good performance (twenty-six of thirty-seven for 322 yards and two touchdowns).  The Bengals have been without their first-round draft pick cornerback, Dre Kirkpatrick, who could make it tougher for Weeden if he finally gets to see the field Sunday.  The Browns are facing a defense who, just last week, lost to a rookie quarterback in Ryan Tannehill.  The passer threw for only 223 yards but, more importantly, he did not turn the football over.  I believe the Browns can build off their last performance against Cincinnati – provided Weeden learned from his two mistakes in New Jersey.  Against the Giants, it was refreshing to see the team finally come out and take an early lead; the offense did that by both the run and pass.  That can continue this week – I am hoping for quick strikes or a deep throw, similar to the one we saw to Josh Gordon.

Although the Dolphins had two touchdowns on the ground last week, they were limited to sixty-eight rushing yards against the Bengals.  To me, Trent Richardson is a much better running back than Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas, but the rookie may find yards hard to come by on Sunday.  One concerning statistic:  the longest run the Bengals have given up the last two games is thirteen yards.  Nonetheless, Pat Shurmur must continue to run the football – getting away from this game plan has been second-guessed due to missed opportunities by the offense (during advantageous situations).  Like all the games so far, the rushing totals will be important, but it will neither win nor lose the game (single-handedly) for the Browns.  I anticipate that both the starter and Chris Ogbonnaya will record a couple receptions and gain decent yardage as well; this has been one of the most consistent parts of the offense.

I look forward to seeing how Jordan Norwood and Josh Gordon respond to their success of last week.  The two, young receivers had excellent games – in terms of touchdowns (two) for Gordon and receptions (nine) for Norwood.  I hope the Browns’ game plan includes several routes featuring the two wide outs; the pair can get the offense going.  Mohammed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin have been battling hamstring injuries, and they both might be available to help the team.  Should this occur, expect to see several plays we did not see last week (i.e. quick hitches and deeper slants).  The more receivers that are healthy for the Browns hurts the chances that Greg Little will be involved.  It is nearing make-or-break time for the North Carolina athlete; he has yet to prove to be one of the best eleven on the field (at one time).  Little showed some promise at the end of last season, but that has not resurfaced in 2012.  As far as tight ends go, veteran Alex Smith may return from his concussion sustained a few weeks ago.  Outside of a couple receptions from Ben Watson and Jordan Cameron, this unit’s production has fallen off since Smith’s injury.

The offensive line will look to continue their success of giving Weeden time to throw, as well as making it easy for Richardson to run.  The Bengals recorded two sacks last week, six the week prior, and two against the Browns in week two – it appears their defensive front will attempt to bring pressure, it just comes down to how well they can get by the offense.  Geno Atkins, the defensive tackle, accounted for three takedowns of Blaine Gabbert – Alex Mack and the two young guards must focus primarily on the third year veteran.  If the Browns can limit their number of sacks to two or fewer (assuming there are no related turnovers as well), the offense should avoid dire situations.  They must eliminate holding penalties as well; these have continually killed drives.  In the running game, defensive end Michael Johnson and tackle Domata Peko have routinely been in on tackles.  I liked the way Mitchell Schwartz has come along the last few weeks; he has been giving Browns fans hope that Richardson will have room to run after getting the hand off.

Defense:  After a extremely poor performance, the Browns’ defensive line has a chance to redeem themselves on Sunday.  They gave up over two hundred forty yards rushing last week, but will now face a team who has not had a one hundred yard rusher this season.  Recent history has shown the Browns have struggled against elite runners (LeSean McCoy, Ahmad Bradshaw, C.J. Spiller – pre-injury), while holding serviceable backs (BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bernard Scott) in check.  This fact should be rather obvious, but it can help calm fans’ worries.  The matchup against the Bengals includes defending a good (not great) running back; reserve rusher Scott is injured and will not be able to carry the ball, as well.  It will be up to the front four to put the defense in manageable situations, thus allowing the team to get off the field and get the ball to the offense.  John Hughes and Frostee Rucker both played well in the first meeting (ten tackles and two sacks); hopefully the two with Cincinnati ties can play inspired again.  Billy Winn and Jabaal Sheard need to step up as well – each had solid performances two weeks ago but have underwhelmed otherwise.

D’Qwell Jackson’s status for this contest will be vital for the defense – he left the previous contest with a concussion, while the defense suffered.  The former Maryland standout totaled three sacks the last time the Browns faced the Bengals; he was the only linebacker to get to Andy Dalton on a consistent basis.  There was no evidence of this last week, as little pressure came from the front seven and zero sacks were recorded.  The defense must take Cincinnati out of their comfort zone if they want to be in the game – disruption needs to come from multiple players as well.  Craig Robertson has done pretty well in coverage and may be responsible for Jermaine Gresham (who had a quiet game last meeting).  Depending on the availability of a few secondary members, a couple linebackers (L.J. Fort or James Michael-Johnson) will likely see more action this week.  The opposite is true should the opponent get comfortable in the passing game.

Andy Dalton put on a clinic against the Browns last meeting (throwing for over 300 yards and three touchdowns).  The defensive unit was without their best player, and the younger members could not keep pace with the wide outs.  Even with Joe Haden returning, I expect the defense to surrender a fair amount of passing yards.  The difference has to be in avoiding the long plays that plagued the secondary (i.e. two touchdowns of over forty yards).  Dimitri Patterson will likely be out this game with his ankle injury; therefore Buster Skrine will again see a fair amount of action.  He has given up a few big plays this season but continues to fight week-to-week.  Unlike the last contest, I believe the Browns will have an opportunity to force interceptions against the Bengals.  They are not facing a quarterback with the skill level of Eli Manning – they go against a second year veteran who has been mistake-prone (i.e. he threw an interception to D’Qwell Jackson in week two).

Special Teams:  Many fans cannot forget the eighty-one yard punt return touchdown given up by the Browns to “Pac Man” Jones.  Fortunately, the team has not had any similar gaffes in the weeks following; they must ensure this continues on Sunday.  The units have played relatively well (outside of a rare turnover).  The special teams were the difference in the first meeting and a critical part of last week’s game – the Browns have got to get an edge here if they want to secure the victory.

Coaching:  Last week’s game led to scrutiny from both the fans and media regarding play calls.  Following the contest, Shurmur appeared agitated and was verbally sparing with reporters.  The altercations could intensify this week, especially if the Browns’ offensive falters in critical situations.  As previously stated, winning will cure all of this, and hopefully the head coach can finally break down a victory.  Defensively, I look for more man-to-man coverage than their has been the past few weeks; Haden will likely guard A.J. Green, but a few of the younger veterans might need help from the safeties.  Forcing Dalton into mistakes will be attempted by dialing up more blitzes.

Prediction (My Record: 3-2):  I thought the Browns would defeat the Bengals the previous meeting and was wrong.  Call me crazy, but I am picking the Browns to win again (hopefully I get it right this time).  I think the Browns go to 1-5 after a 24-20 triumph.

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Review of Game 5 – Browns @ Giants

Review of Game #5 – Browns @ Giants

Well the quick start did not help the Browns get their first win of the season.  The young team jumped out to an early fourteen-point lead, but mistakes and turnovers allowed the defending champs back in the game.  Two things that were reinforced (to me) during this contest were that the Browns have the talent to play with any team and inconsistencies will continue on a weekly basis for the franchise.

Offense:  Looking at Brandon Weeden’s stats (291 yards passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions); it appears the quarterback had a fairly good outing.  This was true for the most part, but a couple mistakes cost the team dearly.  Driving the team down the field with a seven-point lead, the signal caller threw an interception (on third down and one) – this was returned several yards and set up a Giants’ touchdown.  As stated previously, this team is not good enough to overcome errors like this and still get a victory.  On a positive note, Weeden threw a couple of nice passes – including a sixty-two yard touchdown (it feels like forever since we have seen one of these).  It is evident that the Browns are a pass-first team; the offense is reliant upon the quarterback’s ability to move the ball.  The Browns have shown indications of success here this season – however, other deficiencies of the team have made it difficult for sustained success.

Another stellar outing occurred for Trent Richardson – this has been the norm, even though the rookie had fewer than twenty carries once again.  He tallied eighty-one yards (averaging almost five yards a run) and also had five receptions for forty-seven yards.  It seems automatic that the rookie will account for over one hundred total yards every game; he appears to be the most reliable player on the offensive unit.  I wish the team had given him a few more carries in the first half (when they had a lead).  Richardson was running hard and getting several yards on each handoff.  Chris Ogbonnaya had an average game, with three receptions for forty-seven yards.  He continues to help the team, even if it is not by a huge sum.  Hopefully, the reduced number of carries will help the pair of backs later on in 2012; less wear-and-tear will mean the duo might maintain their health throughout the season.  This has not been the case the last couple of years.

With Mohammed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin sitting out, the wide receiver who stepped up and made an impact was rookie Josh Gordon.  The former Baylor athlete had only two catches, but they accumulated eighty-two yards and a pair of scores.  Fans might have finally seen his ability to make a big play, as he hauled in the long touchdown pass in the first quarter.  Jordan Norwood was thrown to nine times and caught all of them for eighty-one yards.  He improved greatly from last week and proved he can be a viable receiver in the NFL.  The injuries and up-and-down play from others caused the team to use Norwood – I hope this continues the remainder of the season, even while others are available.  Once again, second-year veteran Greg Little came away without a reception.  I’m not sure how he breaks out of this apparent “sophomore slump”, but he is killing the potential of this offense when he is not making any plays.

The offensive line has put together two solid performances back-to-back; the unit did not allow a sack of Brandon Weeden on Sunday.  They also provided openings for Trent Richardson to run through – the guys upfront have improved vastly over the past month.  They will continue to be relied upon if the offense is expected to move the ball efficiently and score points.  Joe Thomas had a tough matchup with Jason Pierre-Paul but limited the stand out for the most part (two tackles and one pass deflection).  What is frustrating, is the continued lack of production during third down and short yardage to gain – once again Richardson was stuffed on third and two (leading to a field goal).  This likely lead to the play call of a pass on the next third and one – and the resulting ill-fated turnover.  If the team cannot convert these regularly, they will have to come up with a surprise play call and “outthink” their opponent.  This is what occurred, but the Browns were unable to catch the Giants off guard and it cost them.

Defense:  The Browns’ defensive front (collectively) may have played their worst game of the season; not only did the unit fail to garner a sack of Eli Manning, but they allowed the Giants to run the football with ease.  Ahmad Bradshaw had two hundred yards on thirty carries – shades of the 2011 defense were there (and that is not a good thing).  Ahtyba Rubin had the best game (statistically) of the defensive lineman with five tackles but left the game with an injury.  If he is unable to play next week, the defense will definitely suffer against the Bengals.  Billy Winn, Jabaal Sheard, and John Hughes all took a step back from the prior week – they each had a few tackles but were unable to make a big play the entire contest.  Lack of production and surrendering many yards caused the team to play reserves Ishmaa’ily Kitchen and Emmanuel Stephens, who played just as average as the rest.  Expect to see a healthy rotation of lineman over the next few weeks, while the team endures a long, physical season.

This same will likely occur in the linebacker unit as well; D’Qwell Jackson left the Giants game with a concussion.  The veteran was having a decent game (with five tackles), but like most of the front seven, did not stand out during the contest.  L.J. Fort and Craig Robertson recorded ten and seven tackles respectively, although some of those occurred on special teams.  These two, along with Scott Fujita and James Michael-Johnson, may have to play more than they have been recently (depending on Jackson’s availability).  They were somewhat effective in the passing game; tight end Martellus Bennett was limited to three catches for thirty yards.  The linebackers have shown this season they can play well overall; it was not evident in New Jersey, but perhaps they can get back on track next week.

The secondary will get a shot in the arm with Joe Haden returning next Sunday; Eli Manning and Victor Cruz tormented the Browns’ cornerbacks (sans Haden) all game long.  Dimitri Patterson’s injury did not help things either – depth is being tested and the Giants exploited their opponent’s weakness.  Buster Skrine accrued nine tackles and had three pass deflections, but he gave up several receptions as well.  Veteran Sheldon Brown had a quiet game – he was not asked to be in one-on-one situations however (thus avoiding a potential “big play”).  Usama Young tied Fort with the team-high ten tackles, as well as a pass deflected, and an interception.  He appeared to be the only bright spot of the secondary; T.J. Ward played so-so and the team threw in rookie Johnson Bademosi (who made a play or two) while Tashaun Gipson was unable to play due to injury.  Hopefully the Browns learned, from their first meeting, how to defend their upcoming opponent; if not, it could be another tough outing for the secondary.

Special Teams:  Following an interception and a touchdown surrendered by the team, the Browns had no margin for error.  Josh Cribbs’ fumble on the ensuing kick return really hurt the team – this was magnified by the impending touchdown scored by the Giants.  Otherwise, the veteran had a few nice returns.  The Browns’ kicking and coverage units consistently did their job, but the special teams will be remembered, in this game, for the mistake than their positives.

Coaching:  Again, it’s easy to second-guess the play calling by Pat Shurmur when the team is losing.  Whether the team runs or passes, they must execute and eliminate errors.  This did not occur a couple of times and the team suffered as a result.  Defensively, the team simply could not compete with the Giants – it did not matter whether Manning threw the ball or if Bradshaw carried it, the Browns were giving up yards.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2012 in NFL Season