Game #5 – Cleveland @ New York Giants Preview
The Browns get no favor in their schedule as they head to New Jersey to face the defending champs. The visitors have pulled a few upsets in recent, similar situations (Giants in 2008, Steelers in 2009, Saints in 2010, etc.), but a win on Sunday is far from a given. Coming off a tough loss on Sunday night, the Giants will be fired up to avoid dropping two games in a row.
Offense: I’m hoping the Ravens game was a good warm-up for Brandon Weeden; the rookie will be facing one of (if not the) the best defensive lines in the NFL. The blueprint last week was a pretty practical one – get the quarterback in the best position possible to release the ball quickly and avoid negative plays. With one exception, Weeden appeared comfortable in the pocket and made the right decision. The Giants will bring pressure from Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Jason-Pierre Paul, to name a few. The front four will do their best to confuse the rookie and have him overthink during passing plays. If Weeden can build off his performance last week, he should have a reasonable game. Another thing the Giants have a knack for, is batting down passes – this is where a taller quarterback is imperative in the NFL. Should Weeden get lazy or throw a slower pass, the defense will likely tip it and come away with the football.
Provided the offensive line continues to work cohesively during rushing plays, the potential for Trent Richardson to have a big game exists. The Giants surrendered nearly two hundred yards last week against the Eagles. A key for the Browns is having their running back reach the next level of defenders; getting Richardson past the defensive line (upright) should be the main responsibility. As always, the rookie will have to fight for the tough yards, but converting third and short must occur routinely. Both Richardson and Chris Ogbonnaya will likely be asked to be big contributors in the passing game as well; the offensive line will need help keeping Weeden from getting hit. This should not be too tall of an order for the runners, provided they can perform similarly to last week. Likewise, the duo must continue to catch and run when passes are thrown their way. This aspect of the offense been solid so far – thus further giving support to Weeden while he avoids pressure upfront.
This is a huge opportunity for Greg Little – the second year veteran can silence his many critics about dropping passes. With Mohammed Massaquoi, Josh Cribbs, and Travis Benjamin all missing practice this week, there is a good chance the team will be relying on Little more. However, should struggles persist, rookie Josh Gordon could see more opportunities as a replacement. Jordan Norwood had several receptions last week, but also let a couple passes go through his hands. I will give him the benefit of the doubt, as it was his first game of the season – the Penn State product has shown an ability to catch and run for longer gains. It will be interesting to see if Josh Cooper gets activated to the regular squad this week (due to the injuries); his history with his college quarterback might warrant an opportunity.
Mitchell Schwartz and Joe Thomas should get quite a workout during passing plays. Keeping the defense ends out of the backfield is crucial for the offense, as the team can ill-afford to put themselves in difficult situations (like a 3rd and fifteen). The guards, along with center Alex Mack, must create some running lanes and avoid creating a huge game for tackle Rocky Bernard. The veteran is an exceptional player, but perhaps facing Haloti Ngata will have prepared Jason Pinkston for this difficult matchup. I believe the offense can move the ball – but it must start with the run (which has not been this team’s identity). Relying primarily on the pass could make it tough for the offense to have success; the Giants came off a game allowing only nineteen completions and rendering all Eagles’ receivers (outside of Desean Jackson) ineffective.
Defense: Returning from injury, running back Ahmad Bradshaw had a less-than-stellar performance last week. The veteran accounted for just seventy-seven total yards (thirty-nine on the ground and thirty-eight receiving). However, the Giants have proven they can plug in any back and run the ball when needed, as they did the week prior. The Browns’ rushing defense took a step in the right direction last game – limiting Ray Rice on a short week. The unit must keep this up, as the Giants can employ several backs to try to tire out the defensive front. I’ve liked what I have seen from the defensive tackles in the running game so far –Billy Winn and John Hughes are not playing like rookies. Eli Manning was not sacked on Sunday night – hopefully the Browns’ pass rush does not have a repeat performance of the Bills’ game (whose offensive line dominated the Browns). Jabaal Sheard, Frostee Rucker, and Juqua Parker will be called upon to get after Manning. While the signal caller does not possess much speed, he has shown good elusiveness – adding another layer of difficulty for the defense.
Craig Robertson has been a pleasant surprise as a member of the Browns’ linebacker corps. He’s always around the ball in the both the running and passing game – this needs to continue for the veteran (alongside D’Qwell Jackson), as the unit has otherwise been inconsistent. The Giants have an athletic tight end in Martellus Bennett who could cause problems for the linebackers (if Manning targets the former Cowboy). Rookie James Michael-Johnson will likely get his first regular season action in this contest. He provides youth, athleticism, and depth for the group but has yet to encounter the speed of a game. The team will most likely ease him in (taking plays away from Scott Fujita). However, being more of a passing team, the Giants could force the Browns to utilize more Nickel packages (therefore reducing the number of linebackers during plays to two).
Dimitri Patterson, Sheldon Brown, and Buster Skrine will play their final game Sunday before Joe Haden’s suspension ends; it will be a difficult one. Even without Hakeem Nicks last week, the Giants’ passing offense did not skip a beat. They tallied over three hundred yards, with a pair of receivers accounting for over one hundred each. Having a quarterback like Eli Manning does not help the Browns’ secondary either – the two-time Super Bowl MVP can pick his spots regularly in the passing game. I am pulling that the cornerbacks play an inspired game, but the odds are stacked against the secondary. Safeties T.J. Ward and Tashaun Gipson each sustained injuries against the Ravens; hopefully they will be recovered by the upcoming matchup. Eric Hagg had a tough game a few weeks ago, but he may be forced into action – perhaps he plays with a chip on his shoulder and exceeds expectations.
Special Teams: Overall, the special teams played much better than they have all season. They limited returns on punts and kickoffs, and had a few good runs from Travis Benjamin (after Josh Cribbs’ injury). Reggie Hodges has got to start improving – he’s not terrible but can boot the football further than he is currently.
Coaching: It all comes down to execution for the offense – I feel the play calling will be similar to that of the past few weeks. My hopes for more use of the running game probably will go unfulfilled, unless the Browns can get a lead late. The type of defensive schemes last week put the Browns in situations to stop the run and make plays in the passing game. Unfortunately, there were unable to do that – play calling can only get you so far.
Prediction (My Record 2-2): I am really pulling for the upset and I think the Browns will once again have a chance to get the win. But, I think the losing streak continues unfortunately and the Giants win this one 31-20.