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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Game 12 Preview – Browns @ Raiders

Browns at Raiders – Game #12 Preview

The Browns head west to Oakland on Sunday for a rare, late kickoff (4:25 PM ET); the franchise has yet to be a part of one of these in 2012.  Victory at another team’s stadium is another thing the team has not boasted yet.  The Raiders defeated the Browns last year 24-17 in the O.co Coliseum; hopefully revenge is on the visitor’s mind this season.  It has been over twelve months year since the Browns have strung together consecutive wins – one thing going their way, is this year’s Raiders team has been injured and struggling mightily.

Offense:  It’s still not 100% guaranteed that Brandon Weeden will be the official starter on Sunday; the rookie signal caller must pass all NFL-mandated tests (from his concussion) in order to suit up against the Raiders.  He missed a few targets and threw an interception (which was returned for a touchdown) against the top-rated defense last week; however the upcoming opponent is rated near the bottom of the league (25th overall) – surrendering over 247 yards and over two touchdowns through the air per game.  Provided they play up to their potential, the Browns should be able open up the playbook this game.  If Weeden is the quarterback, I see a rebound game from the Oklahoma State alum.  Last week, the Raiders gave up three touchdown throws from Andy Dalton en route to a thirty-four-point output; I believe the Browns can have similar success this week.  Should Weeden not be able to play, Colt McCoy is the next option for the visiting team.  If last week’s game is any indication, the coaching staff will be less liberal with the third-year veteran.  The team may become more run-heavy and call passing plays on just third downs or in shorter yardage-to-gain situations.

Teams have been gaining slightly over 131 yards per game against the Raiders this season; Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis toted the football nineteen times for 129 yards for the Bengals last week.  Their team tallied 221 yards on the ground – the Browns’ game plan this week should include a healthy dose of Trent Richardson.  The rookie has been efficient lately, even though some criticize his inability to find an opening to run.  There’s a good chance these opportunities will exist routinely in Oakland – therefore the back must make the most of them.  I look forward to Montario Hardesty getting several rushing attempts as well.  In limited duty this year, the veteran has been able to get to the second level (where the linebackers are lined up) after receiving the hand off.  Being this will be the Browns’ twelfth game, Richardson may become fatigued, as the proverbial “rookie wall” will likely set in.  This would have been his final regular season game if he were still at the University of Alabama.

This contest could be a good litmus test for Josh Gordon’s progression toward becoming a bona-fide number-one wide out.  A.J. Green had 111 receiving yards as the primary target for the Bengals; at the least, I want to see Gordon make a big play or two on Sunday.  Additionally, Greg Little needs to regroup from his poor outing against the Steelers.  The athletic receiver has proven he can make a catch and run downfield away from defenders.  I foresee the coaching staff employing under routes and short slants for Little, in order to get him involved in the contest.  Following a “break out” game by Mohammed Massaquoi (three catches – the most he’s had since week two), the wide out could be given additional opportunities.  There is a good chance he will only see shorter passes and those near the boundary (away from hard-hitting defenders), but anything that helps the offense is desired.  I want to see, at a minimum, one of the tight ends have a fine game against the Raiders – Ben Watson played well two weeks ago, while Jordan Cameron caught a huge touchdown versus the Steelers.  Replicating what Jermaine Gresham did last week (four catches for forty-one yards and a touchdown) would be a suitable performance by either of the two.

The Browns’ offensive line struggled with penalties and allowed defenders to plug up running lanes in their last contest.  Sunday permits an opportunity for redemption – especially for the interior linemen.  The Steelers hindered the Browns’ rushing attack by getting a push up the middle; frustration gave way to the offense committing a few holding penalties.  This week, veteran Tommy Kelly (whom has had a rather quiet season) is the main adversary in the middle.  I envision the Browns doubling up on the nose tackle, and creating holes between the tackles.  On the outside, pressure will likely come from Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston.  The pair combined for seven tackles, a sack, and a hit on Andy Dalton against the Bengals.  These defensive ends are picking up the slack while long-time veteran Richard Seymour has missed time with knee and hamstring injuries – his status for Sunday is still not known.  It will be up to Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz to limit these defenders.  The Browns cannot afford to give up four sacks – like the unit did this last week.  Facing a linebacker group that includes Rolando McClain, Philip Wheeler, and Miles Burris, and the offensive line could have a tough time picking these guys up and keeping the quarterback clean, however.

Defense:  The defensive line should be licking their chops at the sight of the Oakland Raiders’ offense.  Carson Palmer was sacked four times last week, while the team’s running attack tallied under 100 yards at Paul Brown Stadium.  It will be hard to replicate that performance defending the run, but facing a backup in Marcel Reece should give the Browns an advantage in the pending matchup.  (There is a chance starter Darren McFadden will return from injury, in which case problems could exist for the run defense).  The front four (especially the combo of Athyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, and Billy Winn) will be called upon to close up possible openings for the opponent.  They must also focus on limiting gains to shorter distances on a consistent basis – the Raiders would then naturally turn to their passing game more times than not.  Here is where the defensive line must put pressure on Palmer; the veteran quarterback knows how to get passes out early but is not mobile enough to avoid an immediate rush.  The defensive ends were not effective last week, but Juqua Parker, Frostee Rucker, and Jabaal Sheard have shown they can create havoc on the opposition.  I look forward to a few takedowns by this trio on passing plays.

After facing a couple of dynamic tight ends, the Browns will go against Brandon Myers.  He is a solid NFL player but not a game breaker like Jason Witten and Heath Miller.  Nonetheless, Craig Robertson (or any other defender) must prevent Carson Palmer from making it a habit to go to Myers, while enhancing other receiving options in the process.  The opponent has been including their running back in the passing game, as well.  Marcel Reece has had at least four receptions in each of the last four contests.  Covering these athletes is another task for the linebackers, and something that has not been performed regularly.  The Raiders’ quarterback has been susceptible to turning over the football – last week, both a fumble and an interception occurred against his former team.  Hopefully D’Qwell Jackson and Robertson can pick up where they left off last week and give the football to the offense in advantageous situations.  After a couple of solid games, rookie James-Michael Johnson is due for a breakout performance.  Will it come against the Raiders?  We shall find out in a couple of days.

Dimitri Patterson has missed the previous six games, but the veteran finally saw the practice field this week – he can provide depth in an area that has seen its ups and downs.  This could be significant, as the Browns’ secondary is coming off an outstanding performance last week (sans one egregious pass interference penalty).  Cornerbacks Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown each recorded an interception; while safeties T.J. Ward and Usama Young were either the cause of or the recipient of a Steelers’ fumble.  They will likely not have a repeat performance this week, as they go against a better signal caller, but perhaps they can still be successful.  The wide receiver combination of Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey had just one catch for twenty yards between them last week.  The Raiders are 8th in the league in passing yardage this year, but these totals have typically come from tight ends and running backs.  The wide outs are responsible for the big plays though; so (once again) limiting these athletes will be crucial for the defense.  Additionally, if the Browns can employ more single coverage, the safeties can be used more in run support – allowing a hard hitter like Ward to shut down the opponent.  If Usama Young is not cleared to play (from his concussion), someone must fill in and come up with a big play like the starter is accustomed to.

Special Teams:  Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski have consistently been among the best punters and kickers (respectively) in the NFL over the past couple of years.  Phil Dawson can go toe to toe (yes, pun intended) in the kicking game, but Reggie Hodges has been lacking in his punting duties.  The Browns must succeed in the offensive and defensive parts of the ballgame to make sure the contest does not come down to special teams.  The return units for the two squads are hit-and-miss as former Brown Coye Francies has been decent in return yardage while bringing back kickoffs. 

Coaching:  Regardless of the quarterback situation, the Browns should be reliant on the run in their offensive game plan.  The team should use Richardson (and possibly Hardesty) to soften up the front seven, while the signal caller occasionally completes passes when the defense is unprepared.  This is a type of game where the Browns must control an inferior opponent – there have been few of these opportunities in the past couple of years.  I like the type of defensive calls that have been made as of late; I just hope they utilize more of a rush on Carson Palmer.  The veteran is simply turnover prone, but given time he can pick up yards in chunks.

Prediction (My Record 7-4):  After a tough inter-division victory, I think the Browns finally get a win on the road this week.   The Browns will limit their turnovers, while the Raiders give the ball back a couple of times en route to a 24 – 13 defeat, while Browns’ fans rejoice after

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Steelers @ Browns – Game 11 Review

Game #11 Review – Steelers at Browns 

Another ugly victory for the Cleveland Browns; the Steelers were without a couple of their play makers and the replacements could not bridge the gap.  The Browns were not impressive – they were simply less bad.  The team was able to capitalize a few times on the multiple turnovers by the opposition and found the end zone twice; had these things not occurred and the Browns would have lost.  Nonetheless, Jimmy Haslam gets a victory over the franchise he formerly was part owner of (hopefully this will be a regular occurrence).

Offense:  Only passing for 158 yards and a returned interception (for a touchdown) does not equate to a good day for Brandon Weeden.  The rookie also had two would-be interceptions dropped as well – it could have been even worse.  Missing a few throws early did not help as well; Weeden would like to put this game behind him.  Late in the game, the constant Steelers’ pass rush caused a Jim Everett-like “phantom sack” where Weeden chose to slide when defenders were not close by.  One silver lining is that (pre-injury) the signal caller was at the helm for a victory.  In the waning minutes, Weeden’s head bounced off an offensive lineman’s leg, and the quarterback was forced to leave the game.  He likely succumbed to a concussion, but hopefully he will be back to play in the next game.  Veteran Colt McCoy came in to replace the Oklahoma State athlete.  The back up did not attempt a single pass – judging by the starter’s poor play, the coaching staff did not have confidence he could make a play either.  Again, with Weeden’s status unknown, it may be McCoy who starts next week at Oakland.  Regardless of who plays, the quarterback for the Browns must be better than Sunday’s performance.

Trent Richardson racked up eighty-five yards on the ground – it took the rookie twenty-nine carries to do so, though.  He had several tough runs, including the fifteen-yard touchdown run.  What was frustrating though, was Richardson’s decision making when the defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage.  The rusher opted to go around the point of attack (which was typically behind the line of scrimmage) and attempted to bounce it outside in hopes to get a long game.  The end result was a loss of several yards, which put the offense in a difficult situation.  Montario Hardesty only had two carries but came away with fourteen yards; I would have preferred he run it a few more times in the second half to determine if he could excel in certain situations (but that was not in the game plan).  In the receiving game, Richardson hauled in four passes for twenty-seven yards.  These totals are not spectacular but are key for an offense that is struggling to move the football.

Once again, Josh Gordon proves he is the best option for the Browns’ passing game; the rookie had four receptions for sixty yards.  He had a couple of nice catch and runs, and I hope the team continues to use him in multiple ways – not just deep routes.  Mohammed Massaquoi played better than he has over the past few weeks; he finished with three catches and twenty-seven yards.  I still believe he will not be a top two wide out on this team going forward, but the receiver still finds a way to contribute.  Greg Little, who has been improving as of late, took a step back on Sunday.  The second-year pro only was able to come away with a six-yard reception.  The tight ends continued the streak of finding the end zone; Jordan Cameron had the score during this game.  The young veteran had just two grabs but was responsible for the team’s first touchdown.  I hope to see more production from the receiving unit as a whole, but it could be worse (see the 2011 season totals).

The offensive line had a difficult task of facing the Steelers and failed for the most part.  The unit surrendered four sacks (the most since week 3 against Buffalo) and Weeden seemed to face pressure a majority of passing plays.  Additionally, the guards (Shaun Lauvao and John Greco) were responsible for multiple holding calls, which killed a few drives in the second half.  In the running game, Richardson and the other running backs were rarely greeted by an open hole to run through.  Granted, the Steelers are ranked first in overall defense and first against the rush (4th against the pass), but they dominated a Browns’ unit that usually performs well.  Hopefully this was an anomaly by the offensive line, and the issues from Sunday can be fixed going forward.

Defense:  The front four completely shut down the running attack of the Browns’ opponent.  Jonathan Dwyer led his team with just nineteen yards, while the opponent finished the contest with forty-nine yards on the ground.  Phil Taylor was dominant in the interior on rushing plays and recovered a fumble.  The touchdown at the end of the second quarter was extremely deflating though, as rookie Chris Rainey was stopped at the goal line but ran around the corner and scored – the Browns’ defenders failed to wrap up the rusher.  I was rather disappointed with the pass rush from the defensive line, as well.   Facing an offensive line that has been susceptible to sacks, the Browns’ pass rush was largely ineffective.  Frostee Rucker led the group with three tackles – he also did not compile huge statistics and was rarely around Charlie Batch.  Rookie Billy Winn had a decent outing; the rookie had a pass deflection and an interception.  Jabaal Sheard could not get to the quarterback once again; he has shown some flashes of greatness this year but has yet to put together a dominant game.

D’Qwell Jackson had nine tackles for the Browns; the veteran led the team and had one of the many fumble recoveries for the defense.  Kaluka Maiava played ok at times – the University of Southern California product came away with four tackles but once again was not a part of an impactful play.  Craig Robertson had a less than stellar performance (especially in coverage of Heath Miller – who had six catches for sixty-three yards); the younger veteran had just two tackles but also had a fumble recovery.  James Michael-Johnson finished the game with four tackles and had a stop for a loss – he appears to be on par with his counterparts; hopefully the rookie can continue to improve and eventually become a good-to-great linebacker.

Two of the biggest passing plays for the opponent centered on Sheldon Brown; the veteran was flagged for a pass interference penalty late in the second quarter and had an interception in the second half (both of which led to touchdown drives).  Brown further cemented his place with the team – he is athletic enough to still be active in the secondary but should not be a full-time starter.  Joe Haden had a pair of pass deflections and an interception; the veteran continues to be the leader of the secondary.  Just as important, he did not give up a huge passing play – something that has reared its ugly head a few times as of late.  T.J. Ward’s hard hits forced two of the many fumbles; the safety also had a pass deflection and four tackles.  Usama Young sustained a head injury when colliding with Heath Miller; the free safety did not stand out much as a starter but was another member of the fumble recovery brigade.

Special Teams:  Reggie Hodges had ten punts for just 383 yards; he was never able to flip the field during a game where field position was key.  His only solid punt was the one downed at the three-yard line, which (for all intents and purposes) put the game away.  Phil Dawson continues to be perfect for the season and all of his points were extremely important.  In the return game, Cribbs did an adequate job, while Travis Benjamin had a nice sixteen-yard punt return.  I look forward to see more of these throughout the season, as the rookie can become a spark plug for the offense.

Coaching:  Following the returned interception for a touchdown, the Browns’ coaching staff called plays that are deemed to be extremely conservative.  On second and third downs facing long distance to gain, the Browns chose to hand off the football as opposed to throwing to try for a conversion.  They still seem to favor a field goal than trying for a longer touchdown, but it worked out in their favor on Sunday.  Defensively, I thought Jauron made many great calls to make it hard on Charlie Batch and the opposing running attack.  I would have liked to see more blitz packages including multiple players, but overall I cannot complain.  The bottom line is the Browns finally beat the Steelers!

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Preview of Game 11 – Steelers @ Browns

Game #11 Preview – Steelers at Browns

Another divisional game for the Browns and a chance to beat the franchise they have mightily struggled against since returning to the league in 1999.  The team has played fairly well at home this year but have still been behind (more times than not) when the clock strikes zero; they must find a way to change this – Sunday could be a fine starting point.  In his first press conference Browns’ as owner, Jimmy Haslam got in good graces of the fans by denouncing the previous team he owned a portion of (Steelers) and embraced his new organization.  I expect to hear stories about the owner trying to fire up the locker room to score the huge upset.  Regardless of records and which opposing quarterback starts, this will be another hard-fought contest.

Offense:  A chance to put back-to-back solid performances will present itself for Brandon Weeden on Sunday.  He needs to play well against a division rival who has historically had a dominant defense.  Unlike the Ravens game a few weeks ago, I hope the rookie takes a few chances throwing deeper passes (especially if safety Troy Polamalu is inactive).  Last week, Joe Flacco was only able to muster 164 passing yards – but he avoided the ever-dreaded interception.  I expect Weeden to have a better performance than this on Sunday, but he’s got to find the end zone when the team is close to the goal line.  The defense of the Steelers thrives on keeping games close by allowing only field goals and winning it with their efficient offense.  If the Browns can get a reasonable lead, they should not have to worry about a big comeback like last week.  Weeden and the offense must continue to fight the entire game, though.

These types of games are the reason why the Browns drafted Trent Richardson last April.  The running game will be called upon to get the tough yards, and hopefully the rookie will make the defense pay.  He has played well as of late but will face a stiff test on Sunday.  The Steelers held Ray Rice to just forty yards on twenty carries; if the Browns have output like this, it could be a long game for them.  I hope two things carry over from last week – the use of multiple players to run the football and including the running backs in the passing attack on a frequent basis.  Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya each toted the football last week – with the physical style of the defense, it may be a great idea to give Richardson a rest and not give him thirty carries (or so).  Additionally, the running back made several nice receptions and picked up a few first downs last week.  Anytime he can make life easier for Weeden and the offense, the team should find a way to utilize that option.

Anquan Boldin had a tremendous game for the Ravens last week (eight catches for seventy-nine yards) against the Browns’ upcoming opponent.  Although the secondary of the opposition is stellar – Greg Little, Josh Gordon, and the receivers will have a good opportunity to compile solid statistics.  The under/crossing routes (which have been dormant at times this year) appeared to have resurfaced for the passing offense.  I hope to see the two main wide outs run these and get away from defenders for long gains.  Travis Benjamin and Mohammed Massaquoi will likely be blanketed well, so a third option might have to come from somewhere else.  Last week it was Ben Watson, will the veteran do it again?  Or can Josh Cooper, Jordan Cameron, or someone else become Weeden’s next target for the offense?

Facing the likes of James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, and Brett Keisel, and the Browns offensive line will have their work cut out for them.  However, if their play is similar to that of  recent weeks, the offense should be able to move the football.  It was refreshing to see Weeden stand in there against the Cowboys and have a few seconds to decide where to throw the football.  Richardson was able to run more easily (than earlier in the season), as well.  On Sunday, there will be several blitzes thrown at them and multiple defenders will likely employ the same gap.  The offensive line must work cohesively and ensure each member effectively performs his assignments.  Penalties and sacks are hard to overcome, and the Browns must do their best to avoid these – as they put the team in dire situations (where the opponent typically capitalizes).

Defense:  Facing another porous offensive line, I look forward to the front four blowing by and harassing whoever is behind center for the Steelers. Phil Taylor and Athyba Rubin have another game under their belt and look to be disruptive in the middle.  After getting a fair amount of playing time, the two rookie tackles played in limited time against the Cowboys.  Obviously, their overall output was down but Hughes came away with a sack.  I believe both can still be productive in their new roles.  Outside pressure will be important as well – Jabaal Sheard, Frostee Rucker, and Juqua Parker must beat the offensive tackles on passing plays.  Granted, the opponent may use help with their tight ends and running backs, but the Browns have shown an ability to get it done.  The Steelers’ running attack has come from many multiple players; this is a different kind of game plan for the home team.  They must prepare for the pair of backs, as both Jonathan Dwyer and Rashard Mendenhall each had over ten carries last week.  With Roethlisberger not playing, the team will likely rely more on the run to move the football.

This week, there’s another dynamic tight end the Browns must focus on.  Heath Miller historically does not get huge yardage totals, but the veteran always seems to come up with a big catch during a critical part of the game.  Having a backup in there, there’s a good chance the signal caller will throw shorter passes – including tosses to his tight end.  I would like to see Craig Robertson put together another good performance; the second-year veteran has played well at times this year but it seems like it’s not on a consistent basis.  The linebackers should continue to be playing better with the improvement of the defensive line.  I hope someone from this unit can come up with an interception or two this contest; that would be icing on the cake.

Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders are two speedy (and that’s putting it mildly) wide receivers for the Steelers.  If Joe Haden returns from his oblique injury, I believe the Browns’ secondary should be able to limit these guys.  On the other hand, if the veteran is held out again, I do not believe the secondary will have similar issues to those in Dallas.  The opponent will not be throwing the football fifty times nor will they run the same routes (consistently) at the cornerbacks; Skrine, Wade, and Brown will have fewer opportunities to give up a long gain.  I think the safeties can be effective in the passing game; Usama Young is coming off a reliable outing and seems to routinely be around the ball.  I hope T.J. Ward continues to play hard and his personal foul last week does not cause him to play timidly against receivers.

Special Teams:  The Ravens returned a punt for a touchdown last week against the Steelers, hopefully the Browns can also see some success in their return game on Sunday.  The punting and kicking units are rather even for the two squads; so special teams (once again) may have little influence on the outcome of the contest.  This could be negated with a turnover or a long return, however.

Coaching:  Regardless if the team is ahead or behind, I hope the coaching staff continues to use a fair run-pass balance.  Weeden has been improving, but their opponent is not one that the Browns will likely throw all over.  Likewise, Richardson is a tremendous rusher, but the team should pound the football (fairly regularly) with at least another rusher to wear down the defense.  Winning the time of possession battle should be a priority as well – keeping an older defense on the field (and therefore tiring them out) will help the Browns immensely. 

Prediction (My Record 6-4):  I think this could be the game where fans look back and see the beginning of the Browns being relevant in the division.  Granted, the Steelers are without the best player, but I think it’s safe to say the Browns are due for a break.  I believe the Browns defeat their rival at home 19 – 14.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Review of Browns @ Cowboys – Game 10

Browns at Cowboys – Game #10 Review

Yet, another close loss for the Cleveland Browns; at times the team seemed to face twelve on the field, as the referees did not do the visitors any favors.  Regardless, a dominant first half was not enough as the Browns stumbled to 2-8 on the season.   As the long-time expression goes, football is a game of inches and unfortunately they were not there (once again) for the team.  It still appears as if the Browns are close to getting over the hurdle but they ultimately have not been able to secure wins – there are six more opportunities to get these in 2012.

Offense:  Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden had a good game passing; he was able to throw a pair of touchdowns and did not have a interception.  The signal caller only threw for just 210 yards, but was efficient in his play.  The Browns only surrendered two sacks against a defense notorious for getting after the quarterback.  One thing going against the quarterback was his completion percentage – he barely completed half of his throws (twenty out of thirty-five).  Although the second half was not an offensive explosion, Weeden’s touchdown to Ben Watson was huge and gave the team the go-ahead score.  Many fans believed the Browns had no shot after they fell behind, but the offense showed some resolve as they went down the field on a longer scoring drive.  Hopefully, they can begin to finish off contests, but for now the team’s progression continues and there are a few bright spots.

Trent Richardson’s streak of rushing for over 100 yards came to an end on Sunday; the rookie runner carried the ball for ninety-five yards on twenty-eight carries.  He also was active in the receiving game, hauling in six passes for forty-nine yards.  Other than the big hit he took (resulting in a fumble), there was little to criticize from the University of Alabama star.  Montario Hardesty came off the bench and was rather effective – the veteran had just four carries but averaged 5.8 yards per run.  I really enjoyed the watching the Browns rush the football; the offensive line is opening holes and the runners are taking advantage of them.  It will be crucial for the team to be effective on the ground over the next few games.  The likely poor weather conditions will favor a conservative offensive attack – should the team employ this well, the passing game will also have a better chance for success.

Greg Little’s improvement continued in Dallas on Sunday; the second-year veteran hauled in three passes for fifty-three yards.  Again, not spectacular numbers, but he was able to make difficult catches and run with the football.  Just as important, Little did not have any drops once again – it appears his confidence is getting better each game.  Rookie Josh Gordon had five receptions (for fifty-three yards) for the Browns.  He continues to look like a reliable target and the number one receiver on the team.  Josh Cooper only had one catch, but his mistake of not running his route for the proper depth cost the Browns a first down early in the game.  Mohammed Massaquoi did not record any stats yet again, it appears he is not needed for this offense and there’s a good chance he may not be on the team next year.  Ben Watson only had four receptions, but the veteran had both touchdowns for the Browns.  The remaining tight ends had little production so Watson stepping up was big for the team.

I thought this was the best game for the Browns’ offensive line (I hope to type this after every game) – once again they were forceful in both the running and passing game.  It appeared DeMarcus Ware was rushing every single play – fortunately Joe Thomas did a tremendous job of keeping him off of Brandon Weeden.  Pressure never came from the interior as well; the trio of Alex Mack, John Greco, and Shaun Lauvao prevented the Cowboys coming through the middle consistently.  The only criticism for the offensive line continues to be their ineffectiveness on goal line situations.  They were unable to get a push and Trent Richardson was once again stuffed on third down – forcing a fourth down throw (an incompletion) instead of another rushing attempt.  Therefore, the unit can still get better but status quo is rather remarkable.

Defense:  The Browns knew they were facing a weak offensive line and made them look poor on Sunday.  Athyba Ruvin led the group with six tackles, a sack, and a hit on Tony Romo.  Jabaal Sheard added another sack to his credit – I believe he will improve in his second year while the strong play of the defensive tackles will allow single coverage on the outside.  Phil Taylor, John Hughes, and Frostee Rucker each had decent outings – they all make a big play here or there during the contest.  Juqua Parker continues to impress me; coming in on passing situations, the long-time veteran was relentless on the opponent.  He finished the game with a sack and a pair of hits on the quarterback, as well as being in the backfield on a majority of his plays.  Having the full batch of players healthy and active really showed what they are capable of, and I look forward to the group making life miserable for the remaining quarterbacks facing the Browns.

D’Qwell Jackson had six tackles and a sack for the defense; the captain played well despite not making a memorable play.  It appears he will never be a dominant force, but I cannot complain about his continual, solid performances.  After a couple of quiet games, Craig Robertson impressed me against the Cowboys.  The University of North Texas athlete came away with a sack and put a hit on Tony Romo (along with five total tackles).  Kaluka Maiava had a so-so game – three tackles and was a part of sack.  Entering the contest, I was extremely concerned with how the defense was going to contain Jason Witten (who is having an excellent season and creates coverage mismatches).  Fortunately, he came away with just fifty-one yards on seven catches.  The same could not be said for veteran Dez Bryant though.

Without Joe Haden, the Cowboys went early and often towards the secondary of the Browns – Tony Romo heaved fifty passes on Sunday.  Bryant came away with twelve receptions for 145 yards and a touchdown; a monster game for the veteran.  It seemed that when the Cowboys threw it his way, one of two things would occur; a catch or a defensive penalty.  Buster Skrine was forced into the starting lineup and was picked on.  The younger athlete gave it his best and was never beat deep, but was called for multiple holding/illegal contact infractions.  Sheldon Brown did not play well; he played several yards off the line of scrimmage and allowed the opponent to complete shorter routes with ease.  If he cannot keep up with receivers in the NFL, he simply cannot be a starting cornerback in the league.  On a positive note, I believe Eric Hagg, Trevin Wade, and Johnson Bademosi all had good outings.  During the week, all three (likely) anticipated to just be playing special teams, but injuries forced them into the defense.  There’s a case to be made that depth is starting to show, but the bottom line is that there is not another great cornerback opposite Joe Haden.  Until the Browns find this guy, they will have issues stopping their opponent in the passing game.

Special Teams:  Josh Cribbs had a couple decent returns, although he nearly had a costly fumble.  Phil Dawson connected on both field goal attempts, including one from fifty-one yards.  Reggie Hodges was punting better this game than he has all season.  I thought the special teams had a fair outing, but it was not good enough to influence the outcome.  Playing this way going forward is very important however, as the team cannot afford to lose the field position battle on a weekly basis.

Coaching:  This loss was hard to pin on Pat Shurmur and the coaching staff.  Outside of switching up the coverage of the secondary and maybe a play call here or there, and the choices by the coaches should not have been second-guessed.  (They were aggressive at times and conservative at others).  Shurmur continues to fight for his team and was visibly (and rightfully so) upset with the officials after a couple of calls went against the Browns.  There were twelve of them total for over 120 yards; no matter the reason, these killed the team.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Preview of Game 10 – Browns at Cowboys

Browns at Cowboys – Game #10 Preview

Following the layoff, the Browns head south to Dallas on Sunday – the first time the franchise will play in the new Cowboys’ Stadium.  This appears to be another tough match-up for the Browns, but ultimately one where they can pull out a victory.  There are a few headlines regarding this contest – including facing “America’s Team” and the two high-profile owners (who will likely garner several mentions during the contest).  Add that to the rumors of Browns’ president Mike Holmgren potentially taking the Cowboys’ coaching job in 2013 if it becomes available, and this contest may have a fair amount of off-the-field intrigue.

Offense:  The Cowboys will face another rookie quarterback for the second consecutive week when they go against Brandon Weeden.  Last Sunday, Nick Foles came in to relieve the injured Michael Vick; the University of Arizona signal caller had a decent outing with 219 yards, one touchdown, and an interception.  Whether Weeden’s supporting cast is as talented remains to be seen, but I believe the Browns’ quarterback is better than the Eagles’ rookie (who saw his first regular season action last week).  Weeden will, no doubt, see pressure most of the day from the likes of DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, and Victor Butler (to name a few).  The defensive coordinator of the opponent is former Browns’ assistant Rob Ryan, who has a philosophy of employing multiple blitzes and rushes to disrupt offenses.  Weeden will have to get the ball out rather quickly – especially during third down and long.  It may be advantageous to keep the ball on the ground (on earlier downs) in order to create manageable situations.  Regardless, the rookie must play much better than he did against the Ravens and eliminate any turnovers – the Cowboys offense will make the Browns pay if they do.

LeSean McCoy (and the group of Philadelphia running backs) performed well against the Cowboys, given the number of carries.  The veteran averaged over five yards per carry on sixteen carries (82 yards total), including a run of twenty-three yards.  Judging from these stats, Trent Richardson can have success on Sunday.  As with many of the past few games, there will be two main focal points around the rusher:  the health of the star and to what capacity the team will use him.  I envision similar outcomes to the past few weeks – the rookie should get around twenty carries for just over one hundred yards.  One (glaring) thing missing from the Browns’ last contest was scoring a touchdown – the offense needs to get Richardson into the end zone this game.  He currently has five rushing scores and leaning on him may be the best way to get the offense going again after it has sputtered the past few weeks.

The Eagles were able to spread the ball to nine different receivers against the Cowboys; this has been one of Brandon Weeden’s strong points.  Greg Little and Josh Gordon will both be facing tough matchups against rookie Morris Claiborne and veteran Brandon Carr (who had a touchdown on a returned interception last week), but they will be regularly targeted.  Hopefully the experience gained this year will help them perform better than they did against a similarly talented group like the Eagles in week one.  Provided both Josh Cooper and Mohammed Massaquoi are healthy, it will be interesting to see how playing time and opportunities are divvied up.  Both were non-factors last contest, but have shown they can be reliable options for the offense.  I look forward to one making a big play this contest; whether it is a long catch and run or just picking up a critical first down.  Can Travis Benjamin be the wildcard and come away with a long grab or two?  That is one of many questions Browns’ fans hope to be answered in a positive manner.

As mentioned, the offensive line for the Browns could have issues protecting the quarterback on Sunday.  Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz will see DeMarcus Ware coming off the edge multiple times and may need help (whether it’s from guards, tight ends, or running backs) containing the pass rusher.  Most of the pressure in their recent game came from linebackers – Alex Mack and the guards will not only have to prepare for the defensive tackles, but also any players filling the interior gaps.  The running game continues to get stronger for the Browns; the offensive line has been doing a solid job at opening holes.  I still look for improvement in this area though; watching the Houston Texans’ offensive line excel in person last Sunday, and the Browns have a ways to go to get near that level.

Defense:  It will be the battle of disappointing units when the Browns’ defensive line squares off against the offensive line of the Cowboys.  Pressure has been hard to come by, and the quick release of Tony Romo could continue the trend of the Browns’ front four not making things tough for their opponent.  The first and second-string centers of the Cowboys were injured in pre-season, and the team began the 2012 campaign with a make-shift offensive line.  For that reason, I feel the Browns should focus their defensive attack on the interior (rather than the edges).  Assuming Phil Taylor and Athyba Rubin are near mid-season form, the pair of defensive tackles (along with the two rookies) should be given assignments to shoot the gaps on passing plays.  The run defense may catch a break, as veteran DeMarco Murray will likely continued to be sidelined with an injury.  This leaves the team with one main rusher in Felix Jones, who has been only a part-time running back (due to his smaller frame).  The Browns must still focus on stopping the run but they will, more than likely, see many passing attempts from Tony Romo.

In the passing game, the Browns must figure out how best to contain Jason Witten.  The tight end already has sixty-six catches this season (including eighteen three weeks ago against the Giants) and can have a huge game if not keyed on.  The longtime veteran might not rack up a huge total of yards, but moving the chains is an important part of his game.  The linebackers for the Browns must do something they have had a knack for – forcing turnovers.  Unfortunately, Felix Jones has only lost two fumbles this season, but the team lost both games that those occurred.  If D’Qwell Jackson, James-Michael Johnson, and Kaluka Maiava can be physical and punish the runner, the team may ultimately have success.  Getting in the head of the opposing quarterback and forcing errant passes will be crux of scoring an upset of the Cowboys, however.

Romo has had games this year that include four and five interceptions; the veteran has thrown the football to the other team in six of the Cowboys’ nine games.  Joe Haden, Sheldon Brown, and the Browns’ secondary must come away with extremely important takeaways.  (More importantly, the offense must take advantage of these with touchdowns – not field goals or punts).  The home team will likely have a good deal of passing yardage otherwise; thus proving that they can make it miserable for the Browns if no pressure or errors take place.  I look forward to the steady improvement by the pair of safeties; they could be called upon to help with coverage on Dez Bryant and Miles Austin.  Facing a team that does not have an outstanding third wide receiver, and Buster Skrine will be expected to blanket whomever he covers and make plays to help the defense.

Special Teams:  It will be a very difficult task for the Browns to win the clash between special teams.  Last week, Dwayne Harris returned a punt for a seventy-eight yard touchdown for the Cowboys.  The team also limited the return game of the Eagles, not allowing the home team to get a huge gain.  One area where the Browns may try to take advantage, is the fact that opposing punter Brian Moorman did not have a tremendous game (averaging just over forty-yards per punt); perhaps Josh Cribbs can help flip the field a few times with respectable returns.

Coaching:  In some respects, Jason Garrett and Pat Shurmur are mirror images; both coaches have been rumored (in the media) to lose their job at some point this season.  They also get second-guessed frequently on play-calling decisions – this contest might come down to which one makes a coaching mistake late.  The Cowboys have a perceived more talented roster and may, as a result, be more aggressive (in front of their home crowd).

Prediction (My Record – 5-4):  I believe the victory last week gives the Cowboys added confidence forward, which they will take with them into the matchup on Sunday.   I think the home team will play very well but will succumb to an interception or two – thus eliminating a blowout.  I think it’s another loss for the Browns, and the Cowboys come away with a 31-20 victory.

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Week Ten – Bye Week Blog – Cleveland Browns

Browns Bye Week – Week #10 

With no game this Sunday, the team (and fans) gets a chance to break from their routine.  The staff will not have their regular practice schedule as well – per the new CBA.  There are two important things for this team going forward; the first of which is getting the roster as healthy as possible.

Two impactful players who have missed the past few games are Athyba Rubin and Dimitri Patterson.  Both of these athletes need to return as soon as possible, to not only provide depth, but also to help the front office evaluate both the players and position groups.  The defense has had its issues this season and there’s a good chance the Browns will focus heavily on drafting that side of the ball.  Will they need to take a linebacker or defensive back early?  Seeing what the roster can do over the remaining seven games is extremely important in making offseason decisions.

Additionally, let’s remember that rookie Trent Richardson’s ribs are still not completely healed – rest will help this.  He has been playing very well as of late, and many want to see how he performs following some extended time without contact.  Josh Cooper was held out of last game as well; he is not a full-time starter but can be an important cog of the offense.  If the rookie comes back and has a few receptions (including key ones like in Indianapolis) each week, he could be a keeper in 2013.  Also, Mohammed Massaquoi’s rookie contract expires after this season.  In determining whether to re-sign the oft-injured wide receiver, the Browns must factor whether he is one of the top three or four targets on the team.  Greg Little and Josh Gordon appear to be the two primary receivers, and the remaining slots are (currently) up for grabs.

Another essential aspect of the bye week is making the necessary changes to improve the team’s chances for success.  This relates to multiple decisions on Sundays – which personnel to use, eliminating mistakes, and how conservative/liberal to be in play calling.  The coaching staff has made a couple of changes in personnel already (i.e. Usama Young over Eric Hagg, Alex Smith over Owen Marecic, etc.), but with the team going 2-7 in the first part of the schedule, more changes may follow.

As evidenced by many outlets (and admitted by Pat Shurmur), the team has committed a couple errors on game day.  This includes clock management (forcing the Browns to use ever-important time-outs) and not being completely prepared for the upcoming opposition.  Outside of the Giants game, the team has fallen behind and been forced to play catch up, while the opponent is dictating the game.  The Browns in turn, have had to adjust their game plan in order to try to reclaim the lead.  I hope Shurmur and his staff figure out the best way to employ their playmakers in order to attack defenses and prevent opposing offenses – from the start.   Getting a lead early precludes the team from having to rely on the passing game, as well as opening up the defensive playbook with multiple rush and blitz schemes.

It’s become obvious that the head coach struggles whether to be conservative or liberal while calling plays.  It remains to be seen if its Shurmur’s own doing or if he and Childress are in continual debates, but the offense seems sporadic at times.  I recall a few instances where a type of play (i.e. rushes up the middle) is successful, then a couple downs later Weeden throws several deep incompletions and ends the drive.  The third down and ones are constantly giving fans headaches, the team must execute these well and continue drives – be it by run or pass.  Shurmur is being second-guessed because, more times than not, the Browns punt the ball the following play.  I hope the time off gives the team an opportunity to sit down and finalize a solid foundation for administering the offense – it should have happened already, but it appears that more work needs to be done.

The last point I wanted to look look at, were the trends of how the team has fared following bye weeks: (The team did not play a game following a bye week during the 1999 and 2000 seasons, so they are omitted)

– 2001 – Loss at Chicago – 27 to 21

– 2002 – Win at Cincinnati – 27 to 20

– 2003 – Loss at Kansas City  – 20 to 41

– 2004 – Loss at Baltimore – 13 to 27

– 2005 – Win vs Chicago – 20 to 10

– 2006 – Loss vs Denver – 7 to 17

– 2007 – Win at St. Louis – 27 to 20

– 2008 – Win vs NY Giants – 35 to 14

– 2009 – Loss vs Baltimore – 0 to 16

– 2010 – Win vs New England – 34 to 14

– 2011 – Loss at Oakland – 17 to 24

From these stats, the ratio of games played at home versus away is relatively even (six to five); the team will travel to Dallas following their bye this season.  The same can be said about the win-loss probability, with the franchise going just under .500 after a week off.  I would have liked to see a more positive outcome for the Browns during the past twelve years, but this is not the case.  It seems the chances of a victory are that of a coin toss – they have not won a game on the road this season and are definitely due to get off the schnide next week.

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Review of Game 9 – Ravens @ Browns

Ravens @ Browns – Game #9 Review

The losing streak hits ten for the Browns against the Ravens; the game on Sunday included a few missed opportunities by the home team.  Red zone futility and costly turnovers did the offense in, while the defense put the team in an early 14-0 hole.  Fortunately, the Browns are now on their bye week and can get an opportunity to rest (and hopefully get this game out of their heads).  The frustration continues for the fans – hopefully the team can come out swinging after their break, but as the season continues, hope is dwindling.

Offense:  Brandon Weeden chose to impersonate Colt McCoy this game – the rookie had several check downs on crucial third downs and tossed a pair of interceptions.  The depleted, opposing unit was able to put their clamps down when the Browns’ offense was in a position to put six on the scoreboard.  Weeden’s only touchdown was called back due to an alignment penalty (which was inexcusable).  Whether it was the return of Terrell Suggs or the rest and re-focusing of the team during their time off, but the Browns’ offense could not move the ball the way they did in the first meeting.  Hopefully Weeden can forget this performance and work on improving his play, while avoiding the type of mistakes that occurred on Sunday.  A bright spot for the quarterback continues to be the ability to get many involved in the offense (even if their yardage total was not large) – he hit different seven receivers against the Ravens.

One thing that Pat Shurmur finally grasped (regarding the offense) was the concept that a steady dose of Trent Richardson is a good thing.  The rookie rusher carried the football twenty-five times for one hundred five yards.  His value to the team is vital, as several of the scoring drives included multiple rushes from Richardson.  Without any output from Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya, the team had to lean on its workhorse in the receiving game as well.  This came in the form of six receptions for thirty-one yards (including getting a key first down) – nothing too great but effective nonetheless.  The missed opportunities on third and one in the first quarter really hurt the team.  This may sound like a broken record, but perhaps a carry or two by Richardson might have continued the drive instead of being forced to punt.  The Ravens capitalized on these and dominated, leading the contest by two touchdowns.

Greg Little had another nice outing on Sunday – grabbing five passes for fifty-two yards.  Also of note, the veteran did not have a costly drop this contest; huge for his psyche and the offense’s ability to move the ball.  Josh Gordon had a pair of receptions, but his biggest plays were his crack-back block that was erroneously (in my opinion) penalized and the touchdown that wasn’t.  Instead of taking a 18-14 lead with the extra point pending, the Browns settled for a field goal and took a 15-14 advantage.  Travis Benjamin only had one catch, but it was an important one.  The rookie was able to make the field goal attempt easier before halftime (which was converted).  Coming off an injury, Mohammed Massaquoi tallied just one reception for six yards.  Whether the game plan did not include him, or he was simply unable to get open, but the University of Georgia alum did not help his team much.  Additionally, the Browns chose not to activate Josh Cooper for the game.  The rookie may find himself fighting for playing time while other wide outs get healthy.  (Assuming he was activated) would Cooper have outplayed Massaquoi if passes were thrown his way?  That is a big decision the coaching staff might have to make – down the road.

Paving the way for a 105-yard rusher, as well as only giving up just one sack (for a loss of two yards) and the offensive line had an all-around solid game.  The group was not called for holding as well – their counterparts rarely beat them on a given play.  In the first half, the offensive line prevented Brandon Weeden from facing pressure on passing plays.  The second half of the game saw multiple blitzes by the Ravens – the opponent was able to limit the window of opportunity to a few seconds, but no huge sacks were taken by the Browns.  The offensive line (along with Richardson) appears to be one of the few dependable aspects of the Browns’ offense this season.  The team may not put up forty points every contest, but allowing time and space to work is very important if they want to win games in the NFL.

Defense:  Allowing touchdowns in the first two drives drew comparisons to the Colts game a few weeks ago – along with the same outcome.  Fortunately, the Browns’ defense was able to shut down their opponent for the next two-and-a-half quarters, which included multiple three-and-outs.  Some unfortunate penalties and players being out of position allowed the visitors to score the go-ahead touchdown and leave the stadium with a win.  Jabaal Sheard finally got back into the sack category, taking down Joe Flacco once.  He and Frostee Rucker led the group in tackles – with eight and six respectively.  Juqua Parker seems to make the most of his opportunities; he only comes in on third downs but always finds a way to the quarterback.  The pair of rookie defensive tackles had rather quiet games but were not dominated by the Ravens’ offensive line either.  Phil Taylor came in on several situations, but fans may remember him most from the play where he almost picked up a Ravens’ lineman by his leg.  I hope the bye week gives the second-year pro time to get back into shape where he can participate in the majority of the snaps.

D’Qwell Jackson had nine tackles and did well in coverage on multiple occasions; he continues to be the star of the linebacker corps.  James Michael-Johnson had six stops as well – he played well, despite not making an impactful play.  Once again, I thought Kaluka Maiava had another solid outing.  He had a pair of deflections and was in on six tackles, as well as one “body slam”.  Tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson combined for four catches and forty-four yards.  The linebackers and secondary did their jobs to contain a couple of opposing playmakers in the passing game.  Flacco started the contest going four for four on third down conversions; this eventually became five out of fourteen opportunities.  The defense was able to get off the field and put the offense in advantageous situations.  I would have liked to see someone in the front seven get consistent pressure on passing plays, but like many games this year, it did not occur.

Joe Haden had a poor start to the game, surrendering catches to Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin during their touchdown drives.  However, the leader of the Browns’ secondary made a couple plays the rest of the way and almost came away with a difficult interception.  Sheldon Brown did very little to positively impact the contest.  The former Eagle whiffed on a would-be tackle as Bernard Pierce galloped into the end zone.  T.J. Ward continues to be active in stopping the run; the safety recorded seven tackles and led the unit.  Fortunately, he did not get burned in the passing game as well – I like seeing the steady progression of the third-year veteran. Usama Young recorded a pass deflection and had four tackles.  He allowed a deeper throw to be completed by the opponent but was otherwise reliable.  Only giving up 153 passing yards should permit a team to garner a victory – this obviously did not happen, however.

Special Teams:  The return game for the Browns was mediocre; Josh Cribbs averaged more than his counterpart but could not flip the field for the team.  Five field goals for Phil Dawson – he is one of the best kickers in the league and is extremely dependable (but I’m pretty sure everyone already knew that).  The punting game for the Browns was improved, but Reggie Hodges had nowhere to go but up.  The veteran did not have any “shanks” and avoided mistakes.

Coaching:  In losing yet another close game, several decisions made by the coaching staff (in particular Pat Shurmur) were second-guessed by media and the fans.  The Browns were in the red zone five times and never threw the football in the end zone once; fans grew wary when they ran Richardson for a two-yard gain on third and long.  The continual two or three yard routes, when the team needed eight (or so), was frustrating for those supporting the home team – the end result was either a field goal or a punt, depending on what part of the field these occurred.  I understand the Ravens’ secondary is stellar, but not going for six may have cost the team the game.  Watching the Browns burn timeouts hurt as well; Brandon Weeden appeared to be disappointed that the offense was not in position to get a play off in crunch time.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2012 in NFL Season