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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Browns @ Steelers – Game 16 Review

Game #16 Review – Browns at Steelers

Well, another season is in the books; a majority of the time it was not pretty, and once again the team ended with a losing season (5-11).  Things could be on the upswing though – the Browns have a very young nucleus with a soon-to-be new leader at the helm.  However, last Sunday, they were not able to produce a victory to close out the 2012 season.  With all the impending changes going on in the organization – this contest will not be remembered for much.

Offense:  It was an admirable performance by Thaddeus Lewis, in the veteran’s first-ever start at quarterback.  The University of Duke alum threw for 204 yards and completed twenty-two of his thirty-two attempts; he could have played much worse.  Lewis did have a costly interception in the first half, but the signal caller was able to find the end zone as well.  The Steelers were able to sack Lewis three times – the nimble athlete was unable to get away from defenders a couple of times.  The future remains a question mark for the reserve quarterback, but he did have a decent outing in the final game of the 2012 season.

Without the services of rookie standout Trent Richardson, veteran Montario Hardesty had to shoulder the load on Sunday.  He did not have an impressive outing though, garnering just thirty-seven yards on fourteen attempts.  Granted, he was facing one of the best defenses in the league, but Hardesty was only able to muster 2.6 yards per carry.  Brandon Jackson, who has not been active a majority of this season (or last year, for that matter) did adequately considering his few attempts.  The veteran accumulated fifty-four yards and averaged 6.8 yards per every carry; his future is remains uncertain but the back can be productive given an opportunity.  Ray Ventrone had an excellent fake punt that went for thirty-five yards.  It would have been nice to see more of these gadget plays this season, but the Browns did not attempt nearly enough.

The receiving unit for the Browns had an acceptable game yardage-wise but also committed a few mistakes.  The two rookie targets, Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin, each fumbled the football after a reception – thus hurting the offense.  It was surprising to see this, as the Browns have been good at holding onto the football this season.  The duo did combine for eight receptions and eighty-two yards, but that paled in comparison to turning over the football.  Greg Little (as I hoped) found the end zone once again; the veteran tallied three grabs for thirty-eight yards.  With Jordan Cameron sidelined, Ben Watson was the main option at tight end on Sunday.  The veteran from the University of Georgia finished with a team-high seven catches and sixty-four yards.  No matter who the quarterback is, Watson will still find a way to get involved in the contest.

The offensive line continued their improvement in the running game.  The team did not have a 100-yard rusher, but Hardesty and Jackson nearly combined for that total.  Not heading into the playoffs, the team could have easily mailed it in – that includes the offensive line.  That was not the case though, and veteran John Greco left the contest with an injury after competing hard all game long.  James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons were in on a few sacks, but the two are expected to bring pressure consistently on the quarterback.  With injuries occurring at the guard position, I hope the team looks to find depth this offseason (whether it is through free agency or the draft).

Defense:  Athyba Rubin and Jabaal Sheard were the leaders of the defensive line; the pair were the strength of the interior and the outside portion of the unit, respectively.  Rubin tied for the team-high in tackles with six, while Sheard had two sacks and was able to put two hits on Ben Roethlisberger.  Frostee Rucker, Juqua Parker, and Phil Taylor each came away with two tackles – none performed exceptionally but were incorporated well in the contest.  I have a great deal of faith in the defensive line going forward, it has been rather difficult for opponents to gain 100 yards or more on the ground (that has not been the case for a long time).  Case in point, the leading rusher for the Steelers accumulated fifty-two yards, while the team had just ninety-one total.

Status quo occurred for the Browns’ linebackers – both D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson each had fine outings.  Both totaled five tackles for the team; Jackson also deflected two throws by the home team, while Robertson had a tackle for loss.  If they are teamed with a dominant linebacker next season, the unit has an opportunity to become a force to be reckoned with.  As it is, Kaluka Maiava and L.J. Fort had quiet outings.  They had just three combined stops for the defense; fortunately Fort was able to get to the opposing signal caller though.  Combining with the defensive line, the front seven for the defense was able to prevent a rushing touchdown in this meeting.  Assuming this can happen on a regular basis, the Browns’ defense can be one of the best in the league.

Multiple injuries to cornerbacks and safeties forced a bunch of young athletes to play in the secondary.  As a result, the team allowed three scored through the air – this was the difference in the contest.  Joe Haden and Tashaun Gipson lead the unit in tackles; they each had six stops for the defense.  Eric Hagg had one of his better games of the season; the second-year pro had four tackles and was around the football on several plays.  I was concerned the Steelers would throw at Buster Skrine several times, but that was simply not the case.  The opponent only threw for 134 yards, but they did their job when it counted.  Another solid cornerback and a safety are needed for the 2013 season, hopefully that can come to fruition (and one of the team’s glaring weaknesses will have been filled).

Special Teams:  As mentioned, I enjoyed seeing the fake punt for the visiting team; Ventrone’s run set up the team’s only touchdown.  They do not need to occur regularly, but the Browns need to employ them more regularly in the future.  I was disappointed to see Phil Dawson miss a rather short kick (thirty-nine yards) early in the contest – the long-time veteran did make a fifty-one yarder, however.  Reggie Hodges lost the punting matchup once again; he has had a poor season and will likely be looking for work in the coming months.

Coaching:  Pat Shurmur was handcuffed with a third-string quarterback against one of the best defenses in the NFL.  He pulled out a few stops, but it was not enough to score the upset.  Unfortunately for him, he is no longer with the Browns – I hope the best for him in his future endeavors.  Defensively, they put the team in position to win the game by keeping it close.  However, giving up touchdowns over field goals in the redzone was a part of the reason why they left Heinz Field in defeat.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Browns @ Steelers – Game 16 Preview

Game #16 Preview – Browns at Steelers

Well the 2012 NFL regular season quickly came and went; it’s hard to believe the year is about to end.  The Browns have not swept both games from their rivals since 1988 (they are beyond due to end this streak).  Owner Jimmy Haslam continues to be determined to beat the franchise he was once a part of.  Even though both teams have been eliminated from playoff contention, this battle will still be a very physical one.  The opponent will have Ben Roethlisberger available this outing, a huge difference from the first matchup.  I look forward to the visiting team coming out and finally dominating their rivals at their home field – whether that actually occurs remains to be seen, though.

Offense:  Assuming he is healthy enough to play, quarterback Brandon Weeden will face one final test before his off-season evaluation.  The rookie has not put together a great performance in some time – he passed for a huge total (364 yards) four weeks ago in Oakland but has been unimpressive otherwise.  This will be another contest where the signal caller will, more than likely, struggle in terms of passing yardage.  He did not turn the football over last week (which was a good improvement), but Weeden seems to be somewhat conservative when deciding where to toss his passes.  I have been clamoring for him to throw down field more often and attempt longer gains, but it appears that he will “take what the defense gives him” and employs shorter routes.  Having Troy Polamalu return from injury may only further reinforce this.  If Weeden is unable to play, either Colt McCoy or Thaddeus Lewis will get the start instead.  This will change the entire complexion of the game – the odds of the Browns winning will lessen without their starting quarterback.  The offense will have to adjust to someone who has less arm strength but more mobility.  Regardless of who is under center, I hope the quarterback can trust his targets and give them opportunities to shine.  It will speak volumes if he can get late-round picks and undrafted athletes involved regularly against a tremendous defense.

Trent Richardson had an ankle issue last contest, and as a result did not practice this week.  The rookie has suffered multiple injuries this season; I would not be shocked if the visiting team held the runner out of this game to prevent further injury.  Even if this does not occur, the Browns ought to give Montario Hardesty (and even Chris Ogbonnaya) more opportunities to make plays.  This should be a contest where the visitors utilize rushing the football primarily to set up advantageous situations.  No one should expect to see a sixty-yard burst, but possibly a twenty-yard pickup here and there.  The way Hardesty has been quick to find holes has been a positive – hopefully he will get a chance to prove he can knife his way into the Steelers’ defense.  However, judging from their last outing, the home team will do a tremendous job in limiting rushing yardage.  The Bengals only mustered fourteen total yards on the ground last week.

A.J. Green had a terrific game against the Steelers’ secondary last week – he caught ten passes for 116 yards.  With Greg Little and Josh Gordon both possessing an ability to make huge plays, the passing game of the Browns can excel.  Little was able to find the end zone last game; his progression continues during the 2012 season.  I would like to see Gordon get behind the secondary and haul in a couple of huge gains (and maybe a touchdown) – Weeden and the rookie nearly connected for one of these in Denver.  Looking at his past two weeks (of which were successful), I will keep an eye on rookie Travis Benjamin.  If the athlete can keep putting up respectable numbers, and above all else, be a reliable option; there’s a fair chance he could head into the 2013 season as the third wide receiver.  The tight end position has been inconsistent a majority of this season, but Ben Watson has been good in several games this year.  I hope this occurs on Sunday – assuming Jordan Cameron returns from his concussion, perhaps he can put up solid stats as well.

The offensive line had a poor showing against the Broncos; they now face a team who sacked Andy Dalton six times just a week ago.  Unlike their last opponent, the Browns will likely see most of their pressure come from the linebacker positions (instead of the defensive line).  That’s not to discount Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, and Ziggy Hood; all three are solid against the pass and run alike.  Should the offensive line render these three less-than-effective, which still leaves Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison, and LaMaar Woodley to deal with.  This trio is dominant in taking down opposing signal callers.  Creating alleys for running backs to go through will also be difficult; a very fast defense like the Steelers puts pressure on offensive linemen being in the right place at the right time.

Defense:  The defensive front for the visitors must improve upon their play from last week; the unit did a horrific job in attempting to sack Peyton Manning.  Ben Roethlisberger is a taller, stronger athlete who is difficult to take down.  The Browns will likely have to employ pressure from multiple players, as one guy might not complete the final task by himself.  The Steelers’ quarterback was sacked four times last week – hopefully a repeat performance will occur on Sunday.  After a few subpar starts, Jabaal Sheard must rebound; the second-year player will have a chip on his shoulder, as he will play in the same city as he did in college.  I anticipate status quo in stopping the run – the Browns have only allowed one 100-yard rusher in their past ten games.  Billy Winn, Phil Taylor, and Athyba Rubin will plug the necessary holes the opponent strives for.  Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer, and Isaac Redman have not instilled fear in defenses; the Browns should be able to limit these three (and potentially Chris Rainey) on the ground.

Tight end Heath Miller is ruled out for this contest – the long-time veteran has historically played well in this rivalry.  His replacement, David Paulson, has only garnered seven receptions this entire season.  The visitors still must account for this player, but a majority of yardage and big plays will be generated from wide outs.  In the running game, D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson must continue their solid play.  The pair have been spectacular in finishing off plays and ending up in the right spots.  I want to see whether they can put together a few, huge stops in crunch time (while potentially tipping the scales towards the away team).  Kaluka Maiava will more than likely get additional playing time this game, as the defense will expect fewer passes than Peyton Manning tossed last week.

With T.J. Ward and Usama Young both being injured, Tashaun Gipson and Eric Hagg are the only two safeties on the active roster that have played the position this year.  Should something occur negatively (i.e. injury or poor play), the team might have to move veteran Sheldon Brown from cornerback to fill the void (however, he is recovering from a head injury himself).  Joe Haden was largely avoided last contest; his strong play will cause this trend to continue at Heinz Field.  Therefore, Buster Skrine, Brown, and Trevin Wade must have the one of their best performances on Sunday.  They will be facing Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Emmanuel Sanders – whom all have had excellent outings in the past few weeks.  The secondary will more than likely play conservatively; i.e. several yards off the line of scrimmage.  The veteran quarterback of the Steelers will still find a way to hit a deeper route (or two), though.

Special Teams:  If the Browns want to defeat their rivals on Sunday, the special teams must improve greatly from last week’s display.  Turnovers cannot occur, unless they are surrendered from the opposition.  Perhaps Josh Cribbs will be fired up from last weeks’ poor performance and return a kick or punt back a long way (he already has two career kick-return touchdowns in Heniz Field).  Phil Dawson (the 2012 AFC Pro-Bowl kicker) has an edge in his department; I feel confident he can make a big kick while Shaun Suisham cannot.  Punting could be important, should the contest be a low scoring affair – both Reggie Hodges and Drew Butler can have their days.  Who makes a mistake could become a huge factor in the contest.

Coaching:  Pat Shurmur will have a much more difficult time coaching this game than he did previously against the Steelers.  On offense, Troy Polamalu is a game-changer and can make things extremely tough for the passing attack.  He is another player to account for, and may limit some of the quarterback’s options.  Defensively, they are no longer facing Charlie Batch.  They must be aggressive against the home team’s quarterback; his ability to extend plays and complete deep passes is hard to defend.  The Browns have allowed opposing signal callers to look excellent the past few weeks – that streak must end in the season finale.

Prediction (My Record: 10-5):  I would love nothing more than to see the Browns be victorious once again over their rivals this season.  They could have momentum heading into 2013 – regardless of the coach and general manager are. However, with the uncertainty at quarterback and history going against them (no wins at Heinz Field since 2003), the Browns lose 24 – 13 and finish the season at 5-11.

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Game 15 Review – Browns @ Broncos

Browns at Broncos Game #15 Review

Well, the game against the Broncos was expected to be ugly and it turned out that way.  The Browns managed to keep it close in the first half, but turnovers and missed assignments turned an eight-point deficit into a twenty-two-point loss.  The visiting team never really had a realistic chance of winning; they surrendered an opening series touchdown and never lead in the game.  Fortunately, the season comes to a close next week – hopefully the Browns can forget about this game and finish the season on a high note.

Offense:  Before leaving the game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury, Brandon Weeden had another decent outing.  The quarterback was twelve out of nineteen for 104 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.  He did surrender two sacks and missed a wide-open Josh Gordon in the third quarter though (which would have been a touchdown).  It would have been interesting to see how the rookie responded the remainder of the game, but the team was forced to go with his back up.  Colt McCoy played the same way as he did in 2011; the veteran took four sacks and had only a 4.6-yard average over his seventeen attempts (almost a full yard less than Brandon Weeden).  He was able to find the end zone though, something that has been lacking in the passing game.  Overall, the quarterback position was once again not the strong suit of the Browns – it was an improvement from last week’s contest though.  The team faces another strong defense in their season finale; perhaps they can pass the test.

The running game for the visitors was once again efficient but struggled to produce large totals.  Rookie Trent Richardson averaged 5.9 yards per carry, but only toted the football nine times (for fifty-three yards).  The next leading rusher was reserve quarterback McCoy, who picked up seventeen yards on a pair of carries.  The fact that the team was continually down multiple scores put them in a position where they had to score quickly – typically by throwing the football.  Also, the Broncos utilized time-consuming drives, which caused the offense of the Browns to not be on the field a long time.  They felt like they were playing catch-up all game.  Regardless, Shurmur and the coaching staff continue limit the team’s playmaker (Richardson) by not giving the back multiple opportunities.  He and Hardesty combined for four grabs and twenty-two yards – they were not able to be active in this area.

Veteran Greg Little continues to lead the way for the receiving group of the Browns; the target came away with six grabs, fifty-eight yards, and the only touchdown for the visiting team.  I have a great deal of faith he will continue to get better next season, he has gotten much better from just a few months ago.  Travis Benjamin had somewhat of a productive game – the rookie had three catches and forty-six yards.  His game has developed nicely as of late; the rookie from the University of Miami has displayed an ability to catch short passes and run, as well as hauling in a deep throw.  Josh Gordon had an excellent conversion on third down during the first quarter but was unproductive otherwise.  After several great games earlier this year, he has taken a couple of steps back.  I would like to see the standout make a big play or two in their final game next week.  With Jordan Cameron’s injury, the main tight end for the visitors was Ben Watson.  The veteran was the second-leading receiver for three grabs and forty-seven yards.  He was routinely involved in the offense (but was targeted ten times – I wish he could have put together a little more output).

I anticipated a rough outing for the offensive line, and that’s what precisely happened.  The unit was a part of six sacks given up by the vaunted Broncos’ front seven.  A fair amount of pressure occurred on the right edge, where Watson and Mitchell Schwartz were unable to limit Elvis Dumervil.  Von Miller and Derek Wolfe were also able to get to the signal caller a couple of times.  It’s very difficult trying to prevent so many athletes, whom are great at being disruptive in the passing game.  I thought the offensive line did a solid job in the running game – Richardson had lanes to run when given the opportunity.  The interior continues to get better as the season wears on; they have becoming a strength of the team.

Defense:  Not surprisingly, the front four of the Browns’ defense was not able to harass Peyton Manning in the passing attack.  The group did not record a sack and the only time the opposing signal caller was disrupted, an offensive guard ran into him.  Jabaal Sheard had the most tackles for the defensive line; he appeared to be close to sacking Manning a few times but could not finish the task.  Athyba Rubin had three tackles (including one for a loss), while John Hughes had a pair of stops and a pass deflected.  These two were some of the main reasons why the opponent’s running attack was limited.  Veteran Knowshon Moreno tallied just seventy-eight yards on twenty-two carries.  He has been running well of late, but that was not the case on Sunday.  The success of the passing game put a smaller emphasis on the Broncos’ reliance on running the football, however.

The combination of Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen were successful against the Browns; they had five catches and eighty-one yards between the two.  The linebackers continued to allow opponents to hurt the defense.  Craig Robertson had a team-high fourteen tackles for team – between defense and special teams plays.  D’Qwell Jackson had nine tackles himself; the veteran is one of the most reliable players on the defense.  Unfortunately, no other linebackers were active for the Browns (that may have been expected facing the passing offense of the Broncos, though).  The corps need to find a player that can both cover well and produce in blitz packages – that player may not arrive for a couple of months, though.

The secondary was picked on and picked apart a majority of the contest.  The main recipient of passes coming his way, was veteran Sheldon Brown.  He surrendered a pair of touchdown throws in the first half – he then left the game with a head injury after colliding with Brandon Stokley.  Brown’s replacement, Buster Skrine, was the next player to get tormented.  He had the second-most tackles for the team with nine, but that was largely due to the fact his responsibility had the football.  Trevin Wade filled in the at slot role mid-way through the game – he did an admirable job but nothing spectacular.  As far as the safeties go, Usama Young may have had one of his better games of the season.  The veteran finished the contest with five tackles and a pass deflected.  More importantly, he intercepted Manning in the red zone just before halftime.  If it were not for this, the Browns would have been in a much bigger hole than just eleven points.  The announcers rarely called Joe Haden’s name; which is a good thing for the cornerback.  He garnered respect from the home team and was hardly thrown at.  If the team can acquire another athlete similar the to level of Haden, the Browns’ secondary will be monumentally better going forward.

Special Teams:  Turnovers was the name of the game in special teams.  Trindon Holliday and Jim Leonhard muffed a pair of punts for the Broncos, both of which they recovered.  Josh Cribbs fumbled one punt himself, and his team was unable to recover it.  Special teams were not the difference into the contest; it just created a wider margin in the final score.  Both kickers were perfect in the game, and Phil Dawson booted a fifty-three yarder.

Coaching:  Once again, it’s hard to fault the coaching staff when facing Peyton Manning.  The quarterback is able to find opposing deficiencies and audible perfectly at the line of scrimmage.  The defensive coaching staff tried their best to stop the run and put the Broncos in difficult third downs.  The home team went an astounding nine out of fifteen in these scenarios, which killed the Browns’ defense.  Offensively, the team went heavier with the passing game.  They were simply outmanned in several areas though, they could not expect too much success in the run or pass.

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Game 15 Preview – Browns @ Broncos

Browns at Broncos Game #15 Preview

The Browns head west to the Mile High City; Denver has not been too kind to the visitors in recent history (no wins there since 1990).  This Sunday’s task will be no different, as Peyton Manning and the Broncos are sitting with the second-best record in the AFC and have a great chance to clinch a first-round playoff bye.  The home team is on a long winning streak (nine games) and is cruising; it will take everything for the Browns to score the upset.

Offense:  The passing game underperformed for the Browns last week; they will face the 8th best team against the pass in this contest.  Brandon Weeden will likely not have a great deal of yardage through the air, but he must avoid turning the football over.  Some of his issues earlier in the season popped up once again last week – this includes missing wide-open targets down the sideline.  The underneath and crossing routes that usually yield success for the signal caller are becoming problems as well.  Opposing linebackers have been sitting in the middle of the field, and waiting for the opportunity to intercept a pass (which occurred twice against the Redskins).  Joe Flacco only put up 254 passing yards – along with two touchdowns, an interception, and was sacked three times against the Broncos.  The Browns cannot afford to hand the football over to Manning; one interception might cost the team the game.  Furthermore, Weeden must avoid sacks as well; these will set up difficult circumstances, which could cause the offense to force something and result in a mistake.

Just to make things more difficult, the Browns match up against the 2nd ranked rushing defense.  Coming off last week’s pitiful performance, the members of the running attack for the visitors should have a chip on their shoulder.  Realistically though, the Browns will probably not do well on the ground (statistically) – especially if they fall behind early in the game.  Trent Richardson has not gone over the 100 yard mark in any of the previous five games; the odds of that streak continuing is extremely high.  The rookie has been able to find the end zone six times in that span however; if the team can get near the goal line, the ball will be put in the hands of the third-overall selection of the 2012 Draft.  I would like to see Montario Hardesty get multiple carries in this game; besides seeing how he holds up against stiff competition, it would be another test to see if the veteran should be retained.  I personally believe the front office should keep the pair of backs going forward, but Hardesty was drafted (three years ago) by Tom Heckert – who may no longer be with the team after the season.

I have enjoyed watching the progression of receiver Greg Little – the veteran has had an improved second half of the season (averaging just under four catches and over fifty yards in his last six games).  I anticipate the veteran will keep this going on Sunday, but he will face a tough tandem of cornerbacks in Champ Bailey and Tony Carter.  One thing missing from Little’s 2012 season is routinely getting in the scoring column; the University of North Carolina athlete has just two touchdowns this year – I would like to see this total increase in the final two contests.  The Broncos did a great job of shutting down opposing wide receivers last week; Anquan Boldin did not record a catch, while Jacoby Jones lead the group with a meager three grabs for fifty-one yards.  Josh Gordon will have his hands full in Denver, but I hope to see the rookie recover from a less-than-great game last week.  The home team surrendered a fantastic outing from the tight end position in their previous outing, as Dennis Pitta accrued seven receptions for 125 yards and a pair of scores.  Jordan Cameron has been up-and-down this season but will have an opportunity to make his mark on this game.

Facing the likes of Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil, and Derek Wolfe, and the offensive line for the Browns will face multiple challenges.  The front four of the opponent has been dominant against both the run and the pass – the aforementioned trio has combined for twenty-nine sacks (that’s not a typo) in 2012.  All five members of the offensive line must have their best game of the season and will still likely need help from Alex Smith or Trent Richardson in passing situations.  Unfortunately, I have little faith the group will regularly create sizeable openings for the pair of running backs.  As with many contests this season, the Browns will likely use the pass in order to set up the running game.  They must do this tremendously, as well as score touchdowns instead of field goals, but the Broncos have not allowed more than twenty-four points in a game during their past nine victories.

Defense:  The Browns have never defeated Peyton Manning in his career; if they want to finally beat the future Hall-of-Famer, a good starting point would be pressuring the quarterback.  The Broncos allowed two sacks last week against the Ravens – it is possible to take him down.  Pressure was hard to come by last week for the Browns though; they could not get to a rookie signal caller a majority of the game.  Manning has been known to get the football out quickly, as well as be mobile enough to avoid defenders.  Juqua Parker, Frostee Rucker, and Jabaal Sheard must all get behind the offensive line consistently.  If both ends break free, Manning will have nowhere to go – one guy coming off the edge will not be sufficient.  Knowshon Moreno has done an admirable job while filling in for the injured Willie McGahee.  The University of Georgia star has put together back-to-back games of over 100 yards and a touchdown.  Phil Taylor and Athyba Rubin must keep the momentum going from last week – if they can slow down Moreno; the Browns will limit their opponent greatly (although they still have to account for one of best quarterbacks in this generation).

Tight end Joel Dreessen is a part of a matchup that the Browns can win; the offensive weapon has averaged just less than three catches and twenty yards over his last five games.  He has been able to find the end zone once in that span, but I believe the linebackers and safeties can limit Dresseen.  In addition to improving in the passing game, D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson have to continue to be involved in defending rushing attempts.  They have been two of the leaders in tackles practically every week; the team would be damaged if either or these two allow an opposing running back to get into the secondary (a few times).  I enjoyed seeing Jackson make some open-field tackles last game – these are the staple of a solid linebacker.  Like the Redskins, the Broncos have multiple, dependable wide outs with a big-play capability.  The Browns, as a result, will employ more members of the secondary and may remove a linebacker (possibly Maiava or L.J. Fort) in key situations.

The release of nickel back Dimitri Patterson (an intriguing move by the front office) provides an opportunity for Buster Skrine to solidify himself as the third cornerback for the Browns.  The home team has three main playmakers in Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Brandon Stokley who have a combined twenty-two touchdowns.  Skrine and Sheldon Brown will see several passes they must defend; it could be a long game (for them) if Manning has his way.  Joe Haden will likely have another solid outing, but with as many options as the Broncos have, the veteran may not have an ability to make a huge play.  Lately, T.J. Ward has put together a few solid performances in defending the pass, but will miss the rest of the season with a bone bruise.  It will be interesting to see how well Usama Young fills in at strong safety – he has been rather disappointing in the free safety spot.  The veteran has not had his hand in a turnover in the past five games and was one of the three defenders whom allowed a fifty-four yard touchdown last week.  I expect rookie Tashaun Gipson to get a great deal of playing time (which he has earned) – the athlete has had an interception and averaged over three tackles (in limited action) over the previous five contests.

Special Teams:  One returner to watch out for is Trindon Holliday of the Broncos.  The young veteran ranks 8th in the league in kick return average (27.3 yards) and 9th in punt return average (10.4 yards).  He can make plays and find the end zone in either spot, should the Browns’ coverage units break down.  Being in the higher altitude, both the kicking and punting units will net higher totals than they normally would; there will be more touchbacks and longer field goal attempts.  Phil Dawson and Matt Prater are relatively on the same level, whereas I believe Britton Colquitt is the better punter of the two.  Hopefully the veteran does not flip the field too often and make it extremely difficult for Weeden and the offense.

Coaching:  Last week’s coaching display by Pat Shurmur proved the Browns are at a disadvantage at the helm.  Offensively, the team cannot abandon the running game – especially if the score is rather close.  Richardson and Hardesty will make it easier for Weeden to throw by putting the team in advantageous situations (shorter yardage to gain).  Defensively, the visiting must do its best to disguise their coverage.  Manning will hit his targets, so the best way to stop him is to force interceptions.  Also, if the opponent adapts its game plan, the visiting team must do the same to avoid getting blown out.

Prediction (My Record: 9-5):  The Broncos are clicking on all cylinders and have been dismantling teams (outscoring opponents by an average of thirteen points in their nine straight wins).  If this game were in Cleveland, I would give the home team a shot.  But alas, the Browns have struggled on the road with a 1-5 record.  The Broncos win this game easily and the visitors lose their second straight game by a score of 34 – 20.

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Redskins @ Browns – Game 14 Review

Game #14 Review – Redskins at Browns

Entering the contest, the Browns got a gift in that they did not have to face rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III – many felt this tipped the scales towards the home team.  The Browns took an early lead, lost it, and reclaimed it late in the second quarter.  The second half was another story; the Redskins made the necessary adjustments and dominated the rest of the way.  The three-game winning streak is over and the Cleveland Browns did not look good in their final home contest of the season.  They now face two, difficult road games – it could be a rough end for the 2012 campaign.

Offense:  I was surprised to see how poorly Brandon Weeden played in this contest.  The rookie struggled against one of the worst ranked defenses in the NFL.  In addition to a pair of interceptions, Weeden also missed several deeper throws early in the game.  He never seemed to get into rhythm and could not sustain a drive (let alone one full of passes).  The quarterback was able to connect with a receiver or two, but then the drive would end abruptly thereafter (via punt or turnover).  Once again, batted passes were evident in this game as well – Weeden had three balls tipped at the line of scrimmage, thus frustrating coaches and fans alike.  The quarterback was able to hit on a long touchdown throw in the fourth quarter, but it was relatively “too late” at that point as the Browns found themselves in a huge deficit.  A majority would have assumed the first round pick outperform his counterpart (a fourth round rookie), but the Redskins’ signal decidedly won the matchup.

Looking at the total output, the running attack for the Browns was a huge disappointment.  As a team, the group was only able to muster fifty-eight combined yards – this is unacceptable on any level of football.  Trent Richardson accounted for twenty-eight of this total (none in the second half); he must find a way to pick up more yardage on every opportunity.  The rookie did find the end zone twice though, if there was a silver lining for this part of the team.  Montario Hardesty has been playing well of late but took a step back on Sunday.  He had five yards on only two carries; for whatever reason the game plan strayed from running the football against the Redskins.  The receiving game for the running backs was also non-existent.  Trent Richardson had three catches for just four yards – each time he caught the football, a defender or two was nearby and in position to make a tackle.

It appeared that Greg Little and Jordan Cameron were the only two receiving targets that came to play against the Redskins.  Little finished the contest with five grabs and seventy-four yards (including a thirty yard reception).  Tight end Cameron caught all three footballs that came his way for thirty-four yards.  This output, along with Benjamin’s touchdown, was a majority of the Browns’ offensive.  Having no other alternatives is killing this team; they cannot consistently win games being this limited.  Josh Gordon had three catches for twenty-seven yards but was targeted eight times.  The rookie must come away with better statistics given this many opportunities.  Mohammed Massaquoi was relatively a non-factor again; he had two receptions for sixteen yards.  The most frustrating part of the receiving unit was the fact they rarely got separation from the secondary, hindering the passing offense.  The receivers will have tall orders in the final two games, but there’s much room for improvement.

Brandon Weeden was sacked twice for a total of eleven yards; the offensive line for the Browns did not play as well as I thought they would have.  Shaun Lauvao was bull-rushed a couple of times and was the reason for one of the batted passes.  Pressure was apparent against the right side of the line – Mitchell Schwartz did not play terribly but had a difficult time holding off pass rushers.  The running attack for the home squad was not dependable; Richardson never met an open hole to run through.  Outside of an early fourteen-yard gain, the rookie was limited, and defenders were there to greet the rusher immediately after receiving the handoff.  This poor play is concerning, as it appeared that the offensive line was turning things around.  Now, the unit is coming off a subpar performance and will face two dominant defensive fronts.

Defense:  Early on, it looked like the Browns’ defensive line would have success (following Jabaal Sheard’s sack of Kirk Cousins).  Ever since the middle of the second quarter though, the visitors were able to move the football with ease and avoid pressure on passing plays.  The opposing signal caller appeared to have several seconds to throw and was able to find multiple targets as a result.  One of these was rookie Leonard Hankerson, who came away with a pair of touchdown receptions.  Not being able to get to the quarterback was the main reason why the Browns’ defense was beyond ineffective.  On a positive note, the run defense for the home team improved, after a tumultuous outing in their previous game.  Rookie Alfred Morris did not eclipse the 100-yard total but was able to gain the tough yards – including two scores.  Phil Taylor and Billy Winn co-lead the group with five tackles; the pair played well but were never dominant.  This game will be remembered for the bootleg play by the Redskins though, and how bad they fooled the front four time after time.

D’Qwell Jackson had a team-high, nine tackles and made some nice open field stops.  The linebackers were relatively successful against the run; Craig Robertson and Kaluka Maiava made six and five tackles, respectively, on the outside.  Unfortunately, the unit was forced to be in pass coverage though; they were less than successful.  Tight end Logan Paulsen came away with four catches for forty-seven yards, including a few key plays to gain first downs.  Reserve running back Evan Royster only had two receptions, but they occurred in the second half when the opponent’s offense dominated.  These two receivers had Jackson and Robertson covering them, the defenders could not make a play and it cost the team.

The secondary for the Browns had another poor outing; it all began with the fifty-four yard touchdown they surrendered.  The rookie for the Redskins (Hankerson) was able to catch the pass between three defenders and find the end zone.  Late in the game, it appeared as if Cousins could pick his spot and always find a wide-open target.  Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan combined for ten receptions and 125 yards, while Santana Moss had five grabs and fifty-seven yards.  There were simply too many playmakers on the opposition and their coaching staff took advantage of these matchups.  Sheldon Brown gave up several of these catches and never made a huge play.  Joe Haden had two pass deflections in this contest but also allowed a couple of lengthy completions.  Not having teammates that rival his speed and ability makes his job extremely difficult; the veteran must play close to perfect knowing he cannot regularly rely on his teammates to shut down wide receivers.  T.J. Ward was active in this contest – the safety had five tackles and a pass deflection.  He was never really beat in the passing game, but also left the contest early with a knee injury.

Special Teams:  The return games were relatively even, as both squads were able to pick up moderate gains on punts and kickoffs.  Phil Dawson, unfortunately, was not given an opportunity to kick a field goal (this might have been his final home game at Cleveland Browns Stadium).  Once again, Reggie Hodges left much to be desired in the punting game.  The veteran’s best punt (of fifty-eight yards) was a touchback and denied the team great field position.  Hodges also had a pair of punts that went over just thirty yards; this cannot happen for an NFL punter.  Hodges has had a poor season, coming off injury, and his future appears uncertain.

Coaching:  Mike Shanahan looked like a genius in this contest; the Browns came out early and dominated on both sides of the ball.  The Redskins adjusted though and, in turn, embarrassed the home team in the third and fourth quarters.  Kirk Cousins ran the offense well, including some simple bootleg passing plays that were routinely successful.  Defensively, the opposition shut down Weeden and the offense late in the game (sans one long play).  The odds of Pat Shurmur keeping his job went down significantly after this outing; he displayed being outcoached badly via an inability to utilize in-game adjustments.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Game 14 Preview – Redskins @ Browns

Game #14 Preview – Redskins at Browns

The 2012 finale at Cleveland Browns Stadium pits the home team against the Washington Redskins.  About a month ago, this game appeared to be one of the least attractive matchups of the week.  Conversely, the Browns are riding a three-game winning streak, while the visitors have won their last four contests.  Both are scratching and clawing for an outside shot at the playoffs, but regardless if either make it, these are two good football teams.  Throw in the fact the Redskins outbid the home team (in March) for the right to draft Robert Griffin III, and this becomes a very interesting matchup.  The rookie was injured last contest and might not play, but the angle of what could have been versus what actually happened will still be discussed on Sunday.

Offense:  Once again, the upcoming game will present a good opportunity for the Browns to find the end zone through the air.  The Redskins are coming off a game where Joe Flacco was able to connect with two different targets and three touchdowns.  After seeing his team score three times without a passing touchdown, Brandon Weeden should single-handedly be determined to finish off scoring drives.  The rookie signal caller he has been successful at directly impacting contests this season, but that was not the case last week.  Red zone touchdowns have been an issue for this franchise – the Browns entered last week ranked 31st in scoring inside their opponent’s twenty yard line.  The team was able to improve upon this but committed a few penalties that negated passing touchdowns.  Personally, I would like to see Weeden utilize routes where his playmakers outperform the secondary and come down with the score.  Last week, the team used Trent Richardson – this week it could be Josh Gordon or Greg Little.

I could see the running game having a huge day for the Browns; the opposing defense gave up nearly two hundred yards against the Ravens last week.  Rookie Trent Richardson will, more than likely, have over eighteen carries (as he did last week).  Subsequently, the rusher could have a larger output than he did against the Chiefs.  Also, Pat Shurmur has been determined to keep Montario Hardesty involved in contests.  The coach stated “he was upset with himself” for removing the veteran from the game when the team was near the end zone, while Richardson scored on the next play.  If the Browns are in a similar situation on Sunday, I anticipate the University of Tennessee athlete will get the football and an opportunity to put six points on the scoreboard.  I hope to see several receptions by the running backs as well; the Browns struggled in doing this last game.  Hardesty has not been known as a dependable target in the passing game over the past two seasons – if he wants to see steady playing time, Sunday would be a good place to get back on track and haul in a couple of Weeden’s throws.

None of the wide outs for the Ravens eclipsed the 100-yard total last week, but Anquan Boldin had a game-high two touchdowns.  Hopefully, rookie Josh Gordon can have another exceptional contest and replicate this output.  He has been doing a great job executing under routes and ten-yard hitches as of late.  I would like to see some deeper throws (to Gordon) against the Redskins; the speedster has shown he can get by defenders and come up with a huge grab.  Greg Little has been playing very well lately; in four of the last five contests, the veteran has averaged four grabs and just over fifty yards.  The same span has also witnessed a weekly gain of around yards, these are very important for drives to be successful.  Mohammed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin were not involved in the passing game against the Chiefs.  Benjamin’s speed was on display during special teams and a reverse, but a longer catch-and-run could be a huge spark for the offense.  Hopefully, both Ben Watson and Jordan Cameron can bounce back from last week.  Veteran Dennis Pitta’s output last week included five grabs and a score.  If the combination of Browns’ tight ends is able to provide similar results on Sunday, they will be viewed as triumphant.

The offensive line had its struggles in the passing game last week – giving up three takedowns of the quarterback in the first half.  However, they regrouped and kept Weeden standing upright thereafter; they now face a unit that has only gotten to opposing signal callers five times over their past three wins.  In a dominating performance against the Eagles though, the Redskins took down Nick Foles four times.  I have confidence the offensive line can have a good day for the Browns.  Two of the better defensive linemen for the opposition are Ryan Kerrigan and Jarvis Jenkins, both of whom are ends.  Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz have played well on the edge; following some coverage sacks by Tamba Hali, the Chiefs were unable to generate a rush on the outside last game.  The Browns may have to employ help with tight ends (as they did last week), but the task is not insurmountable.  The running game has been able to pick up short yardage the past few games and credit must be given to the offensive line.  Richardson’s pair of one-yard scampers are examples of this; now the team must be consistent in completing this task.

Defense:  Following a contest where the defense gave up over 160 rushing yards to Jamaal Charles, the Browns face rookie Alfred Morris.  All the runner has been able to do, is put together three straight games of over 100 yards on the ground.  The defensive front will have its hands full and must work their hardest to contain the athlete – Morris has a chance to break a long run during any play.  If Griffin does not play or is limited, expect the opposition to utilize the running game heavily.  Phil Taylor and Athyba Rubin (among the other tackles) must control the line of scrimmage in the middle, while the ends contain the edge and limit any bursts from the runner.  After getting four sacks (as a unit), the defensive line could have a repeat performance on Sunday.  Should backup Kirk Cousins play a fair amount, the Browns will be facing a less-than-mobile quarterback.  Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker have been consistent in bringing pressure off the edge, while at least one of the tackles has achieved in making the opponent uncomfortable in the pocket.

Due to multiple injuries, the tight end position has been deemphasized by the Washington Redskins.  Logan Paulsen has emerged as the top target in this group, but he has only pulled in a total of five passes for forty-seven yards over the last four wins.  As a result, the Browns’ defense will likely substitute in an additional member of the secondary on passing downs.  As expected, the Ravens’ linebackers were, statistically, the leaders of the defense in their last game.  Jameel McClain and Brendon Ayabadejo had eight and seven tackles (respectively), while Paul Kruger recorded a sack-and-a-half.  Craig Robertson and Kaluka Maiva have been improving steadily, and there’s a good chance both will have solid performances once again.  James-Michael Johnson has played well but has been unpredictable on a week-to-week basis.  Should the rookie play well on Sunday, and the linebacking group will be set up for dominance (I have all the faith in the world D’Qwell Jackson will play well).

The Browns are fortunate to have veteran Dimitri Patterson back from injury; he and Tashaun Gipson will be called upon to contribute in defending the pass.  The Redskins have a tremendous receiving group that includes Pierre Garcon, Leonard Hankerson, Santana Moss, and Josh Morgan.  These four athletes create matchup problems for the Browns, as all four are dependable targets – they combined for fifteen catches, 236 yards, and two touchdowns last week.  Joe Haden will do a good job in limiting his man, but that still leaves three other options.  Sheldon Brown and Buster Skrine must step up and not get beaten by the wide outs.  Both Browns’ players have had their moments this year, but have given up penalties and long gains as well.  T.J. Ward could be the wildcard – he is not known as a great pass defender but has made a few nice plays as of late (i.e. a pass breakup near the end zone).  If he can continue to do this, the Browns might force the visitors to become conservative in the passing game.

Special Teams:  The Browns’ special teams are light years ahead of where they were at this point last season.  Travis Benjamin made the most of his only punt return last week – these types of plays change the entire complexion of a football game.  Neither team has a huge advantage in the kicking and punting games; therefore flipping the field with long returns and covering kicks well could be a factor in a Browns’ victory.

Coaching:  Mike Shanahan has successfully adjusted his offense to suit his rookie signal caller – when he got injured last week, Kirk Cousins (another rookie) picked up where Griffin left off.  The Browns’ defense will be challenged, regardless of who is playing quarterback.  Dick Jauron must dial up a great game plan to prevent huge plays; something that the Redskins are accustomed to.  Offensively, the Browns’ passing game can be successful as they face the 31st ranked pass defense.  Nevertheless, I expect a fair amount of running plays called by Pat Shurmur – I just look for continued efficiency and converting in vital situations.

Prediction (My Record: 9-4):  The good times have been rolling for both squads and something has got to give on Sunday.  I believe the injury to Robert Griffin III will be a huge factor this contest – the entire offense of the Redskins will shift (with either the starter limiting his runs or with the backup playing).  Alfred Morris will get several rushing attempt and have some success, but the Browns defense will play well enough to get the win.  Weeden and the offense should have a good game as well, and the Browns pull out a 27 – 20 victory.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Review of Game 13 – Chiefs @ Browns

Review of Game #13 – Chiefs at Browns

This was what Browns’ fans finally wanted to see – a great all-around game against an inferior opponent.  It didn’t look pretty early, but the team was able to rally and play excellent from then on.  It was more than refreshing to see the Browns win comfortably – this has been foreign to the organization but now it only perpetuates the belief the team is continuing to improve.  Hopefully the team fares well against better opponents in the final three weeks.

Offense:  Brandon Weeden had a good game for the Browns; the rookie threw for over two hundred yards in the victory.  Fortunately, he did not turn the ball over but was close a couple of times (the Chiefs dropped a pair of interceptions).  Once again, the signal caller put together a performance that can win many football games in the NFL – excelling at his strengths continues to be the key for him.  On the three sacks he took, Weeden was able to hug the football and eliminate the opportunity for a costly fumble.  One thing that went against the quarterback was his inability to get more players involved in the passing game; only five members on the team recorded a reception.  However, the team’s two top playmakers made their mark.  Weeden continues to let the athleticism and ability of Greg Little and Josh Gordon be displayed.

It was not flashy, but Trent Richardson got the job done on Sunday.   The rookie carried the football for only forty-two yards but was able to find the end zone twice against the Chiefs.  He consistently ran hard and carried the pile during a couple of rushes.  Fortunately the team has talent in other areas where they are not exclusively reliant on the running game (to the point where they do not need huge yardage totals).  Montario Hardesty had a solid game as well; he tallied ten carries for a team-high fifty-two yards.  His long run was great for the offense, but it also displayed his lack of breakaway speed.  Nonetheless, the veteran was a great complement to the running attack.  The receiving game did not really include the running backs though; Richardson had one grab for nine yards (he did have a touchdown called back for offensive interference) while Hardesty dropped the only pass headed his way.  Hopefully the group can rack up the stats in the upcoming weeks; for now, the duo was at least efficient in the team’s victory.

I loved seeing the Browns calling multiple plays for their two top targets; both Gordon and Little got involved regularly in the passing game.  The rookie (Gordon) was able to haul in eight passes for eighty-six yards, while the veteran came away with four receptions for sixty-nine yards.  Little’s thirty-four yard catch-and-run was huge for the offense – these types of plays are definitions of growth (both individually and for the team).  His toss sweep was also big; the third down conversion was successful and set up one of Richardson’s touchdowns.  The tight ends were not as involved in the game plan as they have in the past few meetings.  The combo of Ben Watson and Jordan Cameron combined for just four receptions and fifty-three yards.  They both have been rather consistent, but the opportunities were limited during a majority of the game.

The offensive line had a poor first half but was able to rally in the latter stages of the game.  The unit gave up three sacks (for a loss of nineteen yards) in the first two quarters; Weeden was not taken down during the second half of the game though.  Tamba Hali seemed to be the only dominant force for the Chiefs’ defensive line – the veteran got around Ben Watson and Joe Thomas a couple of times and led his team with two sacks.  Other than that, there were not many negatives for the offensive line.   The group allowed two running backs to have decent days; along with opening holes near the goal line.  This offensive line was able to bounce back after a slow start; things will not get easier over the next few weeks but it’s comforting to know they can make the necessary in-game adjustments.

Defense:  It may have taken two quarters and a few scores by the offense, but the defensive line did a fine job of putting pressure on Brady Quinn late in the game.  Ends Frostee Rucker, Jabaal Sheard, and Juqua Parker each came away with a sack of the opposing quarterback.  They are playing the way many were expecting they would – granted, it was not against a tremendous opponent, but they made the most of their opportunities.  The same could not be said against the rush however.  Surrendering an opening-play eighty-yard touchdown run by Jamaal Charles, and the defense’s spirit was destroyed.  Fortunately, the Browns were able to regroup and shut out the visitors, but Charles continued to compile his statistics.  The veteran had 165 yards on the ground and could have had more carries, if the game was closer.  The Browns’s defense must clean this up and play better against the run in the coming weeks.  They will face solid athletes and not shutting them down could lead to the end of their winning streak.

The linebackers for the Browns played rather well on Sunday.  Veterans D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson each totaled seven tackles and seemed to always be around the football.  (Robertson added a few stops on special teams as well).  Additionally, Kaluka Maiava and James-Michael Johnson did not disappoint either.  Maiava was in on a sack and Johnson finished the contest with four tackles – depth has been key at this position group.  Limiting tight end Tony Moeaki to just one catch and ten yards was the one of the highlights for the linebackers.  The opponent has been dependable this year, but the Browns were able to blanket the veteran all game long.

Joe Haden had four tackles for the Browns – the veteran did not have a great game and allowed a couple of longer receptions.  Fortunately though, he contained Dwayne Bowe; the star only had one long gain on Sunday.  Sheldon Brown did not record a tackle for the team but was able to bat a pass upward leading to an interception.  This recipient was Tashaun Gipson, an undrafted rookie – his twenty-three yard return paved the way for a field goal.  T.J. Ward was in on four tackles for the defense, he was also able to get a key pass deflection around the goal line.  The fact that the team held the Chiefs to a field goal opportunity (in that series) was huge for the defense.  The game may have been completely different if the ball had bounced a different way.  Nonetheless, the secondary was not very active on Sunday – simply because they were rarely tested.

Special Teams:  Well, special teams did not single-handedly win the game for the Browns, but it helped them garner their sizeable margin of victory.  Ryan Succop’s miss on a short (twenty-seven yard) attempt was huge – he could have made it 10-0 at one point for the visitors.  Travis Benjamin’s punt return for a touchdown was a game changer; the ninety-three yarder gave the home team a lead, which was not relinquished.  I though Reggie Hodges had a decent game; once again he was out-kicked by his counterpart, but Dustin Colquitt did not dominate either.

Coaching:   The Browns’ run-pass balance was relatively fair in this contest.  The staff handed the ball off to a pair of backs (and two receivers), employed the wildcat, and Brandon Weeden tossed thirty passes.  I liked the out routes and quick slants – the team was able to move the football and get themselves out of tough situations.   Again, when you win a contest by twenty-three points, it’s hard to criticize the team’s play calling; Shurmur and Jauron did fine jobs of putting the offense and defense, respectively, in the best situation for success.  This is all fans can ask for; the team dominated and are now on a three-game winning streak!

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2012 in NFL Season