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.