Cleveland Browns 2013 Regular Season Schedule – Analysis (Part Three)
Sunday, Nov. 3 vs. Baltimore Ravens, 4:25 p.m. ET
Breakdown: Hopefully the Browns are not overlooking their showdown against the Ravens, as the contest precedes their bye the following week. No doubt, this will be a physical contest – but the young roster will have time to heal up before traveling to another division foe. This matchup could prove how important free agency was this year; depth in the defensive front seven will allow for more rotations and “fresh” personnel late in contests. The Browns had their issues against Ray Rice and Bernard Scott last season; limiting this duo is a good start for a potential upset.
The overhaul of the Ravens defense could finally pay dividends at this point of the season – if the opponent can rely on their offense early, the new defensive athletes can get the proper time and experience to gel together. Elvis Dumervil must be accounted for; as a member of the Broncos last season, the linebacker accounted for eleven sacks. If Matt Elam can play well at safety in his rookie season, as well as Courtney Upshaw making the most of his opportunity at linebacker, it could be more of the same for the Cleveland Browns (which no fans want to hear).
Last year, whether it was the coach or player’s decision, there were rumors that Brandon Weeden was not willing to take chances in the passing game. The end result was five field goals, in a contest where they were defeated by just ten points. If the team would have found the end zone two or three times (instead), the entire complexion of the contest could have been different. It’s believed that Chud and Turner will allow their signal caller to take risks. With personnel turnover (including a defense without Ed Reed), I anticipate the offense being more successful in 2013.
Sunday, Nov. 10 BYE WEEK
Sunday, Nov. 17 at Cincinnati Bengals, 1:00 p.m. ET
Breakdown: Getting over the hump in the division is something the Browns hope to do in 2013; winning games like the one in week eleven is imperative for this to occur. Andy Dalton and his receiving threats have been the difference in the past two contests between the teams in Paul Brown Stadium. In 2012, four wide outs had over fifty yards receiving – including Brandon Tate, Armon Binns, A.J. Green, and Andrew Hawkins. Throw in a Tyler Eifert, and the Browns’ secondary will have to account for another playmaker. Will Leon McFadden be able to shut down a portion of the field? Can Buster Skrine, Chris Owens, or Tashaun Gipson be able to step up in coverage?
Trent Richardson had a tremendous outing last season in his first meeting against the Bengals. Eclipsing the one hundred yard mark on the ground, gaining nearly forty yards after catching the football, and garnering a pair of touchdowns highlighted his day. I hope the coaches can employ him more than the prior staff did (nineteen carries) – the former University of Alabama star has an ability to worry defenses. Additionally, I would like to see how the running back complements perform as well; Hardesty, Ogbonnaya, and Lewis could see opportunities to make a dynamic play or two out of the backfield (via rushing or receiving).
Perhaps the time off will have been good for the franchise – resting up and focusing on their remaining opponents. Last year, the Browns traveled to Arlington with a Joe Haden-less unit, and were a few pass interference penalties away from defeating the Cowboys in the game following their bye week (they then won their next three contests). Although the Browns are still rather young, I anticipate them being prepared for their final seven matchups. It will not be an easy task, but a break beforehand could be vital.
Sunday, Nov. 24 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1:00 p.m. ET
Breakdown: Unlike last season’s meeting, the opponent will (more than likely) have their starting quarterback on the field against the Browns. The home team took advantage of Charlie Batch last season, forcing eight turnovers (three interceptions and five fumbles lost). The game was not pretty but a 20 – 14 victory was the end result; if the Browns ever want to renew this rivalry with their neighbors to the east, consistently winning is paramount. Last year, the home team played old-school football – just twenty-six passing attempting and thirty-four rushes (this formula might be repeated again in 2013).
This will be a great test to determine how well the defense has improved from last year; the Steelers offense can (easily) score by the pass or run, all game long. The new additions in the defensive front must shed off their blocks and spend a fair amount of time in the offensive backfield. Additionally, Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo will face a tall, strong signal caller who will be tough to sack. Fortunately, Kruger has seen Ben Roethlisberger before (while playing in Baltimore), so hopefully he can share some wisdom with his younger teammates. Leon McFadden (and the young secondary) could come across issues as well. While the opponent can buy time on passing plays, the Browns’ secondary will have to stay with the wideouts for several seconds. There will be little margin for error by the secondary – multiple deep touchdowns have been surrendered against the Steelers over the past few seasons.
If the Browns cannot put the contest away, Roethlisberger has had a knack to pull out late wins in his nine-year career. Ideally, I would like to see the offense getting out in front and handing the ball off to Trent Richardson to seal the win. Any kind of win would be great though, whether it’s a 35 – 0 route or a 17 – 16 squeaker.
Sunday, Dec. 1 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 1:00 p.m. ET
Breakdown: On paper heading into the season, it appears that the Browns should defeat their opponent in the twelfth game of the season. Despite an injury-shortened season, Maurice Jones-Drew has had an excellent career up to this point; including three consecutive 1,300 yards + on the ground. The front seven will have their hands full against the run; throw in the fact that Luke Joeckel will be added to the Jaguars’ offensive line, and it could be tough sledding. The Browns must force their opponent to use the pass more than they want to.
Blaine Gabbert has failed to live up to his tenth overall draft selection status; the former University of Missouri star is coming off of campaigns with 50.8 and 58.3% completion percentages, twenty-one touchdowns, seventeen interceptions, and nine fumbles lost. His passing totals of 2,214 and 1,662 yards are not spectacular either – this might be his final season as a starter in the NFL if he fails to improve. Rookie Denard Robinson could help the passing game greatly – pairing him with second-year target Justin Blackmon gives their offense some viable options.
The Browns should employ a steady dose of rushing attempts this contest; the opponent is coming off a year ranked 30th in the league in rushing yards allowed and 31st in touchdowns surrendered on the ground. They did not make any significant moves in the draft or free agency to bolster their front seven either. However, the Jaguars’ front office did acquire five members who could play in the secondary – it will be interesting to see how they progress through their first twelve contests. I hope Davone Bess can teach the younger wide receivers ways to confuse rookie defenders; this was a part of the reason why many clamored for the team to sign a veteran receiver.
Recap: This stretch is obviously the most important part of the Browns’ schedule. They face all three division rivals and finish with a perceived less-than-great franchise. Victories are a must here, especially if they ever want to leave the cellar of the AFC North. I am pulling for a miraculous 4 – 0 run, but I do not think are going to win more than two here (but that is subject to change).