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Monthly Archives: October 2013

Ravens @ Browns – Preview of Game #9

Game #9 – Ravens @ Browns Preview

Another opportunity awaits the Browns to win a game in the division.  The home team still has not defeated Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh – there is a chance that this could occur on Sunday, however.  Jason Campbell has given the offense new life, and the defense turned the corner late last week.  Everything will likely have to go right to score the upset; this includes avoiding careless penalties and costly turnovers.  I firmly believe a victory is possible, although history does not dictate that.  Harbaugh is undefeated in contests following his team’s bye week (including double-digit victories every year).  Another tall order, but assuming they continue to progress, I will not count out the Cleveland Browns.

Offense:  My opinion of the Browns’ offense improved after last week’s outing.  Jason Campbell played a solid game against a tenacious Chiefs’ defense on the road.  I look forward to the signal caller making quick reads, delivering spot-on strikes, and avoiding mind-numbing turnovers.  The Ravens, coming off a bye, have lost three of their previous four contests.  If Campbell can be marginally better Ben Roethlisberger’s numbers two weeks ago against the Ravens (seventeen of twenty-three for 160 yards and a touchdown), then I will feel confident about the offense.    This will likely be another low scoring game, so two touchdowns, like last week, could be enough to get the “W”.  I expect Campbell to make several nice plays here and there while reducing his errors; other aspects of the team and whether they execute will determine this game.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Ravens nearly surrendered 100 yards on the ground to rookie Le’Veon Bell – on just nineteen carries.  I am not figuring that Willis McGahee and Chris Ogbonnaya will run wild over the defenders, but a four yards-per-carry pace would be sufficient (for me).  A touchdown by either of this duo would not be surprising as well, as both have found the end zone.  The Browns showed last week that they will pass to set up the run; that includes dump offs to Ogbonnaya and Fozzy Whittaker out of the backfield.  If the athletes can catch these, defenders will back off and space between the tackles would be created for the running backs.  Something missing when Weeden was under center – among many things – is the ability of the quarterback to scramble.  Campbell’s scurries keep defenders honest and prevent double teams and athletes from clogging running lanes.

Josh Gordon was suspended during the last time the Browns faced the Ravens, and the offense was rather pathetic.  His insertion into the lineup has made the group a respectable one, and I envision the wide receiver to keep up his solid play.  Ladarius Webb and Corey Graham are very good defenders, but they will likely only limit the combination of Greg Little and Davone Bess (assuming they don’t shut themselves down).  Perhaps this is the week where Fozzy Whittaker gets more opportunities from the slot position; the shifty runner has shown an ability to secure passes.  Obviously, Jordan Cameron will be targeted early and often – he may not have a spectacular grab like the one in Arrowhead on Sunday, but I like the rapport he and Campbell developed in their first game together.  In goal-line situations, the tight end is a dependable option for six points.

The Ravens took down the opposing quarterback three times in their last contest – the offensive line will have another difficult challenge but Campbell should be kept clean.  Once again the home squad will have to prevent Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Courtney Upshaw (to name a few) from blowing by them and making it difficult for the offense to operate.  When facing one-on-one matchups, both tackles did an adequate job last week; not having to employ a double-team would be huge for the passing attack.  Now playing at home, there is no excuse for anyone to be called for false start penalties, including veteran Joe Thomas.  Hopefully something clicks this week and the offense refuses to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties.  They currently have the second-most infractions in the league – last week it killed an opportunity for a score.  The team does not have a dynamic offense to overcome these regularly.

Defense:  Will this be the contest where reserve lineman Billy Winn returns to action?  It’s unlikely, but the healthy rotation at defensive ends could return – preventing tired legs late in the contest.  The Ravens will not dominate the time of possession battle the way the Chiefs did, but the Browns’ defense still has to do their part.  I worry about the third-down defense and their continued struggles at getting off the field.  If Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, and Desmond Bryant can keep a consistent push at the line of scrimmage, then the opportunities for the Ravens’ offense will diminish greatly.  The visiting team is coming off a performance where they only accrued eighty-two yards on the ground (among four rushers).  The defensive front should slow down Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, but as is the case with many contests preventing a rushing touchdown must be a priority.

I hope the resurgence of Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo last week carries over for the remainder of the season.  Joe Flacco is a slightly slower runner than Alex Smith, but he can still escape from the pocket.  As a result, I hope the near misses (from sacks) last week become takedowns this week at First Energy Stadium.  Ray Rice is a viable target out of the backfield, but he does not possess the type of speed as a back like Reggie Bush, Jamaal Charles, or Dexter McCluster.  Those rushers have torched the passing defense as of late, but hopefully Craig Robertson can keep up with the larger Rice.  With Dennis Pitta still sidelined, the duo of Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark has not been able to replicate that type of output.  Mingo got away with poor coverage last week; the coaching staff must figure out a good combination of defenders to mask the tight ends.

For the first time in a couple of weeks, the Browns will have to face more than one dependable wide receiver.  Joe Haden should give Torrey Smith all he can handle (once again), but Buster Skrine will have a difficult task covering the taller Jacoby Jones.  I would not be surprised to see the former Texan on the receiving end of a few lobs from their quarterback in an attempt for a big gain.  It’s all about the quarterback’s timing; the Browns must speed up Flacco’s decisions to reduce pressure on the cornerbacks.  Both T.J. Ward and Tashaun Gipson have been reliable in run support but have not been near the football in the passing game.  I would like to see this get back on track, as correcting this weakness can transform the Browns’ defense to one of the tops in the league.

Special Teams:  The season-ending ACL injury to Travis Benjamin puts Davone Bess squarely in the spotlight to perform.  There’s no denying that the wide receiver has been struggling in every facet of the game this year.  It appears that he is trying to do “too much” with the football before the play begins, thus leading to the athlete dropping the ball.  I believe Chris Tabor will sit down Bess and tell him to stick to the basics.  As far as the kicking and punting units go, Billy Cundiff outplayed Justin Tucker the last time these teams met; a game-winner would be great for the former Raven.  Dynamic returner Jacoby Jones will be active in this contest – the Browns will have to focus on tackling, as he has several returns for touchdowns.

Coaching:  The coaching staff has been doing a good job at getting multiple backs and receivers involved.  The game plan should be set up more for Fozzy Whittaker, as Benjamin’s services are no long available.  A more attacking offense will likely be present – the Ravens’ defense has not been as solid as last week’s opponent.  Defensively, Ray Horton will do an excellent job at calling rushes and blitzes (of the quarterback).  Pressure should come from both up the middle and from the edges; multiple athletes will make it hard on the opposing team’s passing game.

Prediction (My Record: 5 – 3):  This contest is a tough one to call; like many games in the NFL, I would not be surprised by a victory or loss by the Browns.  I got a feeling the home team rises up and ends three streaks on Sunday in a very emotional win – by the score of 24 – 20.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Browns @ Chiefs – Game #8 Review

Review of Game #8 – Browns @ Chiefs

The Browns were just a play away from winning this contest – unfortunately that failed play frequently centered around free agent acquisition Davone Bess.  There were multiple drops and a muffed punt from the former Dolphin, many of which occurred at inopportune times.  The defense had its issues early, while the offense and special teams couldn’t come up big when it mattered.  The Browns now head into a tough intra-division battle on a three-game losing streak – let’s look at what went down at Arrowhead Stadium.

Offense:  I thought Jason Campbell had a performance that could win several games in the NFL.  The signal caller completed twenty-two of thirty-six attempts for 293 yards and threw for a pair of scores.  Facing the defense with the most sacks in the NFL, Campbell was taken down only once.  I hope this type of performance can be duplicated on a weekly basis, but obviously that is a tall order.  The former Auburn star made quick decisions, avoided poor throws, and never appeared to be rattled.  His veteran presence is something that has been lacking in the huddle since Hoyer got injured.  With the running attack not being exceptional, the Browns will rely more on the passing game.  After witnessing this quarterback’s play, I am more confident in this aspect of the team than I have been these past few weeks.

After a miserable first two quarters, Willis McGahee put together a couple of nice runs in the second half.  The rusher finished with only twenty-eight yards, but he averaged 3.1 per attempt.  Chris Ogbonnaya was active in both the running and passing game; the fullback totaled twenty-seven yards on six touches.  Fozzy Whittaker managed just a pair of receptions, but the University of Texas alum also found the end zone in the third quarter.  This unit is performing up to their expectation level – the backs are far from dominant, but they can have success from time to time.  Fortunately the coaching staff put these guys in position to excel – the Browns strayed from obvious running situations and employed the run when the defense was not expecting it.

Not surprisingly, the two leaders (once again) in the receiving category were Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron.  The duo piled up 212 yards on nine grabs and a touchdown in the defeat.  Both had multiple amazing catches and showed why they should be targeted on a regular basis.  The less-than-stellar season continues for Davone Bess.  Besides the aforementioned poor mistakes, the wide out could only muster twenty-seven yards on three catches.  Additionally, Greg Little only caught one pass for eight yards – his best play may have been preventing a defender to secure an interception in the end zone.  This unit of the team will be overhauled in the offseason (outside of Cameron and Gordon – assuming they are not traded).  I anticipate both a free agent and a draft pick to be acquired and for them to be on the field in passing situations.

The offensive line did an excellent job at preventing Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, and Dontari Poe from getting to Campbell.  Unfortunately, Joe Thomas might have had one of his worst games in the NFL.  The six-time Pro Bowler was flagged for both false start and holding infractions in this contest.  Sometimes an offensive line is a lot like a referee – you don’t notice them until they make a mistake.  Both tackles made a couple of these, and Thomas’s holding penalty killed a potential scoring drive in the second half.  I felt the only two members who were solid were Alex Mack and Shawn Lauvao; the center and guard teamed up to keep pressure from coming up the middle.

Defense:  The part of the defense that transitioned the best during the course of the game was probably the defensive line.  Proof of that was in the play of Desmond Bryant; the end got flattened in the first half leading to a long Jamaal Charles run.  In the second half, Bryant was always around the ball and put three hits on Alex Smith.  I thought Phil Taylor put together one of his finest performances this season – the nose tackle made three stops, had a sack, and put a hit on the opposing quarterback.  Ahtyba Rubin also had a solid effort with two tackles – the guys upfront definitely improved from the last two weeks.  They held Charles to just seventy-four yards on the ground, but they also had issues when Alex Smith escaped the rush.  I hope this unit keeps it up, as they will face formidable running backs and quarterbacks tandems in the coming weeks.

In the continued theme of improvement, two guys who really picked up their play were Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo.   Each outside linebacker notched a sack (of Alex Smith) – something that has not occurred for some time.  Kruger finished the game with a pair of tackles, while Mingo only had one stop – but both came off the edge well and force action inside.  Craig Robertson surrendered only a couple of receptions by the opponent in this contest.  The coaches understood he has been a liability in coverage and let someone else guard Dexter McCluster – this worked out well for the pass defense.  Robinson totaled eleven tackles, a sack, and a quarterback hit – I am very pleased to see this type of resolve.  D’Qwell had an extremely quiet, yet productive, game from his inside linebacker spot.  The University of Maryland athlete acquired eight tackles, a hit on Alex Smith, and a sack – but never made a signature play.  Perhaps the other defenders played exceptionally to divert my attention; regardless I anticipate this to happen on an almost regular basis.

For the first time in a couple of games, the Browns’ secondary defended well.  Joe Haden shut down Dwayne Bowe (en route to a day that included three tackles and two tremendous deflections) and had very few flaws in his performance.  His near interception early could have been a game changer.  Buster Skrine also played well, the cornerback got beat a couple of times but the opponent failed to execute.  The former Tennessee-Chattanooga star is putting together a nice 2013 campaign.  The wide out (for the Chiefs) with the best stats ended up to be Donnie Avery – who only garnered three grabs and thirty-one yards.  Both safeties were brilliant in stopping the run once again.  Tashaun Gipson and T.J. Ward tallied a combined nineteen tackles, a sack, and a quarterback hit.  These guys have not gotten an opportunity to collect an interception as of late – but that may come before too long.

Special Teams:  Outside of the muffed punt, the special teams were fairly solid for the Browns.  Billy Cundiff and Spencer Lanning did their jobs well, and the coverage units make tackles downfield.  Following a great defensive stop, it is extremely deflating for the defense to go back on the field after a turnover.  This alone tilted the scales in the home team’s favor and put the Browns at a huge disadvantage.  Now both punt returners have muffed a punt this season; it will be interesting to see how the coaching staff handles this duty going forward (especially following the Travis Benjamin knee sprain).

Coaching:  Better play usually yields a favorable opinion on the coaching staff; I thought the offensive game plan was great for Campbell and the offense.  There was a masterful combination of shorter and longer throws, with a mix in of running plays and trickery.  This week, Ray Horton stated his defense would be more aggressive and it proved to be true.  The second half featured sacks and pressure on Alex Smith; the defense finished with six takedowns of the signal caller.  They also only allowed three points in the second half – hopefully Horton can see what occurred after halftime and duplicates that game plan.

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Browns @ Chiefs – Preview of Game #8

Preview of Game #8 – Browns @ Chiefs

Following a pair of defeats, the Browns head west to face the 7 – 0 Kansas City Chiefs.  A new head coach and quarterback helped transform this franchise from the league’s worst to one of the best in one season.  The home team’s defense has been tremendously consistent, and the offense has been both balanced and efficient.  This is another contest where all three phases of the team must play flawlessly if the Browns want to score the upset.  It is highly unlikely, but anything can still happen in the NFL.

Offense:  With the inconsistent and horrid play, my faith in in the quarterback position has been greatly diminished over the past few weeks.  I could try to find solace in the fact that Case Keenum (in his first ever NFL start) had 271 passing yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs last week.  However, there are usually positive signs I can find on a weekly basis that give me hope that the quarterback for the Browns can have a good day – but usually that does not occur.  The home team has been racking up sacks; they have thirty-five so far (an average of five per contest).  Their defense is also ranked third in yards allowed through the air; I anticipate another rough outing for the Browns’ passing attack.  Perhaps the change at quarterback will bring better results, but I have my reservations.  Over 250 yards and zero interceptions is the best-case scenario for Jason Campbell; however I would not be surprised by a couple turnovers and under 200 yards.

Although they are ranked sixteenth in rushing yards allowed per game, the clamps will be out for Willis McGahee and Chris Ogbonnaya.  Tamba Hali has rejuvenated his career, after a couple of disappointing seasons – while the same could be said for Derrick Johnson and Dontari Poe.  That being said, the Browns will probably limit the opportunities (once again) for these guys to get stops on running plays.  I think McGahee can pick up third down conversions when they are perceived to be easy (two yards or less) – this was on display last week.  In the passing game, Ogbonnaya must shake off his drops from last week and expect a couple tosses his way.  I want to see a couple of plays that can move the sticks, not an unrealistic hope for a game-breaking touchdown.

It’s hard to gauge the psyche of the wide receivers of the visiting squad; there has been demotion, talks of trade, dropped passes, and visible signs of frustration on the field.  Greg Little has been playing better as of late – I do not see a future with this team for the athlete, but he can still contribute in games.  Josh Gordon had a miserable outing last game and admitted the trade rumors are still on his mind.  There are really only two options the coaching staff and front office have with this.  They can tell the star (directly) he will not be traded and tell him to go out and execute, or they can simply trade him immediately and give him a fresh start.  Davone Bess’s play has weakened in the past few weeks; perhaps a couple early short throws will instill confidence.  Knowing that the quarterback may have a shaky game should not be an excuse to give less than 100% effort all the time – they must follow in the footsteps of Jordan Cameron and continue to perform despite multiple distractions.

The sacks by the home team come from all three levels of their defense; as a result, the Browns’ offensive line must be on the lookout from pressure from all directions by multiple players.  Fortunately, the Packers beat none of the five badly or regularly.  It may take two defenders filling the same gap to get by the offensive linemen.  Shawn Lauvao has not been exceptional since returning from injury, but hopefully he can continue to improve as the season progresses.  The only issues the tackles have been incurring is being penalized; both Thomas and Schwartz must work hard to curb these mental lapses.  Arrowhead Stadium will be loud and rocking, as always, so good communication is imperative for the offense to have any success.

Defense:  This is a game where the defensive line needs to get back on track; the Chiefs feature a running attack that includes multiple players.  Both Jamaal Charles and Dexter McCluster are speedy backs that can blow by defenders in open space.  Throw in the shiftiness of Alex Smith, and the front of the Browns’ defense must be on the lookout of guys carrying the ball.  Phil Taylor has been holding his own, up the middle, but is a ways from dominant.  Both Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant have had their moments stuffing the run this year, but the duo has been inconsistent as of late.  While Billy Winn has missed time with a leg injury, John Hughes has stepped up – however a healthier roster is always a good thing.  I think the defense rises up and limits Charles and the running game in terms of yardage, but the back will still find the end zone.

I am pulling for Quentin Groves to come back close to full strength in this contest.  The outside linebacker rotation has been forced to alter itself, and players have suffered as a result.  Paul Kruger must get back into the swing of things and notch a sack or two – I believe this will galvanize the entire defense going forward.  Barkevious Mingo has not been performing to his capabilities, but perhaps lining up over rookie Eric Fisher (who has also struggled) will give him opportunities to make plays.  Ray Horton will likely change up coverage schemes in the middle of his defense, as Craig Robertson could use help from the safeties on tight ends and running backs.  Injuries have decimated the Chiefs’ tight end position however, and veteran Anthony Fasano may be the only obstacle for the inside linebackers.

Unlike a few of the opponents the Browns have played this season, the home team’s passing game is spread around to multiple targets as opposed to one guy like Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green.  Joe Haden will likely cover Dwayne Bowe, which should be a good matchup but fans of the visiting team expect the cornerback to win that battle.  Donnie Avery has had some excellent games this year; he is quick and can breeze by defenders.  I expect him to put up some good numbers against the tandem of Buster Skrine and Chris Owens.  Last week, Bowe had a catch for twenty-one yards, but none of the other wide outs registered a catch that long.  The home team’s home run hitter is McCluster; the Browns may want to alter their coverage when the back is in the slot or goes in motion.

Special Teams:  Although Fozzy Whittaker had a few nice kickoff returns last week; I would like to see Travis Benjamin get some opportunities as well.  He has shown an ability to return punts exceptionally, and kickoffs provide him with more time to find lanes to run through.  The rest of the special team units are reliable; the Browns must eliminate penalties in these situations however.  One main issue is returner Dexter McCluster; the Chief continues to be one of the best and has found the end zone multiple times when returning kicks.

Coaching:  The Browns’ coaches must get this team better prepared than they did in the prior outing.  It is a hostile environment, and the offense will have difficulty hearing play calls.  Defensively, there are a lot of options to defend – hopefully the scouting department figures out the best way to stop Alex Smith and the offense.  No matter what types of offensive and defensive schemes are employed, the visitors must limit their infractions.

Prediction (My Record: 4 – 3):  Unfortunately, I see this outing as one similar to the Packers game.  The Browns will fall behind (due to mistakes and turnovers), attempt to comeback in the second half, only fall short late.  The Chiefs remain unbeaten and win by the score of 24 – 13.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Browns @ Packers – Game #7 Review

Game #7 Review – Browns @ Packers

It was yet another brutal game for the Cleveland Browns and their fans.  The offense couldn’t move the ball (until the Packers’ played a prevent defense), the defense easily yielded yards via the air and the ground, and the special teams only prospered (slightly) with the aide of some penalties.  There were few, if any, positives that came out of this contest – the anguish and frustration continues to mount for this fan base.  Let’s review what the Browns failed to accomplish at Lambeau Field to see why things are not looking up for this franchise.

Offense:  Status quo for signal caller Brandon Weeden; the Oklahoma State product had another miserable outing on Sunday.  He finished the contest completing just seventeen of forty-two passes for 149 yards, a late touchdown, and an interception.  In no circumstance will this type of performance be able to win games in the NFL.  Weeden could not see wide-open targets downfield and over/underthrew several tosses as well.  Inaccuracy, poor timing, and slow decision making was the theme of this contest (and has largely been in all of 2013).  I would not be surprised to see Jason Campbell under center in the near future; it has come to a point where the team has to find another answer at quarterback.  I do not have faith the team can win any games with Weeden under center (except against a dreadful team).

The running game for the visiting squad performed admirably once again; the unit amassed eighty-three yards on twenty-three carries (for a 3.6 yards-per-carry average).  Willis McGahee had a couple tough runs but finished with just thirty-nine yards on eleven totes.  Chris Ogbonnaya mustered fifteen yards on the ground; this position is expected to just play average and they certainly are not exceeding this.  The Browns will find a replacement as the 2014 starter, but until that happens fans will continue to see two and three yard runs.  I have confidence in the running backs when this team is in the red zone, as McGahee can move the pile and Ogbonnaya excels at catching and running.  However, the Browns did not find themselves in this situation until it was too late against the Packers.

Granted the quarterback play was subpar, but the wide receivers were doing very little to help the offense.  Josh Gordon slipped (and fell) multiple times and also dropped a few passes.  The supposed best wide out on the roster had only a pair of catches for twenty-one yards.  Davone Bess dropped a couple of passes as well; the slot receiver came away with eleven yards on two grabs.  Greg Little had a mediocre outing and that was good enough for second-best against the Packers.  The North Carolina athlete hauled in four passes for forty-nine yards; it is nothing astonishing, but perhaps he is steadily improving.  Once again, the best Browns’ receiver was tight end Jordan Cameron.  He made some magnificent, sideline catches and scored the team’s only touchdown.  The dependability and sure handedness of the tight end should merit more targets from the signal caller – perhaps this will improve the offense.  However, that has not been the case and the unit continues to struggle.

The five guys upfront had a sporadic performance; the offensive line got beat a few times but also held off pressure.  Joe Thomas got another false start penalty, while Mitch Schwartz accrued a holding call.  Weeden took three sacks; some of that was due to the line not pushing back defenders and others was the quarterback holding onto the ball too long.  Overall, this group will likely not be the reason why the team wins or loses – however if they (magically) get solid quarterback play, then the offensive line must do their part to permit him to toss the ball all over the field.

Defense:  Eddie Lacy was held to less than 100 yards, but he made the Browns’ defense look foolish in the second quarter.  The Alabama running back carried defenders several times down the field and found the end zone to cap off the drive.  The two leading tacklers on the defensive line were reserves John Hughes and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen.  While the pair had solid outings, I am less than enthused at the trio of starting linemen.  These guys totaled just six tackles and a hit on Aaron Rodgers.  Desmond Bryant’s most memorable play was the holding penalty he drew on the Packers’ offensive tackle.  I am uncertain of what is occurring, but the guys upfront are not playing as well as they have been earlier in the season.

Mobile quarterbacks who release the football quickly can make pass rushers look average.  Rodgers was pressured almost every passing play and was able to escape unscathed with his athleticism and vision.  Paul Kruger had the best game by an outside linebacker; the veteran had three stops, a hit on the quarterback, and shared the team’s only sack with Chris Owens.  Barkevious Mingo and Jabaal Sheard were largely invisible and could not disrupt the home team.  Two combined tackles is not going to cut it for guys expected to be impactful on both passing and running plays.  Craig Robertson accumulated five tackles but struggled in coverage yet again (as Jermichael Finley had five catches for seventy-two yards and a touchdown).  D’Qwell Jackson was far from dominant and looked pedestrian at Lambeau Field – the linebacker corps set the tone for the entire meager play of the defense.

Outside of a perfect touchdown throw, Joe Haden did a good job of limiting Jordy Nelson.  The de facto number one wide receiver never had a long gainer, but his threat allowed others to prosper.  Jarrett Boykin had 103 receiving yards and a touchdown on a game-high eight catches on Sunday.  The combination of Chris Owens and Buster Skrine could not lock down the young target, and he got his first NFL touchdown as a result.  The safeties were not impactful as well – the duo did have a combined twenty tackles, but a majority of them were downfield after the Packers’ offense flexed their muscles.  Tashaun Gipson’s biggest play was a legal (in my opinion) hit that injured Finley.  I understand they faced one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but the defenders could not do anything to make it hard for the signal caller.  This was just another example of frustration exhibited by the visiting franchise.

Special Teams:  The Browns benefitted from a roughing the kicker call and executed a fake punt attempt.  Additionally, Billy Cundiff was perfect on field goals and Travis Benjamin nearly had a kickoff return for a touchdown.  There were several positives that came with special teams in this game.  The Browns recovered an onside kick twice, but were penalized on both plays – giving the ball to the home team.  There was little to complain about, but without good play on offense and defense its impact is minimal.

Coaching:  This was another outing where the coaching staff underwhelmed me.  The team committed twelve penalties and seemed to be ill prepared.  On the offensive side of the ball, Chud and Turner permitted Weeden to let it rip.  I understand they were down early but more rushes could have been attempted.  Both the run and pass gashed the defense – I do not think Ray Horton could have done much to slow down their opponent, however.  It was a forgettable game and I hope the team has a short memory before they face another difficult task next Sunday.

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Browns @ Packers – Preview of Game #7

Game #7 Preview – Browns @ Packers

For the first time in eight years, the Browns travel to Lambeau Field to do battle in the regular season.  Much has changed since then, but they will be looking to replicate the type of game that Trent Dilfer and Braylon Edwards put together to beat the home team.  The Packers are coming off a pair of outstanding games against the Lions and Ravens, while the Browns had a horrendous second half last week.  This could be viewed as one of the most difficult contests in 2013 and the Browns will have their hands full; it will be up to the locker room to block out the negatives and pull out an unlikely victory.

Offense:  I do not envision a scenario where Brandon Weeden has a stellar outing against the Packers.  The quarterback has been decent at times (or in “spurts” as Chud labeled it), but multiple mistakes seem to plague him routinely.  Like several defenses in the NFL, the home team can be thrown upon fairly easily; i.e. Joe Flacco tossed thirty-four passes for 342 yards and a pair of scores last week.  However, the defenders also sacked the Ravens’ quarterback five times – there’s no reason to believe this won’t continue at Lambeau.  Weeden has not been able to handle pressure, as evident by taking sacks and turning the football over.  I hope Chud and Turner employ shorter routes and three-step drops on third downs, so the quarterback can get the ball out quickly.  After it’s all said and done, I expect a performance similarly to that of last week.  This includes a few touchdowns, some sacks taken, and a toss to the opponent (I would bet against a second pick, however).

Situations did not dictate it, and the Browns strayed from running the football late in the game against the Lions.  I hope that does not happen again, because both Willis McGahee and Chris Ogbonnaya have shown an ability to find a crease in the defense and take advantage.  Ray Rice was limited to thirty-four yards against the Packers last week, and it will be a tough task to outperform one of the best running backs in the league.  Yards will not be plentiful for any of the backs, but the coaches can still use the running attack to set up scores – whether it is by touchdown or field goal.  In the receiving game, the delayed out route to Ogbonnaya in the red zone has been successful, to the tune of two touchdowns.  If the Browns want any shot in this game, they will need a wildcard like this to go in their favor.

Assuming Weeden is able to, the Browns are in prime position to spread the football around in the passing game.  Micah Hyde, Sam Shields, and M.D. Jennings permitted the Ravens to get the ball to six different athletes multiple times.  I have no doubt that Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron will perform to their capabilities, but it will be up to Greg Little, Travis Benjamin, and Davone Bess to pull their weight.  At this point, Greg Little appears to be a possession receiver.  Having said that, I would like him to run routes where he can find an opening in the defense and wait for the football.  This could lead to first downs and a change in coverage.  Gadget plays seem to be the only times Benjamin gets the ball on offense; I am certain the staff will come up with a couple this week, and I expect them to work.  After garnering some first down conversions earlier in the season, Davone Bess has been a bit of a disappointment.  A bounce back game would be welcomed, as the defenders will probably not give the former Dolphin much consideration in their game plan.

Even without the services of Nick Perry and Clay Matthews, the defensive front for the home team will be relentless.  The guys upfront must prevent blitzes from A.J. Hawk, Micah Hyde, and others from becoming huge losses for the offense.  Pressure will more than likely come from up the middle, so Alex Mack, John Greco, and Shawn Lauvao will have their hands full.  Due to the quarterback’s tendency to hold onto the football a little while, I see at least two or three sacks taken by the visitors.  The offensive line will not be blocking for a 100-yard runner, but if they can initially push back defenders on running plays, then that part of the offense will be considered satisfactory (at the very least).

Defense:  Coming off an underwhelming performance, the defensive line must focus on winning at the point of attack.  The three guys upfront were far from dominant and could not stop plays before they developed.  Now they are facing a team with a rookie rusher who is fresh off a 120-yard performance on twenty-three carries.  The Browns must find a way to slow him down when the ball is in his hands.  Another thing to watch for is the pocket presence of Aaron Rodgers – he is not extremely fast, but the quarterback can pick up several yards while running from defenders.  The Browns allowed a huge third down conversion on a Matt Stafford scramble last week; this defense cannot afford for this to happen again.  Desmond Bryant has provided the most pressure upfront when defending the pass; I look for this to be case again.  If he can blow by the offensive line, then he may incur double-teams, which will yield opportunities for other defenders to make a play.

Getting Jabaal Sheard back from injury could be huge for the linebacker unit.  Paul Kruger has been playing nearly every snap, and his performance has suffered as a result (just one sack this season).  A healthy four-man rotation could work wonders, and I expect this group to get at least a pair of takedowns.  Having a fresh duo among Sheard, Kruger, Mingo, and Groves will cause the pocket to collapse from the outside (on passing plays).  There is no Reggie Bush on the Packers’ roster, but the home squad still has Eddie Lacy and Jermichael Finley as dependable receiving options.  Craig Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson must improve in coverage, as they will be counted upon in a lot of plays and cannot afford to be the weak link of the defense.

It will be up to Joe Haden to mirror Jordy Nelson on Sunday; the former Kansas State star had four grabs for 113 yards and a touchdown against the Ravens.  If the cornerback can limit the receiver, then the Browns will have a shot at the upset.  Buster Skrine and Chris Owens have had issues covering second and third wide outs in 2013.  Depending on James Jones’ status, there’s a chance that Jarrett Boykin could be the next man up for the Packers.  He is a speedster who Skrine should be able to keep pace with, however he is giving up a couple of inches to the receiver.  I want to see both safeties be a bit more reliable in pass coverage; T.J. Ward and Tashaun Gipson have shown an ability to make tackles and secure interceptions.  However, they have been shamed by a few quarterbacks’ throws as well – if this continues, it will be a long day for the visitors.

Special Teams:  Status quo will likely be on display in both the kicking and punting games, and both teams will probably be identical in these categories.  Tandon Doss came up with a thirty-eight yard punt return against the Packers last Sunday; if the Browns can pin the opponent deep in their own territory, I look for Travis Benjamin to get a shot at some long punt returns.  This is another contest where the visitors can win the battle of special teams, but they must get it done on the field.

Coaching:  The coaches will be incredibly challenged to figure out the best way to win.  Although the opponent has sustained injuries to wide outs, Aaron Rodgers can still find open targets.  Offensively, some first and second-string linebackers will not be on the field for the Packers.  Will the Browns employ more crossing routes and design plays up the middle?  Correctly answering these questions are vital for success on Sunday.

Prediction (My Record: 3-3):  I can see the Browns playing hard and having some achievements in this contest.  The visitors will keep it close for a majority of the game – only to witness a backbreaking play by Rodgers and the home team’s passing offense.  The Packers win this one by the score of 31 – 20.

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Game #6 Review – Lions @ Browns

Lions @ Browns – Game #6 Review

It was a tale of two halves on Sunday – the Browns played well in the first two quarters but not so much after halftime.  The home team was plagued by poor officiating, an inability to pressure Matt Stafford, and costly mistakes on offense.  The all-around frustrating game was one that Browns’ fans have been used to; the Lions adjusted well to the Browns during halftime, and the same could not be said the other way.  The Browns now go on the road for two very difficult battles – but let’s first look back at the defeat they incurred yesterday.

Offense:  In order to be a franchise quarterback, one must possess a couple of qualities.  A few of these are resiliency, smart decision-making, and leadership.  As is stands, Brandon Weeden does not have any of those traits.  Once the signal caller gets into trouble, he has difficulty letting go of his interceptions and bad plays.  Weeden made a terrible throw down the sideline in the first half and made one of the worst throws I have ever seen.  His attempt at a shovel pass to go out of bounds was caught by the Lions and killed a good drive.  The guy behind the center finished with 292 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns, but it was more about the plays he could not make.  I was surprised the coaching staff put the game in the quarterback’s hands in the second half; the running game had its moments and should have been relied upon more.

Willis McGahee and Chris Ogbonnaya totaled sixty-one yards on just fifteen carries.  I thought the duo played hard on Sunday, given their limited roles.  Ogbonnaya also was on the receiving end of a touchdown pass from Weeden.  Again, I would have liked to see these guys employed a bit more after halftime, but obviously the coaching staff disagreed.  Hopefully, that will not be the case in future contests.  I liked seeing Travis Benjamin and MarQueis Gray get a crack at toting the football.  Both excelled and combined for fifty-five yards on a pair of rushes.  What has been frustrating is the smart “gadget plays” employed by Chud and Turner, while the coaches stray away from simple running plays.

Josh Gordon had an excellent game – the number one wide out collected seven receptions for 126 yards.  I enjoyed seeing first down throws to the Baylor star; he was able to catch, run, and move the sticks (with ease).  Following several quiet games, Greg Little found the end zone in this contest.  He only had two grabs, but it should have been three as his sideline grab was nullified – a play that appeared to be successful during the booth review.  Weeden could not get many targets involved, and players like Davone Bess and Jordan Cameron had diminished roles as a result.  The former had only two catches for twenty-one yards, while the latter had sixty-four receiving yards on five snares.  This offense has weapons and a potential to be very good, but the guy under center must do his part to make it work.

The insertion of Shawn Lauvao at right guard really helped the offensive line on Sunday.  They opened up holes for the running backs to sprint through, and they kept Weeden off of his back a majority of his forty-three passing attempts.  The trio up the middle (Alex Mack, John Greco, and Lauvao) held their own against a fierce tandem of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.  Granted the defensive line of the visitors was disruptive at times, but it definitely could have been worse.  Overall, it was a performance that puts the team in a spot to win – the guys behind these five simply did not execute.

Defense:  I was extremely disappointed with the defensive front seven for the home squad; the Lions’ offense was able to run and pass the ball without great resistance.  Reggie Bush and Joique Bell combined to eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark on twenty-four carries.  This was the worst performance by the run defense all season, and the Browns were not facing two of the best running backs in the league (either).  Poor play can be exemplified in the stats of nose tackle Phil Taylor.  The guy up the middle did not record even one tackle, and his only production was a quarterback hit.  The only two linemen who had decent outings were Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant.  Ten tackles and a hit on Stafford were the only positives for this group.  I hope Billy Winn can return next week and give this unit a boost – they will have something to prove following a subpar game.

The linebackers regressed in this matchup as well; I was looking forward to seeing a couple of sacks off the edge and abundance of early stops on running plays.  However, that was never the case and it seemed the outside defenders were always a step away from making an impact.  Barkevious Mingo only had three tackles, while Paul Kruger came away with just one stop.  Reserve linebacker Quentin Groves’ only contribution was a personal foul penalty on a late hit (which was another poor call, in my opinion).  In the inside, Craig Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson each had eight stops and the North Texas star collected the team’s only sack.  However, both struggled in coverage and tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria made big plays as a result.

The secondary had its issues as well against the Lions.  With a hobbled Calvin Johnson, Matt Stafford hit Kris Durham eight times for eighty-three yards.  No wide receiver found the end zone by the visiting team, but a few mistakes made by cornerbacks allowed the Lions to get in position to score.  This includes a couple of controversial pass interference calls against Joe Haden – paving the way for the first touchdown surrendered by the defense.  Buster Skrine and Chris Owens were beat several times in the passing game, but multiple drops saved the pair of cornerbacks.  Both safeties had up-and-down performances as well.  Tashaun Gipson collected the lone interception, had seven tackles, and a pass defended.  However, he was also passive in coverage and allowed the Lions to pitch and catch the football.  T.J. Ward allowed the final nail in the coffin (Fauria’s third touchdown) late in the contest.  However, the strong safety also had eleven stops (including one for a loss) and defended a pair of passes.

Special Teams:  The punting and kicking units for both squads were relatively even, but the same could not be said for the return games.  Travis Benjamin had negative ten yards while bringing back punts, while Michael Spurlock collected twenty-two yards in the same department.  This was not a huge deficiency for the home team, but winning the battle of special teams could have given them a better chance at victory.  However that was not the case, and the offense and defense did not help either.

Coaching:  Disappointment is the main description when mentioning the job of the Browns’ coaches.  The offense got manhandled in the second half, and the defense could not slow down Reggie Bush, Matt Stafford, and Joseph Fauria.  Nothing worked – the staff couldn’t nail down correct plays or formations for the players.  It was a huge step back from the Minnesota game a couple weeks ago, but one must also remember that great players tend to make coaches look smarter.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Lions @ Browns – Game #6 Preview

Preview of Lions @ Browns – Game #6

The Browns will attempt to win their fourth game in a row (and third at home) when they face the Lions on Sunday.  It will be another difficult task, no doubt, but if Weeden and the offense can get it going – then the home team will have a good chance to win.  The longer layoff will hopefully allow some members (i.e. Billy Winn and Shawn Lauvao) to heal, as well as garner additional practice time.  The Browns have succumbed to “rust” when given extra time to prepare for a contest (see regular season-opener record) as of late.  I hope the locker room understands this trend and ensures the group is fired up and ready to play.

Offense:  In what could be his final stretch of games as a member of the Cleveland Browns, Brandon Weeden is back behind center.  He is facing a decent Lions defense, who allowed 274 yards and a score through the air last week.  The stats indicate this defense can be thrown upon – it will be up to the signal caller to speed up his timing and be precise with his tosses.  I cannot find a practical scenario where Weeden looks off his receivers and scans the field to find targets on the opposite side of the field.  Perhaps the coaching staff “got to” the quarterback during the additional days of practice.  In the likely case that everything remains the same, Chud and Turner will restrict the signal caller and utilize other parts of the team to gain an advantage.  I envision just a passing touchdown or two and roughly 250 yards; that type of play can win this contest (assuming no turnovers occur).

Willis McGahee has increased his productivity every week (at the running back spot).  He has shown a tremendous ability to get added yards as games wear on, but the opponent has a very good defensive line – so yards will difficult again.  I enjoyed seeing McGahee continuing to get the ball after frequent two yard carries – the veteran was able to take advantage of a “softened up” defense.  He was also able to find the end zone in the second half; these types of plays are paramount for the offensive unit to thrive.  There’s a good chance that Chris Ogbonnaya will play in this game, after retuning from a concussion.  He will give another receiving option for the offense, one that was not present in the second half of last week’s game.  The home team’s running attack will be efficient once again, but they will not determine the outcome of this contest.

The collection of Rashean Mathis, Glover Quin, Louis Delmas, and Chris Houston comprise a secondary that does not instill a great deal of fear in opposing offenses.  Weeden has shown an ability to spread the football around to multiple wide outs, but they must also employ their “home run hitter” consistently.  Josh Gordon could have had two long touchdowns in his most recent contest – I want to see the offense tailored to longer ins and fades to the former Baylor star.  Giving me hope that these will be successful is the fact that the visiting squad surrendered an eighty-three yard passing touchdown against the Packers.  Following several tremendous games, Jordan Cameron could not connect with Weeden last Thursday.  The tight end is such a mismatch in coverage; the quarterback must be able to hit his target multiple times (including in the end zone).

The defensive front of the Lions only took down Aaron Rodgers once on Sunday; that group will probably sack Weeden a few more times this week, though.  Following these losses, the offense must be smart in reclaiming yards.  The Browns cannot afford to overcompensate by “going for it all”, and potentially yielding another sack or turnover.  I am a bit worried that Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley will have an opportunity to inflict pain on the signal caller, as there’s no doubt they will take advantage.  Shawn Lauvao will see ample playing time in this contest; I hope the guard can hold his own up the middle.  This must be the offensive line’s best performance (of the season) if the Browns want to secure the victory.

Defense:  The defensive front of the home squad has been among the best in the league this year; that being said, they face another difficult challenge on Sunday.  Reggie Bush has been outstanding – in both running and receiving the football.  There’s no doubt the priority of the Browns’ defensive is to key on the rusher from USC.  If Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, and Desmond Bryant (in addition to other second-teamers) can slow down the athlete, then the chances of winning will vastly improve.  I expect a few longer runs, but not one that will kill the defense.  Joique Bell will be limited in yardage, but he will be employed in goal line and red zone situations.  Preventing him to score puts even more pressure on Matt Stafford and the passing game.

This is an outing where Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger could get ample opportunities to be disruptive while defending the pass.  The Lions were sacked five times against the Packers, four of which came from linebackers.  I look for the Browns to replicate this, as they have been extremely consistent (even with the injuries sustained).  That goes for the duo inside as well – I have faith both D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson will stuff the run up the middle.  However, the pair of tight ends in Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler are dependable targets who can get open and move the chains.  Third downs will be huge in this contest, and the home team must eliminate the completion of short tosses past the first down sticks.

The health of Calvin Johnson looms large in this contest, as the (arguably) best wide out in the NFL missed last game with a knee injury.  His team’s passing offense suffered as a result, and the remaining wide outs totaled just nine grabs for ninety-three yards.  Both starting cornerbacks have been phenomenal as of late but if Johnson plays, then anticipate his usual output (including at least a touchdown).  The Georgia Tech standout will probably give it a go and put pressure on the secondary.  The Browns must step up as a result – the recent play of the safeties inspires optimism.  T.J. Ward is coming off a pick-six performance, while Tashaun Gipson nearly had two consecutive games with an interception.  Another key play by this duo would not surprise me.

Special Teams:  This is another contest where the home team has a good chance to win the battle of special teams.  I see a toss up between the punters and kickers, while all coverage units have been relatively solid.  Therefore, it may come down to the return teams – Travis Benjamin continues to be dominant in taking back punts, but kickoff returns have not gone well for the team.  Flipping the field a time or two on special teams will produce a successful outing for the Browns.

Coaching:  The coaching decisions made last week instilled all the confidence in the world in this staff.  These guys can get the most from their players and will look for the best way to generate first downs and ultimately points (hopefully via touchdowns).  Getting a lead early would help as well, as it takes pressure off the defense and allows them to attempt multiple rush and blitz attempts.  Forcing turnovers could be the difference between a win and a loss – Horton must do his best to put the secondary in spots to catch a pass or two when the front seven harasses Matt Stafford.

Prediction (My Record: 2 – 3):  This contest is another one that is tough to predict.  With so many talented athletes in the NFL, it is hard to say that one player can be a difference-maker.  However, that is how I feel about Calvin Johnson – he is beyond dynamic and can change the complexion of the game on any play.  I believe he is active and the away squad steals one, this one finishing at 27 – 20, although I hope I’m wrong (as I would love to celebrate another victory this week after learning of my nephew to-be!)

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2013 in NFL Season