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!)