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Monthly Archives: November 2013

Jaguars @ Browns – Game #12 Preview

Preview of Game #12 – Jaguars @ Browns

Well this week’s game is not one of most exciting matchups in the NFL.  The Browns have been playing terribly as of late, while the Jaguars (although improving) are also putrid and boring.  I expect a turnover-filled contest without a ton of big plays or excitement.  If Brandon Weeden wants to pick up a win as a starter this season, then there’s no better opportunity than in Sunday’s matchup.  However, this opponent once looked like the worst team in league – but after two wins in their last three games, the Browns cannot afford to take their guests for granted.

Offense:  For the third time this season, Brandon Weeden is back in the saddle at quarterback.  There’s no denying this displeases the fan base and his mistakes have hurt the offense.  One silver lining from last week’s game was the rapport he had with Josh Gordon; Chud will likely devise his game plan around getting the ball to the top wide out frequently.  The Browns are facing a defense who limited Case Keenum to just 169 passing yards, an interception, and no touchdowns.  I would like to think the former first-round quarterback can surpass these totals, with the offensive weapons and experience he has gained.  That being said, Weeden will likely throw for around 250 yards, a pair of touchdowns, and an interception.  This type of performance can win this game – the signal caller cannot lose fumbles, however.

That type of error has recently plagued the running attack of the Browns.  Willis McGahee has had his touches reduced due to lack of production; the same might occur for Chris Ogbonnaya if he continues to turn it over.  The Jaguars are coming off a contest where they limited their opponent to just seventy-seven yards on twenty-one carries.  The Browns will likely stray away from running the ball once again (and who can blame them).  However, the off-tackle and stretch plays to Fozzy Whittaker should continue.  The smaller athlete could only muster a couple of yards on these last week; but an open seam, for just a second, could produce a long gain for the Texas athlete.  It will be interesting to see what the team does in the red zone.  They did not really have an opportunity last game, but they will this week.  Will they let a runner attempt to cross the goal line, or instead continue to heave it?

As mentioned, Josh Gordon is the one-trick pony for this offense, and the group should ride him to victory.  For whatever reason, it appears that Weeden can find the target downfield better than the other two signal callers (that have played this season).  Chud ought to call a few “home run” plays – I have faith the connection will occur.  With Dwayne Gratz, Mike Harris, and Johnathan Cyprien in the opposing secondary; there’s no reason why other offensive targets cannot get involved.  It’s well documented that Greg Little and Davone Bess have been extremely disappointing this year, though.  I really hope Little can get turn a fifteen-yard catch in into a fifty-yard play, or Bess convert a quick hitch into a twenty-yard reception; but I have little faith.  Now would be an excellent opportunity for Jordan Cameron to get back on track.  Garrett Graham, the Texans’ tight end, collected a team-high in receptions against the Jaguars.  Cameron will have plentiful opportunities to be a factor in this game.

What to make of the Cleveland Browns offensive line.  They have been porous in both running and passing play calls.  Backs cannot find holes, while the team is yielding the most sacks in the league.  One would think that this trend will continue, as the opponent took down Case Keenum twice last week.  The right side (clearly) has been the weak link, and Mitchell Schwartz needed help late in last week’s contest.  That will probably be needed again, as the opponent employs both Paul Posluszny and Geno Hayes in the pass rush.  This duo has been disruptive and the Browns cannot afford to lose yardage.  (Of course that is also dependent on Weeden’s release).

Defense:  The defensive line faces a good challenge on Sunday, with a consistent rusher in Maurice Jones-Drew.  He has been one of the best running backs over his eight year career, and even though his production is down in 2013 – the Browns must prepare.  The former UCLA star has five touchdowns and has one in each of his teams’ last three games.  What did in the Browns early last week was the no-huddle offense (when Phil Taylor was on the sidelines); the Jaguars are not expected to employ this.  The nose tackle must win the battle at the line of scrimmage, as Jones-Drew is a physical back who is not afraid of contact in the interior.  If Taylor succeeds, the whole line should limit the opponent, as Ahtyba Rubin has been impressive in many games this year.  The wildcards continue to be Desmond Bryant and Billy Winn – I would like to see one of these guys step up.

Chad Henne was taken down four times in his team’s most recent outing.  That once again gives me faith the Browns can do a number on the passer.  It all begins with the struggling linebackers on the outside, however.  Jabaal Sheard was the only one to even sniff the backfield against the Steelers; he will get at least one takedown this contest.  That leaves Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo – I anticipate the former will continue to be stout in the running game but not a force on passing plays.  The latter has become a huge question mark; he is due for a bounce back game and I am pulling for the rookie.  I don’t really need to mention the play of D’Qwell Jackson; he will be dependable in all aspects once again.  With Tank Carder’s availability in question, the Browns may be forced to go to Darius Eubanks again.  The Jaguars may try to exploit his coverage with tight end Mercedes Lewis; hopefully the defender can keep up.

Justin Blackmon’s suspension threw a huge wrench into the receiving group of the visiting squad.  Without a number-one target, several guys have stepped up – including Cecil Shorts and Ace Sanders.  These speedsters play similarly to Antonio Brown; the athlete who made Joe Haden look average in First Energy Stadium.  The cornerback will rebound, but how will others do?  Buster Skrine also had a tough game and now has bruised ribs, if he is unable to go Chris Owens (who has been up-and-down) will take his spot.  Jordan Poyer will likely assume the nickel back role; I still believe the secondary can do well regardless of who is opposite Haden.  With no dynamic wide outs, Jones-Drew will be a receiving threat.  Tashaun Gipson will likely help with the back, and he has the speed to prevent a big play.  However, he must wrap up as the big runner has been known to bowl over opponents.  I would like to see a blitz or two from T.J. Ward; he has been great near the line of scrimmage and breaking through the line will give Henne another thing to think about.

Special Teams:  The injury to Travis Benjamin still looms large in the diminished Browns’ punt return unit.  Outside of a tipped or blocked punt, this group has been unable to “flip the field”.  As long as the home team limits Ace Sanders, then fans will accept a push in this department.  The kicking matchup is interesting, as both guys missed an attempt the prior week.  Will the wind be a factor on Sunday?  Hopefully Billy Cundiff can practice his tries and pick up habits toward getting the ball between the goal posts.

Coaching:  Early on in this season, Ray Horton’s aggressive defense was the toast of the town.  Following a sack-less two-game stretch and fans are scratching their heads.  The defensive coordinator must generate a great pass rush and get all three outside linebackers involved.  Chad Henne is not mobile and does not scare anyone on this defense.  Offensively, the strategy should be simple.  The coaching staff must keep Brandon Weeden from losing this contest.  Maybe that means more running attempts or “safer” routes on passing plays.  The home team is more talented but turnovers are the great equalizer, and these must be forced and not surrendered.

Prediction (My Record: 6 – 5):  After predicting four consecutive games correctly, I have now been wrong on the last two.  This feels like a game the Browns should win easily, but that rarely is the case.  The Jags keep is close with Jones-Drew but the Browns’ defense is simply too much, and finally the team gets out of their funk – by the tune of 23 – 13.

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Posted by on November 27, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Review of Game #11 – Steelers @ Browns

Steelers @ Browns – Game #11 Review

This was a typical performance many Browns’ are accustomed to; poor, mistake-filled offense and a defense that allows too many big plays.  Tack on the fact that Jason Campbell could not finish the game, and it was another bad day for the franchise.  Early in the second quarter, the visitors took the lead; and it never appeared that the Browns could come back.  Any playoff possibility is now gone and many players will be proving whether they should remain on the roster in 2014.  They are once again in a familiar place in the AFC North – last.  Let’s take a look back and review the disappointing outing for the home team.

Offense:  Once again, the Browns had to use more than one quarterback against the Steelers, as the opponent took out (illegally, in the eyes of many) Jason Campbell.  Prior to the injury and fumble, the former Auburn signal caller completed an efficient fourteen of twenty-two throws, but for only 124 yards.  He did not throw a touchdown or interception, and was taken down twice during the contest.  Upon Weeden’s re-insertion to the lineup, the Browns had a small chance to win.  That evaporated to a zero percent chance following the quarterback’s interception (which was returned for a touchdown) and fumble.  Weeden could only connect on thirteen of his thirty tosses for 209 yards – he also found the end zone for the team’s only touchdown.

For the third contest in a row, a running back for the Browns put the ball on the ground.  Chris Ogbonnaya’s turnover really killed the momentum of the offense in the second quarter; this was at a point when the game was manageable (13 – 3).  Overall, the home team put up fifty-five rushing yards on sixteen attempts.  The unit continues to disappoint on the ground; either via getting stuffed or giving the ball to the other team.  In the receiving game, Ogbonnaya and Fozzy Whittaker combined for three receptions and twenty yards.  There’s no denying the team will acquire some rushers for next season, but for now the current group has got to make a play – a simple ten-yard run is not going to cut it.

What a performance by Josh Gordon; the only offensive weapon for the Browns had a franchise-best performance.  He finished the contest with fourteen grabs, 237 receiving yards, and a touchdown.  The wide out always seemed to be open – I wish this team had three or four guys like him on the team.  However, they do not and it showed.  Davone Bess and Greg Little posted seven catches for a meager forty-four yards.  Both had issues hauling in passes (especially Little) and were once again unimpressive.  Jordan Cameron had the second-most receiving yards with thirty-two – however, he was largely blanketed by defenders and could not make a big play.  If the coaching staff is going to employ short routes, they must utilize the tight end better.  He has shown a tremendous ability to catch and run with the football, it just takes accurate throws to get the athlete involved.

Mitchell Schwartz had yet another tough outing; on nearly every drop back, the right tackle had his issues.  Defender Jason Worilds appeared to be right around the quarterback as he blew by his opponent.  Joe Thomas held his own on the left side, but even he could not wall off his counterpart.  Along those lines, Shawn Lauvao allowed a sack by the guy occupying his gap.  Fortunately, John Greco and Alex Mack did not make any glaring mistakes – but the duo was far from dominant.  The offensive line rarely opened holes for guys to run and gave up five sacks during the contest.  This year has been rather disappointing for the guys upfront; changes will likely be coming unless some sort of miracle happens for this unit.

Defense:  Ahtyba Rubin was the only member of the defensive line who had a good game; the veteran collected six tackles and put a hit on the opposing signal caller.  Phil Taylor was invisible and did not even notch a single tackle.  Desmond Bryant and Billy Winn had adequate contests; they combined for six tackles and were never dominated by opponent.  For all their ills, the defense once again prevented a 100-yard rusher – they gave up a couple runs early but clamped down the remainder of the contest.  After being inactive a couple of weeks, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen returned to the lineup – and posted three tackles.  He is taking advantage of his situation and continues to show the depth of this part of the team.

I thought Paul Kruger put together a solid effort at outside linebacker; the veteran made some nice stops against the run and finished with five tackles.  The other two guys had embarrassing performances, however.  Jabaal Sheard whiffed on a sack attempt and had only one tackle; while, Barkevious Mingo did not have a single tackle and put just one hit on the quarterback.  This perceived strength of the team has been terrible the last two games, and the Browns have not notched a sack over that span.  In the inside, Tank Carder’s injury paved the way for Darius Eubanks to get some playing time.  The veteran had a decent game, with four stops and covered well in the passing game.  D’Qwell Jackson was reliable once again; the former Maryland star tied for the team-high in tackles with nine and defended a pass.  He continues to lead on defense, even when others around him do not excel.

Following one of his best games in the NFL, Joe Haden had a less-than-stellar performance on Sunday.  He allowed multiple receptions to Antiono Brown, including a forty-one yard touchdown.  It was rather disappointing and unexpected, but the veteran will bounce back – still, it was a tough pill to swallow on Sunday.  Buster Skrine and Chris Owens did little to stand out as well; the former was juked out early in the contest and each gave too much cushion to Steeler receivers.  The end result was a consistent routine of pitch and catch by the opposition.  I thought the safeties had pretty good games; Ward and Gipson had a combined sixteen tackles (two of which were for losses).  Overall the secondary had an up-and-down performance, but it was the big plays that really stood out.

Special Teams: Outside of a horrific Billy Cundiff shank, the special teams matchup was rather even.  Once again this was not the determining factor of the contest, and neither squad made a huge error in this facet.  Antonio Brown had a decent punt return (of fourteen yards), which set up a field goal for the visitors.  With Brandon Weeden the likely starter going forward, dominating the special teams battle might be the only way the Browns can win contests.

Coaching:  Some of this loss should go on the coaching staff; Chud and Turner continued to avoid going downfield, and the offense struggled.  However, this staff also noticed Josh Gordon was getting separation with ease and they continued to employ his talent.  The ratio of runs to passes was sixteen to fifty-two, obviously they could have attempted more runs, but lack of production will lead to avoidance.  The defense should have adjusted better to the opponent’s quick throws to the boundary, as the opposition was able to easily move the ball.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Game #11 Preview – Steelers @ Browns

Preview of Game #11 – Steelers @ Browns

The Browns must dust themselves off and get ready for another tough, divisional battle.  They now face their enemies to the east; who have won four of their last six games and are coming off an impressive victory over the Lions.  The Browns and Steelers split the season series last year – but prior to that, it has not gone the way many Browns fans wanted.  The background of coach Chud is one thing that gives me faith.  Raised as a Browns fan, he understands the rivalry and the importance of winning this matchup.  The same could not have been said about his predecessors, who treated it as “just another game”.  I anticipate the home squad’s coaching staff will pull out all the stops, hopefully they can make the right moves to score the win.

Offense:  There’s no denying that Jason Campbell must play better in this contest than he did in Cincinnati.  The signal caller threw three passes to the opposition; doing so against the Steelers is a recipe for disaster.  Their defense has always been opportunistic and that was the case last week.  They forced an interception and a pair of fumbles in the upset win at home against Detroit.  There have been rumblings that Jason Campbell was told to “rein it in” and reduce his runs and deeper throws.  The result was a dink and dunk offense that was largely ineffective; I hope Chud and Turner let the quarterback play without restrictions this week.  With all that being said, I anticipate better execution Sunday – it won’t be perfect but solid enough.  Campbell will hover around the 300-yard mark again with a couple of touchdowns and likely one interception.

Early in last week’s contest, the long gainer by Chris Ogbonnaya provided a sense of optimism around the Browns’ running game.  However, it was rather limited otherwise – similarly to many contests this year.  That will likely continue on Sunday but I would still like to see a couple of nice runs threaten the defense.  The veteran’s (McGahee) carries have been reduced these past couple of weeks, so Ogbonnaya and Fozzy Whittaker have to pick up the slack.  The Browns had a second-and-goal from the two last week and chose to throw the football twice – they clearly opt for the pass in the red zone.  Regardless of the number of touches, turnovers cannot happen amongst this group.  McGahee and Ogbonnaya have each put the ball on the ground during the past two games (and the team has suffered as a result).  I still envision running backs garnering a few receptions but, in an effort to go more downfield, increased passing attempts to wide receivers and tight ends will also occur.

Calvin Johnson had a field day last week against the Steelers’ defense; he hauled in six passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns.  Granted, he is the best wide out in the league, but I look for Josh Gordon to emulate this type of dominance on Sunday.  He should be able to find the end zone once again this week, and I also hope others step up to complement the athlete.  Greg Little and Davone Bess are huge question marks – it’s tough to predict whether this duo will be great or invisible against the Steelers.  I’ll take the easy way out and assume both will play average, a la three or four receptions and around fifty yards.  Jordan Cameron must come away with multiple big plays in this contest.  The tight end has been limited the last couple of games and is due for another break out.  At the very least, he should be in position for a touchdown grab (assuming the signal caller can find him).

Defenders were only able to take down Matt Stafford twice in Heinz Field; the threat of sacks (for the Browns) appears to be lessened from last week.  The offensive line should not take their opponent lightly, however.  But if they play up to their potential, Campbell should have little to worry about on drop backs.  Cameron Heyward and Ziggy Hood have been terrors on the outside, so Joe Thomas and Alex Mack must improve upon winning at the point of attack.  It’s no secret that Dick LeBeau sends multiple blitzes via his linebackers, and Jason Worilds and Lawrence Timmons are two guys who have excelled at getting pressure in 2013.  I hope the interior of the Browns’ offensive line continues to play strong – all four sacks taken last week came from the outside.  Alex Mack and the stable of guards will have a tough task, but I have faith they can get it done against an aging defense.

Defense:  The guys upfront have a tough task with limiting rookie running back Le’Veon Bell.  The dual-threat athlete has been improving significantly as of late, and the Browns should treat him like a Giovanni Bernard or Reggie Bush.  This refers to keeping the former Michigan State star between the tackles and reducing opportunities for a long run.  The three starters have been solid all year long, but the reserves are also warranting playing time.  Thus, Billy Winn and John Hughes should be on the field a fair amount of the time – usually crashing towards the middle of the field.  With the porous offensive line of the Steelers, I expect Phil Taylor or Desmond Bryant doing more than just moving the pile upfront.  These guys should be able to fly by the opponent and take down the opposing signal caller.  Doing this a few times would really throw a wrench into their offensive play calling; giving a huge advantage to the Browns.

The linebackers of the Browns are better than the Steelers’ previous opponent; this unit is a big reason why the visitors will not throw for four touchdowns and 367 at First Energy Stadium.  DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch are dependable veterans, but I would rather have Barkevious Mingo, Jabaal Sheard, and D’Qwell Jackson.  Having talented players means nothing if the guys don’t dominate, and Mingo and Paul Kruger have to improve on the outside.  Kruger has been stout against the run, while Mingo has found the backfield a couple of times on passing plays.  However, both have struggled in the opposing aspects – that has to change if this defense wants to be great.  Jackson has been all-around dependable, but the injury to Craig Robertson leaves a question mark at the other inside linebacker spot.  Tank Carder played admirably last week while filling in, but that may not be something the unit can routinely rely upon.

This week, Antonio Brown gets the misfortune of being blanketed by Joe Haden.  He is coming off a performance that included 147 receiving yards, seven grabs, and a pair of touchdowns.  Haden will have his hands full with the speedster, but there has been no reason to believe he cannot shut down the number one wide out.  Buster Skrine has really stepped up as the number two cornerback; leaving the major weakness at nickel cornerback (a.k.a. Chris Owens).  Will any of the trio of Jerricho Cotchery, Markus Wheaton, and Emmanuel Sanders make a huge play or two for the opposition?  I sure hope not but only time will (obviously) tell.  T.J. Ward and Tashaun Gipson will have to do a better job in coverage this week.  They not only have to defend the quick Bell but also have to keep the reliable tight end, Heath Miller, in check.  Simply deflecting passes would be an improvement in my book, as the duo has not been able to get their hands on the football as of late.

Special Teams:  After playing so well all season long, the special teams were an embarrassment in Cincinnati.  This group will definitely get back on track, and all aspects will be solid.  However, I see this matchup being a push – Shaun Suisham and Mat McBriar have played at the same level as their kicker and punter counterparts, respectively.  Once again, that leaves it up to the coverage units; the long return by Pac Man Jones was another blunder by the Browns against the Bengals.  I know there has been turnover at spots on special teams; but with practice, the new members should be able to limit Antonio Brown.

Coaching:  I know Chud really wants to win this game, but I fear his aggressiveness may get the better of him.  A fourth down attempt may go wrong, or a pass could get intercepted on a “gamble” (i.e. a gadget play).  However, this is a type of game where the Browns can overcome these – they have to play exceptionally though.  Ray Horton will continually harass Ben Roethlisberger via the pass rush and blitzes.  If other guys (not named Jabaal Sheard) can excel, then a victory is possible.  This is cemented by the improved effort of the secondary.

Prediction (My Record: 6 -4):  It will be a cold one, with a chance of snow, at First Energy Stadium this Sunday.  The game will be heavily reliant upon the running game more than the typical NFL contest – my faith lies in the Browns’ attack.  Also, the defense will make it miserable for Big Ben and the Steelers’ offense; the end result is a 20 – 17 victory for the Browns.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Brown @ Bengals – Game #10 Review

Game #10 Review – Browns @ Bengals

This game started out well for the visitors – a few interceptions, and a Joe Haden touchdown put the Browns up 13 – 0 after the first quarter.  Following that, however, was all-around horrible play.  The Browns surrendered thirty-one points in the second quarter and were never really in the contest after that.  It’s interesting to note that the Browns scored only in the first and third quarters, while the Bengals found pay dirt in the second and fourth periods.  The wind was a decided advantage, and when your team went against it, the offense struggled.  However, turnovers were the name of the game and (simply put) these caused the Browns to drop their fifteenth consecutive divisional game on the road.

Offense:  Jason Campbell was due for a poor outing; after two good starts, the quarterback made a multitude of mistakes at Paul Brown Stadium.  Among his poor statistics were the three interceptions tossed as well as the four sacks he surrendered.  Campbell completed twenty-seven of his fifty-six throws for 248 yards and a touchdown.  The signal caller did not seem as confident as he has been in previous outings, and the Browns’ offense could rarely get things going.  Twice the team was in the red zone and came away with only field goals – if Campbell could have made better throws during that time, the game may have gone differently.  Another issue with the quarterback was the continual choice to check down to shorter options instead of heaving it downfield.  Granted, the wide outs appeared to rarely get separation, but I would have liked to see some more shots towards Josh Gordon deep.

Chris Ogbonnaya had a tremendous run early in the contest, but otherwise the Browns’ running attack was once again limited.  He finished with a team-high sixty-nine yards on eight carries.  However, his fumble (which was returned for a touchdown) was crucial in the Browns’ demise.  I understand he is a smaller back, but ball security is paramount; and turning it over cannot happen.  Fozzie Whittaker and Willis McGahee combined for ten carries and a pedestrian thirty-three yards.  The receiving output was somewhat solid for the running backs; Ogbonnaya and Whittaker were active in helping out Campbell.  Fozzie hauled in five throws for forty-one yards, while Ogbonnaya accrued thirty receiving yards on six catches.

Like several contests this season, it was Josh Gordon and a bunch of other guys at wide receiver. The former Baylor star hauled in five passes for 125 yards and scored the team’s only offensive touchdown.  Of course more opportunities should have been given, but sometimes the defense dictates that.  Greg Little and Davone Bess combined for seven yards on a pair of receptions – the huge drop-off from last game was a detriment to the offense.  Again, I would not be surprised if each is replaced next season (by both rookies and veterans).  Following a slow start, tight end Jordan Cameron had twenty-nine yards on six receptions.  The defense game planned to take away both Gordon and Cameron and they did a good job at it (outside of Gordon’s long touchdown).

The outside of the offensive line had their issues on Sunday.  Mitchell Schwartz gave up a few sacks, while he and Joe Thomas committed several penalties.  The interior was rarely dominated, but they also could have made things easier in both the running and passing games.  Overall, the offensive line played about what I expected against this tough defensive front (unfortunately).  At times they provided holes on running plays and gave time for the quarterback to throw, while Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap easily got into the Browns’ backfield on a few occasions.   Hopefully, this unit for the Browns can improve but they face another difficult task next week.

Defense:  Yet again, the defensive line held their own against the opponent’s running attack.  Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis and Giovanni Bernard combined for 107 yards, but it took them twenty-six attempts to do so.  Slowing down the combination of a stronger back and a quick runner strengthens my confidence in the guys upfront.  Coming back to the city where he played college football, John Hughes led the unit with five tackles and defended a pass.  Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor finished the contest with a combined six stops – they continue to produce on a weekly basis.  Although a couple of the reserves did not stand out (i.e. Billy Winn and Armonty Bryant), I hope the coaching staff continues to rotate these guys in on a regular basis.

Outside of Jabaal Sheard, the pass rush was non-existent for the Cleveland Browns.  The former Pitt Panther had three tackles, a hit on Dalton, and was close to several sacks.  Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger had five stops but were never close to taking down the opposing quarterback.  Mingo was up and down in special teams (of course he should not be blocking), and his ineffectiveness in defensive packages is frustrating for fans.  Without Quentin Groves for the remainder of the season, the coaching staff inserted special teamer Tank Carder for a couple of plays at linebacker.  I was rather surprised at his performance – the TCU star had seven tackles and was great at disrupting passing plays.  D’Qwell Jackson had team-high nine tackles and covered well against the pass.  Craig Robertson was invisible; the linebacker never made an impact against either the run or the pass.

This may have been Joe Haden’s finest performance as a pro; the cornerback did not have any bad plays and was exceptional in coverage.  A.J. Green (arguably the second-best wide out in the league) had two catches for seven yards against Haden.  The former Florida standout also collected two interceptions and returned one for a touchdown – the first of his entire career.  On the other side, Buster Skrine played relatively well.  He had five tackles, a pass breakup, and was solid in defending the pass.  The blown coverage on a Germaine Gresham touchdown was his lone failure – but those things happen.  Chris Owens had a rather rough game; the cornerback had just two tackles and gave up several receptions (in man coverage).  Both safeties were active in stopping the opposition’s run game; the duo accumulated nine tackles.  T.J. Ward, however, failed in pass coverage a few times.  For example, when Bengals’ wide receivers beat the cornerbacks, the strong safety was not there to assist in defending the throw.

Special Teams: Easily the worst outing by the Browns’ special teams; whatever could have gone wrong did.  Spencer Lanning had a punt tipped and another blocked and returned for a touchdown.  Armonty Bryant committed an offside penalty on a punt – yielding a first down for the Bengals.  The coverage units permitted a couple of longer returns by the home team as well.   It’s debatable whether this was the sole reason the visitors lost the game, but it definitely put the team in a huge hole that they could not get out of.

Coaching: The staff of the Browns did little to impress me, including the lack of halftime adjustments (or, at least, that was the appearance).  The coaches realized the opposing secondary was scheming to prevent longer throws, and they tailored the offense to catch and run underneath – which was ineffective.  The Browns were creative at times, but again certain play calls did not work.  I hope Chud and his staff learns from this dismal outing and gets back on track next week.

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Browns @ Bengals – Game #10 Preview

Game #10 Preview – Browns @ Bengals

After a short layoff, the Browns now head down I-71 to face their in-state rivals in the Bengals.  They have defeated all of their division foes over the past twelve months, something that has not been seen for some time.  However, all three of their wins were at First Energy Stadium – the next step the team has to take is to win on the road.  Doing so will further help the transition from a decent team to a contender that the league will have to take seriously.  The Browns have only won a single game (this season) on the road; I expect that total to rise.  Sunday’s matchup is a tremendous opportunity for that to occur.

Offense:  Another tremendous defense awaits Jason Campbell and the Browns.  Last week, the Bengals held Joe Flacco to 140 yards passing – while sacking him five times, forcing a fumble, and catching a pair of interceptions.  Campbell must (once again) limit his mistakes against an opportunistic unit.  With a weapon like A.J. Green, the opponent can convert a turnover into a touchdown in a matter of seconds.  Therefore, I anticipate a game plan similar to what we saw against the Ravens.  Campbell will spread the ball around significantly and avoid forcing any throws to one target.  His ability to escape from the pass rush has been one of his greatest assets and will be needed on Sunday.  The quarterback will probably throw for just under 300 yards and take a couple of sacks.  However, should he continue to play “keep away” from defenders – the Browns’ chances will (once again) be great.

The running back position was discussed in Chud’s press conferences over the bye week.  The end result is that Chris Ogbonnaya will see more touches going forward.  Fans should get excited about this, as Willis McGahee has been rather disappointing – especially as of late.  The only reservation (I have) about this, is the potential for fatigue or injury by the smaller back.  Ogbonnaya is already a reliable special teams athlete and a fullback used for blocking and picking up blitzes.  On Sunday, I hope he is either limited at fullback or is taken off special teams – over programming could end up costing the team.  I have faith Chud and Turner will know what to do with Ogbonnaya, as well as to define the roles for McGahee and Fozzy Whittaker.  I would expect the latter to be involved more in the passing game.

Last contest really surprised me, and I was grateful to see so many wide receivers contribute to the passing attack.  However, I am not certain that Greg Little and Davone Bess can regularly dominate contests the way they did against the Ravens.  If this duo can secure several receptions and even find the end zone, then big things will come.  Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron will bounce back from their less-than-stellar outings – the wide out should grab several longer throws while the tight end gets catches in the red zone.  Something concerning is the lack of output by the Bengals’ previous opponent – Torrey Smith was the only receiver to accrue more than two grabs and twenty yards.  The Browns will game plan to get many involved, especially early on – doing so will make defensive assignments difficult for the secondary.

Even with the loss of Geno Atkins, the Browns have to limit a restless defensive front.  Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap are consistent on the edges, while Domata Peko makes it difficult to move the ball up the middle.  However, Jason Pinkston is available to play in his first contest of the season (after returning from the IR); I am intrigued to see what the coaching staff decides to do with him, Shawn Lauvao, and John Greco.  The running game has not excelled, perhaps this could change with a different combination of guards.  A pair of linebackers has been amazing for the Bengals, and the Browns will have their hands full.  Vincent Rey and Vontaze Burfict are coming off a game with a combined twenty-seven tackles, three hits on the quarterback, three sacks, and four passes defended.  There’s a good chance that Jordan Cameron or Chris Ogbonnaya will be asked (more than usual) to help in pass protection.

Defense:  I expect to see more of the same from the defensive line of the Browns.  The unit has been dominant, especially against the run.  Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis continues to look mediocre this season – that should continue at Paul Brown Stadium.  The wildcard is Giovanni Bernard; the rookie was limited in their previous meeting, but he has made several magnificent plays ever since.  Just one long burst can be huge for the opponent; it forces the Browns to respect the run and it gives the Bengals confidence.  Bernard’s speed on the edge puts more pressure on Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant to funnel runs inside towards Phil Taylor.  Along these lines, Billy Winn and John Hughes will probably see a fair amount of snaps to spell the starters and allow the defense to continue its aggressiveness.

The continued improvement by Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger is comforting to Browns’ fans.  Couple that with the steadiness of Jabaal Sheard, and the outside linebacker position is finally becoming the strength that many perceived it to be.  The Ravens were able to take down Andy Dalton five times last week; I feel confident that the Browns can do similar damage against their opponent.  The trio (without the services of Quentin Groves) can be disruptive and alter the offensive play calling.  I like seeing the growth of Craig Robertson’s play; he still is not a Pro-Bowler, but his coverage is improving, and he excels at stopping the run.  Germaine Gresham was sidelined last week – permitting Tyler Eifert to be the main option at tight end.  Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson will have an arduous time trying to mask the former Notre Dame athlete and Bernard.  Limiting this duo is a priority for the defense; doing so leaves everything up to Joe Haden.

A.J. Green was bottled up (for the most part) last week – until the last play of regulation.  The wide out caught a Hail Mary touchdown pass en route to a eight catch and 151 yard day.  Haden will be busy again, but I love the personal challenges he puts on himself every contest.  Yards may be plentiful for the former Georgia star, but keeping him out of the end zone is the main responsibility of the secondary.  Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones have been inconsistent in their roles so far – as a result, Buster Skrine and Chris Owens will have an opportunity for great outings.  This contest could be a redeeming one for Tashaun Gipson.  The free safety had an off game last week, but I expect Dalton to make a couple of tosses in the middle of the field (whether it’s to Eifert or a wide receiver).  Gipson will have a shot to get his hands on the football – coming down with one or two would be enormous for this defense.

Special Teams:  This is a matchup where the special teams can favor the visitors.  Both kickers are relatively even, and I like Spencer Lanning’s output over Kevin Huber’s.  Like many contests, the outcome could come down to kick coverage and the potential for a long return.  Brandon Tate and Pac Man Jones have both shown an ability to spring long runs, but I don’t see the Browns letting that happen.  Chris Tabor has been excellent at shuffling personnel around all year long – will Armanti Edwards be the next returner to make a huge play?

Coaching:  Each week I believe that Chud and his staff cannot outdo their prior performance, and that’s exactly what seems to occur.  The Browns lead the league in fourth down attempts (with nineteen) and are converting just over half of them.  I understand that some of these “gutsy” calls will backfire, but I am enjoying the ride so far.  Similarly, Horton’s blitzes appear to be run perfectly – with eleven sacks in the past two contests.  I fear a signal caller who gets the ball out quickly and delivers it to a target while the defender’s back is turned.  This game will likely be dictated by a huge decision the coaching staff will have to make – for the Browns’ sake, I hope it’s the right one.

Prediction (My Record: 6 – 3):  Another tough one to call for me.  I would not be surprised to see either team win in a variety of ways.  The Bengals are coming off a pair of losses, while the Browns won their last contest and rested this past week.  The positive momentum continues for the team to the north and the Browns finally get a win at Paul Brown Stadium (for the first time since 2008) by the score of 27 – 23.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Bye Week – Cleveland Browns

Cleveland Browns Bye Week

Just after the halfway point of the season, and the Browns get time off to heal and prepare for several critical matchups.  As the cliché goes, it comes at a great time for the franchise.  Greg Little, Jason Campbell, Quentin Groves, and a few other members will avoid further injuries by not having to play this Sunday.  There are a couple of goals that I hope the Browns accomplish over these next two weeks; assuming they can do these, I envision a successful remainder of their 2013 season.

Adding Offensive Parts:  With the rash of injuries to quarterbacks this season, including Brian Hoyer already, the Browns must have a serviceable backup.  Watching the Packers-Bears game on Monday, both teams were forced to employ their backup signal caller.  Obviously, teams can win games in the NFL without spectacular quarterback play, but the franchise must excel greatly in other areas (i.e. running the ball, defense, etc.).  It’s a rather difficult task to replicate (against other professionals) on a weekly basis, however.

That brings us to Brandon Weeden.  The former incumbent at quarterback has the look of a man without confidence when he is on the field.  I think he could be kept on the roster for the remainder of the season, but I support the Browns adding another signal caller over their bye week.  Clearly, if Lombardi and Banner scour the free agent market, they will not find a guy like Tom Brady – but if they can secure a confident guy who can make a play or two then the Browns may feel much better going forward.

As mentioned earlier, other areas of the team must be great when the guy under center is not dominant.  Fortunately, Jason Campbell has been exceptional these past two games – but it’s hard to fathom that will be the norm.  They got away with their leading rusher accruing thirty-one yards on the ground.  I am not anticipating the Browns will sign an all-Pro runner, but they need to find a guy who can get more than three yards per carry.  Per Chud’s Tuesday press conference, this may be as simple as giving Chris Ogbonnaya more carries.  Even a mediocre output by the running attack, and the passing game will not have to be relied upon to routinely have huge days.

Getting a Few Guys Up to Speed:  A couple of new members on the roster will get a few days to learn the playbook and get on the field.  Armanti Edwards is one of those guys; his role last week was strictly a punt returner.  However, I bet this will expand down the road – as the former Appalachian State quarterback will attempt to emulate Travis Benjamin’s duty as a wide receiver.  He will not get a ton of opportunities, so he must ensure he knows what he’s doing and can pick up yards.  Fortunately, he has played under Chud previously – that familiarity could lead to the speedster picking up the offense quicker than most.  Jordan Poyer is another recent pickup; the cornerback contributed in special teams against the Ravens but that could change should he continue to prove his value.

Additionally, any new acquisitions must study hard and absorb what Chud, Norv Turner, and Ray Horton are trying to accomplish.  Should the Browns get a quarterback and running back, the latter will obviously need less time to get accustomed.  Therefore, the back should expect to get a fair amount of touches the next contest.  The signal caller would be an insurance policy for the offense, and as a result not be needed for some time (hopefully).  Despite roster turnover, the team will remain confident in the new players – once they prove they know their status on the Browns.  A united locker room is paramount for this process.

Further Establish the Team’s Identity:  Getting a win over the Steelers last season was the beginning, and now the Browns have beaten both rivals in the Bengals and Ravens.  They are starting to win games that matter; within the division.  Chud stated last week that they wanted to no longer be the “little brother” in the AFC North.  Joe Haden said they were not playing “the Ravens of old”.  Both of these quotes are phenominal to hear, but actually securing the win spoke the loudest about the change in perception about this team.

Two quiet captains for the Browns are Joe Thomas and D’Qwell Jackson.  After playing several seasons with the team (with limited success), they must be vocal to others about not getting pushed around.  This message seems to have been received; based on the vicious play of Phil Taylor and Greg Little.  Both have been in altercations with members of the Ravens and neither backed down.  I am not a fan of personal foul penalties, but sometimes they are necessary for your team to prove a point.  The Browns are starting to become the aggressors, and I do not expect this to stop.

Conclusion:  The front office and coaching staff must work together to bring in a few guys in that will help the team the rest of the season, and their recent track record gives me hope.  I also have all the faith in the world that the coaches will not over burden any newcomers, something that could not be said about previous regimes.  This group of athletes is strong, on the same page, and is finally starting to see success.  I worry about this team rallying around a possible fourth quarterback in the same year, but if a new guy makes plays then all will be on board.  Hopefully that becomes a moot point though.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Review of Ravens @ Browns – Game #9

Review of Game #9 – Ravens @ Browns

What a tremendous outing for the Cleveland Browns.  In front of their home crowd, all parts of the team did an exceptional job.  The offense put the ball in the end zone multiple times, the defense forced turnovers, and the special teams forced a fumble.  I was even impressed with Chud and his coaching decisions – this team is capable of big things if they can put it all together like they did Sunday at First Energy Stadium.  The first win over the Ravens since 2007 was a great one; so let’s break it down.

Offense:  Jason Campbell turned in another brilliant performance.  The signal caller completed twenty-three of his thirty-five passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns.  As is always important, the former Auburn star did not commit a costly turnover (one may have prevented a victory in this game).  He took three sacks, but like last week, it could have been much worse if it weren’t for Campbell’s scrambling ability.  In the second quarter, the Browns’ quarterback sustained a rib injury (he later returned, however) – allowing Brandon Weeden to enter the contest.  Outside of an end around, the offense appeared to be lifeless once again with the backup in the game.  Jason Campbell must remain healthy if the team wants a crack at playing more than sixteen games this year.

I still do not understand why the Browns continue to give the football to Willis McGahee so much.  The veteran could only muster thirty-one yards on twenty-one carries – I am all for giving running backs twenty carries or more, but that must come with production.  Fozzy Whittaker was given two carries and got eleven yards; he is not a “between the tackles” runner, but I would like to see him get a couple off-tackle or outside runs.  In the receiving game, Chris Ogbonnaya hauled in five passes for thirty-nine yards.  I believe he can compliment McGahee and Whittaker in the running game, but it appears that the coaching staff wants to use him purely as a blocker and receiver.  There is plenty of room for growth with these running backs; I believe that big plays and touchdowns will come.

Greg Little and Davone Bess really surprised me; the pair of wide outs has had their issues this year, but both came up huge against the Ravens.  Little had a game-high total of 122 yards receiving on seven receptions (no drops, either).  He did have a dumb penalty in the second quarter, but fortunately the offense overcame it to score a touchdown.  If can keep this production up, the Browns’ offense can have huge games.  After a miserable game in Kansas City, Davone Bess had a pair of touchdowns – including an exceptional cut and run after securing a grab from Campbell.  I thought Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron had off days; fortunately others stepped up in their absence, however.  Gordon had just forty-four yards on three receptions; it was good for second-most on the team but much less than Browns’ fans are used to.  The tight end Cameron had just one catch for four yards; I understand he will not dominate every game, but hopefully he can have solid outings after the team’s bye week.

This was a bounce back performance for the offensive line as well; the unit was far from dominant but they played hard and smart.  False starts and holding infractions were either non-existent or limited – and the offense was able to be effective.  Terrell Suggs collected seven tackles and a sack, but I felt the line kept him from having a huge day.  Elvis Dumerville was invisible and did not record even one tackle.  The only time the defenders got to the quarterback with ease was when they loaded up the middle while Weeden dropped back.  None of the five guys upfront got beat badly and I like how they are coming along.  The running game was stagnant as usual, but as past history indicates – this team can pass for a win.

Defense:  Yet another commendable effort by the Browns’ defensive line.  The guys upfront plugged holes and limited the visitor’s running attack.  Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce combined for only twenty-eight yards on seventeen carries.  The home team made their guests one-dimensional and it worked as a result.  Phil Taylor, Desmond Bryant, and Ahtyba Rubin did not garner tremendous stats (five combined tackles) – but all three were extremely disruptive at times.  Armonty Bryant is starting to look like a steal as a seventh-round draft pick.  The rookie finished the contest with three tackles, a sack, and a hit on Joe Flacco.  As anticipated, the return of Billy Winn really helped the guys upfront.  The former Boise State star had a pair of tackles, took a snap at fullback, and provided rest for the starting ends.  This type of dominance can give the Browns a shot to play with any team in the league.

The linebackers for the home team also had a very good game on Sunday.  Jabaal Sheard paved the way with three tackles, two hits on the quarterback, and a sack.  Quentin Groves exceeded expectations after returning from injury; the veteran had an impactful sack on Flacco late in the contest.  I thought Mingo and Kruger hassled the offense regularly, even though they did not accrue great statistics.  The duo put up five tackles and defended a pass – their speed was on display on the outside.  D’Qwell Jackson came away with nine stops and did an excellent job at holding down the middle of the field.  The “quarterback of the defense” is putting together a nice season and his leadership is obvious.  Craig Robertson had one breakdown in coverage but otherwise was solid.  The linebacker had six stops and helped greatly in run support.

The trio of cornerbacks combined to control the Ravens’ offense.  Chris Owens had a team-high nine tackles, a hit on the quarterback, a sack, and defended a pair of passes.  He is excelling at blitzing and taking down the opposing signal caller.  Joe Haden came up with his first interception of the season and blanketed Torrey Smith all game long.  Outside of one long play, the top wide out of the visitors was held in check.  Buster Skrine made a tremendous pass breakup on third down to force a punt.  The cornerback also had three tackles – his improvement this year has been great.  T.J. Ward continues to have a masterful 2013 campaign.  The strong safety made seven stops, a sack, and put a hit on Flacco.  The only secondary member who I thought was disappointing was Tashaun Gipson.  His blown assignment late in the second quarter led to a touchdown being surrendered.  He also failed to make any tackles and defended just one pass.  I expect him to play better and know he can correct his errors.

Special Teams:  Instead of the Browns making the huge mistake, it was the visitors who blinked in the special teams category.  Tandon Doss’s muffed punt provided good field position, and the Browns scored a touchdown as a result.  Spencer Lanning was brilliant in punting, and Billy Cundiff made his only attempt.  The return games were average for the home team, but they won this matchup from the one costly mistake.

Coaching:  This game likely surpassed the Vikings game as the best coached contest by the Browns.  Chud was aggressive multiple times and while going for it twice on fourth down, the Browns converted.  Ray Horton let several guys run free to get to Flacco and it worked five times.  The Browns refrained from playing it safe – it was validated and I expect it to continue all season long.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2013 in NFL Season