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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Final Game Review – Browns @ Steelers

Review of Game #16 – Browns @ Steelers

Another horrible way to end the Browns’ season – a loss the Steelers, a 4 – 12 record, and rumors swirling around yet another coaching change.  Thankfully, this year is now behind all of us – there’s no reason to believe   anything will change in 2014, but for now the process begins.  Before the draft, free agency, scouting combine, etc. commence let’s take a look at the regular season finale.

Offense:  Jason Campbell had a suspect game by quarterback standards, the norm by his.  The quarterback went twenty-three of forty-one for 240 yards and a touchdown.  However, he also lost a fumble, was sacked three times, and tossed a costly interception.  If he could have made a play here or there, the result may have been differently – but alas that is moot.  Campbell’s future is unknown but he is likely on the way out – I wish him luck, as he played slightly better than I expected but not good enough to take the starting job.

On just eighteen carries, Edwin Baker led the squad with sixty-nine yards.  I hope he sticks around with this franchise, as he can be an exceptional, complementary back.  On Sunday though, he was unable to get into the end zone, something that occurred regularly over the past few weeks.  In 2014, the Browns must get the right backs for the right system and utilize them better – I understand it will not be thirty-five carries, but at least 120 yards total as a team should be a weekly goal.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before – Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron had solid contests while the other options were pedestrian.  The duo combined for twelve grabs and 151 yards; these integral parts will be looking for reliable teammates who can advance the ball from the quarterback (whoever that will be).  Josh Cooper had five catches for thirty-four yards, but was also a victim of a huge drop on fourth down.  I would like for him to stick around, but it’s too soon the tell.  As far as the rest of the guys go, expect a gigantic overhaul – including the releases (or trades, if possible) of Davone Bess and Greg Little and acquisitions of wide outs via the draft and free agency.

The offensive line consisting of Garrett Gilkey and Oniel Cousins (following the injury to John Greco) played no worse than the starting unit.  The Browns surrendered three sacks and were average in opening holes for Edwin Baker.  The status of free agent-to-be Alex Mack looms large; if he departs, this group could see up to four new starters next season.  Mitchell Schwartz is also another wild card.  Will he remain at right tackle?  Or will the former second round pick slide inside and become a guard?  Finally, will he be playing for another team next year?  Many questions remain for the offensive line going forward.

Defense:  On the bright side, the Browns did not allow a 100-yard rusher for the first time in three weeks.  However, the combination of Le’Veon Bell, Felix Jones, and Jonathan Dwyer eclipsed 120 yards on the ground – not particularly acceptable by the defensive line.  Billy Winn and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen paved the way for the group with a combined seven tackles and a sack.  The rest of the guys upfront really amounted to nothing, unfortunately.  Phil Taylor was invisible and Ahytba Rubin was only able to muster a single tackle.  As injuries and atrophy mounted this season, the defensive line obviously weakened.  They need to continue to build depth in the offseason.

The linebackers definitely came to play on Sunday.  D’Qwell Jackson (in his possible last game as a member of the Browns) had nine stops, while Craig Robertson finished with six tackles and secured an interception.  On the outside, Paul Kruger was able to accrue seven takedowns and Jabaal Sheard had four tackles and a pass defended. Despite this production, the group does not feature a dynamic athlete who the opposition has to prepare for.  That includes Barkevious Mingo (at least up to this point), as the rookie only made a pair of stops.  Like many positional groups, changes will be made here – but this area is harder to predict.

Without the services of Joe Haden, the secondary played a little better than I would have thought.  The opponent passed for less than 200 yards, and never hit on “the big play”.  The safeties of T.J. Ward and Tashaun Gipson had eight and six tackles, respectively, while the latter also had an interception.  Given an opportunity to shine, rookie Leon McFadden defended a pass and had five tackles.  The injury to Buster Skrine allowed Julian Posey and Jordan Poyer to see more action with the defense.  The duo were adequate, finishing with three tackles each and preventing the Steelers from completing a deep pass.  I’m intrigued to see the changes that will be made here next season (especially with T.J. Ward’s contract expiring), and we could find out sooner rather than later.

Special Teams:  As anticipated, the special teams battle was not the difference in the contest.  Outside of a fine Jordan Poyer punt return, the statistics between the two squads were similar.  I hope a few playmakers stay healthy next season and the Browns can get back to dominating this part of games – the way they used to.

Coaching:  Maybe Chud knew his job was on the line and he wanted to prove his aggressiveness, but the coach went for it three times on fourth down (and was not successful once).  And now the franchise is looking for a new head coach.  The Browns’ management has seen an entire calendar year at the helm; hopefully the correct changes are made in the coming months.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Game #16 Preview – Browns @ Steelers

Browns @ Steelers – Preview of Game #16

For the second time in consecutive years, the Browns finish their regular season at Heinz Field.  It has not gone right while playing the black and “gold” (even though we all know it’s yellow) and traveling east; the Browns have not won there since 2003.  Both teams have little to play for, much like in the 2012 finale, but I would be surprised if either weren’t going all-out for the victory.  Due to atrophy and injuries to starters over the course of the season, this contest will feature a fair number of reserves and players not on the roster to start the campaign (just say no to an eighteen-game season).  Nonetheless, let’s take an in-depth look at the final contest for the Browns and the Steelers.

Offense:  This could possibly be the last game that Jason Campbell plays with the Browns on Sunday – as another overhaul will likely occur in the offseason.  For now, the veteran signal caller has had his moments but victories have not resulted (only one win as a starter).  I would like to believe that the quarterback could fire it downfield and complete passes against Ike Taylor and William Gay.  The last time these two teams met, Campbell suffered a concussion and had to leave the contest against the dirty Steelers.  Will the former Auburn athlete take it upon himself to get his revenge on his team’s behalf?  There’s no doubt he will try, but once again it will come down to execution and not allowing the defenders to get their hands on the football.  Campbell will find some success – going for nearly 300 yards through the air, but he will also succumb to a big turnover.

The Browns should not expect to move the football on the ground on Sunday, for a myriad of reasons.  The team has repeatedly strayed away from running plays (regardless of the situation) and the home team prides themselves on stopping backs.  However, the Browns have to understand the circumstances of the contest and know when to employ Edwin Baker and Chris Ogbonnaya (and possibly Willis McGahee).  This refers to using them to pick up key first downs and set up manageable third down situations for the offense.  Together, the rushers are capable of cracking the 100-yard total when toting the ball but I would be surprised if that actually occurs.  Baker will be the leading rusher and could secure a score.  If the Bears’ game is any indication, the backs may get a fair amount of opportunities as receivers.  Just one long catch-and-run and I would be satisfied with this facet of the offense.

In his spectacular sophomore season, Josh Gordon has outperformed what many have expected.  The wide out has had several long touchdowns (including a ninety-five yarder) and ample receptions.  I anticipate the receiver finding the end zone once again with six to eight grabs – which is par for the course.  Greg Little will probably be targeted several times but I struggle to believe that he will make an impact on this contest.  He does have a couple of long receptions this season, though, and could make a play or two (while flying under the radar).  At the tight end position, Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge (and possibly MarQueis Gray) could see some quick throws in an attempt to beat the blitz.  These guys have displayed a great ability to catch the ball when their number is called.  If this offense wants to have success, Campbell must spread the football around to keep the defense guessing.  Getting the tight ends involved early and often is a great way of accomplishing this.

I still have visions of Jason Worilds in the Browns’ backfield when the quarterback dropped back to pass at First Energy Stadium.  Mitchell Schwartz had a difficult time trying to corral the linebacker and was largely ineffective.  The coaching staff better make adjustments in both schemes and play calling to mask this weakness.  Along those lines, the offensive line must still account for Lawrence Timmons, Ziggy Hood, Troy Polumalu, and Cameron Heyward – which is no tall order.  These four athletes will be used in pass rushes and blitz packages to confuse and harass Jason Campbell all game long.  The visiting team will improve upon protecting the edges (from the first contest), but I figure the home squad will permit Polumalu to hit on one of his patented A or B gap blitzes.  Not fumbling the football here, while not a high bar, should be the bare minimum for the ball carrier.

Defense:  I foresee the opposition trying to consistently get Le’Veon Bell involved in this contest.  The runner has not had a spectacular rookie campaign (no contests with 100-yards or more rushing), but the home team will be looking for a way to control the clock and pick up first downs.  That being said, the defensive line must employ a healthy rotation and stay fresh all game long.  This could mean inserting smaller, quicker linemen – like John Hughes and Billy Winn – in likely passing situations where they can attempt to get to the quarterback.  Meanwhile, Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin should start and possibly finish the contest (and applicable situations) in order to eat up space and make it difficult for any type of running game to get going.  I see the Browns holding the home team to under 100 yards and zero touchdowns rushing.

That means the Steelers would have to employ the pass to get their yardage and points.  I would be surprised if Paul Kruger or Barkevious Mingo even breathe on the signal caller when he drops back to toss the football.  These two must do something in the offseason to get their minds right and figure out a way to either become effective or reestablish dominance in the NFL.  Perhaps Jabaal Sheard can play the “hometown” card (a Pittsburgh Panther alum) and be inspired on Sunday.  The shuffling of inside linebackers – mainly due to injury – has nearly eliminated any consistency alongside D’Qwell Jackson.  There’s no doubt Craig Robertson will be called upon to cover veteran Heath Miller, who always seems to come up with an important grab following long periods of inactivity.  Unfortunately, I can see either he or one of the backs finding the end zone on a short score.

Last time these two teams met, Antonio Brown scored on a long heave over Joe Haden.  With the veteran cornerback hobbled, the passing game of the home time will see success.  In addition to Brown, the corps of Emmanuel Sanders, Bell, and Jerricho Cotchery must be accounted for by the Browns.  I am not confident that Buster Skrine, Leon McFadden, and Julian Posey will either be able to be in the proper position to restrict those athletes or make plays.  The home team should exploit the poor tackling of Skrine and McFadden by employing quick strikes where only the wide out and defensive back are in space.  The safeties are the wildcards (as with most contests); in addition to Haden, Tashaun Gipson has done extremely well at collecting interceptions.  This must be on display if the Browns figure to win this matchup.  As far as T.J. Ward goes, the former Oregon star should continue to play physical – in both run and pass  defense.  I’m hoping he can single-handedly cause Todd Haley to alter a few of his play calls throughout the game.

Special Teams:  I worry about the speed that Felix Jones and Antonio Brown possess in the return game.  This duo could be the difference in a tight game and Spencer Lanning and Billy Cundiff must make sure to place the football in spots where the opponent cannot find a seam and break loose.  All other aspects in the special teams appear to be even between the two squads; one big play will likely tip the scales in this matchup.  (I’m pulling for a long return from Jordan Poyer – similar to the one against Jacksonville).

Coaching:  I would love to see the “risk taking” Chud on Sunday.  This includes going for it on fourth down, a few unconventional play calls (assuming they are successful), and a trick play or two.  It doesn’t matter if the Browns would be 15 – 0 or 0 – 15 entering this contest, coach Chud will always want to beat the team’s rival.  Winning this contest hurts the team’s draft status and it won’t mean a whole lot in June or July, but I predict the coaching staff will get through to the personnel about turning the corner and winning games in difficult venues.

Prediction (My Record: 9 – 6):  The Browns will come out in this game with a full head of steam, only to fall behind early.  However, Campbell and the offense will collect a couple of scores in the middle of the contest – only to see their lead evaporate late once again.  The Browns lose 26 – 17 and complete a dismal 4 – 12 season.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Browns @ Jets – Brief Analysis of Game #15

Brief Analysis of Game #15 – Browns @ Jets

It was yet another unimpressive effort by the Browns as they were defeated in New Jersey by the score of 24 – 13.  Jason Campbell completed just eighteen of his forty passes for 178 yards and threw a pair of interceptions.  Not surprisingly, one went to Ed Reed, who now has twelve career picks against the Browns.  This was a very poor outing by the signal caller, who will see one final game as the Browns’ starter.   For the second time in two weeks, Edwin Baker found the end zone on the ground.  The rusher only accumulated sixty-four yards on the ground, but was a threat when given the ball.  The wide outs were completely ineffective; Greg Little and Josh Gordon each had a drop while attempting to score but the latter led the unit with six grabs and ninety-seven yards (however, it took sixteen attempts to get to that amount).  I was rather intrigued with Josh Cooper, who made some nice grabs.  He is the second-most reliable wide receiver on the team and I hope he stays on the team in 2014.  The offensive line had a less-than-stellar outing, yielding three sacks of the signal caller.  Overall, the offensive performance was one where wasted opportunities hurt the team.

The most disappointing part of the Browns’ performance was definitely the defense.  The front seven could not put pressure on rookie quarterback Geno Smith, they failed to garner any interceptions (by the NFL leader in that category), and they allowed another 100-yard rusher in Chris Ivory.  The injuries to Phil Taylor – concussion – and John Hughes – sprained knee – did not help either.  The secondary really killed this unit, especially on third down (once again) – as the Jets converted twelve of eighteen in this scenario.  Former Browns wide out David Nelson had a career day, scoring a pair of touchdowns.  There appears to be a lot of needs in the secondary, and nothing is guaranteed going forward – outside of Joe Haden.  I thought the Browns won the special teams battle, as Billy Cundiff outkicked Nick Folk and Jordan Poyer had a few nice punt returns.  Chud made some gutsy calls in this game, but the fourth down attempt in the red zone backfired (as Gordon caught it out of bounds).  At the end of the day, the Browns’ season inches closer to the end as the fan base prepares for another offseason and a hope for improvement.

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Browns @ Jets – Preview of Game #15

Game #15 Preview – Browns @ Jets

With the Ravens’ victory on Monday night, the matchup in New Jersey features two teams not headed to the postseason in 2013.  Despite that, the Jets still have something to play for – including the job security of head coach Rex Ryan.  Also, the home squad is looking for the continual improvement of rookie quarterback Geno Smith; who has been wildly inconsistent.  For the road team, it’s an excellent opportunity to get off their five-game losing streak after starting 4 – 5.  Let’s take a deeper look into a contest that will be played at the future site of this year’s Super Bowl.

Offense:  Last week, the Panthers limited Cam Newton’s throws against the Jets and relied a good deal on their running game.  The signal caller was still effective – completing sixteen of his twenty-four throws for 273 yards and a score (with no turnovers).  I would like to see the Browns replicate this type of play calling, but as many fans know has not been the case all season long.  Jason Campbell will likely heave several throws in this contest; I understand the weather will likely be poor, but the offense should utilize deeper patterns.  In addition to not turning the football over (obviously), the quarterback must get his top guys more involved than last week if the team wants to succeed.  Campbell will go over the 250-yard mark passing, toss a score or two and limit his mental lapses, to hopefully zero.

Edwin Baker had a decent outing, considering his limited opportunities, last week for the Browns (only eight carries).  Chud stated that the running back earned the coach’s respect and one would assume this means increased chances at rushing the football.  We will find out on Sunday if Chud is true to his word, of if he was simply placating the media and fan base.  The Jets surrendered 131 yards on the ground last week – perhaps Baker and Chris Ogbonnaya can have solid outings for the visiting team.  Fozzy Whittaker’s role with the team has lessened as of late, and I anticipate this will continue on Sunday.  The speedster might see a pitch or two outside the tackles, but anything more than that would be a surprise.  MarQueis Gray should get a few touches as well; the former quarterback has been able to pick up yards in chunks this season.  Another touchdown by this group and I would be content; clearly they have not been setting the bar too high.

As previously mentioned, Josh Gordon should be the primary target on a multitude of throws.  The receiving corps for the Browns has suffered when not doing this; there’s no reason why the Baylor target is not getting several passes thrown his way (regardless of coverage).  Jordan Cameron and Greg Little are the only other two options who will have a shot at hauling in passes and collecting yardage.  The former has been up-and-down over the past few weeks (and is battling a concussion from last week), but I have faith he can breeze by the pair of former Ravens in Dawan Landry and Ed Reed – assuming he plays.  The latter is a huge question mark and while I do not expect a lot from the wide out, maybe facing rookie Dee Milliner in coverage can provide an advantage to the veteran.  Touchdowns will more than likely come from this group, they need at least two here if they want to score the victory.

Following a solid contest, the offensive line will likely have their issues against a Rex Ryan-led defense.  The opponent is coming off a game with four sacks, and I expect this week’s total to be similar to that.  Quinton Coples, Calvin Pace, and Muhammad Wilkerson have done a fair amount of damage on the outside of the line – including combining for fifteen tackles, two sacks, and a pair of hits on Cam Newton last week.  Mitchell Schwartz will probably yield a takedown or two of Campbell from this trio.  On the inside, Sheldon Richardson has been stout and will give problems to Alex Mack and the two guards.  Blitzes should come up the middle and I am not confident the Browns can block all the defenders.

Defense:  The defensive front cannot have the type of futility stopping the run as they did against the Bears.  The Jets feature Chris Ivory, who has not put up great rushing days but is relentless at getting the “tough yards”.  Maybe the injury to Desmond Bryant was bigger than many had anticipated.  Billy Winn and John Hughes have played decently, but it’s imperative they are not a distinct weak link alongside Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin.  The Jets still have the likes of Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson upfront, so the odds of getting past the opponent (at least up the middle on or the right side) will be a tall order.  However, if the defensive line for the Browns can win those battles, the home team will likely have to be more reliant upon the interception-prone Geno Smith – where anything can happen.

The quarterback of the Jets was taken down four times in his last ballgame; half of those were by the front seven.  My faith and patience have been tested with the Browns’ outside linebackers, who were expected to get sacks on a weekly basis.  However, this has been far from the case and I have trouble believing Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo will take down the nimble Smith.  Craig Robertson will likely have to cover tight end Jeff Cumberland, who is coming off a game where he led the Jets in receiving yards and had their only touchdown through the air.  The task is not impossible and I expect the receiving option to be limited.  I am worried that D’Qwell Jackson will be the only guy who can make stops between the tackles from the linebacker position, however.

This is a huge step down from the wide receiving group of the Chicago Bears; the Jets feature a few guys who are not game-changers.  David Nelson, Santonio Holmes, and Jeremy Kerley are the top three guys – and it could be argued that the best days in the NFL are behind the first two targets.  However, without the services of Joe Haden (which is possible) this matchup could go either way.  Leon McFadden and Julian Posey would have to step up in his absence but they have to prove to everyone that they are worthy of playing on an NFL defense.  I think the secondary will give up a pair of touchdown throws, but the group will not allow a long play – like last week.  The production of the safeties has been much improved as of late.  T.J. Ward will continue to be active in run support, while Tashaun Gipson must make sure to be in the right spots (like last contest) when passes are in the air.

Special Teams:  I would give the Jets the edge in the return games, as they feature Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson (who have excelled) to bring back the ball in special teams.  The kicking and punting matchups appear to be even between Nick Folk and Billy Cundiff, as well as Ryan Quigley and Spencer Lanning.  I think one team makes a critical error in this department, tipping the scales for the opponent; i.e. poor coverage, botched snap, etc. (I’m leaning towards the Browns being the culprit).

Coaching:  I figure Rex Ryan will pull out a couple of tricks up his sleeve in New Jersey.  The coach may fake a punt, use some wildcat formations, or devise other schemes to confuse the Browns.  Chud and Horton should recognize this and prepare for any and all options by home team.  For no other reason, running the ball frequently should occur in order to evaluate Baker and Ogbonnaya going forward.  The team may not be sure about the future of these guys – I feel the front office already knows the direction of the quarterback position.

Prediction (My Record: 8 – 6):  I envision this as another close matchup between the two franchises.  Going back and forth would not be surprising, but the Browns have displayed a knack to falter at the end of games.  This ineptitude rears its ugly head once again and the home team pulls out a 24 – 20 victory.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Bears @ Browns – Review of Game #14

Game #14 Review of Bears @ Browns

It was an overall up-and-down contest for the Cleveland Browns.  The home team returned a pair of turnovers for touchdowns, but also committed a couple themselves – one going for a score.  There were phenomenal points of the contest, but also several were fans wanted to hang their heads.  When the dust settled, it was just another L in a long line of L’s; the team is now 1 – 8 in their last nine games and is limping to the finish line.  The offense committed too many errors and the defense was not able to keep their counterparts in check.  Let’s figure out what went wrong for the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

Offense:  Jason Campbell was two throws away from a very good performance; however, the signal caller committed a pair of turnovers to produce an average outing.  The quarterback hit on twenty-three of his thirty-nine throws for 273 yards with a touchdown (and the aforementioned two interceptions).  He was not taken down and appeared to be decisive on multiple attempts.  However, some of this throws were also off-target – granted that might occur in poor weather, but they were very costly.  Campbell chose to dump it off several times as well, this usually is worthless for the Browns’ offense but the backs were able to gain decent yardage on Sunday.  Overall, things could have gone better but there were several other reasons why the Browns lost.

I really thought Edwin Baker had a solid performance, considering he was added to the roster early in the week (and has never started a game in the NFL).  The former Michigan State rusher tallied thirty-eight yards on only eight carries, as well as a touchdown.  As a receiver, Baker caught four passes for forty-six yards; the free agent pickup was able to make some plays.  Chris Ogbonnaya touched the ball ten times (five rushing and five grabs) for a total forty-six yards.  This duo complemented each other well, but the team is still devoid of a “premier back”.  Fozzie Whittaker’s role was greatly reduced in this contest.  The Texas athlete managed to touch the ball only three times for five yards.  Some of his opportunities may have gone to MarQueis Gray – who took two runs (one as a quarterback) and converted them into thirty yards.   The Browns’ running game improved from previous weeks but still has miles to go until it is one of the best in the NFL.

This was a strange outing for Josh Gordon; the top wide out only came away with three receptions (on ten targets), for sixty-seven yards and a touchdown.  However, the Baylor star also slipped on a route, dropped a huge pass, and refused to fight for another throw.  Many have speculated that he was not in the contest mentally – and that is something that is hard to argue against.  Greg Little led the receiving corps with sixty-eight yards on four grabs.  Surprisingly he made a couple of nice plays; he showed the front office he could be a threat, despite not knowing what the future holds.  The trio of Jordan Cameron, Gary Barnidge, and Davone Bess definitely had their issues against the Bears.  They combined for five catches and forty-nine yards.  The last two is not a surprised, but limiting Cameron is concerning as it has happened multiple times over the past few games.

To their credit, the offensive line kept Jason Campbell clean all game long.  The unit was productive when holding the pocket firm during drop backs, and just as important – no lineman was getting beaten by his opponent with ease.  In the running game, the line was able to open holes for Baker and Ogbonnaya to run through.  However, they were not without fault.  Shawn Lauvao’s holding infraction and a few false starts hurt the offense at different points.  I thought the line played a fair game and it was better than I would have imagined.  Hopefully they continue to improve over the final two weeks, and this is the start of several good outings.

Defense:  It was a tough game for the Browns’ run defense as they were gashed for more yards than they have all season.  Matt Forte and Michael Bush totaled 171 yards on just twenty-seven attempts and a score.  For a unit that regularly stops opponents on the ground, this was a huge step back in their 2013 resurgence.  The leaders in tackles on the defensive line were John Hughes (who also had a hit on Cutler) and Billy Winn – with a pair each.   Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor each had a tackle but was rarely involved when opposing rushing attempts.  The Bears’ offensive line has come a long way from the past few seasons, and this contest was an example.  Hopefully the defensive line can play better beginning next week.

Not surprisingly, D’Qwell Jackson was tied for the lead in tackles for the defense.  The inside linebacker continues to dominate in taking down the opponent; however, his coverage skills have not improved.  The athlete gave up a quick strike to Martellus Bennett and never locked down any offensive target.  I thought Craig Robertson had a nice game, following a few games missed due to injury.  He finished with four tackles and swarmed around the football on multiple occasions.  Barkevious Mingo had a better performance than he’s had as of late.  The former LSU star acquired three tackles and was able to find the backfield on passing attempts – despite not notching a sack.  Paul Kruger’s disappointing season added another chapter on Sunday.  His contest without a tackle is unacceptable, and just getting a hit on the quarterback and defending a pass isn’t going to cut it.

Entering this contest, the Browns’ secondary faced a difficult battle with the opposing receivers.  Joe Haden tried his best against Brandon Marshall, but the offensive weapon hauled in six grabs for ninety-five yards and a touchdown.  To make matters worse, Haden left the game with a leg injury and his status going forward is up in the air.  Buster Skrine and Tashaun Gipson had the task of blanketing Alshon Jeffery – which was unsuccessful.  The duo yielded five receptions for seventy-two yards and a deep touchdown (in double coverage).  Gipson did return an interception for a touchdown (and had another pick) however, so his performance did have its high points.  I believe both Juilan Posey and Leon McFadden had admirable outings filling in for injured players.  The pair combined for a sack and put a hit on Jay Cutler, things could have been way worse for these guys.  However, at the end of the day, the secondary could not come up the big play and the team suffered.

Special Teams:  Once again, the special teams battle between the two was relatively even.  Devin Hester had marginally better returning yardage (against both punts and kicks), while Spencer Lanning outdueled his counterpart in the punting game.  This part of the game did not determine the outcome and breakdowns on offense and defense hurt the Browns much more. 

Coaching:  After a game with great quarterback play, Chud decided to keep Jason Campbell throwing a great deal.  It was somewhat successful, with a glitch here or there.  Picking up a younger, quicker running back and the Browns employed Edwin Baker more than they would have Willis McGahee.  I thought the coaching staff did a fine job, considering they were out-manned on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball (and also dealt with in-game injuries).

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Bears @ Browns – Preview of Game #14

Game #14 Bears @ Browns – Preview

For the final time during the 2013 campaign, the Cleveland Browns will play in front of their home crowd at First Energy Stadium.  After a 3 – 2 start to the season, the home team has suffered defeat after defeat.  Now, the Chicago Bears – who have also dealt with injuries and losses as well – come to town for an inter-conference matchup.  As both teams near the offseason, both will likely miss the playoffs and have decisions to make at quarterback.  This contest is a very winnable one for the Browns; it would be nice for the fans if the home team can go out a winner.  However, several things must first go right in order for that to happen.

Offense:  This is not the Chicago Bears’ defense that many have been accustomed to.  The unit has given up more than 20 points every single contest and ranks 28th in the league in both points and yards allowed.  Assuming the Browns can have decent quarterback play, they have a reasonable shot to win this contest.  At this point, I would like to see the signal caller put up a decent amount of attempts; injuries (to Charles Tillman) have forced Isaiah Frey into action opposite Tim Jennings.  The Browns’ offense can have success, assuming turnovers are avoided at all costs – tell me if you’ve heard of this one before.  Besides Josh Gordon, I hope the quarterback can spread it around a bit; even if passes to alternatives are not extremely deep ones.  I envision a contest where the signal caller nears the 300-yard total with a turnover – more than one might be too much to overcome.

If the coaching staff is patient with Willis McGahee and Chris Ogbonnaya, I could see a very productive day between the duo.  The Bears are last in the league in terms of yardage allowed and yards per attempt when facing running backs; they are 29th in the league in rushing touchdowns surrendered.  I understand that playing against Adrian Peterson twice may have skewed this (he rushed for 100 and 211 yards in those meetings), but the Browns’ platoon can have success.  If these two, along with Fozzy Whittaker, can combine for the century mark on the ground and a score – it will be a great day.  I do not anticipate a great deal from the backs in terms of receiving however; Chris Conte, Khaseem Greene, and Jon Bostic have been stout in coverage.  Of note, the Browns have not had big receiving days out of the backfield thus far – Sunday should be no different.

It will be interesting to see how the Browns’ wide outs matchup with the secondary of the visitors.  Outside of Calvin Johnson and (to a lesser extent) Tavon Austin, the Bears have not faced a talented athlete like Josh Gordon this season – and the two aforementioned had big receiving days.  The former Baylor star will make the defense pay – he will likely not eclipse the 200-yard mark but should have several nice grabs and a score.  The Browns will be in position to pick on cornerbacks opposite Tim Jennings, but will Greg Little and Davone Bess take advantage?  This may be the final opportunity for the duo to display what they can do, but I (once again) have my doubts.  Jordan Cameron ought to secure multiple grabs but it’s doubtful the tight end will find the end zone.  He has done a better job in running crossing and under routes than vertical ones; Turner and Chud should realize this and put the athlete in position to help this offense.

Staring across from Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder, the Bears were able to take down the quarterbacks a combined five times a few weeks ago.  I worry about Jon Bostic and Julius Peppers flying by Mitchell Schwartz or Shawn Lauvao and creating havoc against the team that allows a significant number of sacks (second most in the league).  If the Browns can get the running game going early, like they did against Jacksonville, then I have confidence that the line can hold up against this defensive front.  I feel the group will play well all game long until crunch time.  The Browns will need to sustain a long drive to go ahead or maintain the lead, and the offensive line will permit a defender or two by them to force the offense to stall.

Defense:  When healthy (which is the case), the Bears’ running attack is one of the best in the league.  It will be an arduous task for the defensive line to limit Matt Forte all game long, but the primary goal should be to prevent any long gainers – i.e. rushes over fifteen yards.  Playing the lighter, speedy Billy Winn (at end) a significant number of snaps, and the defense could be at an advantage.  He will be expected to quickly “set the edge” and keep the runner in the middle of the field where Phil Taylor can make stops.  On the other side, I anticipate another solid performance by Ahtyba Rubin – who has been great all season.  Despite drafting Kyle Long in the first round, the Bears still continue to give up a high number of sacks on passing attempts (four against the Vikings, two weeks ago).  Will one of the guys upfront for the Browns’ tackle the opposing quarterback behind the line of scrimmage?  It’s unlikely, but this unit is due for a breakout in this department.

The Browns’ outside linebackers must pick up the slack in getting to the signal caller.  It would be surprising to see either Barkevious Mingo or Paul Kruger have an outstanding game, as both continue to underwhelm the fan base.  Maybe certain defensive stunts or personnel combinations can help these guys out, but I continue to struggle with the lack of production.  Jabaal Sheard should see a great deal of snaps on Sunday, and Ray Horton should alternate the former Pittsburgh Panther between both sides so the offense cannot game plan as easily.  Whoever has played alongside D’Qwell Jackson this season (Craig Robertson, Tank Carder, and Darius Eubanks) has been a reliable option at inside linebacker.  Depending on how the first two recover from their injuries, the coaching staff could use a healthy rotation for certain situations – i.e. stopping the run, pass defending, or rushing/blitzing, etc.

This is an extremely tough matchup for the secondary of the home squad; the Bears feature a few receiving options that have excelled tremendously in 2013.  Certain contests have displayed Brandon Marshall, while Alshon Jeffery has dominated other games.  That being said, I am not sure if the Browns will employ Joe Haden solely on Marshall or just have the cornerback play a specific side of the field.  Regardless, I hope help is available for Buster Skrine, as the veteran will struggle when facing one of the dominant wide outs.  This could be an opportunity for rookie Leon McFadden to prove his future worth on the team.  He has been getting more playing time as of late and will see the field, due to the injury of Chris Owens.  I’m excited to see what he can do – the cornerback may get burned a time or two, but being physical and around the ball are the kind of things I will be looking for.  Tashaun Gipson and T.J. Ward must keep their eyes on tight end Martellus Bennett.  The former Texas A&M star is only averaging four receptions a game and has five touchdowns, but he can dictate the passing attack when given room to run deeper routes.

Special Teams:  It’s been awhile since the Browns have faced one of the best returners in the game, but that is exactly the case on Sunday.  The team must corral Devin Hester, as he can take any punt or kick and turn it into a touchdown.  Additionally, I would prefer Robbie Gould at kicker – the veteran has been an exceptional kicker for many years.  The Browns appear to be at a slight disadvantage when it comes to special teams, so they must win the offensive and defensive battles somewhat decidedly if they want to get the victory.

Coaching:  There are a lot of similarities between Chud and Bears’ coach Mark Trestman.  Both are offensive-minded leaders who are aggressive and rely on analytics.  For the most part, “gutsy” decisions have worked out – i.e. the fourth down conversion for the Browns against the Ravens or the fourth down conversion for the Bears against the Packers.  However, both have come up short in certain situations; failed fourth downs against the Steelers (Browns) and a missed field goal on second down versus the Vikings (Bears).  This contest could be determined by a huge decision – which coach will have to make it and how will it go?

Prediction (My Record: 7 – 6):  This game feels like it will come down to the fourth quarter and a couple of critical plays.  The Browns will play hard but once again mistakes will cost them.  The Bears take a small lead late and extend it, while the home team cannot make the comeback – with the final being 27 – 17.

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Quick Review of Browns @ Patriots – Game #13

Brief Review of Game #13 Browns @ Patriots

From what I could tell, the Browns played very hard against the heavily favored Patriots.  The away squad was anticipated to get blown out, but in actuality they led almost the entire game.  Jason Campbell, coming off his concussion, threw for 391 yards and no interceptions.  His leading two targets (Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron) tallied two touchdowns and over 200 yards receiving.  The running game was stagnant as usual, not garnering great statistics.  Overall, the offense had a solid game and could win many contests playing the way they did on Sunday.

Defensively, the Browns allowed the Patriots to come back from a 12-point deficit with just under six minutes remaining.  It seemed that the guys upfront corralled the running attack very well, however Shane Vereen eclipsed the 100-yard mark when becoming a receiver.  The unit was able to intercept Tom Brady once, something that has been lacking while playing some of the best signal callers.  It ended up being a winnable game, but in the end the Browns could not make a big play at the end to seal the contest.  They now head home with a 4 – 9 record and better positioning for the 2014 NFL Draft.

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2013 in NFL Season