Monthly Archives: September 2014

Where do the Browns Go from Here?

Where do the Browns Go from Here?

Browns’ Bye Week: To Do List

It’s an early one, but the Browns get their bye week and do not return to action until October.  Being 1-2 proves they are far from great, but what steps can be taken to transform this bunch to habitual losers into (at least) a better-than-average bunch?  I thought of a couple, hopefully the locker room is reading this…

#1 – Figure out the Special Teams

There have been a multitude of errors occurring by the special team units in the first three contests.  Bad coverage on punts, horrible execution by the field goal team and negative yardage during punt returns.  I could see some personnel changes (mainly Christian Yount and Travis Benjamin) made for the Titans game.  Should the coaching staff stick with the same guys, Chris Tabor better be certain that those athletes can get it right going forward.

#2 – Determine the Pecking Order at Running Back

With Ben Tate likely back in the fold, the large question will be – who is getting the rushing attempts?  Will the veteran steal a bulk of the carries from the two rookies?  The situation appears up in the air, as Pettine hinted that West and Crowell “made it difficult” to re-insert Ben Tate as the starter.  Like the quarterback position, I could not care who is on the field – as long as they perform.  It’s up to Shanahan and Pettine to figure out who works best and when.

#3 – Find Out Why the Run Defense is Poor and Fix it

On paper, this was one of the best defensive fronts for the Cleveland Browns in some time.  However, they certainly are not playing like it and have been surrendering a great deal of yards on the ground.  Are guys out of shape and getting tired?  Are opponents blocking exceptionally, yielding a solid running attack?  Whatever the reason, the Browns must diagnose the issue via film study and find solutions (players, schemes, etc.) to improve upon a part of the game few felt there would be problems.

#4 – Get Guys Who Can Defend the Pass

Joe Haden and the number eighth overall draft pick as starting cornerbacks; so all is well, correct?  The corners have let the Browns’ defense down in each of the first three contests.  Stars like Antonio Brown, Jimmy Graham, and Steve Smith Sr. have hauled in tosses when it matters most – and with relative ease.  To quote Vince Lombardi, “What the hell is going on here?”  The duo on the outside must lock down opposing targets or the Browns will have another four or five win season.  Granted the rules have made defending wide outs difficult, but a player of Joe Haden’s caliber must outperform his current play.

#5 – Don’t Stay “Down”

I’ll admit being guilty of this, but the Browns must not hang their heads over two tough division losses.  Will they win the AFC North this year?  No, but can they compete for a Wildcard spot?  Perhaps – assuming they can forget about weeks one through three and focus on the next opponent.  The Tennessee Titans appear to be a squad the Browns can get back on track against, via both the win column and confidence within the organization.

Conclusion:  The two losses have been a huge punch to the gut, and moral victories are for losers (as well as “looking better” and “improving”).  The NFL is, and has been for a while, a results-driven league. The Browns have had one of the worst win/loss records almost every year since 1999.  It’s time for these near misses to stop and win some games.  The Browns have at least thirteen more contests in 2014 – they better come out preparing to win every single one.

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Posted by on September 25, 2014 in NFL Season


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A Come from Ahead Defeat – How Many Times Can this Happen?

A Come from Ahead Defeat – How Many Times Can this Happen?

A Look Back – Ravens @ Browns – Game #3 

Well, that was fun for one week. It’s back to the motto of “same ol’ Browns” as the team goes 0-2 in the division once again and heads into the bye week at 1-2 overall. The team needed one play down the stretch to go their way, and unfortunately, they never got it. Let’s take a look at another loss snatched away from the jaws of victory.

Offense: This loss cannot be placed on the play of Brian Hoyer. The signal caller went nineteen of twenty-five for 290 yards and a touchdown. I can only think of two plays where they were not executed well enough. One was the illegal forward pass, which pushed back the distance of the field goal, which was blocked. The other was the incompletion on third down and seven to ice the game. Hoyer cannot seem to catch a break – hopefully the rest of the team will pick him up in future games.

Both Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell found the end zone and ran well in this game. Neither eclipsed the 100-yard mark, but they combined for just twenty-three attempts on the ground. They will continue to be utilized well this season, and there is no cause for concern at this point. After the bye week, veteran Ben Tate should return from injury. Therefore, the coaching staff will have some difficult decisions to make regarding the running back position.

The wide receivers played exceptionally well for about 99% of this contest. The Taylor Gabriel grab should have been a touchdown, but he fell after the catch and the Browns failed to convert a field goal. Andrew Hawkins could not come up with an easy grab late to seal the win. In a difficult game like the NFL, a play or two could be the difference. Those are two examples of why the Browns, once again, could not win. 290 yard receiving is amazing, but it is worthless if the team loses.

For the third consecutive game, the offensive line came to play on Sunday. They surrendered just one sack (for six yards) and opened up several running lanes for West and Crowell. None of the five upfront appeared to be outmanned and that was something this front office got right this offseason. On the edge, Jordan Cameron had just one grab for twenty-three yards. He was a decoy most of the day, but hopefully he can be more of a focal point in a few weeks – when he is closer to 100% healthy.

Defense: Outside of a tremendous third and fourth down stop during the fourth quarter, this defensive line continues to underwhelm. They made Lorenzo Taliaferro and Justin Forsett look like reliable running backs, and neither actually is. Billy Winn led all linemen with three tackles; proving that most of the Ravens’ plays were made a few yards past the line of scrimmage. The Browns have to determine what is wrong and need to make big changes (and fast).

The linebackers were silenced a majority of the afternoon. Paul Kruger and Craig Robertson each put a hit on Flacco, but not a single sack was recorded. Barkevious Mingo and Jabaal Sheard combined for nine tackles and had some fine stops. The one thing missing was the lack of an impactful play by this unit. It may not seem like much, but that is something critical that could be the difference between a win and a loss.

I don’t know what to make of this secondary; they continue to wilt in the face of pressure. No matter if it’s Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, or Justin Gilbert, they cannot stop opponents from moving the ball through the air. Tashaun Gipson notched his second interception of the season. While he is not dominating all game long, he seems to be at the right place at the right time. Like other parts of the defense, this coaching staff needs to work their magic during the off week to make the secondary more reliable.

Special Teams: One could argue that the field goal unit lost this contest. Billy Cundiff got a field goal blocked, and had another hit the upright. Should he make those and the Ravens’ would have needed a touchdown to tie this contest. Travis Benjamin letting the punt sail over his head late cost the Browns about twenty yards and possibly the game.

Coaching: Offensively, this team continues to put Brian Hoyer in the best possible spot to succeed. I liked the play calls, but the execution was not always there. Defensively, I wish they could have been a little more aggressive in getting pressure on the quarterback. It was not meant to be and the Browns’ fans once again hang their heads heading into the bye week.

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Posted by on September 21, 2014 in NFL Season


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A Glimpse in to Game #3 – Ravens @ Browns

A Glimpse in to Game #3 – Ravens @ Browns

Ravens @ Browns – A Preview of Game #3 

How will the Browns respond to the tremendous outing last week? That’s the million-dollar question – especially because those types of wins have been few and far between. In comes the Ravens who are just off both a win over the Steelers and the Ray Rice fiasco. A low scoring, tight contest should be expected. Can the home team pull out another one? Time will only tell, but let’s see what to look for…

Offense: Last week was a typical Brian Hoyer game, a score and just over 200 yards through the air without a turnover. If he replicates that this week, I like the Browns’ chances. The Ravens will likely watch tape of the Saints game and crowd the line of scrimmage – forcing Hoyer to look for deeper tosses. This was not the strongest part of the veteran’s game, but he must improve in this area or else the offense could easily sputter. All that said, I still would want the ball in Hoyer’s hands in crunch time.

It’s beyond refreshing to see a coaching staff that actually knows how to utilize a rushing attack, and with multiple athletes. The pair of rookies will shoulder the load again on Sunday, and I love the flexibility they give this offense. An eight-yard scamper on first down really opens up the playbook for the Browns. Will one of these guys break a long run? I can definitely see that occurring, as the zone-blocking scheme has been excellent thus far. Multiple touchdowns would not be the worst thing either.

I saw more production than I could have imagined last week by the receivers, especially without the services of Jordan Cameron. These athletes were not blazing defenders for eighty-yard touchdowns, but they caught the ball relatively well. Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins have pulled ahead as the leaders of the gang, and are now expected to keep this up (at least until a suspended player potentially returns). I’m intrigued to see how the receivers match up with the Ravens’ secondary – but my guess is that they hold their own.

The offensive line will have more of a challenge than they did a week ago. Multiple defenders are expected to shoot into gaps and get to Brian Hoyer before the guys upfront realize what just happened. Early on, there might be a couple screen and draw plays called by this Browns’ offense. This would obviously use the rush by the defenders against themselves, and I firmly believe those plays would work well. Following that, it’s all zone blocking and three or five-step drops.

Defense: I predict that this is where the defensive front picks it back up. They have, surprisingly, had their issues attempting to slow down opposing running backs. I have confidence that Phil Taylor, Billy Winn, Desmond Bryant, and Ahtyba Rubin can halt Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett. Creating pressure on passing plays was something also lacking against the Saints. Fortunately Joe Flacco’s release of the football is a little bit slower than Drew Brees’s. I’d like to see Armonty Bryant take advantage of this.

While Paul Kruger is looking more and more like the 2012 player than the 2013 one (that’s a good thing), the outside linebackers could use the play of Barkevious Mingo. Even when he is not the main blitzer on a play, the second-year pro must be accounted for at all times. That’s where another guy, maybe even a Karlos Dansby, can come free and sack the quarterback. He has been the only visible man in the middle, as both Craig Robertson and Chris Kirksey have cooled since their strong preseason campaigns. Perhaps blanketing a Dennis Pitta or Owen Daniels could the a start to a successful year.

Joe Haden has not had the type of start many would expect the veteran to have. He has surrendered three touchdowns in two games and now has to defend athletes like Torrey Smith and Steve Smith this Sunday. Justin Gilbert improved significantly from his first NFL game, while Buster Skrine has been reliable. In the safety spots Tashaun Gipson is picking up where he left off in 2013; intercepting passes. If Donte Whitner can make a few more plays here and there, then this secondary can become really good.

Special Teams: For the first time in awhile, Browns’ fans have not been obsessed with their special teams. That’s large in part due to the offense being somewhat reliable. However, the performances of Spencer Lanning and Billy Cundiff have been solid and welcomed. I would like to see a long Travis Benjamin punt return this Sunday.

Coaching: What can Kyle Shanahan and Jim O’Neil dial up in this contest? The Ravens are built more like the Browns and much less like the Saints, so I bet both the offensive and defensive game plans will be more like the one for the season opener (with hopefully better execution).

Prediction (My Record: 1 – 1): I really want to buy into this team, and think they are much improved from a season ago. I’m not sure they can go 2 – 1 however, so I will select the Ravens as the victors by the score of 23 – 17 – and the Browns hang their heads going into their bye.

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Posted by on September 18, 2014 in NFL Season


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Victory! The Browns Beat the Saints!

Victory! The Browns Beat the Saints!

A Review of Game #2 – Browns vs. Saints

They didn’t look superb in all facets of the game the entire contest – but one thing was for certain. The Browns were simply good enough to win an NFL game, against a tremendous opponent nonetheless. I definitely felt some highs and lows in this contest, but let’s take a glance at what went down at First Energy Stadium.

Offense: Efficient and game manager are valid applications for Brian Hoyer in this game. The signal caller just went over 200 passing yards for the game, but also failed to make the huge mistake – he did make a couple horrific incompletions though. All in all, Hoyer led a game-winning drive when fans weren’t so sure he could (starting inside their own ten yard line). Hoyer hit nine different targets and didn’t let the Manziel “package” faze him. This outing is likely the ceiling for the veteran, but it was good for a win over the Saints. “Just good enough” works for me – at least for the time being.

I really enjoyed seeing the running attack not missing a beat. Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell combined for 122 yards on thirty carries and found the end zone once. Both run hard, and while their styles differ, they both know how to find holes in the defense. My guess is that Crowell will be worked more in the game plan as the season continues to wear on, but Terrance West is doing a fine job as the feature back.

The Andrew Hawkins acquisition continues to look like a shrewd move by Ray Farmer. The former Bengals led all receivers with seventy yards on six grabs, and had the huge catch to set up the game winner. I was happy to see Miles Austin get involved in this matchup. He hauled in six tosses for forty-four yards and had a touchdown. The growing pains are evident with the wide receiving corps, but perhaps this two-minute drive could be something that can be built upon. Like Hoyer, this group was far from exceptional but was “just good enough”.

None of the five guys upfront stood out in a negative way, and that’s a good thing. Mitchell Schwartz is always under scrutiny and he fared well against a unit that is not known for their tenacity upfront. However, there is nothing to complain about and that is refreshing. They opened holes for the running game and gave Hoyer time to throw. It was a job well done by the offensive line of the Cleveland Browns.

Defense: The return of defensive end Desmond Bryant gave me a ton of confidence that the home team would shut down the rushing attack of the Saints. 174 yards later and that was not really the case. It was rather frustrating seeing Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson take handoffs and dart down the field. However, when it came to the red zone the Browns stopped their opponent from running one in. I expect this group to get back on track next week with Bryant having a full game under his belt – but for now this was “good enough” to win.

Not having Barkevious Mingo limited the speed of the linebackers greatly, and Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard could not fill in the voids. Kruger had a sack, a hit on the quarterback, and a pass defended. Sheard had six stops and a pass defended – it was a decent outing but the guys (on the outside) were far from exceptional. Karlos Dansby led all defenders with twelve tackles and made a huge sack to prevent the Saints from going up four points late in the contest. Overall the linebackers made some plays and played well enough to seal the win.

Outside of a Tashaun Gipson interception return for a touchdown, the secondary for the Browns did not do anything exceptional. Joe Haden had the unenviable task of covering Jimmy Graham and surrendered a pair of touchdowns along the way. Justin Gilbert and Buster Skrine were rarely beaten deep, but the Saints always seemed to convert a third down and long – especially in the second half. Donte Whitner has become invisible in this secondary, is veteran Jim Leonhard going to steal some snaps from the Cleveland native?

Special Teams: It was a solid improvement by the special teams units by the Browns. They did not allow any large returns from the kickoff and punt units and Billy Cundiff’s field goal was the difference. That’s about all you could ask for these guys – to not be the reason why the team lost. I figure this will continue a majority of this season, and I won’t have to worry about the performance of the special teams.

Coaching: This was a great win for coach Pettine. He stuck to the run game, knew the offense’s capabilities, and orchestrated a blitz that led to only needing a field goal to win. I am glad this coaching staff earned their first win and got “the monkey off their backs” – many victories should follow down the road. They now play at home again versus a familiar foe, as my confidence in this team continues to increase.

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Posted by on September 14, 2014 in NFL Season


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Early Glance – Saints @ Browns

Early Glance – Saints @ Browns

Previewing Game #2 – Browns vs. Saints

All the good feelings and positive momentum were wiped away with a late field goal last Sunday, now the Browns face an unhappy Saints team who also lost on a field goal. The teams are nearly polar opposites; one is offensive-oriented with a so-so defense while the other relies on their defense and ball-controlled offense. I didn’t think the Browns had a shot last week, and they almost won it. Can the home team actually steal a win on Sunday?

Offense: The tale of two halves at Pittsburgh makes you wonder which Brian Hoyer will show up this week. The likely option is that it will be somewhere in the middle; if he can be smart with the ball and find the end zone a time or two then that could be enough for the win. The no-huddle offense seemed to work well for the Browns’ offense – but as other teams have film on it, they must make correct adjustments. I think Hoyer will be amped for this contest and have a fine outing.

The two rookies rushed exceptionally in the absence of starter Ben Tate. Terrance West looks to be the guy to tire out defenses (who have to chase him), while Isaiah Crowell simply runs over and through guys. At least in their opener, the Browns stuck to their running game – even when trailing by twenty-four points. I think these guys are the reason why the Browns will have any chance to win this contest. Hopefully other areas of the team step up as well.

Andrew Hawkins was the only receiving threat on the outside for the Browns. I believe he will garner more attention as a result, and athletes like Miles Austin and Taylor Gabriel will get additional opportunities to shine. I’d like to see some shorter, high-percentage throws to this duo – where they can have room to blow by defenders. All three tight ends had at least a reception last week. While none were amazing efforts, that position group (especially Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge) can unexpectedly help this offense out.

It will be interesting to see whether the Browns have to chip defenders coming off the edge against Mitchell Schwartz this week. There’s no doubt Rob Ryan will be flooding that side of the line a copious number of times. I’d like some up-tempo strikes as a result, when receivers can be in areas no longer occupied by linebackers. Running-wise, the offensive line did an exceptional job at opening holes – regardless of who was in the backfield. That is just another reason why a run-dominated offense should be in the Browns’ game plans.

Defense: The play of the defensive line, during the second half last game, also must come out in this contest. They cannot let Mark Ingram and the Saints’ running attack have a type of performance like Le’Veon Bell did. I’m pulling for a guy upfront to be consistent in bringing pressure on Drew Brees. Pettine’s defense typically rotates roles for all his defenders – can a Ahtyba Rubin or Phil Taylor be the man who terrorizes the opposing signal caller? I really enjoyed Taylor’s hustle last week (chasing down rushers in the first half); perhaps the coaching staff wants to put his “speed” to the test.

Following a subpar season, Paul Kruger had a masterful contest in week one. I was very glad to see him return to his 2012 form and am confident he can repeat that output on a regular basis. Outside of a Karlos Dansby interception, the guys inside did not have inspiring contests. Maybe the home crowd can get the two young guys (Kirksey and Robertson) pumped to make some plays on Sunday. One thing is certain, this trio must excel at coverage or the Browns’ defense will be in trouble.

Many fingers have been pointed at the poor secondary play against the Steelers – especially at Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert. They gave up multiple, deep passes to Markus Wheaton and Antonio Brown – my guess is that the Saints will attempt to replicate this attack. Gilbert just finished his first professional contest, while Haden seems to always struggle against Brown. I’d like to believe this duo and Buster Skrine will play lights out against the pass – but I simply just don’t see it.

Special Teams: Why is Travis Benjamin fair catching everything? Is he afraid of additional injuries? Whatever the reason, he is killing the team’s field position on punt returns. Chris Tabor either must demand that Benjamin fights for yards or just allows the speedster to only return kickoffs. On the other side, the Browns must improve greatly on punt returns – they surrendered way too many yards. Giving the Saints’ offense a short field is a recipe for disaster.

Coaching: I know it was only one game, but Pettine gets it. He got fired up on the sideline (the way Shurmur and Chud never did) and saw through the “moral victory” loser talk. Now, that’s great and all – but it’s time for him to get his first win as an NFL coach. He and his staff must notice what worked in the second half and make magic happen this Sunday.

Prediction (My Record: 1 – 0): Well, I got the loss correct but I have to give the Browns credit for fighting back last week. I think they play in another high scoring affair, only to come up a play short. The Saints take this one 30 – 24, and the Browns fall once again to 0 – 2.

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Posted by on September 11, 2014 in NFL Season


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We’ve Seen This Before – An Opening Day Loss

We’ve Seen This Before – An Opening Day Loss

Review of Game #1 – Browns @ Steelers

 It was the same book, different chapter scenario – the Browns managed to lose a close one in their opening game. Early on, it appeared this would be a blowout; however, the orange and brown clawed back to make it close. In the end, it was more of the same, as ONCE AGAIN the Browns are 0-1 to start the season. Let’s take a look at what went down…

Offense: After a forgettable first half, quarterback Brian Hoyer stepped his game up in the final two quarters. He finished the contest going nineteen of thirty-one for 230 yards and a touchdown. In some contests, this could be deemed good enough to win – which is how the coaches drew it up. However, a few plays were the difference, and Hoyer could not get the win. My confidence in the veteran increased significantly, but he must continue to prove he can perform – otherwise people will still want to see Johnny Manziel in games.

The Browns wasted some tremendous rushing performances in this contest. Terrance West, Ben Tate, and Isaiah Crowell each averaged over six yards per carry, and Crowell found the end zone twice. The veteran left the game at halftime and his availability going forward is unknown, but the pair of rookies appears to be able to shoulder the load. I believe this coaching staff will be determined to feed the ball to these guys all season long – hopefully it will be enough to get wins in the future.

The receiving corps only collected nineteen receptions, but they (specifically one guy) played better than I expected. Andrew Hawkins hauled in eight grabs for eighty-seven yards. He is definitely the go-to guy for now, and showed an ability to grab passes in tight spaces. Travis Benjamin, Miles Austin, and Taylor Gabriel each collected two receptions and look to be complementary pieces of this passing game. As far as the tight ends go, the trio of Cameron, Dray, and Barnidge tallied five receptions for ninety yards. While this area is still a work in progress, I believe they can hold their own in future games.

The offensive line got their act together later in this game, but Mitchell Schwartz’s performance is still alarming. Several times he got knocked backwards and defenders were able to easily get to Brian Hoyer. In the second half, he either got better or the coaching staff found a way to mask their weakness upfront (likely the latter). I expect more of the same type of play calling the rest of the way – to the limit the possibility of Schwartz hurting this offense.

Defense: Unfortunately, I was completely underwhelmed by the performance of the Browns’ defensive line. They surrendered a 100-yard rusher in Le’Veon Bell and never seemed to be in synch during this contest. Jabaal Sheard had a decent outing with three tackles, a sack, and a hit on the quarterback. The guys upfront never won the point of attack – I’m sure Pettine and O’Neil will challenge these guys to do that in the future. There is room to improve for this unit, and they must get better faster if the team wants to get into the win column.

The coaching staff vowed to get Paul Kruger back to his form while in Baltimore, and that is what happened in this contest. The veteran finished with five tackles, two hits on the quarterback, and a pair of sacks. Barkevious Mingo played decently; the linebacker had four stops and was around multiple tackles. Karlos Dansby collected six tackles and had the only real “stop” of the Steelers offense in the first half – without his interception, the game could have been much worse.

Justin Gilbert was the weak leak of the secondary and Big Ben attacked the rookie consistently. The Oklahoma State star was picked on a fair amount of times and was defeated with ease. I know he will get better over time, but that was tough to watch the eighth overall pick play against veterans. Buster Skine and Joe Haden were far from perfect, but the duo limited the opposition from huge strikes through the air. Tashaun Gipson left the contest in the first half, but Jordan Poyer and Jim Leonhard stepped up admirably in his absence at free safety.

Special Teams: Travis Benjamin had an ordinary day in returning kickoffs, but the Browns’ coverage units were far from great. The Antonio Brown stomp (at Billy Cundiff) really hurt the home team and the Browns benefited of the personal foul in the second quarter. Other than that, there were no huge plays for the special teams units – other than the field goal to lose the game.

Coaching: I loved to see the halftime adjustments made by this coaching staff. The group saw what worked and what didn’t – and tried to put the team in the best shape to excel in the third and fourth quarters. It was a tremendous success, outscoring the opponent 24-3 in that span. However, the coaches can only do so much – a team trailing by twenty-four in the first half has to be perfect to come back from that deficit. The Browns simply were not.

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Posted by on September 7, 2014 in NFL Season


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Looking at the Opener – Cleveland @ Pittsburgh

Looking at the Opener – Cleveland @ Pittsburgh

Previewing Game #1 – Browns @ Steelers

The NFL did no favor for the visiting squad who has struggled both in season openers as well as competitions at Heinz Field. Both of which occur on Sunday afternoon; the odds are long and many feel another lopsided win will occur by the black and yellow. However, there’s still a shot at the upset, let’s preview this matchup…

Offense: It’s fair to believe that Brian Hoyer’s not going to throw for 350 yards and four scores in the opener. However, where he can “get it done” is in pressure situations. This includes difficult third downs where converting can mean flipping field position and keeping Big Ben off the field. Hoyer must be smart in reading the defense and not swinging for the fences. A staple of the opposing defense has been baiting signal callers into difficult tosses, only to garner turnovers. Sunday will be an excellent opportunity for the veteran to prove he can do what it takes to win a road contest.

Ben Tate, Terrance West, and (surprisingly) Isaiah Crowell should all make sure their legs are well rested. I figure around thirty carries to be distributed among this trio; any fewer could be trouble for the Browns (as they would need to pass to catch up). Tate should be the between the tackles guy, while West figures to be a pass catcher and run in open field athlete. Crowell’s performance makes him an intriguing option – he ran exceptionally well last week but against third stringers. What can he do in a regular season contest? That is a huge question.

My expectations for the wide receivers could be at an all-time low (a.k.a. 2011 low, where Greg Little was the big playmaker). Short, quick throws will be prevalent by the Browns, and those targets must secure those and run away from defenders. However, I worry most about the guys on the outside getting separation and allowing Hoyer to find targets down the field. If this doesn’t happen, the Steelers’ defense will load up the box (between the tackles) and make life miserable for anyone who is holding the football.

Once again, the offensive line faces a stern test they cannot afford to fail. The guys across the line of scrimmage will be relentless all game long, whether it’s tackles, ends, or linebackers. Many eyes will be on right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who some feel is this unit’s weak link. Jason Worilds and Lawrence Timmons are the likely candidates to flood the right side of the offensive line; Schwartz must do his best to put out “a few fires”.

Defense: I truly hope Desmond Bryant heals from his wrist surgery quickly but understand he will be limited in his playing time for a little while. Armonty Bryant has been exceptional in the preseason, and I want to see him keep that up in Pittsburgh. He brings a unique versatility in the passing game and his smaller size has allowed him to knife by offensive linemen. Perhaps his play could force the home team to focus on him more – allowing veterans Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin to face just one guy. This decision could be advantageous for the visitors.

The linebackers should be in certain situations that force the action quickly. Barkevious Mingo, Jabaal Sheard, and Paul Kruger will do their best shoot both inside and outside gaps to be disruptive. Mingo is due for a breakout performance – why not in this contest? The Chris Kirksey/Craig Robertson battle has been an exciting one, mostly because both are performing well. While somewhat of a weakness in 2013, the inside linebackers have a chance to be a strength of this year’s team. My bold prediction is that Karlos Dansby makes a huge play – be it a sack, interception, or important tackle to force a fourth down.

The pair of cornerbacks is finally afforded a chance to see the field after missing the past few weeks. Joe Haden says he’s good to play, while Buster Skrine might have to wear a protective glove over his injured thumb. However, their presence should lessen the pressure off rookie Justin Gilbert, who looks like he needs more time before he can be a great cornerback. Tashaun Gipson and Donte Whitner will start out at the safety spots in this contest. While the latter is a veteran, he has been far from perfect the past few weeks. Should he or Gipson struggle, Pettine could go to his guy, Jim Leonhard, for some snaps in the secondary.

Special Teams: I bet both Travis Benjamin and Taylor Gabriel will see time as returners in this contest. Any advantage the Browns can get is very important, and field position is very important. Kicking at Heinz Field has proven to be difficult over the years – I doubt the game will come down to one kick, but a key miss might affect a young team like the Browns.

Coaching: Pettine and Jim O’Neil should be aggressive on defense, but not to the point of reckless. They must make it as difficult as possible on the opposition, but once Big Ben exploits something – the coaches must realize this immediately and switch things up. Offensively, Kyle Shanahan should start out conservatively (two runs and then a pass format), until the defense makes their tendencies apparent. That is when the team can dial up a play for Hoyer to strike.

Prediction (2013 Record: 10-6): I would love nothing more than the Browns to come out, steal a win, and give this fan base hope for the upcoming season. However, I simply do not see this occurring, and the drought at Heinz Field grows to twelve straight losses. The Browns fall on the road by the score of 31 – 17 and yet again start 0 – 1.

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Posted by on September 4, 2014 in NFL Season


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