Browns @ Titans – Game #4 Preview
Enough of the waiting game, it’s not time for the Browns to get back on to the field for some football. They face a foe in the Titans, who have been looking rather suspect since their opening win over the Chiefs. This is still the NFL though, and the Browns can ill-afford to take their opponent lightly; especially when they are on the road. Nonetheless, lets review this matchup of two teams needing a win…
Offense: The Browns will open up the playbook a bit more in this contest, I believe. Brian Hoyer will seek deeper tosses a fair amount, it will come down to how he can connect on these opportunities. I’m not sure his interception streak continues, but this is a contest where the defense ought to rise up if the Browns give the ball to the Titans’ offense. Hoyer should easily get over the 200-yard mark in this contest, and I figure he will be a part of at least two passing touchdowns.
All three running backs must be sure they are fresh and ready to go in this contest. Tate, West, and Crowell might combine for thirty carries against the Titans. Obviously the game will dictate opportunities for this trio, but I am bullish that the Browns will rely heavily on their back while defending their lead. I would be disappointed if the Browns do not eclipse 150 yards on the ground on Sunday; that may seem like a lofty goal but the Titans have been putrid in stopping opponents.
How can Andrew Hawkins and Miles Austin follow up some nice performances in the first three contests in 2014? That is the big question, as the opponent continues to be stout against the pass (but that could be because opponents do not need to throw). I want to see Jordan Cameron get going, with a week off to heal up with from his shoulder injury. A Jim Dray, Gary Barnidge, or Taylor Gabriel might come up with a big play in this contest – those under-the-radar guys typically do one little thing to tip the scales in an NFL game.
The offensive line has been more than solid for the Browns this season. I do not see how this trend stops; all five should keep the pocket clean for Brian Hoyer. There’s not a whole lot more that I can say about the zone-blocking scheme – the athletes have picked up the concepts and are executing them exceptionally. Is zero sacks allowed a reasonable expectation? I believe it is – I have high hopes for the Browns in this contest and am confident they will perform well in Nashville.
Defense: The defensive front is beyond due for a knockout, dominant performance. Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin are the duo that needs to pick their games up; each has been mediocre through three outings. They face Shonn Greene and Bishop Sankey – a pair of backs who entered the campaign with lofty expectations. The home team will likely feed the ball to both rushers an ample amount of times, but it will be up to the Browns to limit them and force the Titans to heave the ball. Do that, and the Browns’ chance of winning increases significantly.
Chris Kirksey, Barkevious Mingo, and Craig Robertson are three linebackers who must play with more intensity (and intelligence) if the defense wishes to improve. All have been disappointments up to this point, and only Paul Kruger and to a lesser extent Karlos Dansby, have put some sort of fear into opposing offenses. There have been no turnovers forced and just a handful of sacks from the linebacker corps. Coach Pettine was expected to improve this unit from last year’s crew. This is not to say it won’t happen, but Sunday would be a great start for some guys to begin dominating.
The way the NFL has trending (i.e. new rules and penalties); a tremendous amount of pressure has been put on defensive backs to slow down wide receivers. Both Justin Gilbert and Joe Haden have been torched against the likes of Steve Smith, Antonio Brown, and Jimmy Graham – but the Titans do not feature a receiving option of that caliber. That being said, the Browns’ secondary is expected to hold its own against Kendall Wright, Delanie Walker, and Nate Washington. If Haden and Gilbert struggle on Sunday, it’s simply going to be a long season. Donte Whitner has been invisible so far at the strong safety spot – I want to see him make a few plays this week.
Special Teams: Before the season started, I felt the Browns had a strong enough special teams units where there were little to no concerns. Some horrible decisions on punt returns and poor field goal blocking, and I have rethought my stance. The Browns must find a way to fix this broken part of their team, or they will continue to lose tight contests. Depending on how the game progresses, Travis Benjamin’s time at punt returner could almost be up.
Coaching: Will Pettine employ Johnny Manziel more in this contest? Should we envision more of an aggressive game plan? I expect an affirmative response to both, as the coaches have had extra time to tinker with their coaching decisions. Aligning their defense to dominate bettert have been a priority in the off week – I hope the unit decides to now execute.
Prediction (My Record: 2 – 1): For the first time this season, I feel very confident in the Browns heading into the contest. I think the team gets out to an early lead only to see the home squad come back, but still ultimately fall short. The Browns win this contest 30 – 20 and return home with a 2 – 2 record.