Looking Ahead to Game #5 – Steelers @ Browns
Who would have thought that this contest is a big one for the Cleveland Browns? Well it sure is, and the team can make up a bit for the two earlier division losses. Will a win give the Browns the inside track for the playoffs? Certainly no, but they might continue to be relevant over the course of the 2014 season. Let’s break down this matchup between the Browns and the Steelers…
Offense: There, Brian Hoyer finally got that turnover out of his system. All joking aside, I predict another flawless outing for the quarterback – in terms of protecting the football. One thing that the signal caller is not getting enough credit for; is trusting all of his teammates and allowing them to make plays. The first two guys who come to mind (from last week’s contest) are Jim Dray and Travis Benjamin. The tight end is perceived to be an afterthought in this league, while the wide out has had a tough season so far and some wanted him off the team. However, Hoyer found both for scores in Nashville – having a leader who finds the open guy (no matter who it is) is huge for the Browns.
Heavy on Ben Tate and light on the rookies appears to be a good formula for the Browns’ running attack. The veteran eclipsed the 120-yard mark last week, while both rookies made the most of their opportunities. It was refreshing to see Tate carry it a few times in a row, get a breather, see Crowell garner a six-yard scamper, and have Tate back for the next play. I would still like to see this part of the roster be more active in the receiving game – perhaps the fifth game is where it begins. Doing so would give defensive coordinators yet another thing to think about and it would provide another advantage for the Browns.
Can Taylor Gabriel become the number two wide out for Browns’ offense? Were the last two contests aberrations? I am eager to find out; the undrafted rookie has made some long receptions this year. He’s no Josh Gordon but is filling one aspect the suspended
star possesses. Andrew Hawkins took a step back last week (three receptions for twenty-seven yards), but I look for him to get back on track in this contest. As far as predicting the off-the-radar guy (who impresses) this week, I feel that Gary Barnidge could secure a few touchdowns in the red zone.
The offensive line surrendered a sack early on against the Titans; they ratcheted up their play the rest of the way – keeping Hoyer clean on drop backs. They paved wide-open running lanes as well, why shouldn’t this continue at home? I love watching the offensive line play, and many only notice them when a guy is getting either knocked backwards or is easily getting beat by a defender. This is a contest where the Browns must come out, flex their muscles upfront, and impose their will on the defensive front seven – it can be done.
Defense: It’s safe to say the defensive front faces a major challenge on Sunday. Le’Veon Bell made them look foolish in the season opener, and it was a sign for things to come for the guys up front for the Browns. I’m starting to lose faith that Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor (if he’s healthy), and Billy Winn can corral opposing rushers at all. These guys have been stellar for no more than two quarters of a contest. Sunday would be an excellent opportunity to see the defensive front shut down the opposing rushers.
Big Ben has feasted on Browns’ linebackers missing tackles, giving the quarterback more time to heave it downfield (that was on display in the opener). Barkevious Mingo has been very underwhelming this season, if he could use his speed to at least force the quarterback into a sack by a defensive teammate – then it will have been a job well done. Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard have been much more reliable, they will be counted upon this Sunday. On the inside, is Chris Kirksey’s play warranting more playing time? He was been more active last week (just ask Jake Locker); I want to see him build upon that.
The poor play of Joe Haden and Buster Skine, as well as the demoting of rookie Justin Gilbert leaves me befuddled when it comes to the Browns’ secondary. Is K’Waun Williams a diamond in the rough at cornerback? The undrafted rookie made some plays last contest – both in defending the pass and getting to the quarterback. I don’t know if he alone can improve the secondary, but Pettine and his staff must figure out a way to get that part of the team better – and fast.
Special Teams: It took a negated muffed punt to remove Travis Benjamin from his returning duties. Jordan Poyer filled in well, and I would be content if he remained there the rest of the season. All other units were ho-hum and that was what I was hoping for. The blocked punt was a game-changer, it will not happen this week but maybe the Browns can do something else in the special teams to tilt the scales.
Coaching: The two failed fourth down attempts cannot occur in this contest. I do not envision the Browns being capable of shutting down the Steelers’ offense, giving the ball back to the offense, and driving the ball down the field for a score – multiple times. Pettine will have a small margin for error when it comes to making the right decisions.
Prediction (My Record: 3 – 1): I got a good feeling about this one and see the Browns breaking this loss-win-loss streak they are on. Some early scores and some late, efficient game of keep-away will turn into a Browns 27 – 23 victory.