Previewing Game #12 – Browns vs. Colts
This may be the last gasp for the playoffs for the Cleveland Browns this season. They cannot make the same type of mistakes that has riddled them over the past few contests. I understand they are playing at the friendly confines of First Energy Stadium – but they are up against a tough foe who they have only beaten once since 1999 (and that was the year in between Manning and Luck).
Offense: After holding down the fort a majority of this season, Brian Hoyer (after keeping his seat as the starting quarterback) is on a short leash. I would love to see what Johnny Manziel could do for his team from here on out, but that will not be the case as of now. Hoyer has had two miserable outings the past few weeks – and a November to forget. I’d like to think he can turn it around, but I doubt it.
Another fumble by Terrance West last week opens up the gate for Isaiah Crowell to be the feature back for this offense. The rookie from Alabama State has held the ball better as of late and has been much more explosive going through the line of scrimmage. What the offense needs are those early bursts to lead to long gainers; similar to the ones in Atlanta. Could we see some Glenn Winston this week?
After an exceptional first game, Josh Gordon had a setback last week. I would like to believe that starting Manziel would help the veteran out, as his and Hoyer’s timing appeared to be off last week. With the injury to Miles Austin, Travis Benjamin and Taylor Gabriel’s roles could be increased this week. Why can’t get back to a solid passing attack? The home crowd should definitely pump up Gordon for this matchup.
It’s one step forward and two steps backward for this offensive line. Just when you think they are continuing their progress towards respectability – they get manhandled by the Buffalo Bills. This is a more favorable matchup for the guys upfront – including Joe Thomas. The longtime veteran had a rough outing last week, committing a few penalties and allowing defenders to blow by him.
Defense: In theory, the defensive line should be licking its chops for this matchup. Trent Richardson, known around here as a bust, continues to be mediocre. Desmond Bryant, Ahtyba Rubin, and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen will have to corral the former Ohio State back Boom Herron primarily. Putting pressure on Andrew Luck will be difficult task, given the quarterback’s size and mobility. However, if the Browns can succeed here – who’s to say they cannot win.
The injury to Karlos Dansby continues to spell doom for the inside linebackers. Both Chris Kirksey and Craig Robertson have neither been able to make game-changing plays with the veteran sidelined. Meanwhile, Paul Kruger is the only man on the outside who has been impactful for the Cleveland Browns. Depth has definitely been tested for this part of the team. I anticipate Luck tormenting this unit on Sunday.
This ought to be another test for the Browns’ secondary. T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, and Coby Fleener are just some of the members who can make defenders pay. Last week, Joe Haden was the only guy who showed up for the orange and brown. A healthy Justin Gilbert can help on Sunday – provided Buster Skrine and K’Waun Williams to their part. I was greatly impressed with Jim Leonhard’s play last week in place of Tashaun Gipson. He needs to keep this up if the secondary wants success.
Special Teams: This might be the second-to-last game at First Energy Stadium for kicker Billy Cundiff. The veteran has now missed four kicks less than fifty yards this season – something not accustomed to NFL kickers. All other phases of the special teams were adequate last week. The only thing that worries me is giving up a huge return to Josh Cribbs (or even a score).
Coaching: With Brian Hoyer at the helm, the offensive play calling should be relatively the same. No matter who is in the backfield, the Browns have got to hinge their game plan on the running game. Defensively, the game plan must center on forcing the opposing quarterback to feel uncomfortable in the pocket. While this won’t be easy, it is a huge factor in the team’s success.
Prediction (My Record: 7 – 5): It would take a miracle for the Cleveland Browns to win this contest. And although I love their toughness and ability to fight back, they simply do not have what it takes to beat the Colts. The guests come away for a 27 – 17 victory and send the Browns into their first two-game losing streak of 2014.