Turning the Page to – Game #14 – Browns @ Panthers
I still cannot believe the Browns played that poorly last week; however, they must forge on and get ready for a Carolina Panthers squad coming off a narrow (and critical) win. Although the playoffs are out of reach, the Browns must continue to improve – especially the offense (who has miles to grow). Despite their most recent effort, I feel they have a shot in this contest. Let’s break down the matchup.
Offense: So game number two must be better for Johnny Manziel than the first one, right? Granted, he was put in some poor situations (play-call wise) – but he could not move the football down the field at all. I figure Kyle Shanahan will revert to more of a traditional shotgun look, and temper the zone read option. Additionally, I would like to see some longer routes run by Josh Gordon, Andrew Hawkins, and Travis Benjamin. Do I expect Manziel to hit these athletes for deeper gains? I hope so, but worst-case scenario is that he finds the open man underneath consistently.
Put back in the quick toss and off tackle plays already! The option plays killed any momentum for Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West. The aforementioned calls can get the athletes in space and actually allow them to pick up yards (provided there’s room to run). Additionally, I would hope the team looks for a quick handoff or a toss on third down and short – as opposed to a designed quarterback draw. The success of the running attack is highly dependent on the five guys upfront and their ability to do their jobs.
The Browns have not thrown a touchdown pass since Josh Gordon was reinstated to this team. I’m hoping this streak ends on Sunday; the wide outs are too talented to not be able to make a big play. I understand there was several three-step and five-step drop backs last week, but each receiver has the speed to bust a long gainer. And when Manziel actually has a seven-step drop, look for a guy or two to get behind an unsuspecting defender.
I really had no idea what was going on with the offensive line last week. If the Browns don’t fix what ailed them, then they won’t be able to beat anyone in the NFL. Penalties, missed assignments, and overall poor play are inexcusable – and this was not the preseason. The main problem is see is on right tackle, where Mitchell Schwartz has been struggling. Manziel must get the ball out early on several occasions, as he has been under pressure and looking for defenders to avoid. If Schwartz can get some help, maybe this offense has a chance.
Defense: The Browns’ defense better put a (figurative) target on the chest of Jonathan Stewart after that dismal performance against Jeremy Hill. Their goal should be realistic – hold the Panthers to under 100 yards on the ground. Anything better than that would be icing on the cake. The bottom line is that Desmond Bryant cannot do it all himself – the defensive end has been exceptional but has also been the only reliable guy upfront. Ahtyba Rubin and Billy Winn should be playing better – this week would be a good time to do so.
For the first time in awhile, someone outside of Paul Kruger is making plays at outside linebacker. Barkevious Mingo has been improving his play when getting to the edge on passing plays. The problem might come when the Panthers are handing it off a majority of the time – neutralizing Mingo’s effectiveness. I have liked what I have seen from Chris Kirksey and Craig Robertson recently. Both have been stout against the run and the pass. I anticipate at least three key plays from this duo; whether it’s a forcing of a turnover or causing the defense to get off the field in a key spot.
It will be interesting to see who lines up at cornerback and how often for the Browns this week. Both cornerbacks Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert left last week’s contest (with minor injuries), while K’Waun Williams did not participate at all. On the flip side, rookie Kelvin Benjamin has used his height and length to make opponents look foolish this year. I expect the wide out to have at least one score, but the Browns’ secondary to have a good performance otherwise. Tashaun Gipson’s possible return could be huge for the visitors.
Special Teams: Kicker Garrett Hartley never got his shot to kick last week – hopefully he can put some points on the board in Charlotte. The special teams overall have been resilient and consistent over the past few games. What I want to see in this contest is one huge break; a turnover forced or a very long return.
Coaching: My, oh my, the offensive staff must throw out last week’s playbook and put Manziel in spots to make plays. The quarterback cannot afford to be pegged in certain situations that will not lead to success. Defensively, aggression is the key – you better bet the Panthers will try to run it consistently. Stop it early and the whole complexion of this matchup changes.
Prediction (My Record: 9 – 5): I envision a multitude of improvements by the Browns in this contest and can see them actually scoring points. However, the home team will make one more play and will pull this one out to the tune of