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On to Carolina – Previewing the Browns Next Opponent

On to Carolina – Previewing the Browns Next Opponent

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

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Posted by on December 18, 2014 in NFL Season

 

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Ending the Regular Season: The Cleveland Browns in 2014

Ending the Regular Season:  The Cleveland Browns in 2014

Rounding out the Final Four Contests of the 2014 Schedule

Previewing Games 13 – 16:

Assuming the four opponents play to their capabilities, what a difficult way to finish off the regular season for the Cleveland Browns.  In it, they face three teams coming off playoff appearances and the other is a perennial Super Bowl contender.  It’s hard to predict (right now) whether the Browns will need to go 3 – 1 or 4 – 0 here to clinch a spot in the playoffs, or whether these matchups will, once again, be irrelevant.  Nonetheless, let’s see what the squad is up against.

Sunday, December 7th – vs. Indianapolis

Outside of a Peyton Hillis-led drubbing of Kerry Collins and the Colts in 2011, the home team has gone down in defeat each time they faced the Colts since 1999.  Battling Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck are not simple tasks, but the Browns were due for at least one upset, right?  Hopefully 2014 is the year where the team comes together and finally
takes down the blue and white.  Current odds of victory (1-10): 4

Sunday, December 14th – vs. Cincinnati

As much as the visiting team struggles in this rivalry, the home team should be attributed to doing its job as well.  Brian Hoyer was the hero last time the Bengals visited First Energy Stadium in 2013.  Should we expect a repeat performance?  I believe that Johnny Manziel will be under center for this contest, but I have been known to be wrong (from time to time).  Again, I might be mistaken, but a win here should be ripe for the picking.  Current odds of victory (1-10): 6

Sunday, December 21st – @ Carolina

A rare matchup between inter-conference foes is the scenario for both the Panthers and Browns.  It’s unlikely that the home squad will repeat their 12 – 4 record from a year ago; but they should still remain a solid bunch.  Cam Newton is a dynamic quarterback who can give defenses fits – especially if they are not properly prepared.  I cannot wait to see what coach Pettine draws up as his game plan for this one.  Current odds of victory (1-10): 4

Sunday, December 28th – @ Baltimore

Should the Ravens clinch a berth in the playoffs before kickoff (via wildcard or division crown); do not expect a “let up” for their guests.  The Browns will have to fight tooth and nail in this contest if they want to spur an upset.  Like many away venues, this has been a cruel one over the years.  I can only hope that lady luck is on the side of the orange and brown – the way it was for Phil Dawson’s game-tying kick in 2007.  Current odds of victory (1-10): 2

Conclusion:  Many Browns fans are trained to be pessimistic, largely to the team’s underperformance and overall bad football.  While I have been accustomed to that type of thinking, I sense 2014 can be different.  Despite feeling less than 50/50 in three of these four contests right now, one never knows what can happen when the game is actually played.  I believe the Browns make the leap to the playoff hunt this season and what occurs in December will decide the team’s fate (I’m praying for a miracle).

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2014 in NFL Season

 

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