Know Your Enemy: Cleveland Browns

Much like the Rams game, at the beginning of the year I saw this Sunday’s game against Cleveland as one the Panthers “should probably win.” Again, that view has now changed drastically with the Panthers on pace for the #1 draft pick and the Browns being a work in progress. The Browns are coming off two very bad seasons and are currently in a rebuilding process much like the Panthers only they seem to be having a little more success than us. A 3-7 record isn’t good by any means but the Browns have stayed competitive and in almost every game they’ve played this year. However, they still make too many mistakes to be a contender. They seem to have found some direction under head coach Eric Mangini with a solid offensive corps and promising defense led by Rob Ryan. The Browns have also found some promise in their rookie QB Colt McCoy however, he will not be starting this game due to an injury. Instead, it will be longtime Panthers QB Jake Delhomme, which could change the whole view of this game. How much he will change it is a good question, though. The Browns might have enough to win even with Delhomme at QB with how bad the Panthers have been playing. Remember the Bears game? Let’s examine this Browns team a little more closely.

Arguably, the MVP for the Browns this year is RB Peyton Hillis who was acquired in a trade with the Denver Broncos for Brady Quinn. Hillis usually gets around 20 carries a game and has always made the most of them. He is pretty big at 240 pounds and is capable of plowing over tacklers but he also possesses a lot of agility for a guy his size which makes him very dangerous. It’s a wonder why he never made it as a starter in Denver because he’s been a stud for Cleveland. Hillis will likely give the Panthers a lot of trouble this Sunday since they’ve had problems stopping the run all year and this is the guy you DON’T want to face when you are weak in tackling like some of our linemen and secondary are.

Look for Delhomme to throw a lot of screen passes his way. I’m assuming the Browns will tell Jake to just manage the game and not try to do too much given his tendencies to turn the ball over. He is considerably less mobile than McCoy so how much success the Panthers will have against him will be determined by how much pressure they can generate from the front four. If they can get in his face and make him uncomfortable, then he’s more likely to turn the ball over. Cleveland’s favorite pass plays are short routes over the middle to tight ends and slot guys, which has killed the Panthers in previous games. Carolina was towards the bottom at covering tight ends for awhile and Cleveland’s tight end, Benjamin Watson gets more targets than anyone else on the team. Be on the watch for him. Also, Josh Cribbs who typically lines up at slot and I think they will switch Mohammad Massaquoi and Chansi Stuckey to that position too. Whether or not Delhomme can get them the ball is the question. I’ve said numerous times that Delhomme can be a decent QB now if he’s not asked to do too much. Hopefully the Browns know that. With a line that’s given up 23 sacks this year, they will hope that Carolina’s pass rush played like it did last week where Joe Flacco had literally all day to throw.

Rob Ryan’s defense has also been a bit of a work in progress where there’s a lot of promising players but they aren’t the most talented staff. They do get a decent amount of pressure from the front 3 but Ryan loves to dial up blitzes every now and then so Jimmy Clausen can expect to see people in his face all game. The absence of Scott Fujita might make things a little easier on Carolina but Aaron Rubin, Kenyon Coleman and Matt Roth will be enough trouble as it is. They also have a great young secondary who picked the ball off four times last week against Jacksonville. The guys who stick out to me the most are safeties TJ Ward and Abram Elam. Clausen has to be careful on longer passes over the middle since these two will be all over the field. As far as their corners go, I think this is one of the few cases where an opponents #1 corner being out is a bad thing for us. Eric Wright has been abused all season and outperformed by Joe Haden, who has 3 interceptions so there’s a chance that Haden and Brown will be the #2 corners and both are solid. I will only hope that those two double team Steve Smith to give David Gettis and Brandon Lafell more room to work with but I think defenses are going to start respecting Gettis more since he’s proved he can be dangerous when left open.

The Browns also have the tendency to run a fair amount of trick plays whether they be fake punts or utilizing the versatile Josh Cribbs as a QB, Carolina has to be aware of them. Also of note is that they have a kicker who has been with the team since the organization’s existence in Phil Dawson and he has always been solid. Just like us and John Kasay.

So, the Browns are certainly no pushover and Carolina has to find a way to stop Peyton Hillis if they want to win. That’s how the Jags were able to beat them last week despite turning the ball over six times. Browns fans themselves will be watching with a lot of interest to see how Joe Haden does at the #1/2 corner position with Eric Wright being out. I have the feeling they are going to enjoy it a lot but hopefully Carolina can find a way around it. I think it’s going to depend on if the Panthers can get any big plays. As I said earlier, the Browns commit a lot of mistakes that end up costing them games and it’s up to the Panthers to take advantage of those mistakes to win.

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