Panthers-Browns matchups

It’s that time of the week where I’ll look at what some of the key matchups will be in this Sunday’s Panthers/Browns game. First I’ll talk about some updates on injuries for the Panthers. The word is that QB Jimmy Clausen is healthy and WILL start for tomorrow’s game, which is good news for Carolina. Also, we will likely see the return of RB Jonathan Stewart this week but it’s unclear if him or Mike Goodson will start. WR Brandon LaFell has also been practicing this week and looking to return. LG Travelle Wharton is still hurt and will not play, which means Mackenzey Bernadeau will start there and backup safety Jordan Pugh will also not play. Recently signed Gerald Alexander will take over his snaps.

For Cleveland, the key injuries other than QB Colt McCoy are CB Eric Wright, TE Benjamin Watson, WR Joshua Cribbs, LB Scott Fujita, LB Eric Barton and DE Kenyon Coleman. All are listed as either doubtful, questionable or have already been ruled out. McCoy is the one that sticks out the most but the injuries to Watson, Coleman and Wright are going to play a huge factor, as well.

Panthers Offense vs. Browns Defense Matchups

Jimmy Clausen vs. Browns Defense

Clausen’s seemed to be improving before getting hurt against Tampa Bay so I am holding out hope that he will continue to improve for the rest of the year. The Browns defense is one that thrives on capitalizing on big plays with their young corners and I can see Clausen possibly throwing a pick or two with how many passes he has deflected. He hasn’t taken a lot of shots downfield this year and that may work to our advantage against Cleveland with how many ball-hawks they have in their secondary, especially considering the weakest link, Eric Wright, listed as doubtful. Short routes and quick screens to David Gettis and Steve Smith could be his best friend. A lot will depend on how he responds to blitzes that Rob Ryan is likely to dial up. Clausen hasn’t responded well against them so far this season but he showed a lot of composure under pressure in the Tampa Bay game so I am holding out hope that it carries into this game and for the rest of the season.

Mike Goodson/Jonathan Stewart vs. Browns front 7

Eric Barton and Kenyon Coleman both being out for this game is going to be huge because Coleman and Barton are huge players for the Browns when it comes to stopping the run. Carolina has maintained their strategy of running the ball even with Goodson and he’s been successful so I am thinking it will continue with Stewart being back. Stewart has been a gigantic disappointment so far but I am hoping he has some kind of a breakout game soon and this might be the one to do it. The Browns are going to be depending a lot on NT Ahtyba Rubin to stop the run and he’s been excellent at doing that thus far so it should be a good matchup. SS TJ Ward has also been contributing to stopping the run as well and he’s been very good at it. Barton’s injury means that Jason Trunsik will play the LILB position, which is a favorable matchup if you’re a Panthers fan. His partner, Chris Cocung, may have his hands full. Needless to say, this is a very favorable matchup for the Panthers to establish a running game and I think Goodson and Stewart will be able to do a decent job of running it down the Browns throats. Of course, the offensive line needs to do their jobs as well and the playcalling is going to factor into how successful we are at the running game.

Steve Smith/David Gettis/Brandon LaFell vs. Sheldon Brown/Joe Haden/Abram Elam

I’m not sure how many three receiver sets we run but if we do run some then I am assuming Elam will play the nickel position to cover LaFell or Gettis. I think a better matchup for this would be to put Steve Smith in the slot position like he wanted to in the pre-season but Davidson has been apprehensive to do so. This is how the Ravens have so much success at passing the ball so I don’t see why it wouldn’t work for us, if only to give Smitty a better matchup. Elam is having a great rookie season but Smith can always find a way to get open and it’s a good opportunity for him to take advantage of a young secondary. I mentioned earlier that Clausen is more likely to throw shorter passes rather than taking shots down field but it should be taken into account that the Browns secondary loves to go for turnovers and forcing interceptions which could lead to them giving up big plays. In the end, I think Clausen is more likely to take the safe route and protect the ball.

Dante Rosario vs. Matt Roth/David Bowens

I think I’ve said a few times that I’ve given up on Jeff King and Dante Rosario completely but I see Clausen targeting him a lot in this game. Whether or not he catches the ball is the question. Roth and Bowens have shown skills in pass protection so if Rosario lets more passes go off his hands then it could be going the other way for six.

Ryan Kalil vs. Ahtbya Rubin

Being able to block Rubin will depend on if we have success in the running game through the middle. I could see him being double teamed by Kalil and MackBern but that will open the door for the Browns to blitz from the right side. Same thing if we have Geoff Schwartz double team him because then that makes it easier for Matt Roth or Marcus Bernard to blitz us, and Bernard has 6.5 sacks on the season. The offensive line played better last week in terms of run protection so I hope that will continue since this unit is weaker than the Ravens. Pass protection is another story. Let’s just say things will be easier if Kenyon Coleman is out and that the right side of their front 7 seems to be pretty weak compared to the right. Kalil’s been disappointing this season so I’m a little nervous about him being a key factor in this game but he is an All-Pro center so I hope he starts to look  more like one in this game.

Browns Offense vs. Panthers Defense

Jake Delhomme vs. Panthers defense

As a Panthers fan, I know all about Jake since he was the QB here for basically his entire career. Right now, he’s nothing more than a game manager and I have to think the Browns are smart enough to know that and will try to keep him as limited as possible, especially when you think of who they have in the backfield. Jake will have to take a shot eventually and he is very good at reading coverages but his biggest flaw is trying to force throws that aren’t there. I don’t know how much we will see of that on Sunday but Charles Godfrey and Richard Marshall will take advantage of bad throws when they see them. However, they are also the most prone to get burnt on long passes so be aware of that, too. Our defense has been around Delhomme long enough to know his habits and the Browns run a similar offense to ours when it comes to having a QB that only manages the game instead of winning it so I think we shouldn’t be too surprised with what Delhomme will throw at us this Sunday. His immobility will also make things easier on our pass rush.

Peyton Hillis vs. Jon Beason and James Anderson

Anderson has been a tackling machine all season and Beason’s always been ace at stopping ball carriers and they will have their hands full against Hillis this Sunday. Hillis is big enough to run over them and fast enough to get past them and how we’ve fared against the run in recent weeks doesn’t make me confident in how we’ll do in this game. Stopping Hillis will likely determine whether we win or lose. Kind of like how we didn’t stop Matt Forte against the Bears and that lost the game for us…..in the first quarter. I don’t have a lot of confidence in either Nick Hayden or Derek Landri so I’m placing hopes in Beason and Anderson in bringing this guy down.

Mohammad Massaquoi and Chansi Stuckey vs. Richard Marshall and Captain Munnerlyn

I’m assuming that Massaquoi will be lining up against Marshall instead of Chris Gamble seeing how that’s a more favorable matchup for him, but us switching things up and keeping Massaquoi on Gamble for the entire game would make things a lot easier for us considering he’s the lone bright spot of this pass defense right now. Slot receivers have killed us all year and with Josh Cribbs out, Stuckey will probably get most of the targets. Munnerlyn has been solid the last few weeks at the nickel position but I have to wonder if he will keep it up. He definitely has to speed to chase them down but coverage isn’t his best asset. Marshall’s been abused the past few weeks and I’m guessing the Browns will notice this and throw in his direction all game. However, he also has two interceptions and Delhomme is bound to throw a few wayward passes, which is where him and Godfrey are useful. Sherrod Martin will probably have a chance to get his first INT of the season, too if Delhomme isn’t careful. Godfrey will have some extra responsibility with taking down Peyton Hillis if he gets into the secondary, especially on passing plays, which the Browns will definitely run.

Benjamin Watson/Evan Moore vs. Nick Harris

Tight ends have also killed us this year and Watson has more targets than any Browns receiver so Harris being able to cover them is going to be critical. However, Watson may not play in this game so a lot might be depended on 2nd year man Evan Moore, who is big but hasn’t produced yet for the Browns this season. Still, I can see him playing a factor, especially with plays at the goal line.

Joe Thomas vs. Charles Johnson, John St. Clair vs. Everette Brown

First matchup speaks for itself; our best pass rusher against their best offensive lineman. Second one is a little more favorable to us since the Browns offensive line was very poor last week in allowing a mediocre Jacksonville run defense to shut them down. It’s also nice that the Browns offensive line and QB is noticeably slow and we have four very athletic defensive ends who will be more than happy to take advantage of this matchup.

Keys To Victory

– Stopping Peyton Hillis.If we can stop the run, then that puts the game into Delhomme’s hands we know how the story goes then.

– Take advantage of any opportunity the Browns give us. That means scoring on drives we force turnovers on. I’m too lazy to look up the stats for this but I am very sure we are near the bottom of the league when it comes to scoring off turnovers.

– Move the ball efficiently. The defense hasn’t been playing well the past week because they’ve been on the field for too long. Which leads me to the problem of the offense not being able to sustain any good drives. Nothing but three and outs or turnovers. This needs to change drastically if we want to win more than one game this year.

Final Thoughts/Prediction:

I know that everyone’s given up on this season already and rightfully so. You don’t get a shot at a #1 draft pick too often but I’d rather see us go down swinging than continue to put on one pitiful performance after another. Plus, I’d feel a little more comfortable going into next season if the team would look a little more competitive for the rest of the year because I know that it’s a team full of young players looking to win rather than just a bunch of scrubs. This is a game that we can win but it will not mean anything if we don’t execute. If the Panthers were to win this game, then I will see it being something like 20-14. Maybe I’m giving our offense too much credit there? That’s what I get for being an optimist.

 

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