Welcome to Opposition Research, where I’ll be taking a look at the next Packers opponent, the Cleveland Browns (1-5). This week I’m coming to you from deep within enemy territory, and while the talk has been more about babies than blocking schemes, I’ll see if I can’t give you some insight into the team we’ll be facing on Sunday afternoon.
Coming into this game, the Browns are…dropping like flies, through the trifecta of trade, injury, and seasonal illness. Former Pro Bowler Braylon Edwards was traded away to the Jets after Week 4. The team’s Wednesday injury list included 23 players, fully 43% of the roster. Of greater concern to the Browns, however, may be the onslaught of the flu (no confirmed H1N1 cases), which caused 12 players (including 6 starters) to call in sick to practice. After last year’s staph debacle, Mangini has promised that the team is “aggressively” attacking this latest contagion. Right.
The Browns have been so sidetracked by injury and illness that they haven’t spent much time dwelling on Sunday’s 27-14 drubbing at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Big Ben put up over 400 passing yds, with Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes each averaging around 20 yds a catch. The game was ugly as far as turnovers were concerned – within 1:25 in the third quarter, each team coughed up the ball twice. Losing on the road to the Steelers has become commonplace for the Browns (1-9 at Heinz Field), and the team’s attitude was best summed up by QB Derek Anderson:
We’re not trying to lose every time we go out here. We put tons of hours in and … it’s frustrating. Every single week, it’s frustrating.
The fans at home are… amazed at the unique ways the Browns have found to lose games (a must-read).
You expected to read ” . . . pass short middle to whoever wants it for however long they want to run on their way to the playoffs while the Browns try in vain to resemble a football team . . . ” but that never made the play-by-play.
When looking at the Packers on film…the Browns defense sees Aaron Rodgers as “a slippery guy.” Eric Mangini doesn’t know either Rodgers or Dom Capers that well, but he respects them both. He thinks that Rodgers “does a nice job” of throwing the ball to his receivers, who “do a nice job” making plays after the catch. Riveting.
Something to chew on… Even with everyone asking “WTF is wrong with Ryan Grant?,” the key to win involves the Packers running the football. The Browns are even worse against the run than the teams we’ve faced thus far. If he can’t break off runs on Sunday, Ahman Green may see the field again sooner than we expect.
What We’re Up Against: Josh Cribbs. No, really, even Pete Dougherty agrees that he’s pretty much the Cleveland Browns at this point. (Anonymous Browns fans — who may or may not be related to this blogger — believe that if Cribbs were to throw to himself, the Browns might become a more effective passing offense.) If you only pay attention to receiving stats, Cribbs languishes far below 100 yds, but he’s already racked up 654 yds on kickoffs (a 28.4 yd avg) and 286 more on punts (16.8 yd avg), taking one of each all the way to the house. He’s returned 6 kickoffs for touchdowns in his career, most among active players. He’s also been asking for either a trade or a payday, and the Browns aren’t (yet) interested in giving him either.
Cribbs ran the Wildcat 10 times in the first half against the Steelers, including 4 successful runs in a row before being intercepted by Polamalu. He guaranteed the trick play would show up this week in practice, so get ready for a heavy dose of #16 on Sunday.
Cleveland still doesn’t have a reliable quarterback. In his last two games, Derek Anderson (who we know will be starting on Sunday, unlike in Week 1) is 11/41 for 145 yds, 1 TD, and 2 INTs. (Tom Brady, meanwhile, had 252 yards and 5 TDs in the 2nd quarter of Sunday’s absurdity against the Titans.) Anderson admitted on Wednesday that he and new target Chansi Stuckey aren’t on the same page, and said that drops don’t stop him throwing to a receiver: “It’s not an issue of them not being able to catch.” (This blogger thinks that it might be.)
Glance at a few stats and you’ll see gaping holes: the Browns average only 136 passing yards per game, league-worst but for Oakland. They earn 4 fewer yards on average (4.9) through the air than the Packers (3rd behind the Colts and Steelers). The collective passer rating of the Browns currently sits at 47.5. Ouch. The gap for yards on the ground is small – Cleveland averages 3.9 yards, only 0.2 behind Green Bay, but when you only convert 28% of your third downs, it’s hard to sustain drives and get those numbers up.
The Browns defense is little better. They allow a league-worst 407 yards per game, and only the Rams yield more first downs. The loss of D’Qwell Jackson to season-ending injury can’t be overstated. Not only is Jackson the team’s top defender (46 solo tackles), but he’s also been the guy Mangini trusts most on the defense.
The Browns have sacked opposing quarterbacks 12 times, but have only managed 3 picks. The sack leader for the team, OLB Kamerion Wimbley, has had a sack in 4 of the first 5 games, and is likely to bring pressure on Sunday. (Ex-Packer Corey Williams also had a sack against Carson Palmer in Week 4.) The Packers should also watch out for 350-lb behemoth NT Shaun Rogers and CB Eric Wright, both of whom can disrupt an offense’s rhythm.
Still, given the Browns’ fear of scoring (they’ve only managed 69 points through six games), the Packers can win if they can put together a couple solid scoring drives – odds are, two touchdowns will win the game. Still, it must be said, the Browns play tough at home. They hung with the Vikings (for a half) in Week 1, and they fought the Bengals to the bitter end in Week 4. If the Packers can’t clamp down on special teams and the Wildcat, the game could get messy.
- Brady Quinn put his house in Avon Lake, OH, up for sale within days of the trade deadline…but that doesn’t mean he wants to leave the Browns.
- The Packers aren’t the only “throwback” team in this game. The Browns have brought in Bernie Kosar as an offensive consultant. Kosar, who played with the Browns from 1985-1993, once said of Coach Belichick, “He says I’m not productive. But he got rid of the players I was productive with.” This is, according to local beat writers, history repeating itself.
- On Wednesday, the Browns signed TE Michael Gaines, who was recently released by the Chicago Bears to make way for DE Gaines Adams. The Browns are in need of a TE, having lined up OG Hank Fraley at the position against the Steelers.
- Rolling Stone is not fond of Eric Mangini, calling him the “Hurricane Andrew of … mismanagement.” What’s worse than being compared to a historic natural disaster? Being compared to Augustus Gloop.