This week, the Cleveland Browns are looking to come out strong after a bye as they head to Dallas to take on the Cowboys. It certainly won't be easy, though, considering Tony Romo's career record in November, and the fact that the Browns currently hold an 11-game losing streak on the road. Let's get to our position-by-position breakdown and prediction for the game.
I talked about Tony Romo's credentials in my scouting report for the Cowboys on Friday. Sometimes I will penalize opposing teams' quarterbacks for the current season they are having, even if they've had better days. I really think Romo, like Brandon Weeden, has been statistically brought down by two poor games against the Bears and the Giants. The Browns' defense has been having difficulty getting a consistent pass rush, and Romo can use his elusiveness and patience to make the big throws.
This will be a redemption game of sorts for Weeden, whose progress was halted a bit when he had an off game against the Ravens prior to the bye. Head coach Pat Shurmur emphasized that Weeden needs to cut down on the interceptions, but that doesn't mean Weeden should stop taking shots down the field. In fact, I think he needs to be more aggressive than he's been. I felt Weeden was doing this before he got rattled against the Cowboys, and I think he will regain his mojo this week.
Trent Richardson turned in a couple of solid performances prior to the bye week and should be a bit fresher injury-wise following a two-week break. Richardson has been having a good season, but he needs to find a way to move the chains in short yardage situations. That doesn't just involve Richardson, of course; the offensive line needs to get a good push as well. I'm interested in seeing if any change happens during the bye week with the third-down back situation; is there any chance Brandon Jackson springs back into action? Does Owen Marecic return to fullback? If not, why is he still on the roster?
The Cowboys will likely be without their best running back, DeMarco Murray, which means that Felix Jones will get the start again. Fun fact: did you know that Jones' first career game came in 2008 against the Browns? He had 9 carries for 62 yards and 1 touchdown in that game; Marion Barber was the Cowboys' featured back at that time. Fullback Lawrence Vickers has been getting a few touches for the Cowboys and will likely be going up against the likes of D'Qwell Jackson; I wonder if we'll see some trash talking there.
I love receivers who run sharp routes and catch the football every time the ball gets thrown to them, and that's exactly what Miles Austin does. Dez Bryant compliments him as a pretty dynamic receiver as well, and of course Jason Witten is one of the most reliable all-around tight ends in the league. The one person who has been a bit shaky is third receiver Kevin Ogletree; he's had a couple of good games, but has otherwise struggled and dropped some passes.
Greg Little reportedly had an inspirational talk with former NBA player Alonzo Mourning during the bye week and relayed that message to his teammates. I usually don't bye into something like this setting off the light in someone's head instantly, but I'm interested in seeing if there are any changes to Little's demeanor and play. I'm also interested in seeing which receivers Pat Shurmur decides to give reps to coming out of the bye, particularly when it comes to Mohamed Massaquoi and Josh Cooper.
The Cowboys have always seemed to have issues with their centers snapping the ball, and this week they'll be without the top two centers on their depth chart. That means Mackenzy Bernadeau, a former seventh-round pick, will probably make his first career start at center. That alone gives the Browns the advantage at this position.
The pass protection for Cleveland's offensive line has been brilliant, but they'll need to be extra cautious in knowing where DeMarcus Ware lines up pre-snap. I thought Cleveland's run blocking got better the second half of last season, so let's see if something like that materializes this year too.
Jay Ratliff is a reliable clog in the center of the Cowboys' 3-4 defensive scheme. The Cowboys also feature former Brown Kenyon Coleman at defensive end. I'm intrigued to see how the Browns do up front, particularly with plugging the holes better so that the linebackers can try to make some more plays in the backfield.
The cause of that would be the fact that Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin should be set to start together at defensive tackle for the first time all season. If either of those guys can draw double teams, does Jabaal Sheard start going off as a pass rusher?
The Cowboys have a decision to make this week at right inside linebackers; should a healthy Dan Connor return to the starting lineup, or should Ernie Sims, who has done a good job over the past two weeks, keep getting starter reps? Dallas' best linebacker threat is DeMarcus Ware, who is a sack machine and will always be looking to get hits on the quarterback.
The Browns still need some more solid play from the linebacker position, and that includes D'Qwell Jackson, who has had a couple of off weeks this season in terms of tackling. Our linebackers will also be responsible for covering Jason Witten on certain plays, something that isn't easy to do.
|DB||It has been confirmed that Joe Haden did make the trip to Dallas, meaning he remains a game-time decision. Even if he tries to give it a go, it's hard to imagine him being at his best. I'm guessing that he won't suit up, which is why Dallas has the advantage here. Cleveland is already without Dimitri Patterson, which means Trevin Wade could be thrown into the nickel back position for significant action. The Cowboys feature Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne on the outside, a duo that has really helped improve Dallas' pass defense.
The Cowboys' special teams coverage units have done a good job this year; they rank 1st in the league in covering punts and 14th in covering kickoffs. Second-year receiver Dwayne Harris has taken over as the team's punt returner. Last week, he had a game-changing 78-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Eagles. In Cowboys Stadium, Dan Bailey is 2-of-2 in his career from beyond 50 yards and has only missed one kick period in the stadium.
This is Phil Dawson's homecoming to Dallas, so he'll feel the pressure to deliver in front of all the people he has invited to the game. Reggie Hodges is looking to build on a positive day of punting before the bye; he'll need to show something over these final seven games if he wants a job in 2013.
I'd love to pick the Browns to win, but I have to go with the percentages. Tony Romo is 20-3 in the month of November, and he could be facing a porous Browns secondary. While the Browns have played some teams tough on the road, they haven't won away from home in over a year. I think Cleveland will play a highly competitive game, but fall just short.
FINAL PREDICTION: Dallas Cowboys 28, Cleveland Browns 23