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Saturday's Unconventional Breakdown

Browns fans should be bursting with confidence heading into this week's game against the Arizona Cardinals. Instead, many fans are keeping doubts in mind: "we should win, but the Cardinals scare me." Here are some general notes heading into the game:

  1. Cardinals' Defense: The Cardinals feature the 19th ranked pass defense in the league, but cornerback Eric Green and safety Adrian Wilson played a major role in that statistic. Both of them were ruled out for the remainder of the season during the week, forcing cornerback Antrel Rolle into a starting cornerback position. Wilson's safety position may see a platoon of defensive backs.
  2. 49ers Strike: The 49ers exposed the Cardinals' defense last week, but they did so in some interesting ways. There are a few methods the Browns can use to attack the Cardinals in a similar way, which I'll elaborate on a little later.
  3. Point Potential: Prior to the injuries, the Cardinals faced three teams known for their offensive potential: the St. Louis Rams, Detroit Lions, and Cincinnati Bengals. The Rams scored 31, the Lions scored 21, and the Bengals scored 27 against the Cardinals' defense. Considering the Browns have scored over 27 points in each of their past six games, I think it's a definite that the Browns should be able to walk all over the Cardinals' defense.
  4. Being Fair: If I'm going to look at one side of the equation, I have to look at the other side. In all three of those games in which the Cardinals gave up a considerable amount of points, they picked up a victory. No one can deny the fact that Arizona's offense is potent, but Kurt Warner can be forced into turnovers. He has thrown for eight interceptions and had lost five fumbles in nine games this season.
  5. Activate Harrison: I wanted him to be active last week, and I'm saying the same thing this week for when the Browns get into third-down situations (although we could still use Jason Wright in these situations and get away with it). Just look at this startling stat sheet throughout the game:
    2nd-10: Pass to Gore for 11 yards (Resulted in first down).
    3rd-11: Pass to Gore for 12 yards (Resulted in first down).
    2nd-4: Pass to Gore for 10 yards (Resulted in first down).
    2nd-10: Pass to Gore for 6 yards (Resulted in third down incompletion).
    2nd-9: Pass to Gore for 11 yards (Resulted in first down).
    3rd-12: Pass to Gore for 21 yards (Resulted in first down).
    1st-10: Pass to Gore for 6 yards (Resulted in turnover on downs).
    1st-10: Pass to Gore for 10 yards (Resulted in first down).
    1st-10: Pass to Gore for 7 yards (Resulted in touchdown).

    The statistics above only go as far as the next possible point that the team attempted to convert a first down. On top of those stats by Gore, he also ran the ball effectively. I'm not going to dare say we should specifically keep Lewis out of the game just so we can set up pass plays out of the backfield. However, with the type of production seen above, it's clear that this is a point the Browns can definitely attack.

  6. Anderson's Zip: Several times last week, Trent Dilfer was able to throw the ball ahead of the grasp of a defender, which resulted in the receiver being able to make the catch and take off as the defensive back was still busy trying to recover from his mistake. Anderson should have some opportunities to throw the ball to the slot receiver to a point where the defender, hopefully Ralph Brown, will bite and miss, leaving a wide open field ahead.
Those points are nice, but we aren't really worried about our offensive production heading into the game: we're worried about the possibility of Warner outshooting us. It doesn't look like Eric Wright will be able to start, so Brandon McDonald will have a lot of series where he's forced to come in and cover Larry Fitzgerald. I bragged last week that no one has been able to stop Andre Johnson, and the same holds true for Fitzgerald. His worst game of the season came in Week 1, where he had three catches for only 20 yards. Since then, he's averaged 7.2 catches per game 104 yards per game. It's not easy to have those numbers, and the Cardinals spread the field out a lot more often than the Texans do. Here are my top three defensive keys to tomorrow's game:
  1. Blitz Jones: Warner doesn't like to let a play go to waste. Jones has been blitzing effectively as of late, and he should be able to get a few knockdowns on Warner. From whatever side Jones blitzes from though, Pool should be hustling towards that side of the field in hopes that Warner will make a quick decision, resulting in an interception.
  2. Stack the Box: Edgerrin James has not run for over 100 yards since Week 2, but the Cardinals have still been able to get him a lot of carries despite a low average. The amount of carries has dipped over the past few weeks due to being in a couple of shootouts, and chances are that's what will happen in this game too. Early on though, the Cardinals will try to get James his carries meaning the Browns should stack the box to give our offense some quick extra possessions in the first half.
  3. Third Down Blitzing: Forget about trying to play drop back coverage in third and beyond seven situations. Warner has too much experience and too many talented receivers who will be able to convert a first down if they are given four+ seconds to find an opening. The Browns need to force Warner into quick decisions with heavy blitzing, even if it means leaving a guy like Fitzgerald in single coverage.
I don't expect a low scoring game tomorrow, but I do expect a Browns victory. Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf will be calling the action on CBS; a nice bonus for those of you who like them.