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Cleveland Browns vs. Arizona Cardinals

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Game: Cleveland Browns (7-4) vs. Arizona Cardinals (5-6)
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, AZ)
When: 4:15 PM EST
Announcers: Greg Gumbel & Dan Dierdorf (CBS)

Are you ready for a Super Bowl preview? Ok, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself if I'm saying the Browns will return to Glendale, Arizona in February to take on the NFC's best, but I'm looking forward to seeing the Browns play in this stadium in what is bound to be a high scoring game. Both teams were strong wildcard hopefuls in their respective conferences prior to last week's games, but each team experienced a different result. While the Browns played very well at home against the Houston Texans, the Cardinals blew several opportunities to put the San Francisco 49ers away. Thus, the Browns currently hold a wildcard spot in the AFC, while the Cardinals are stuck in about a six-way tie for seventh place in the NFC (which, of course, gets you nothing come January).

Just like I did last week, I'm going to highlight a couple of other games to watch today. These games will have the most significant impact on the Browns' playoff chances:

Houston Texans (5-6) vs. Tennessee Titans (6-5): After the Texans did a favor by losing to us last week, they could certainly do us another favor by beating the Titans, which would give the Browns a two-game lead assuming we take out the Cardinals. The worst case scenario would be if the Titans won and the Browns lost: there would be a tie for the wildcard spot based on records, but we would still hold the advantage due to a better conference record. With Albert Haynesworth scheduled to return to the lineup for the Texans, I think Houston will be in disarray on offense. In this game, you can bank on the Titans taking out the Texans.

Cincinnati Bengals (4-7) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3): The Bengals came through for the Browns last week by beating the Titans, and boy would they come through for us again this week with a win over the Steelers. Pittsburgh's offense has not put points on the board the past two weeks, but a home game against the Bengals' defense should cure that. Cincinnati's offense has caught fire too, but overall the communication and protection problems have been an issue for them against the league's top defenses. In this game, you can count on the Steelers maintaining their one-game lead on the Browns with a win.

Now, here's the preview for the showdown between the Browns and the Cardinals...

OFFENSE

Category Browns Cardinals
Points Scored 28.6 (3rd) 23.1 (10th)
Passing 243.4 (11th) 246.2 (10th)
Rushing 107.8 (16th) 87.6 (27th)
Total Offense (yards) 351.2 (9th) 333.8 (14th)

DEFENSE

Category Browns Cardinals
Points Scored 28.3 (32nd) 23.5 (24th)
Passing 266.5 (30th) 216.6 (19th)
Rushing 131.4 (28th) 101.1 (15th)
Total Defense (yards) 397.9 (32nd) 317.7 (12th)
- Quarterback
It's been an interesting couple of years for veteran quarterback Kurt Warner. He had three great seasons with the St. Louis Rams, but then was ousted by current Rams quarterback Marc Bulger. Then, he was brought to the Giants for one year to help guide Eli Manning along. It's hard to believe he's spent three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals now, but his best shot at playoff contention came this season after Matt Leinart went down with a season-ending injury. Warner has played with a large cast on his non-throwing arm the past several weeks, and it hasn't slowed him down considering he threw for nearly 500 yards last week. The Cardinals like to bring in Tim Rattay in the game in situations down near the goal line, and the formula has worked in Arizona's favor. Derek Anderson's season still far outweighs that of the Cardinals' quarterbacks. The biggest, and most underrated statistic I'd look at is lost fumbles: Warner has lost five fumbles in nine games, while Anderson has lost just one fumble in eleven games. When and if Anderson gets hit, he's not coughing it up, where as Warner drops it nearly as much as Drew Bledsoe used to if you pressure him enough.
- Running Back
The running game was supposed to be a winning formula for the Cardinals this year. It is Edgerrin James' second year in the system, and through the first two games of the season it looked like the Cardinals would finally become a complete team on offense after he averaged 100 yards per game. Instead, he's failed to reach the 100-yard mark despite having numerous games in which he's received 25 carries. James isn't breaking big runs, and that's going to be a plus for the Browns. Jamal Lewis has looked fresh over the past few weeks, proving he's still capable of gaining steam in the second half of games against some of the lower-ranked run defenses. The 49ers were able to get Frank Gore involved in the passing game often last week; I think it's key that the Browns use Jerome Harrison and Jason Wright often in checkdown situations.
- Receiver
The Browns would be favored here if we find out that Larry Fitzgerald is ruled out, but I do expect him to start. The Cardinals' receivers are the NFC's equivalent of what the Browns have to offer. Fitzgerald has averaged over 100 yards receiving in his past ten games, just about the best in the NFL. Since Anquan Boldin returned from an injury, he's been featured a little less in the passing game but still enough to the point where he's a significant threat. Tight end Leonard Pope's also been a threat recently; he has 11 catches for 148 yards and 3 touchdowns in his past four games. Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow are still making fantastic catches for the Browns, while Joe Jurevicius is playing as good as he did in his Super Bowl season with the Seahawks. When you have the amount of talent these two teams have at the receiver position, it's no wonder the quarterbacks are among the league's best.
- Offensive Line
The Cardinals' offensive line has improved a lot since last season, and right tackle Levi Brown has a lot to do with that. The Cardinals originally wanted left tackle Joe Thomas, but the Browns snagged him before they picked at No. 5. Warner has only been sacked 13 times in nine games, but that also has to do with the fact that he tries to get rid of the football even when pressure is right in his face. The Browns' offensive line improved since last year too, but a lot more than the Cardinals' line did. The biggest differential factor comes down to run blocking -- while the Browns aren't the best at it, they rank 16th in the league where the Browns rank 27th in the league.
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Defensive Line
I like the improvements that the Browns' defensive line has made over the past few weeks, stemming from Orpheus Roye back at defensive end and Shaun Smith starting at nose tackle. Roye's status is up in the air for this game, and I'll be concerned if he can't go because I think that'll hurt our linebackers' ability to blitz through the line. The Browns are going to have their hands full trying to contain defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, who has eight sacks this season. The Cardinals have shown the ability to get some push up front, but that should create some opportunities for the Browns to effectively run some counters and draws in the running game.

- Linebacker
Last week, D'Qwell Jackson really provided a necessary spark for the defense. We needed a sure tackler back in the lineup, and that's what Jackson provides. Having him in the game this week should help ensure that James doesn't break out any big runs that he hasn't been used to having the past two seasons. Kamerion Wimbley has benefited from Todd Grantham's more aggressive blitzing approach the past two weeks; more opportunities haven't shown up on the stat sheet for him individually, but it has helped the opposing quarterback step up into another defender. The Cardinals' have a nice trio of sound linebackers in Calvin Pace, Gerald Hayes, and Karlos Dansby. Together, the three of them are the team's top three tacklers, and they have 11 sacks as a unit. They can make the plays, but they can't take over a game or stay with a guy like Winslow over the middle.
- Secondary
This is the big one: Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson is out for the season, and so is starting cornerback Eric Green. That forced former first-round pick Antrel Rolle into a starting role. Although Rolle had a big game against Carson Palmer a few weeks ago, there's a reason why he hadn't been starting this season: he was underachieving. Ralph Brown will also be forced into a more active role in nickel back formations, and based on how horrible he played for us last year, I see opportunity written all over the place if we throw towards his direction. Eric Wright will probably be out with an injury today, meaning Brandon McDonald will be forced into covering the Cardinals' top receiver in three-receiver sets. I need to see McDonald reproduce last week's effort before I can mentally have more faith in him.
- Special Teams
The Cardinals are far from the Browns' level on special teams, and it was illustrated in last week's game alone. First, the Cardinals' punter failed to snap the ball in time in overtime on what would have been a game-winning field goal. Then, the kicker, Neil Rackers, missed the following short field goal. Rackers has been very inconsistent this season, and fans want him out of the city. Then, speedy returner made a dumb decision by fielding a punt from the one-yard line in overtime, eventually leading to Warner fumbling at the end. The Cardinals brought in a new punter during the week, which may or may not play to our advantage when Cribbs returns punts.

FINAL PREDICTION:
Cleveland Browns 41, Arizona Cardinals 24.
The Browns have scored 27 or more points in each of their past six games. The Cardinals have scored 31 or more points in each of their past three games. If you're looking for an offensive showdown, then this is it. Defenses have quickly started to learn that against these two teams, you can't bank on shutting the likes of Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin down. Instead, you have to force a critical turnover. Each team has experienced a critical turnover in their most recent losses; for the Browns, Jamal Lewis fumbled several weeks ago against the Pittsburgh Steelers. For the Cardinals, there were many reasons why they blew it, but the game ended when Kurt Warner fumbled in his own end zone in overtime.

Overall, turnovers have affected the Cardinals a lot more than they have the Browns, and that's not a good sign considering Arizona's injuries at the moment. It was learned that cornerback Eric Green and safety Adrian Wilson will be lost for the rest of the season, forcing the young Antrel Rolle into a starting position. Braylon Edwards, Joe Jurevicius, and Kellen Winslow haven't had a bad week since Anderson has taken over at quarterback, and they should be able to feast on Arizona's defense all day long. Jamal Lewis gaining steam, and Cleveland's offensive line should overmatch the Cardinals' defensive line. The Browns' defense still has plenty of holes, but they've begun to shore them up over the past few weeks: takeaways, sacks, and points allowed have gone down. The Cardinals are potent, but the Browns are further along at this point.

This is the official gameday topic for the Cleveland Browns in Week 13 as they square off against the Arizona Cardinals. All comments regarding the game should be posted in this topic. Enjoy the game, and GO BROWNS!!!