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Carolina Panthers vs. Cleveland Browns: Positional Breakdown & Notes

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This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns' quarterback situation will have come full circle. After trying out Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, and Colt McCoy under center, it is back to Delhomme when the Browns take on the Carolina Panthers. This will no doubt be a special game for Delhomme, who spent practically his entire career with the Panthers before coming to Cleveland this offseason. The Panthers are 1-9 and considered the worst team in football, so for once, Cleveland is the significant favorite heading into the game.

Here are some notes heading into the game, followed by my positional breakdown and prediction for the game:

  • I assume that we won't be seeing the return of the Cyclone this week with the news that Seneca Wallace isn't 100% yet and the fact that Joshua Cribbs isn't 100% either.
  • It's funny that all three of Delhomme's appearances to date this season will have come against NFC South opponents. I hope he doesn't self-implode, but with him being the only "healthy" quarterback on the roster, we're going to have to ride things out with him.
  • On Friday, Eric Mangini seemed optimistic that the team might have Cribbs available for the game. Mangini noted that the number of plays they anticipate involving Cribbs in on offense would be reduced, but that number could go up depending on how he feels. Remember, all of that only applies if he is active in the first place. Cribbs was listed as "OUT" this time last week, so the fact that he hasn't been listed as "OUT" yet has to be good news, right?
  • One of the reasons that I pleaded my case for Delhomme earlier this season was because I felt he had the best chemistry with our wide receivers. That leads me to believe that Brian Robiskie will see more balls come his way than in any other game this season. The same goes for Mohamed Massaquoi, who I think will be targeted on third down slant passes often. I wouldn't be surprised to see Chansi Stuckey fade from the offense a little bit this week.
  • One major concern with Delhomme under center? As a member of the Browns, there have been many heart attack moments involving the quarterback-center exchange between him and Alex Mack. Either Delhomme doesn't handle the ball correctly, or Delhomme steps on a lineman as he is handing the ball off to our running back. It happened in the preseason, and it happened during his limited time in the regular season. I anticipate seeing at least one muff against Carolina, so let's just hope it doesn't lead to a turnover.
  • The Panthers have the worst offense in football. I don't see how they will be able to move the ball against the Browns' defense. I'm not saying that because I overrate the Browns' defense -- I don't see how Carolina could move it against any defense.
  • If Delhomme is in the game, my ideal gameplan is for the Browns to go run-heavy and for him to make smart decisions off of playaction when he's asked too, while occasionally mixing in the deep ball. In reality, I think we're going to see Delhomme line up in shotgun and throw it 30+ times. He's bound to go deep to our receivers and give them a chance to make a play.
  • Please don't let Floyd Womack be a late scratch.

Position-by-Position Breakdown

Pos Adv  Reason
QB - While it would have been nice to see a showdown between Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy, there is still a storyline, perhaps a bigger one, with Jake Delhomme facing his former team. All things considered, I'm a little excited to see Delhomme receive an opportunity to start again. He had an outstanding preseason, and I hope he can make it through this week injury free. The Panthers' QB situation is a mess right now. It wouldn't surprise me if John Fox inserts Brian St. Pierre into the game if Clausen struggles in the first half.
RB - The Panthers are expected to get starter Jonathan Stewart back this week, but he hasn't had a great season, averaging only three yards per carry. Carolina would be more wise to go with Mike Goodsen, who has been running the ball very well in his past two starts. Peyton Hillis couldn't get going on the ground last week due to the poor play of the offensive line, but that should change this week as teams are less likely to load the box against Delhomme, a risk-taking quarterback.
- It's a shame that Steve Smith, one of the league's top receivers, is stuck on a poor team where he really doesn't have the ability to showcase his playmaking abilities. David Gettis, a sixth-round rookie from this year's draft, has been having a pretty good season, especially over the past couple of weeks. I'd like to think that Cleveland has better receivers overall, but the reason both teams are even here is because the position doesn't represent a strength for either team.
OL - The Browns' offensive line played terrible last week, something that has happened twice this season -- at Atlanta, and at Jacksonville, both times with John St. Clair in the lineup. With Floyd Womack expected to return this week, hopefully the unit can come together and play line the physical bunch that they are. Carolina's offensive line has been hurt by injuries, a lack of talent, and the constant shuffling of inexperienced quarterbacks. Clausen might not get sacked a lot tomorrow, but he'll be forced to get rid of the ball quickly. Hopefully our defensive backs are ready.
DL - I continue to be impressed by the play of Ahtyba Rubin, and that's the reason I don't see Carolina being able to pound the ball on the ground against us. The Panthers feature a 4-3 defense, something the Browns' offensive line has struggled with this year. I'd like to discount their line as not having good enough talent to make a difference, but I said the same thing about Jacksonville.
LB - I'm giving the Panthers a little bit of respect here since Jon Beason is probably their best defensive player. Cleveland's linebackers don't have a difficult matchup, especially since the Panthers don't feature a prolific tight end. It'll be interesting to see if any of our linebackers try to bait Clausen into some throws short and over the middle for interceptions.
DB - Eric Wright isn't expected to play this week due to an injury. Without him in the lineup last week, Cleveland's secondary seemed to thrive at making defensive plays. Sheldon Brown, Joe Haden, T.J. Ward, and Abram Elam might all be at the top of their games right now. It would be a bonus to get Mike Adams back this week so that we don't have to use Ray Ventrone on defense as much.
ST - Will the season-ending injury to Blake Costanzo hurt the Browns' special teams at all? Will Joshua Cribbs be able to play? Those two questions put this ranking in doubt. John Kasay is 13/15 in field goal kicks this year, and if our defends "bends but doesn't break," he might get the call a couple of times on Sunday.

I predicted a blowout victory for the Browns over the Jaguars last week, but things didn't pan out that way. I'm not going to let any form of superstition get in my way of making this week's pick. Plain and simple, the Panthers are the worst team in the NFL. The Browns shouldn't chuckle on the sideline and mail this game in for an easy win, but as long as their aren't blunders throughout the whole game, Cleveland should have no problems beating a less superior team.

FINAL PREDICTION: Cleveland Browns 24, Carolina Panthers 9.