It's not too long before new Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam takes over, and it certainly would not be a good sign for Pat Shurmur if the team was winless heading into that game. They might have a tough opponent this week in the New York Giants, but the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, two teams who haven't exactly been the definition of dominance, have beaten them already. Can Cleveland do the same to pick up their first win of the season? Our full position-by-position breakdown for the Browns vs. Giants game, as well as my prediction, are outlined below.
I already praised the abilities of Eli Manning on Friday. It's not easy to beat him. The old "Eli" used to crash and burn with the momentum of his team, but now he seems to be the guy who resurrects them each and every week, just like an elite quarterback is supposed to do. If there is a spot the Browns can beat Manning, it'll be if their linebackers do a good job dropping back in zone coverage, much like they did against Michael Vick in Week 1.
Brandon Weeden isn't having a great year statistically, but people who have watched him play the last three weeks have to be optimistic about the way he is playing. This isn't a helpless offense like we saw a year ago; they can string together some nice drives. Now, the next step if to string together good series early in the game. With the Giants' secondary banged up for this game, maybe this is the week that happens.
The Giants are back to using Ahmad Bradshaw as their top running back. With the departure of Brandon Jacobs, I think the idea was for Bradshaw to take on a larger role in 2012. First-round draft pick David Wilson was also supposed to play a role on offense. Bradshaw has not had a significant impact on a game, and Wilson seems to have no confidence on offense right now. The 'breakout' player has been Andre Brown, but his reps will be a bit more limited now that Bradshaw is back.
Trent Richardson is only averaging 3.5 yards per clip. He's running hard and still has some work to do when it comes to finding the right holes, but he's getting there. The reason the Browns have the edge here is the impact that Richardson has as a receiver. I'd like to see a few playcalling adjustments and Richardson in on more third down situations, but I'm not holding my breath.
The Giants will be without one of their top receivers, Hakeem Nicks, and Ramses Barden has also been ruled out. Even though Victor Cruz is also a top receiver, there are a few games where he just doesn't seem to have it; I'd value Nicks as the slightly more consistent player. Tight end Martellus Bennett has been a huge addition for the Giants. The former second-round pick of the Cowboys is already on pace to shatter his season highs in every statistical category.
The Browns will be running thin at receiver this week too. Considering they don't exactly have an elite player to begin with, though, mixing things up a bit can actually be beneficial for a team like the Browns. I would expect Joshua Cribbs to see a significant amount of reps, considering he was on pace to do that last week before being knocked out. Jordan Norwood also saw more reps than Josh Gordon a week ago, so I have my doubts that we'll see much of Gordon.
The Giants' offensive line has done a great job keeping Eli Manning clean, but their run blocking has been a little suspect. The Giants have been without starting right tackle David Diehl for their past two games, as he has been battling an MCL sprain. He did practice a little bit this week, but he is still listed as doubtful for Sunday's game. Starting offensive guard Chris Snee did not practice until Friday with a hip injury, and he is listed as questionable.
The Browns' offensive line remains healthy, but they are due for a better performance to help create some lanes for Trent Richardson. There don't appear to be any easy tests for Mitchell Schwartz, and he'll have his hands full again this week with [presumably] Justin Tuck. The Giants like to move Jason Pierre-Paul around, and it might be wise of the Giants to let him attack Cleveland's guards.
I continue to appreciate the way that Juqua Parker and Frostee Rucker have been playing at defensive end; they have upgraded a position that saw Jayme Mitchell as a liability a season ago. Jabaal Sheard is coming off of his best game of the season. Billy Winn and Ahtyba Rubin have filled out their duties well against the run. I fear that the pass rush will be a bit stymied, like it was against the Bills, but they should be able to control the line of scrimmage against the run.
The Giants have the best defensive lineman in the league in Jason Pierre-Paul. Teams have done a somewhat effective job at double teaming him this season, while the rest of the unit, including Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, have not generated the fearsome pass rush people are accustomed to. The Giants still have the edge here, but they will also be without starting defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, one of their good run stoppers.
I like the combination of Mathias Kiwanuka, Chase Blackburn, and Michael Boley at linebacker for the Giants. Kiwanuka is a former defensive end who can still drop down to that type of role for almost a five-man front. The veteran Blackburn has been with the Giants since 2005, but this is really the first time he's been the definitive starter. He's responded well so far by generating some pressure, including two sacks, to begin the year. Boley has been pretty good in pass coverage, notching three interceptions through four games. I wouldn't say the unit is particularly fast, though, which could give Richardson some opportunities if he gets past the Giants' front four.
I would still take D'Qwell Jackson over any of the Giants' linebackers, but New York's guys have all been with the team for quite awhile. I'm still looking for Kaluka Maiava to shine, and I almost wonder if the returning James-Michael Johnson will surprisingly take away a few of his reps instead of Scott Fujita's. If not, will Craig Robertson keep his job as the team's nickel linebacker? Where he fits in will be interesting to watch early on.
I am very skeptical of the Giants' secondary. They will be missing starting strong safety Kenny Phillips, and their other safety, Antrel Rolle, is banged up with a knee injury. Corey Webster has struggled at cornerback, and while last year's first-round pick, Prince Amukamara, has the tools, he'll only be making his second career start against Cleveland. Jayron Hosley, one of the Giants' backup cornerbacks, is out, making them dig even further down the depth chart in the secondary.
Cleveland's secondary appeared like they might be missing a few other guys this week, but it sounds like T.J. Ward and Usama Young will both start despite suffering injuries a week ago. It's hard to have faith that the Browns' cornerbacks, still without Joe Haden, will suddenly come through against Eli Manning, but I thought they played better against the Ravens a week ago (I attribute their success to Anquan Boldin doing an excellent job). Cleveland doesn't have an extreme edge in the secondary, but I'm still giving them the edge nonetheless.
|ST||Even though Lawrence Tynes missed a 55-yard game-winning field goal attempt last week, it was his only miss of the season on 12 attempts. Phil Dawson has been even more impressive in the sense that his 50+ yard kicks have been money. Both teams have been getting decent yardage in their return games; the Giants use David Wilson on kickoffs and Rueben Randle on punts. What stands out for the Giants is their coverage units, though. They are first in the league in covering punts, and ninth in the league in covering kickoffs.
The Browns have been on the cusp of coming away with a victory the past few games, but this is the week where I think everything clicks. Does the fact that the Browns are 3-0 against the last three defending Super Bowl Champions play a factor? As ridiculous as it sounds, "yes." Maybe the fact that some of the players watched the Cleveland '95 documentary -- and that Pat Shurmur was busy gameplanning rather than watching it, help out too. Whatever the reason, the Giants are banged up and reeling a bit right now, and this is the perfect time for Cleveland to capitalize.