Good morning, Cleveland Browns fans, and welcome to gameday! Be sure to check out our game preview and prediction for the Browns' Week 6 matchup today against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In this week's edition of "The Sunday Five," I take a look at the Browns' productivity on the offensive line, what the Browns should do at punt returner, and more.
Pro Football Focus unveiled their current offensive line rankings in the NFL heading into Week 6, and guess which teams ranks No. 1 in the NFL? The Cleveland Browns. The Browns rank 1st in the NFL in pass blocking, 3rd in the NFL in run blocking, and 4th in the NFL in penalties (note: that means Cleveland's line does not get penalized often). The whole AFC North has had pretty outstanding production from the offensive line department: the Ravens rank 2nd overall, the Steelers rank 4th overall, and the Bengals rank 13th overall. From PFF regarding the Browns:
It’s rare the stars align like this. You’ve got five players who have played every snap and look like a line in sync. They’re opening up holes for their backs and giving their quarterback time to make plays. A real testament that the guys you associate with making up the numbers are playing just as well as the guys on the big money.
It's early to think about the playoffs, but if Cleveland has playoff aspirations, winning against the Steelers this week is imperative. The Browns are already 0-2 in the division, and a loss to Pittsburgh today would obviously drop them to 0-3 within the division. A 2-3 overall record isn't so bad, but all three of those losses being within the division? Brutal, especially when you have to face the Bengals twice and the Ravens on the road. Yes, Cleveland could very well be in a wildcard race too, but their division record may still come into play if they are tied with the Ravens or Steelers.
If you have not done so already and you are a member of FanDuel, go visit SB Nation's exclusive FanDuel league this week. The prize pool is worth $10,000, including $1,000 to first place and up to 200 winners total. For those of you who used to play SB Nation's "Pick 6" game, this is pretty much the same concept: you make a different fantasy team each week, but are only allotted a $60,000 salary. QB Peyton Manning costs over $10,000, so if you pick him, you're going to be short on money when you need to still fill 2 running backs, 3 wide receivers, 1 tight end, 1 kicker, and 1 special teams/defense.
Should the Browns give Travis Benjamin a shot to be the punt returner again? Absolutely. Somewhere, deep down inside, we know how electric Benjamin can be as a return man. He really should take the advice that Joshua Cribbs offered in an interview: for every instance when he catches a punt, all he should be thinking is "catch the punt first, catch the punt first, catch the punt first" and look it into his body...and then focus on the return.
For now, the Browns are going with S Jordan Poyer, who has 4 returns for 14 yards this season. Even though Poyer isn't a burner, don't forget that he had a couple of good returns after Benjamin tore his ACL last year. In fact, Poyer actually finished with a higher average than Benjamin -- a staggering 14.8 yards per return -- on 8 attempts. With that in mind, one has to ask the question, "why not Taylor Gabriel?" Gabriel looked good on punts and kickoffs this preseason but hasn't been on either unit in the regular season. It could be because the Browns feel he's too valuable on offense, believe it or not.
It's time to predict the inactives for today's game. Here are my guesses for the Browns' gameday inactives against the Steelers (there are seven inactives required): RB, WR , TE , OL , , DE Billy Winn, and CB .
This week, head coach Mike Pettine basically confirmed that they view Desir as a first-year redshirt type of player, so he could be inactive every week. I'm going a bit optimistic with my inactives this week by predicting that OLB Paul Kruger and CB Joe Haden will be healthy enough to play. If neither of them can go, then Cleveland really has no alternatives to activate, even though they could technically try to activate Desir for an emergency situation (i.e. two more defensive backs go down, otherwise just keep sitting Desir).