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Browns vs. Cardinals: NFL Week 15 Preview and Prediction

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Baker Mayfield vs. Kyler Murray, in the battle of back-to-back first overall picks from Oklahoma.

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.


Position-by-Position Evaluation


Quarterback

  • Kyler Murray has had a respectable rookie season, throwing for over 3,000 yards through 13 games with 16 touchdown passes to 9 interceptions. The turnovers have spiked a bit over the past two games against the Rams and Steelers, with him throwing 4 interceptions. Murray is also the team’s leading rusher with 77 carries for 448 yards (5.8 YPC) and 4 touchdowns.
  • Murray’s accuracy has been good from the pocket, and his running has helped the offense, but when he tries to throw outside the pocket, he hasn’t been effective. One other thing he has struggled to do is getting rid of the football (throwing it away), choosing to take a sack instead:
  • After a stretch of good games, Baker Mayfield was “off” again against the Bengals, although Cleveland prevailed. Now he faces the 32nd-ranked pass defense in the NFL, as Arizona allows 294.2 yards passing per game. They are also 30th in the NFL in interception rate and 21st in sacks per pass attempt. With forecasts in Arizona at 62 degrees and not much wind (if the roof is open), I hope we see Mayfield put some more touch on the ball this week after he started zipping it again (to his receivers’ detriment) last week.

Running Back

  • While David Johnson was the starting running back earlier this season, that role now goes to Kenyon Drake, who was acquired in a midseason trade with the Dolphins. In talking about Johnson’s demotion, our Cardinals affiliate said, “He was basically benched because he doesn’t run decisive or with a purpose [anymore]; he’s kind of turned into a ‘3 yards and a cloud of dust’ guy.” Johnson is still second on the team in rushing with 89 carries for 336 yards (3.8 YPC) and 2 touchdowns and only has 7 carries over his last 3 games.
  • With the Cardinals, Drake has 65 carries for 280 yards (4.3 YPC) and 1 touchdown in 5 games. The running backs are involved as receivers, though. Drake has 21 catches for 121 yards, and Johnson had several big receiving days in the first half of the season.
  • Nick Chubb has 1,281 yards rushing on the season, but Derrick Henry of the Titans and Christian McCaffrey of the Panthers are right on his heels (but heck, at the base he’s going lately, Lamar Jackson might just take the rushing title too). Chubb has 16 and 15 carries, respectively, over his past two games, tied for his lowest totals of the season. Kareem Hunt got up to a season-high 9 carries a week ago. No one really cares how the reps are split, as long as the team remembers to use both backs early and often.

Wide Receiver / Tight End

  • Larry Fitzgerald has 64 catches for 669 yards and 3 touchdowns on the season. After two 100+ yard games to begin the season, he hasn’t reached that amount since. In fact, in his last 11 games, Fitzgerald is only averaging 41 yards receiving per game. He is in his incredible 16th season in the NFL, so this is likely the last time Cleveland will face him.
  • Christian Kirk is the team’s other receiver, with 57 catches for 616 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Cardinals’ tight ends don’t get much work in the receiving game. Charles Clay has 16 catches for 203 yards and 1 touchdown, while Maxx Williams has 11 catches for 139 yards and 1 touchdown (but doesn’t have a catch in the past 3 games).
  • Jarvis Landry is 5 yards away from a 1,000-yard season. Odell Beckham sits at 844 yards, so he is 156 yards away. He is on pace to get to 1,000 yards, but with Arizona’s terrible pass defense, it’s a big opportunity to give him a highlight reel day and showcase him non-stop. Speaking of big days, if he can hang onto the football, it could be one for tight end David Njoku, as the Cardinals have allowed 956 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns to tight ends in 2019.

Offensive Line

  • The Cardinals’ starting offensive line features LT D.J. Humphries, LG Justin Pugh, C A.Q. Shipley, RG J.R. Sweezy, and RT Justin Murray. Sweezy has been the best player on the line this season. Pugh is questionable to play this week with a back injury. Both tackles have struggled in their run blocking, while fans can’t wait for the team to move on from Shipley at center.
  • Cleveland is still dealing with injuries to JC Tretter and Chris Hubbard. Tretter didn’t practice on Wednesday or Thursday, but was limited on Friday. Head coach Freddie Kitchens said that Tretter did not suffer a setback during the week, so the expectation is that Tretter will start. Hubbard was limited in practice all week, so the game-time decision relates more to whether Kitchens wants to go back to Hubbard or stick with Kendall Lamm, who started at right tackle last Sunday.

Defensive Line / Linebacker

  • The Cardinals run a 3-4 defense. The Cardinals placed Rodney Gunter, one of their starting lineman, on injured reserve during the week. DE Zach Kerr and NT Corey Peters will continue to start, but it’s a grab bag of other guys trying to make an impression after that. Much like Cleveland, the Cardinals didn’t have much defensive line depth at the start of the year, and have already lost a lot of depth as the season has gone on.
  • Arizona waived veteran LB Terrell Suggs this week so they could focus on giving some more playing time to younger players. The Cardinals’ starting linebackers are Chandler Jones, Joe Walker, Jordan Hicks, and then maybe Haason Reddick after the release of Suggs. Jones is still a big pass-rushing threat, as he has 14 sacks and 3 fumbles recovered on the season. Hicks leads Arizona in tackles and has as many interceptions (3) as the rest of the defense combined. Reddick has yielded a lot of touchdowns in coverage, so the release of Suggs from that standpoint is a good thing for Cleveland.
  • Sheldon Richardson has raised his level of play significantly over the past month, but overall, it is clear that the defensive line just doesn’t have the physical playmakers, which will especially be dangerous against mobile quarterbacks who can not only sit in the pocket to let things develop, but then take off. A guy like Bryan Cox or Chad Thomas have flashed, but the run defense as a team has dropped off again.
  • More is on the plate of Joe Schobert and Mack Wilson, and they’ve both done an admirable job stepping up. I continue to like seeing Wilson around the ball each week; the rookie is now second on the team in tackles.

Secondary

  • The Cardinals’ two starting cornerbacks are Patrick Peterson and Byron Murphy, with Kevin Peterson being the nickelback. Arizona’s starting safeties are FS Budda Baker and SS Jalen Thompson. Two weeks ago, the Cardinals waived CB Tramaine Brock, who was their top cover corner this year. P. Peterson has been a shell of himself in coverage, but the biggest liability is Murphy. Pittsburgh receiver Dionte Johnson said after last week’s game that the team felt Murphy, the 33rd overall pick of this year’s draft, was Arizona’s weakest link and that they wanted to attack him. Murphy has been committing interference penalties too.
  • Denzel Ward had a pick six last week fall right into his lap. Cleveland still needs to have better ball skills when the ball is thrown up. Arizona’s receivers might be prone to some tipped balls or miscommunication, so we’ll see if any passes fall in the Browns defenders’ vicinity this week.

Special Teams

  • Former Browns kicker Zane Gonzalez is the Cardinals’ kicker. He is 27-of-30 on field goals this year and 23-of-24 on extra points. Austin Seibert made his first 50+ yard attempt of the season last week, and is now 22-of-25 on the season.
  • Former Browns punter Andy Lee is the Cardinals’ punter. He is 2nd in the NFL with an average of 48.5 yards per punt, and 15th in the NFL with a net average of 41.5 yards per punt, although that net average was surely affected by an 85-yard touchdown return against the Cardinals last week.
  • Pharoh Cooper is the Cardinals’ kick and punt returner. He is averaging 23.1 yards per kick return and 8.3 yards per punt return. He had a 29-yard punt return last week, his longest of the season. Cleveland went back to Dontrell Hilliard on kickoff returns last week. He’s expected to continue doing kickoffs and punts.

Predictions

Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.


Chris Pokorny: “The Cardinals are allowing an average of almost 29 points per game this season. It won’t be as Miami was in terms of effort defensively, but the Cardinals’ pass coverage will be exploited all game long. This is a game where the Browns should run the ball more in the first half than they did against Cincinnati, but the advantage here is with throwing the ball. The Browns’ offense will take advantage of those big play opportunities and do their part in putting points on the board

The flip side is that the offense won’t have time to relax, because they’re going to have to out-pace the Cardinals. The offense for Arizona isn’t crisp, but Kyler Murray gives them a lot of potential and I think it’ll be difficult for our defensive front to contain him. Where Arizona will get into trouble is that they have enough hiccups during a game that prevent them from pulling through — so Cleveland, with a stadium full of Browns fans — will put it away mid-way through the fourth quarter.” Browns 31, Cardinals 23.


Thomas Moore: “While it has been a frustrating season, the Browns have found a way, more often than not, to beat the teams they are supposed to beat. The Cardinals fall into that category, especially on defense, which should provide the Browns with some nice opportunities.

Cleveland will figure out a way to get it done on Sunday and give the fans a reason to come out for the last home game of the year next week.” Browns 21, Cardinals 10.


rufio: “Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury are talented, but rookies. The Cardinals will put up a lot of points against a Browns defense that never seems to be at full strength. But Steve Wilks will have a few tricks up his sleeve for his old team, and Baker will come out firing against a few familiar faces. Nick Chubb has his customary 50+ yard run and we get Njoku and Hunt involved in the passing game early and often.” Browns 41, Cardinals 35.


BigTownBrown: “With 3 weeks to go in the NFL regular season the Browns travel to Arizona to face off with the 3-9-1 Cardinals. Do not let the record fool you, these two teams are very similar per stats. Kylar has been better than MehField at protecting the football this season, and we should look for the to continue this Sunday as Baker WILL throw a late game int per usual.

Baker “says” there is no more beef between him and Kingsberry, but we know that millennials cannot let things go and hold onto simple “grudges” their entire life blaming someone else. And THAT will be the struggle Baker does not overcome in this matchup as Kliff knew MehField was above average at best years ago.

The score will look “close” but the game will be one sided. Bye bye Browns playoff hopes.” Cardinals 18, Browns 7.


Mike Hoag: “I think Jesse nailed it. I will only add that I hope Baker is serious about earning some “real bragging rights” over Kyler Murray. He hasn’t seemed to have the same focus as he did as a rookie last season, so maybe some added motivation will help.” Browns 35, Cardinals 31.


Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.