With news that Cleveland may very well field backup quarterback Austin Davis as the first-line kicker, they have peeled back 50 years of NFL history, perhaps in some sort of attempt at post-modern commentary on the futility of sport. T
This will be a quick entry, hastily written in a mildly-air conditioned room during the mid-day heat at a Costa Rican beach town. Perhaps some fresh ceviche will make it easier...oh yes, it does, especially with some fresh-pressed passion fruit and rum.
Where were we again? Oh yes, the Browns, bastion of power in the league.
At 3-11, they were eliminated from playoff contention several weeks ago. But this is a team that has put together some interesting offensive performances and is, for all its faults, not terrible on defense.
Old-school stats have Cleveland topping 400 yards of offense three times this year, including 2 of those 3 wins. The Browns took out San Francisco last week 24-10 by rushing like crazyfolk. Isaiah Crowell blew up for 145 yards and a pair of scores, neither of which was his 54-yard rumble, while Duke Johnson managed 78 yards on just 13 carries.
In spite of that success, neither back has looked spectacular this season. Crowell is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, Johnson 3.4, but a big part of that is related to the team's inability to "get anything going" early on. Crowell, for instance, starts games well, rocking 4.3 y/a on 48 1st-quarter carries; come the 3rd quarter, he's seen just 26 carries and is averaging a dismal 2.6 y/a. Crowell has 89 carries in the 1st half and just 54 in the 2nd half. Johnson's splits are similar, bottoming out at 11 rushes and 1.4 y/a in the 3rd frame; he's got 53 1st half totes and 31 2nd half carries.
The Browns rush almost 60% of the time up the gut and almost never off the ends (less than 5% of the time on either side). Expect a lot of attempts at pounding up the gut, and expect the Seahawks linebackers to be ready for it.
Meanwhile the passing game is not a colossal failure, just a horribly variable performance without a solid anchor. Johnny MThe Browns are 2-6 this year when Manziel appears, but he's hitting 61% of his passes and has 6 TDs to just 3 interceptions, stats that got a big boost from a 21-for-31, 1 TD (and 1 INT) performance last week. Manziel isn't great, but he still has potential and is only in his second year.
Manziel is rarely under center (just 15% of the time) on throwing plays, though Cleveland does run quite a bit from shotgun. He also scrambles quite a bit, trying to make something of broken plays; unfortunately that's led to 16 recorded sacks plus a safety last week negated by a facemask. He's also fumbled twice on hits.
These problems aren't Manziel-specific: Josh McCown has 23 sacks on the year over his 7+ games. Here's the Browns' short list of top receivers: Gary Barnidge (100 targets, 65 catches, 901 yards, 8 TDs); Travis Benjamin (58-for-104, 867 yards, 5 TDs); Brian Hartline (46-for-77, 523 yards, 2 TDs); Duke Johnson (49-for-59, 446 yards, 2 TDs). Yes, this is a tight end-dependent passing game. Benjamin is responsible for 6 of the team's 9 longest plays (42 or more yards); four of those throws came from Manziel.
Since Manziel took over, Barnidge has gone from averaging over 15 yards per catch to 12 y/c. This delta is largely related to Manziel using his tight end slightly less: Manziel targets him about 17% of the time (27 targets, 16 completions), while McCown was trying to hit him over 22% of the time (64 targets, 43 completions). These aren't seam passes, either, as most of the action is going on short and middle distances at the sidelines.
Defensively, Cleveland is also pretty bad, if a little more consistent. The Browns have given up 26 TDs through the air and picked off 8 passes -- including 3 by Karlos Dansby. They're mediocre-to-slightly bad against top-flight wide receivers and prone to giving up big plays. The Steelers, Chargers, and Raiders all posted multiple plays of 40+ yards, and even Peyton Manning (remember that guy?) has a 75-yard TD against them. Seven separate players have recorded 100-yard receiving games against them. Really telling: the team's top tackler who isn't a defensive back is linebacker Christian Kirksey, 5th on the team in total tackles.
Football Outsiders ranks the squad 29th in total defense, 26th against the pass and 29th against the rush, leaving them swimming around with such teams as San Francisco and Miami. If there's one thing the Browns have going for them, they don't give up much to tight ends. Their linebacking corps seems to be solid at coverage -- either that, or teams just find receivers so open they don't bother.
Up front, Armonty Bryant (6 sacks) and Desmond Bryant (4.5 sacks) lead the team at getting to the QB, but 3.5 of those total sacks came last week against Blaine Gabbert.
The team regularly gives up 150+ yards rushing, posting a 4.54 y/a against. Cleveland gives up 20+ yards on a rush about once a game, often off the left end or through the left guard. Pittsburgh and Arizona had the hardest time running against them, but both of those teams features a high-powered passing game and neither had trouble dispatching the Browns. Even if Seattle can't get its running game going, don't expect a lot of stopping power against the renewed air attack, especially if the Seahawks look deep.
One last item of interest is comparable teams played. Cleveland has played the Arizona Cardinals (34-20 loss), St. Louis Rams (24-6 loss), Cincinnati Bengals (31-10 loss), Baltimore Ravens twice (33-27 loss and 33-30 OT win), Pittsburgh Steelers (30-9 loss), and 49ers (24-10 win). The Seahawks have lost to the first three on that list by fewer total points than the Browns lost to Arizona. They're more similar to the Bengals, Cards, and Steelers than the other teams there.
Given Cleveland's propensity for slow starts, a couple quick TDs will turn this into another blowout. Seattle needs to focus on containing Travis Benjamin and Gary Barnidge, play its usual stout run defense, and throw the ball deep early and often.