Dawg Days is a weekly feature by Chris McNeil on the Cleveland Browns. The Three Deep section tackles facets of the Browns’ upcoming game from all sides — advantages, disadvantages, and a final view on the contest.
As the snow falls in Cleveland for the first time in earnest this week, the Browns have been spending the week in sunny California. This trip, however, probably has not been quite as sunny as the team had hoped here coming into Week 13 as they are dealing with a myriad of issues.
First, they are dealing with a lengthy and growing list of injuries. This past weekend saw starting QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, WR Amari Cooper, and DE Myles Garrett all join the ranks of the hurt or injured. DTR remains in concussion protocol, adding to the weekly uncertainty at the quarterback position. Amari Cooper’s X-rays were negative, but he remains a question for Sunday. Finally, Myles Garrett said he “heard a pop” in his shoulder and was in the postgame with a sling. All indications are that he will try to go on Sunday, but that also remains a question.
Secondly, the Browns are coming off an ugly loss in Denver 29-12 that snapped a three-game winning streak. That game was marked by Browns mistakes. The Browns turned the ball over a total of three times including two in the fourth quarter. One was a fumble off a mind-bending play call by Kevin Stefanski where the team attempted a double reverse to Pierre Strong — who hadn’t touched the ball all day. In addition, Cleveland could not muster any consistency on offense, going 2/13 on critical third down plays.
The Rams, by contrast, have won two games in a row and are getting healthier. Running back Kyren Williams came off his ankle injury last week and generated over 200 all-purpose yards in their win over the Arizona Cardinals. QB Matthew Stafford led the team to 37 points last week and the veteran has shown promise since coming back from an injury of his own.
This week the Browns are 3.5-point underdogs on Tipico (+3.5) on the road against the Rams.
Last week’s game featured Mark Sanchez as the color commentator in the booth alongside play-by-play man Kevin Kugler. Sanchez was criticized roundly on social media throughout the game. He had a penchant for ripping Stefanski for not running the ball then following it up with questions like, “Where is Amari Cooper?”
My problem was that he kept calling the defense “historic” on the field during the game. It seemed to be an instant jinx. Whether it was on third down right before the Broncos would convert, or constantly throughout the sustained drive the Broncos had in the second half to help salt away the ballgame, he was in perpetual jinx mode.
The Browns clearly have some issues at linebacker that teams will continue to exploit.
The Broncos, for their part, were able to use some blocking schemes to show some vulnerabilities in the vaunted Browns defense. That opened massive holes for their run game. The Browns clearly have some issues at linebacker that teams will continue to exploit. Anthony Walker being out has weakened this crew and Sean Payton had the perfect game plan to attack the Browns and generate offense. They used the Browns aggressiveness against them with misdirections and RPOs with Russell Wilson.
This week the historic Browns defense will need to get back on track. With the offense still figuring out who the signal-caller will be, the defense will not only have to keep LA out of the end zone, but also create turnovers. They can create opportunities for the offense if they can give the offense the ball with a short field.
As good as the defense is, the Browns stand at -7 in the turnover ratio, which is in the bottom third of the league. The defense has taken the ball away 16 times this season and they will need to pressure Stafford on Sunday and force mistakes.
The Browns famous “Starting QBs since ’99” jersey was retired a few years ago. They could have a good start on the new one with just the starters for this year.
It appears that Thompson-Robinson may not be able to go this week. If that is the case, a very un-elite Joe Flacco will most likely take the helm, as the Browns seem reticent to put PJ Walker back in the fray. I look for Kevin Stefanski to run the ball to get Flacco into the flow (please rip up the double reverse though, Kevin).
Jerome Ford averaged over 7 yards a carry last week and he will be a linchpin in the offense on Sunday. Hopefully Flacco will be doing a lot of turning and sticking the ball into his gut.
When he is not doing that, his receivers need to do a better job holding onto the ball. The Browns come into this game second in the league in dropped passes. David Njoku has been a habitual ball-dropper, leading the league with nine. Last week Amari Cooper and Jerome Ford had big drops. The Browns need to see more consistency catching the ball from this squad to help Flacco get his groove back.
Kevin Stefanski is in the crosshairs this week. He has come under fire for his playcalling, despite posting a 7-4 record with all these injuries this season. Hopefully a full week in LA will help the team gel around the gameplan for this week.
If his play calling isn’t up to snuff, Mark Sanchez will surely let him know: yes, Browns fans, he’s on the call again this week.
Prediction: Browns 24-10
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