Matchup: Cleveland Browns at Seattle Seahawks
Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)
The Cleveland Browns are one of three NFL teams I have never seen play live. After Sunday that number decreases to two. On Sunday the Browns visit Seattle for the first time since 2003 when they take on the Seahawks. Talk about a tale of two teams. The Seahawks are soaring, sitting at 8-5 on the season and are currently on a 4-game winning streak. The Browns on the other hand are 3-10 and are one of a small handful of teams vying for the number one overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. The all-time series between these teams is 11-6 in favor of the Seahawks. This record includes the seasons prior to the Browns being reborn as an expansion franchise in 1999. Our last meeting with Cleveland in 2011 remains one of the hardest Seahawks games I have ever watched. With Charlie Whitehurst making only his third career start at quarterback, the Seahawks were inept at moving the ball on offense. Amazingly Cleveland was not much better yet they edged the Seahawks by a score of 6-3. Here is what I will be watching for in this week’s game.
Of course the number one question everyone has been asking the past few days is “who is going to start at running back?” There are more questions that still need to be answered however. What kind of split will our offense have in regards to running vs. passing? Will Russell Wilson take more initiative trying to move the ball on the ground? Are we going to abandon the run altogether? I am going to try my best to answer these questions right now. I would not be surprised to see Fred Jackson start at running back and see the majority of the work especially since the Seahawks released DuJuan Harris earlier this week. Christine Michael, who was cut by the Seahawks and spent limited time with the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins this season, was re-signed on Wednesday. Bryce Brown was also re-signed after a cup of coffee with the team earlier in the year but has a limited understanding of our playbook. Both Michael and Brown have had issues fumbling the ball over the course of their careers so they may be on an equally short leash. As far as our offensive balance goes I think we will stick to establishing the run early on. If the running back, whoever it may be, struggles to move the ball efficiently I think we could see Russell Wilson throwing way more than we are accustomed to. Read option is a possibility but Cleveland is an opponent that can be beat without having to use read option a lot. I think the threat of read-option keepers by Wilson are best kept hidden until January. The only way the Seahawks would abandon the run entirely is if we are trailing late in the game when we would be forced to throw the ball.
Let’s talk about the Cleveland Browns offense. This is a squad that ranks in bottom three rushing units in all of football but are ranked 11th in passing yards per game, mainly because they trail in all their games and are forced to throw the ball. After gaining the starting job then losing it due to off-the-field troubles, the Browns will once again start second year quarterback Johnny Manziel. Manziel has focused on making more conservative passes and his completion percentages of 73.3 and 67.7 percent the past two weeks respectively speak towards this notion. Because of this he does not throw many interceptions (3 total this season). Travis Benjamin is Cleveland’s bang-or-bust weapon down the field and he leads all Browns receivers in targets the past two weeks with 18. My focus will be on the Browns most consistent receiver. My X-Factor Player to Watch for the Cleveland Browns is tight end Gary Barnidge. Barnidge signed a lucrative three-year contract extension last week and he is well deserving of it. Barnidge is no doubt a game changer and has been one of the lone bright spots on a porous Browns team. He leads the team with 901 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. Barnidge will see his share of receptions this week and given the Seahawks struggles with tight ends there is potential for him to have yet another big day on Sunday.
The Browns defense ranks near the bottom of the league in yards allowed per game but they feature some talented players. Their defensive line is led by defensive end Desmond Bryant but keep an eye on rookie nose tackle Danny Shelton who will have a big impact in shutting down the Seahawks running game. Veteran linebackers Paul Kruger and Karlos Dansby lead the second level of the defense. The secondary is a unit that has big play potential but they have been unable to stay healthy as a unit. Cornerback Joe Haden is on injured reserve and will miss the rest of the season after suffering a concussion in week 8. Justin Gilbert, the 8th overall pick by the Browns a season ago, has become irrelevant and if you asked Browns fans they might tell you he is not even worth a roster spot. With former Packer Tramon Williams leading the defense with 9 passes defensed and third on the team in tackles with 47, it will be up to left corner Charles Gaines to have a big game because it is likely Russell Wilson will test him often.
This week could be a huge week for the 12’s. Johnny Manziel has never played at CenturyLink Field and I have a strange feeling in my gut that he is the most likely quarterback to fail miserably at handling our crowd noise in recent years. I have never made a prediction as to how many false starts the opposing team will have but I strongly believe the Browns will have at least 5 false start penalties on Sunday, which would be the most of any opposing team in 2015.
Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will go all college navy at home. No surprise there. The Browns redesigned their uniforms over the offseason and they now have three different jersey, pant, and sock colors (white, brown, and orange). This week they will go with a clean look: White jerseys, white pants, and brown socks… For the second straight week Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis, and Tony Siragusa are on the FOX broadcast. I hope fans sitting close to the field give Siragusa a hard time about the whole “Russell Williams” incident last week. He’ll be sure to say his name right this week. Wouldn’t be surprised if he brings it up on the broadcast either… Gene Steratore is the referee… I’m taking a friend of mine to the game who I went to school with but currently lives in San Francisco. He is driving home and is currently on the road as we speak. Hopefully he’s not too tired for a full day down at the stadium tomorrow… 1:05pm start this week so for those attending make sure you make it into the stadium a little earlier than normal… My goal was to have my Christmas shopping done and my presents wrapped by the time this game rolled around. Mission accomplished.
Seahawks Playoff Outlook: There are numerous scenarios that involve the Seahawks clinching a playoff spot this week. The easiest of which I will discuss here. With the Rams win over Tampa Bay on Thursday night, the Seahawks can clinch a playoff spot with a win AND a loss by either the New York Giants or Washington Redskins. With a win Seattle will also maintain the #5 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Seahawks fall to the #6 seed if they lose and the Minnesota Vikings win. The Arizona Cardinals clinch the NFC West with a win over Philadelphia Sunday night or if the Seahawks lose. Here are the games to keep track of. Teams to note are bolded.
Carolina (13-0) at New York Giants (6-7)
Buffalo (6-7) at Washington (6-7)
Chicago (5-8) at Minnesota (8-5)
Arizona (11-2) at Philadelphia (6-7)
Prediction: This game is going to get ugly fast. Russell Wilson will throw 4 touchdown passes and Christine Michael will also run for a touchdown. The Browns only score will come in garbage time when Johnny Manziel hits Travis Benjamin for a touchdown. The Seahawks will clinch a playoff spot by the end of the day and we will head into the Christmas week with a 9-5 record.
Seahawks 38, Browns 7