The Cleveland Browns lost a tough one last Sunday as they got demolished by the Cincinnati Bengals, 30-0. Although Cleveland’s playoff hopes have diminished, there is a very slim window for the postseason. The scenario in which every team loses and Cleveland jumps up six spots is very unlikely. But, despite a 12 year playoff drought, the Browns have already surpassed preseason expectations with a seven win season. The playoffs may no longer be in our sights, but look at the bright side, now we can finally witness Johnny Manziel as a starter, and assess him properly.
Here are some things to watch for on Sunday as the Browns travel to Carolina to face off with the Panthers:
Rebound Game for Manziel: After the “worst game” of his entire football career, Johnny Manziel is preparing to make his second career start. The rookie has never been held scoreless in his life, so look for him to bounce back against an underperforming defense. Although Carolina has recently turned things around, they still allow 25.6 points per game. In order to produce points, Manziel must have a clean pocket and stay on his feet. The offensive line has to block much more effectively, allowing the quarterback to see the field. If all goes well, the Browns have a shot at winning this game.
Carolina’s Starting Quarterback: Cam Newton’s 2014 campaign got off to a rough start after his recovery from an ankle surgery. His performance has steadily improved, as reflected by his last start versus the Saints. Newton threw for over 200 yards, ran for another 83, accounted for four total touchdowns, and led the Panthers to a 41-10 victory. However, the quarterback suffered two fractures to the transverse process of his back and missed his last start. If Newton can’t go, former Cleveland Brown Derek Anderson will start. He is notably slower and less evasive than Newton, giving Cleveland the advantage. Regardless of who the quarterback is, expect Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin to be heavily targeted.
Cleveland’s Defense Back on Track: The Browns looked lazy or uninterested when clashing with the Bengals. It was easily their worst loss of the season, as they surrendered their highest point total (30) since week one in Pittsburgh. Although Cleveland limited Andy Dalton to 117 yards and an interception, the defense was gashed by the run game. Jeremy Hill racked up 148 yards and two touchdowns and Giovanni Bernard ran for 79 yards. If the Browns intend to win this game, they must contain the Panther running attack. Cleveland should stack the line and force Newton or Anderson to beat them through the air. If Newton does play, though, the Browns have to keep an eye on the mobile quarterback who isn’t scared to run, but might be timid considering his recent back injury.
Cleveland’s Run Game: Running the ball is the key to winning this game. Both Cleveland running backs saw a decreased workload versus Cincinnati, with Terrence West carrying the ball just five times and Isaiah Crowell seven times. This was most likely caused by falling behind early. Regardless, they need to ground and pound the ball to alleviate pressure on Johnny Manziel. We can’t depend on a rookie to throw us to victory. Not to mention that, throughout 2014, Cleveland is far more successful running the ball down the defense’s throat. Occasionally, Manziel will have to make a play, but West and Crowell are far too talented to deny them a heavy workload. Despite a tough Carolina front seven, expect West and Crowell to touch the ball more.