Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Browns vs. Cardinals – Week 15

The Browns head west to take on the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, just the third time the Browns have been to the desert to face the Cardinals.

The Opposition

Arizona’s record: 6-7 (tied for second in the NFC West)
Offensive rank: 22nd overall/20th passing/23rd rushing
Defensive rank: 21st overall/23rd passing/19th rushing
All-time record: Browns lead 33-12-3, with a 17-6-1 mark on the road (0-2 in Arizona, 8-3-1 in St. Louis, 9-1 in Chicago)
Last meeting: Arizona won, 27-21, in 2007
The line: Browns (+6.5)

What to Watch For

If the Browns offense looks any different or is more efficient under Seneca Wallace, who gets the start at quarterback in place of Colt McCoy.

Wallace spent seven years with Seattle learning the West Coast offense under Mike Holmgren and his knowledge of the offense is one of the values (the value?) he brings as a back-up quarterback.

“I’m anticipating that Seneca’s going to go out and execute efficiently and I think we saw Colt do that at times this year,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said on Friday. As a quarterback, you’re trying to go out and do everything right all the time. Every once in awhile you’ll make a bad throw or a poor decision and then you get right back on the horse and try to correct it. I would anticipate, based on what I saw in practice, he had a good practice, Seneca will do a good job.”

It would only be one game against a defense in the lower third of the NFL, but if Wallace can move the ball that would provide another valuable piece of the puzzle as the team decides what to do about the quarterback position in the off season.

“To see another quarterback execute and operate with the players on the field may help us learn something about everybody involved,” Shurmur said. “It’ll help us learn something about Seneca at his stage in his career. It’s part of what you put together and that’s why it’s so important to wait and evaluate everything at the end. We have three games to play, three games that we’re going to fight our tails off to win and there’s going to be, what I hope to be, a lot of very fine performances. Hopefully, one from Seneca this week.”

Even though the Cardinals are ranked just 21st in defense, they have been playing better as they’ve won three consecutive games and five-of-six. Arizona has only given up an average of 214.4 passing yards since Nov. 14 – which puts them at No. 10 over that span.

The Browns obviously will need to keep an eye on Larry Fitzgerald when the Cardinals have the ball.

According to Pro Football Focus:

Life after Kurt Warner wasn’t that good to Larry Fitzgerald (+14.7), but this year has been better. While his catch rate is similar to last year at 54.4, his yards per catch is at 17.6 which is significantly higher than last year’s 12.6, and better than the Cardinals’ Super Bowl season as well. He’s had nine players miss tackles on him and seven touchdowns–both better numbers than last year–and he hasn’t dropped a pass in the last five games.

On 78.3% of his pass routes, Fitzgerald lines up out wide, which would put him against Joe Haden (+7.2 coverage) or Sheldon Brown (-5.8 coverage). In most cases Haden stays on the left side of the field and Brown on the right, but on the rare occurrence, Haden will track one receiver; that could happen in this game. Haden has had a rough time in recent weeks, allowing 13 catches for 292 yards and a touchdown in the past four. Brown has allowed 14 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown over that same time. Both of these cornerbacks have shown they can play great football in the past, but they’ll need to bring that “A” game to limit the Cardinals’ big plays.

If the Browns can keep the Arizona passing game under control, the run defense may actually have a shot at having a decent game.

People want to get excited about Beanie Wells, but outside of the game three weeks ago against the Rams, Wells has been mediocre. Take out the 228 yard game against St. Louis, and Wells is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry and has just 94 yards on 35 carries his last two games (2.7 yards per carry).

The Prediction

In some ways this is a tough one.

We can see the Browns hanging around enough that the Cardinals don’t cover.

Plus the Browns have a way of pulling out wins at the end of the season that hurt their draft position for the following year. And with Baltimore and Pittsburgh the only games left on the schedule, this looks like it could be that game.

But the Cardinals are playing better than the Browns right now – not saying much, we know – so we’ll go with the Cardinals but not the cover.

Record picking the Browns (using the point spread) this year: 7-5-1.

(Photo by Life magazine archives)

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