Seattle Seahawks vs Cleveland Browns: 6 Bold Predictions for Cleveland on Sunday
The Cleveland Browns' front office probably hasn't gotten much sleep this week.
They've been putting out fires surrounding the Peyton Hillis trade rumors and trying to find ways to ensure they don't repeat any of the many, many mistakes they made last weekend that caused them to lose to Oakland 24-17 in an all-around ugly, sloppy game.
Last week the score was close, but the game really wasn't. Pretty much everyone in the Browns' organization from front office personnel down to the players, rightly or wrongly, has been under fire in the wake of the team's disappointing performance in Oakland.
Mike Holmgren set the record straight on many of the off-field and media-driven issues plaguing the team in his press conference on Thursday. But what will and won't be fixed on the field by the start of this week's game is still unclear.
The Browns face off Sunday against a somewhat talented but ineffective Seattle Seahawks team, whose record matches up evenly with the Browns at 2-3.
Predicted to win the underwhelming NFC West before the start of the season, Seattle has yet to live up to such expectations. Seattle is a team that is beatable for the Browns, though it won't be easy.
Following are six predictions for the Browns in Sunday's contest against the Seahawks.
Seattle Is the Better 2-3 Team of the Two at the Moment, But...
...the Browns could still be the winners of this contest on Sunday.
Not to mention that in this one, who is truly the "better 2-3 team" isn't really what it's about.
If you really want to nail down the answer to that, Seattle is the team that is playing better right now, but Cleveland is the squad with more talent (and thus likely the better team down the road).
But none of that matters this Sunday.
What does matter is that both of these teams need to win this game, and there's a good argument for why each should.
On paper, Seattle should be the favorite.
Their two wins came from beating better teams than the Browns two wins did, and while the Browns seem to have regressed in some areas of their game in recent weeks, the Seahawks seem to have improved.
Still, each team has averaged roughly the same amount of points (18.8 for the Seahawks and 18.2 for the Browns), and the Browns have averaged more yards on offense and ceded a lower average of yards on defense than the Seahawks have.
In a sense, the Browns have the potential to control their own fate in this one. If they stop their regressive slide and play to their potential, there's a good chance they wind up a winner in this one.
Greg Little Could Have a Breakout Game This Week
After turning in a solid performance in his first game as a starting WR for the Browns last week, rookie Greg Little has caught a lot of folks' attention.
The fantasy football world is abuzz with armchair quarterbacks pondering whether they should pick up the promising, yet unproven Little.
His totals last week were unspectacular, but he did look more convincing than most of the other Browns WRs have looked in any contest thus far.
A lot of things outside Little's control would have to go right for him to bust out this week (QB Colt McCoy will have to have a better game, and the offensive line will have to actually show up).
But Little's fate is, at least to some degree, literally in his own hands.
No one is expecting any sort of league-leading performance out of Little here, but given his solid outing last week and the fact that Seattle's defense has struggled against the pass, this could be the game where the Browns' rookie finally shows what he can do.
The Offensive Line Will Continue to Falter, but McCoy Will Have a Better Game
As much as everyone in Cleveland wishes it weren't true, the Browns' offensive line isn't going to be fixed any time soon.
No matter how much the Browns push them to improve, it's become clear already that the players the Browns have to work with on their line just aren't going to cut it.
Like it or not, these are the guys we're stuck with for the remainder of the season.
That being said, Colt McCoy can still bounce back from a disappointing outing last week and have a better game in spite of them.
Obviously, McCoy can never really play his best when his line is allowing him to be pressured, and he is forced to throw on the run more often than not. Still, McCoy seems to be good at adapting, and I believe he'll play better this week because, well, he has to.
As bad as McCoy's numbers have been in the Browns' last two games, much of the reason for that is that his line has thrown him to the wolves. While there's every indication that they can't help him much more this week than they have in the last few contests, McCoy can still help himself.
Holmgren mentioned in his press conference yesterday that McCoy "still looks like a pup out there". What he was trying to tell us is to remember how young and inexperienced McCoy still is. That means that he's going to make mistakes, and also that he alone can't make up for his line's shortcomings.
But it also tells us that McCoy can and will play better, regardless of external factors, than he did in Oakland or against Tennessee.
No matter how McCoy does, he's not going to guarantee a win or a loss for the Browns on his own, but he, like Little, has the potential to be a game-changer in this one.
The Browns' Defense Will Continue to Struggle Against the Run
Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch is no Darren McFadden to be sure, but that doesn't mean he isn't a good enough rusher to give the Browns' troubled run defense fits.
Lynch has 239 yards this season on 58 carries and two touchdowns. Not spectacular numbers, but good enough that he should be a major concern for a team like the Browns that just can't seem to stop the run.
The Browns' defense has been beaten up by strong rushers in its last two games, first by Tennessee's Chris Johnson and then again against the Raiders' McFadden.
We've discussed how backs like these can't even be completely stopped by good run defenses, but the Browns couldn't manage to slow either of them down at all.
That means Lynch should be the primary focus for the Browns' defense this week.
Overall, Seattle's running game doesn't look too good on paper (they're ranked 29th in the league, just one slot ahead of the Browns), but Lynch appeared to break out of his rut last week with a 98-yard performance. He has the potential that cannot be ignored even though he's been disappointing on the whole this season.
Unfortunate as it may be, the Browns' run defense is exactly the type that leaves the door open for a guy like Lynch to turn it around and put himself permanently on the path to a good season.
While we have to hope the Browns can outperform Seattle in other areas of their game in order to pull out a win, the run defense looks like it will continue to be a problem this week against the Seahawks.
If Peyton Hillis Plays This Week
As mentioned in the previous slide, the Browns running game has been a very disappointing 30th in the league thus far this season.
Between losing a game to illness, and now potentially losing a game to a hamstring injury, RB Peyton Hillis has not been able to be the Browns' savior this season the way he was in 2010.
Let's set one thing straight: Despite less than stellar numbers, Peyton Hillis still has it.
There is no imminent trade, Madden curse or epic collapse in store for Cleveland's biggest star. While Hillis unfortunately hasn't been the bulldozer he was last season, much of that can be attributed to injuries and illness, the departure of FB Lawrence Vickers and the horrendous play of the Browns O-line.
Unfortunately, the fact that Hillis isn't personally to blame for a big portion of his low totals in 2011 doesn't make him any more effective.
No matter whose fault it is, the Browns running game has been awful. If they're going to put together a decent season, that will have to change. And whether that happens rests squarely on Hillis' shoulders.
Obviously the line has to do at least somewhat better, and Hillis has to get better blocking from other offensive teammates.
But mostly, he's the guy who has to be the difference maker.
Montario Hardesty has done nothing impressive this season, and Armond Smith was waived in favor of McCoy's Texas Longhorns' teammate Chris Ogbonnaya, who the Browns signed this week from Houston's practice squad.
Ogbonnaya is decent (or at least playable) insurance if Hillis is severely limited this week, but he won't be able to put up anywhere near the numbers that the Browns need out of their lead RB to right their running game.
So, that means it's all up to Hillis.
If he doesn't play, the Browns are looking at yet another week of poor ground play on offense.
If he does, he'll be the guy who not only decides whether the Browns can get their running game back on track, but also the deciding factor in who wins this game.
CB Joe Haden Will Make or Break the Defense
The Browns' secondary, as a group, has struggled all season long.
With the exception of standout Joe Haden, they have underachieved severely, and the Browns lack of depth in the area has repeatedly crushed them.
When Haden was out last week with an injury to his left knee, things only got worse. The secondary has struggled as a group even with Haden on the field, and Browns fans were treated to a disturbing showing last week of just how much worse things could get without him.
Aside from Haden, S Mike Adams is the only player in the secondary who has at least played up to his potential.
The rest have been mediocre, underachieving and just plain awful.
With Haden, they have trouble. Without him, they really don't have a prayer.
Haden's status is still uncertain for this Sunday, and while there is still hope he could play, the odds of that aren't exactly great.
If he doesn't the Browns are going to have to come up with some way to at least improve their secondary in a hurry.
The biggest keys?
S T.J. Ward has to start playing like the guy he looked like last season. In his rookie year, he looked like a game-changer. This season, he's looked lost and uninvolved.
Secondly, the Browns need to give rookie Buster Skrine a chance to help bail out the secondary as a starter if Haden can't play.
The Browns didn't start Skrine last week—understandable because he's a rookie who is still fairly raw, but a mistake in my opinion. The Browns needed his speed and agility against Oakland's lightening-fast offense.
By not starting him, they missed an opportunity to counter some of that.
This week, they're facing a very different type of offense in Seattle (and a less-talented one, certainly), but the secondary still needs Haden to succeed.
If he can't, they need to give Skrine the start and see what he can do.