Giants vs. Browns
The 1-3 Cleveland Browns play host to the 4-0 Super Bowl champs in a primetime affair on Monday Night Football. The Giants are the hottest team in the league featuring a defense that overwhelms opponents by pressuring the pocket and an offense that is leading the league in virtually every statistical category. The Browns are looking to finally get their offense going while staying within striking distance of the Steelers.
The Giants' offense is built upon the philosophy of using the running game to create the big play in the passing game. Everyone understands how to stop the Giants offense: shut down the run and force the Giants to move the ball through the air. The problem is, however, they are very good at running the football when the opposition is geared to stop them, and they are also very effective at making the big play in the passing game when needed.
RB Brandon Jacobs is entering a contract year and he is about to become a very wealthy individual. Jacobs reminds me of a faster version of Jerome Bettis. He doesn't look to run around defenders. The big back loves to punish defenders with every hit given and taken. Jacobs is very hard to bring down. He is too big to take on high and too powerful to tackle around the ankles. It takes a gang mentality to bring this 270-pound back to the ground on a consistent basis.
Just when you grow weary from the punishment delivered by Jacobs, the Giants will use the speed tandem of Ahmad Bradshaw and Derek Ward. Ward is the more complete back of the trio, with great size and speed to go with soft hands receiving the ball. Bradshaw is all about speed and quickness. He is quick to see the hole and, if he gets a step, he isn't going to be caught from behind.
The Giants' offensive line is led by former Browns center Shaun O'Hara. O'Hara will have his hands full with nose tackle Shaun Rodgers. This match up could very well be the deciding factor in this contest. Rodgers is becoming the beast of the Browns' defense and his ability to pressure the backfield creates opportunity for the Browns to free up their blitzing linebackers and safeties.
This unit feasts upon running to their right with RG Chris Snee and RT Kareem McKenzie. Snee will likely be asked to help against Rodgers, which will in turn place the 330-pound McKenzie going one-on-one with defensive end Corey Williams. Williams made bold statements this week and will have to prove himself against one of the better run-blocking tackles in the league.
Considering the Browns' struggles defending the tight end, look for TE Kevin Boss to become more of a receiving threat on Monday. Boss will also be asked to slow the pass rush of up-and-coming OLB Alex Hall. Hall's ability to get to the quarterback is one of the reasons why the Browns' defense is making steady progress.
Quarterback Eli Manning shredded the Browns' defense in preseason but the Browns blew several opportunities for an interception. Eli is a high-risk/high-reward quarterback. The same things that make him a great quarterback can make him a liability. He has tremendous patience and gives his receivers every opportunity to get themselves open, but at the same time he will also hold the ball a bit too long and then force it into tight coverage.
The one area of concern for the Giants is WR Plaxico Burress. Burress is a great talent but his attitude toward the game cost him a one-game suspension already and, while the Giants played a flawless game without their prolific weapon, chemistry is hard to build yet easily destroyed. The subtraction of two of their most-talented players in Jeremy Shockey and Tiki Barber helped build the team unity. Burress is just talented enough to destroy what has been built.
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has become increasingly aggressive with his play calling. This is one of the prime reasons for the swagger in the defense. In order to slow the Giants, the Browns must bring that same type of blitz philosophy and aggression they used against the Bengals. If you sit back and wait for the Giants to make a mistake, it can be a very long wait as they will take those short runs all game long.
The Browns must take away the running game of the Giants to have success in this contest. To stop the Giants' running game you have to stop them before they get going. The defense must play behind the line of scrimmage throughout the contest and also seal the edge as pressure comes up the middle.
The front three for the Browns will have a very stiff challenge this week, but the real test is the ability of the linebackers to seal the outside edge and flow to the ball. ILB D'Qwell Jackson is quietly having a terrific year but someone must step up to solidify the other inside linebacker position. Neither Leon Williams nor Andra Davis has filled this role with any consistency and this position is key to stopping the Giants' run game. They must attack with fierce intensity and make the running back second-guess his first instinct.
SS Sean Jones could return this week, especially if Mike Adams is unable to play. Brodney Pool made the move from free safety to strong safety during Jones absence and did an excellent job. I would like to see Pool remain where he's beeen. His ability to press-cover the tight end has taken a huge load off the back of this defense. Jones is a terrific safety and one can't help but wonder how he would do as the deep safety coming over the top providing the big hits in the secondary.
The corner tandem of Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald is making huge strides. Asked to play more man-on-man, they have responded well. Wright had a nightmare game in preseason against the Giants and will look to redeem himself. McDonald keeps his head on a swivel and that could lead to a huge game for the young corner or a nightmare if he is caught looking too often.
The Giants may have lost two of their sack artists, but this defense has not skipped a beat. Mathias Kiwanuka and Justin Tuck are providing the pressure from the defensive-end positions, while Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins are a dominating tandem in the middle -- especially in the run game.
If there is a weakness to this defense, I believe it is in the linebacker play. This group isn't designed to make the great play but more to avoid the horrible play. They have a tendency to get hung up in traffic when asked to blitz and their coverage ability is suspect. The Browns should look to target this group in the passing game.
The Giants' secondary always seems to be somewhat banged up, but they appear to be relatively healthy at this time. Cornerbacks Corey Webster and Aaron Ross are young, talented and do not receive the respect that they deserve. While the Giants believe in pressure and blitzing from everywhere, the two corners are often left in one-on-one matchups. Expect the Browns to target the inexperienced Ross quiet often in this contest.
No unit needed this bye week more than the Cleveland Browns' offense. The Browns' offense, in all honesty, has been pathetic when you see the level of talent on the playing field. The bright side, however, is that there is nowhere to go but up for this underachieving offense.
The primary issue that I see with the offense is the lack of timing and chemistry in the passing attack. Teams are daring the Browns to throw the ball and, with QB Derek Anderson struggling with both confidence and accuracy, you can bet the Giants will be doing the same. Derek at times is playing skittish in the pocket and makes half-hearted attempts to look off the defense. A quick glance and back to the primary doesn't cut it in this league. If Anderson struggles, the chants for Brady Quinn will be fierce.
The box will be loaded and the blitz will be coming. It will be up to the Browns' offensive line to give Derek time to deliver the football. Giants DE Justin Tuck is a premier pass rusher and he could find himself going against RT Ryan Tucker this week due to an injury to Kevin Shaffer. Tucker has not played in 2008 due to a hip injury that occurred in training camp. Tucker is a better run blocker than Shaffer but Shaffer is better in pass protection. If Shaffer is ready to go, we could see Tucker slide back in at RG.
An undisclosed illness appears likely to prevent pro bowl TE Kellen Winslow from playing on Monday. Kellen is a huge mismatch going against the Giants' linebackers; if he is unable to go, this could be an opportunity for rookie TE Martin Rucker to get his first playing time as a Brown, provided he's healthy.
WR Donte Stallworth appears to be ready to take the field this week. Stallworth will be needed, especially with Winslow's illness combined with his familiarity with the Giants' defense. WR Braylon Edwards may have broken out of his slump last week against the Bengals, and one thing I've admired about Edwards through his struggles has been his blocking.
The Browns' running backs are starting to click. The combination of Jerome Harrison and Jamal Lewis can get the job done. Whenever Harrison makes a play the fans have themselves to thank because their outcry is the main reason why Harrison is starting to receive more playing time. One thing that bothers me with the Harrison situation, though: if the fans and media can see the young man's talent, why was the Browns' coaching staff so slow in finding a way to get Harrison onto the field?
Rushing yards will be hard to come by in this one, but the Browns can't give up on the run. Lewis could pay huge dividends as the game progresses into the fourth quarter. If Jamal can find the right gap against the Giants' blitz package, he could be off to the races as they will sell out on defense.
With two weeks to prepare there are no excuses. The Giants are a great team, but this Browns team has the talent to match up well against them. For the Browns, this is a playoff game with everything on the line. Stay tuned to The OBR for updates leading up to this one.