After all, this is a club tied with the Tennessee Titans and San Diego Chargers for the worst record in all of the NFL at 3-10. It is a team that has surrendered over three times as many touchdown passes (26) as interceptions (eight) and is ranked even worse against the run, surrendering 131.3 yards per game (currently 29th in the NFL).
Its a team being "led" on the field by Johnny Manziel with perhaps the league's most anonymous receiving corps.
And yet, after watching the film of Cleveland's blue collar 24-10 win last week over San Francisco 49ers, Pete Carroll knows this is an opponent the Seahawks must focus on to maintain their slim lead over the Minnesota Vikings in the race for the fifth seed in the NFC Playoff chase.
Love him or hate him, Manziel offers some of the same improvisational skills that have made Russell Wilson such a nightmare for opponents to defend and he's throwing to a receiver corps that while perhaps not well known does offer playmaking ability.
As Carroll noted, "[Manziel] has done a lot of really good things in the offense. He had a fantastic game against San Francisco. He looks very comfortable playing in their style. It’s a wide open style, a lot of play actions and movements and things like that. The things that you watched him do as a college player, you can see in the offense. His ability to create moves really well, finds receivers well out of the pocket. He does a nice job in the pocket too. He’ll hang in there, stand in there, fire it down the field too. I think he gives them a really diverse offense that we recognize with the mobility at the quarterback spot is very difficult to handle. They have a lot of speed and they’ve got players that can make things happen. This was a fine game for them running the football too. Coming off of the San Francisco game, ran for a bunch. We have a lot of respect for what he can do.”
Speedy wideout Travis Benjamin and breakout star tight end Gary Barnidge have emerged as Cleveland's most formidable weapons in the passing game. Not unlike the Seahawks in this game, the Browns are expected to rotate their running backs on Sunday, with the dynamic duo of Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson combining for 207 yards and two touchdowns (both by Crowell) on 33 carries against the 49ers.
Given how often Seattle has been victimized by tight ends this season, Carroll knows Cleveland will attempt to feed Barnidge, who has caught eight of the 11 touchdowns of his eight-year career in 2015.
“Yeah, that ball’s going to go to him," Carroll said when asked about the 6-6, 250 pound Barnidge. "He’s got 65 catches, he’s had a great season. That’s going to be a substantial part of their offense, especially with [Brian] Hartline not being available too. He’s been a very good go-to guy as well. We’re expecting that to happen.”
The Browns defense is young but gifted with former Pac-12 standouts Danny Shelton ( Washington Huskies), Xavier Cooper ( Washington State Cougars) and Nate Orchard ( Utah Utes) contributing as rookies and solid front seven defenders in Armonty Bryant and Paul Kruger the backbone of the unit.
“They had a great day in all aspects of their game," Carroll said. "Everything was working. They were running it, they were throwing the ball down the field, they were rushing them. They just had a great football game and I think once they got them out of rhythm and forced them into the throwing game, they just took advantage of it. They did a nice job and they got after him pretty good.”
To turn the Browns into the team that lost seven consecutive games prior to last Sunday's win over the 49ers, Seattle needs to start off in the dominating fashion that helped it overwhelm Baltimore a week ago. The momentum and talent differential between the two clubs makes it seem obvious that the Seahawks will be able to do so.
With Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine and several of his players, however, perhaps fighting for their jobs, desperation is on the side of the Browns.