As the Cleveland Browns get set to travel to the Pacific Northwest to take on the throwback-wearing Seattle Seahawks in Week 8, they will look to advance to 5-2 on the season. Their backs are against the wall as quarterback P.J. Walker will start in this game once again, and their stable of running backs is beat up. Can head coach Kevin Stefanski and defensive end Myles Garrett lead the Browns to victory again this week?
Seattle also enters this game with a 4-2 mark on the season, led by one of the best stories in Geno Smith. The West Virginia product, however, is far more than a good story at this point as he has proven himself as a top-10 quarterback through two seasons as the starter in Seattle.
The Seahawks are a tough team but have shown themselves to be beatable as well. Here are five things to watch as the Browns look to scratch and claw their way to a third straight win.
Onus is on Kevin Stefanski
To his credit, shots have been there over the past two weeks. And beyond that, Walker is missing some layups as well. The screen game is working well in Cleveland– if they could execute without some sort of holding or illegal man downfield penalty– and the Browns will need their head coach and play-caller to be on his A-game once again in this one.
Seattle’s defense is the best the Browns have faced this season. They are the second-best defense since Week 3 behind only Cleveland’s own. They are without their top pass rusher as well, which helps the pass protection that has already been better over the last two weeks.
At the end of the day, however, if Walker misses layups there is not much the play-caller can do about it. The chess match between Stefanski and Seattle defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt will be one to watch.
Can Myles Garrett continue his trek toward DPOY?
The Browns do not beat the Colts without Myles Garrett. Point blank.
And if they want to sneak out another win against a top-tier team in the Seahawks, they will need another big game from their best player. Geno Smith is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL when he is on schedule. And he is one of the best at staying on schedule.
This means Garrett might not have the time to get home as Smith will get the ball out quick. The Browns have to win on first down to force Seattle into second and third and longs. Starting left tackle Charles Cross is back in the lineup for the Seahawks, but they are still starting Jake Curham at right tackle. Mismatches will be there for the Browns to get home if they can get Smith and the Seahawks off schedule.
And when they do, Garrett must continue to establish himself as the top defensive player in the NFL.
What will the run game look like with all of the injuries in the room?
While the run game had gotten off to a slow start after the injury to Nick Chubb, the Browns have found some success and nuance over the past two weeks. However, the Browns have a tough task ahead of them as the Seahawks field the best run defense they have seen yet this season.
Gun run has increased, inside zone has seen an uptick, and as a result the Browns are seeing Jerome Ford and Kareem Hunt tote the rock with a bit more efficiency. Both, however, have been limited in practice as Pierre Strong Jr. might see more carries this week.
Walker has been rough, and the Browns need to take pressure off of his shoulders. How creative can they continue to get in the run game?
Can Stefanski and his banged-up running back room scrap together another gritty performance and punch out crucial yards when needed?
Can the secondary recover from a tough outing vs. the Colts?
Can P.J. Walker find some one-on-one shots in this one?
The Browns beat the San Francisco 49ers and at least found some semblance of offensive success due to one-on-one shots to wide receiver Amari Cooper. They are not a stable or sustainable way to run an offense, but as the Browns continue to fight through the heart of their schedule with Walker, can they find some shots for now?
Seattle possesses aggressive cornerbacks. Throwing one-on-one shots at the likes of Tariq Woolen and Devon Witherspoon may also be a way to pick up some free and cheap yards if they can take advantage of their tendency to get grabby down the field.
We’ve already hit on the need for sustained drives and for Walker to hit the layups that have been there. But the Browns are also going to have to find chunks. And unless Walker can get his eyes where they need to be much faster than he has the first two weeks, those may have to come in the form of just lining up your best player and getting them in a position to make plays.
Can they get David Njoku on a slot cornerback in a downfield fade situation? Can they get Cooper the ball along the sideline? These are the two players who are going to have to make plays in “may the best man win” situations if the Browns want to create plays down the field.
Sometimes it is Jimmys and Joes more than Xs and Os.
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