By Tony Grossi
Browns vs. Washington Redskins
Sunday, 1 p.m., in Cleveland Browns Stadium
Last game: Defeated Baltimore Ravens, 31-28 in overtime, Dec. 9, in Landover, MD.
Coach: Mike Shanahan, 18-27, third season; 164-125 overall.
Series record: Browns lead, 33-10-1.
Last meeting: Redskins won, 14-11, Oct. 19, 2008, in Landover, MD.
League rankings: Offense is fifth overall (first rushing, 21st passing), defense is 28th (seventh rushing, 31st passing) and turnover differential is plus-12.
Offensive overview: The probable loss of QB Robert Griffin III would take away a big chunk of what coordinator Kyle Shanahan has tailored in the offense – the zone read option game. This is when Griffin reads the defensive end on the side the Redskins choose to target and either hands off to RB Alfred Morris or keeps it and runs himself. It’s the play which has made Griffin a dangerous runner (748 yards, 6.7 average, 6 TD). Griffin also was adept at play-faking off the zone read option and throwing to the middle of the field. That’s been a money play for them. Replacement QB Kirk Cousins won’t be running this part of the offense. In his preseason appearances, Cousins ran more of a traditional offense, using Morris’ hard, physical running to set up a play-action passing game. He is a smart passer, aggressive with the ball, and had experience in a pro-style offense at Michigan State. There is no question the offense will be easier to defend without RG3, but Morris will be a challenge no matter who’s playing QB.
Defensive overview: Coordinator Jim Haslett wants to be the Steelers on defense, but he is missing several pieces to pull off similar results. The 3-4 alignment lacks the dependable outside pass rushers and play-making safeties of Pittsburgh’s vaunted unit. The result here is a lot of big plays allowed, mostly in the passing game. Ryan Kerrigan (6.5 sacks) is OK as a pass rusher, but the loss of fellow OLB Bryan Orakpo (torn pectoral) defused the rush as a whole. To compensate, Haslett manufactures pressure with a variety of stunts and zone blitz maneuvers. The good quarterbacks have beaten them by influencing the safeties with deft play-fakes or pump-fakes and throwing over the top against single coverage. The play-action game is tough to establish, however, because the unit is good against the run.
Special teams overview: PK Kai Forbath is 14 of 14 in field goals with a long of 50 yards since replacing Billy Cundiff. But Forbath’s low kickoffs have stressed his team’s kick coverage unit; he has only 13 touchbacks. P Sav Rocca is 23rd in gross average (44.3 yards) and 23rd in net (37.9). Return specialist Brandon Banks is 24th with a 6.8-yard punt return average and 20th in kickoff returns at 24.0. The coverage units are strong.
Players to watch:
1. QB Robert Griffin III: The rookie from Baylor almost immediately became one of the most exciting players in the league. He leads all quarterbacks with a 104.2 passer rating, built on 66.4 percent completions, 18 TDs and four INTs. RG3 also has scored six TDs and has rushed for 748 yards and a 6.7 average.
2. RB Alfred Morris: A sixth-round draft pick from Florida Atlantic, his 1,228 yards are six behind rookie leader Doug Martin, and his seven TDs trail only Martin (10) and Trent Richardson (nine). He is neither fast nor explosive, but is extremely physical and able to cut in the open field.
3. WR Pierre Garcon: The No. 1 receiving target in free agency by the Browns has missed six games with a foot injury. When on the field, he has been RG3’s money receiver with a 15.6-yard average and four TDs on 28 catches.
Injury report: QB Robert Griffin III (knee) will be day-to-day. OT Trent Williams (thigh), LB London Fletcher (ankle) and CB DeAngelo Hall (ankle) may be limited.
Small world: Defensive line coach Jacob Burney had the same position with the Browns in 1994-95 … Linebackers coach Bob Slowik was Browns defensive coordinator in 1999 … Defensive tackle Barry Cofield is a native of Cleveland Heights and attended Cleveland Heights High School … Linebacker London Fletcher is a native of Cleveland and attended Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School and John Carroll University … Receiver Pierre Garcon attended Mount Union College.
|. Like his team of late.Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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