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Game Preview: RG3's sprained knee gives Kirk Cousins his first NFL start

Dec 15, 2012 -- 11:53pm

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By Tony Grossi

What: Browns (5-8) vs. Washington Redskins (7-6), 1 p.m., in Cleveland Browns Stadium.

TV: WJW-FOX 8 with Ron Pitts and Mike Martz with Krista Voda.

The set-up: The Redskins have won four in a row and are in the thick of the NFC playoff race. But the thing to remember is they hold playoff tie-breakers over almost all the teams involved, and a loss to an AFC team does not necessarily derail them. Hurts, but doesn’t doom them. The Browns have not been eliminated from postseason, but will be if Pittsburgh defeats Dallas on Sunday.

Series history: Browns lead, 33-10-1.

Historical footnote: Among non-AFC foes, only the Giants (50 games), Cardinals (49) and Eagles (48) have met the Browns more than the Redskins (44). Yet there are amazingly few games that stand out. In researching their most recent games, I re-read my game story in The Plain Dealer of the Redskins’ most recent visit to Cleveland in 2004, a game won by the Browns, 17-13. This passage was most interesting: “At one point in its telecast, FOX sideline reporter Jay Glazer reported that Washington assistant coach Gregg Williams instructed his defense to get after (Jeff) Garcia but not to knock him out because he didn't want to see Kelly Holcomb in the game.” Williams, of course, was suspended indefinitely for his role in overseeing a pay-for-injury bounty program as defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints in 2009.

Redskins update: Their playoff hopes rest on the arm and legs of dual-threat rookie QB Robert Griffin III, which is why coach Mike Shanahan has decided to not to risk further injury to Griffin's sprained right knee. Griffin hyperextended the knee on a whiplash collision with Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata last Sunday. It was a mild surprise that Shanahan made the announcement on Saturday nightthat Kirk Cousins would start. It makes the role of rookie 1,228-yard rusher Alfred Morris even greater. Cousins wasn’t expected to be able to operate the specially-tailored zone read option game that has helped to account for Washington’s league-leading 167.5 rushing yards per game (57.5 yard average for Griffin). If Griffin doesn’t play, Morris’ running would open a more traditional play-action passing game for Cousins, who has appeared in only two games and completed 7 of 11 passes with two TDs and two interceptions.

Browns update: Still healthy as ever, they are attempting to stay in the AFC playoff race but more likely are muddying the future of coach Pat Shurmur with every win. Once thought to be a sure goner, Shurmur could force a reprieve from owner Jimmy Haslam with perhaps two more wins in the last three games. If Griffin plays, it’s possible the Browns chances will lie with Brandon Weeden’s ability to outscore the quarterback he defeated two times at Oklahoma State. The Redskins’ 3-4 defense has given up a whopping 27 touchdown receptions and has allowed opposing quarterbacks to post a passer rating of 90.7.

Injury report: Browns – None questionable or worse. Redskins – LB London Fletcher (ankle), QB Robert Griffin III (knee) and OT Trent Williams (thigh) are questionable.

Our take: Cousins is a studious prodigy who was schooled in a pro-style offense at Michigan State. He won't be able to do the things that Griffin could do with his feet. But Morris is a tough runner who can open up the passing game for Cousins. My original pick was predicated on Griffin playing, but I am committed to the score below. 

Prediction: Redskins, 27-24.

Record: 8-5.

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 tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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