The Cleveland Browns head into Sunday’s game with yet another important player sidelined by a major injury. After suffering a concussion on a vicious hit by the Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Harrison, quarterback Colt McCoy will most likely miss this week’s game. McCoy joins the long list of key offensive starters—Benjamin Watson, Peyton Hillis, Mohamed Massaquoi, Eric Steinbach, and others—who have missed games this season to due to injury.
The Arizona Cardinals have had to struggle with injury issues of their own throughout a season that began with promise and hopes of contending in the weak NFC West. Starting quarterback Kevin Kolb and starting running back Beanie Wells have had to deal with injuries at various points during the season. Despite their struggles, the Cardinals remain barely alive in the NFC playoff picture. Having won three straight heading into Sunday’s contest, the Cardinals must defeat the Browns if they intend to have any chance of securing a wild card spot in the NFC playoffs.
3 Things To Watch
1) Seneca Wallace vs. The Cardinals’ Defense:
Defensive players typically begin licking their chops and start dreaming of sacks, interceptions, and shutouts when they learn that the opposing team’s backup quarterback will be starting. However, the Cardinals’ defense could be in for a rude awakening this week. Throughout his career, Wallace has shown that he can ably step in behind center and fulfill the starting role. Last season, Wallace replaced an injured Jake Delhomme and saw considerable time in four games for the Browns. Wallace threw for 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, and he also led the Browns to their first victory of the 2010 season against the Cincinnati Bengals. Additionally, Wallace helped the Browns remain competitive in the three other games in which he had significant playing time last season, all of which were losses to playoff teams. Wallace has not played much this year, but he did look very sharp on the one throw he made in the Browns’ last game. A threat with his feet as well as his arm, Wallace will look to manage the game and help lead the Browns to their fifth victory of the season.
2) Beanie Wells vs. The Browns’ Run Defense:
Over the past few weeks, the Browns’ oft-criticized run defense has shown intermittent signs of improvement intermingled with periods of frustration and failure. Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Browns limited Maurice Jones-Drew to less than 100 rushing yards and stopped him on a goal line run during a pivotal point in the fourth quarter. However, the Browns proceeded to allow the Bengals’ Cedric Benson to run for over 100 yards against them the following week. The next week, the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice ran for over 200 yards. Putting aside the past weeks’ frustrations, the Browns’ run defense rebounded against the Pittsburgh Steelers and limited Rashard Mendenhall to under 100 yards. Most importantly, the Browns’ run defense denied Mendenhall a touchdown on four consecutive runs from the one yard line. Although Wells has been hampered by injuries this season, he remains a dangerous runner who could easily make life very unpleasant for the Browns’ run defense. The Cardinals’ question mark at the quarterback position means that the Cardinals will lean heavily on Wells once again this week. If the Browns cannot limit Wells, the Browns will be hard-pressed to avoid their tenth loss of the season.
3) The Browns’ Special Teams Units:
The offseason departure of former special teams coordinator Brad Seely to the San Francisco 49ers was a move that probably went unnoticed by the vast majority of Browns fans. However, Seely’s absence has loomed large this season. The Browns surrendered a touchdown on a kickoff return against the Oakland Raiders that turned out to be the difference in the game and also allowed another touchdown in the same game on a fake punt. Despite having one of the best returners in NFL history in Josh Cribbs, the Browns have not returned a kickoff or punt for a touchdown this season. The Browns have also experienced difficulties in the kicking game, leading to the departure of Pro Bowl long snapper Ryan Pontbriand. With the Browns’ offense struggling to move the ball, a kickoff or punt return for a touchdown could provide the team with a badly needed jump start on offense. At the same time, surrendering a return touchdown or long return to the Cardinals’ dangerous Patrick Peterson could prove to be the difference between a win and a loss.
Prediction: With the Browns experiencing yet another round of drama related to the handling of McCoy’s concussion, the team will most likely be grateful to take the field on Sunday and have 60 minutes of solace and escape from questioning and distractions. Expect Wallace to deliver a better-than-expected performance and for Peyton Hillis to have a solid game. However, the Cardinals are heading into this game with a three-game winning streak and will be looking to maintain their slim hopes for the NFC playoffs. This game will be close, but the Cardinals will pull it out in the fourth quarter and send the Browns back to Cleveland with yet another disappointing fourth quarter collapse under their belts. The Cardinals will win by a score of 17-14.