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He Said / She Said: Seattle Seahawks vs. Cleveland Browns

Friday, December 18, 2015

 

Oregon Sports News football writers Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath preview the week 15 matchup between the Seattle Seahawks (8–5) and the Cleveland Browns (3–10).

When: 1:05 p.m. PT Sunday, Dec. 20
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.

Rogers: Could there be an outbreak of Johnny Football fever this Sunday in Seattle? Though the Cleveland Browns are on their way to yet-another double-digit-loss season, they are actually a more dangerous team than last week’s Seahawks fodder, the team formerly known as the Baltimore Ravens. Quarterback Johnny Manziel managed to inject some life into the Browns in a decisive 24–10 win last Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers.

Surprise: The team heading into this game with a hot young running back is not the Seahawks. Cleveland’s second-year running back, Isaiah Crowell, hammered the 49ers for 145 yards and two touchdowns — just what every team with a developing quarterback needs.

Jess, I’m sure you’ve got much to say about the season-ending injury to Thomas Rawls. As you check the notes in your tear-stained Seahawks dream journal, can you allow us some insights in how the Seahawks offense will take shape without its top two running back threats, Rawls and Marshawn Lynch?

Ridpath: After watching Rawls walk off the field Sunday morning, I heaved a sigh of relief and assumed he’d only be out for a game or two. Learning later in the day that a broken ankle and torn ligaments had ended his season was devastating. But not because I think the Seahawks can’t win without him.

No, the reason for my tears had everything to do with Rawls himself and how exciting it’s been to watch this kid run. I admit it: I’d fallen football-in-love with him. His journey from undrafted rookie to franchise record-breaker and League leader in yards per carry is a football story for the ages — and I’m sad to see the 2015 chapter end prematurely.

But enough about my heartbreak, back to your question: Pete Carroll didn’t waste any time revamping his running back cast after losing Rawls. The Seahawks resigned 24-year-old Bryce Brown Monday morning and cut former Green Bay Packer DuJuan Harris on Tuesday. Harris, who lost a fumble in the red zone and looked otherwise mediocre after stepping in for Rawls last Sunday, had only averaged 2.3 yards per carry in the two games he’s played this season.

Brown, who came to Seattle in September by way of Philadelphia and Buffalo, has averaged 4.4 yards per carry during his short career — but has zero playing time so far this season. He joins veteran third-down-rusher Fred Jackson as a surprise understudy trying to keep the Seahawks’ rushing performance alive. Brown is getting a long-awaited chance to prove himself on the current NFL stage, which will undoubtedly put some fire in his belly — and hopefully in his legs.

In any case, the show will go on. And Russell Wilson will continue to be the star. Julian, much has been said about his historic performance of late. Wilson’s been so good, in fact, that Seattle Times columnist Matt Calkins referred to him as the “best damn football player in the world” in his missive about why losing Rawls wont’ damage the Seahawks chances. Agree or disagree?

Rogers: They’re gonna miss Rawls. He proved to be a special back. The remaining guys are not and that will allow defenses the opportunity to focus on stopping Wilson and the passing game that much more. But let’s not fold up our tents just yet.

The Seahawks’ passing game has seriously come alive in recent weeks. For the past couple of seasons many have wondered if the Seahawks’ passing game will ever be the equal to or surpass the ground game. We now have the answer: it has to. It’s a small sample size, but the absence of Rawls for most of one game didn’t seem to stop Wilson’s ability to gash the Ravens.

It’s never a good time to lose an effective young player to a season-ending injury. However, the timing of Rawls’ departure is probably at about the most opportune time it could be given where the Seahawks are in their schedule and with the passing game switched to “on.” Wilson and his receivers have never been better. With the offense humming along at its current pace, taking a step or two back in the running game will be less devastating than it would have been had Rawls been lost when the Seahawks stumbled to their 2–4 start with Lynch in and out of the lineup.

As they face the cushiest part of their regular season schedule (the Browns and Rams have losing records and the Cardinals may be resting in week 17), the onus is now on the passing game to continue its torrid pace to keep this a dream comeback story. Here’s where it will get interesting. Jess, what’s your prediction for how the passing game will fare now that the targets will be squarely upon them? Does the Browns’ 26th-ranked defense have what it takes to stop a one-sided Seahawks offense?

Ridpath: If you had asked me this question a week ago, I would have laughed and said no way. But Cleveland’s defense is getting much of the credit for last week’s victory (the Browns’ first win in two months), having posted nine sacks among seven different players. They held the 49ers to just 221 yards of total offense and didn’t allow their opponent into the red zone until the final two minutes of the game.

In other words, the Browns’ defense finally has some momentum. But that momentum came against a struggling team with a sub-par quarterback. To say that Cleveland has come up short when facing top-notch passers would be an understatement. In the weeks prior to their win over San Francisco, they faced QBs with last names like Roethlisberger, Palmer, and Dalton (twice). In those four matchups, they were outscored 132–42. With Wilson catapulting toward elite QB status and the Seahawks’ offensive line performing consistently, I expect the story will be much the same in Seattle this Sunday.

Julian, as you mentioned, Cleveland’s run game is also being credited for their long-awaited victory last week. Crowell and rookie Duke Johnson combined for 230 rushing yards — twice as many yards as the Browns have gained on the ground in any game this season. What kind of performance do you expect from these youngsters as they face a seasoned Seattle defense that’s only allowing 83.2 yards per game (second in the League)?

Rogers: I think you hit on the key to the game. Whoever owns the running game advantage will almost certainly be the winner at game’s end. What’s unexpected is that right now it looks like Cleveland has the stronger running game.

Correlation does not mean causation, however. Just because the Browns may have a more potent rushing attack at the moment doesn’t mean they’ll be able to ram the ball down the Seahawks’ throats at will. The Browns will be able to run to a winning advantage if they get effective early-down yards and can keep rushing later in the game by virtue of not being behind by multiple scores (see last week’s dismantling of the 49ers). In addition to solid running, the Browns will still have to produce third-down conversions via the passing game and score touchdowns instead of settling for field goals. Running the ball will only get them part-way there but will translate to a fighting chance to take down the Seahawks.

Jess, you noted that the Browns defense got credit for beating the 49ers last week. So have many defenses this season. The Seahawks represent a much more lethal offensive threat, especially at home. I don’t see the Browns defense winning this one on the road.

Some may see this as a Manziel vs. Wilson showdown, but I think that’s a fool’s game for the Browns. Their best bet is to take the ball out of Wilson’s hands by leveraging their own running game to its fullest potential. If they get behind and have to rely on Manziel throwing to emerging tight end Gary Barnidge (65 catches, 901 yards, 8 TDs) and athletic wide receiver Travis Benjamin (58 catches, 867 yards, 5 TDs), they will find some success — just not enough to make enough plays against the Legion of Boom to come away with a win. Prediction: Seahawks 30, Browns 13. On paper, this looks like another yawner of a game, just like the Ravens non-event. Only a fast start by the Browns and a continuation of their running game dominance of a week prior will stop this game from being Seahawks/Ravens II.

Ridpath: Yawn, indeed. I’m finding it hard to get excited about this game (especially now that my latest football crush is out for the season) or to identify the areas where the Browns might have an advantage. Here are some cool bar charts that illustrate the Seahawks’ superiority nearly across the board. Evidently, there’s some evidence that Cleveland might have a slight advantage on special teams. That’s not a lot to hang your hopes on if you’re a Browns fan. Prediction: Seahawks 38, Browns 10.

--------------------

Owning up

Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.

What he got right: The game winner. I’m 9–4 on the season. I said the Ravens did not have the horses to keep up with the Seahawks on offense. They never really threatened as they continue to muddle their way to their season-ending identity crisis.

What he got wrong: I had a hunch the Seahawks would cool off on the East Coast. That proved to be wrong as the Seahawks breezed to an easy, 29-point margin of victory. Even losing Rawls did not slow down the offense much.

What she got right: The game winner. I’m still eyeball to eyeball with the dude who talked me into writing this column with him. I predicted the Ravens’ upstart running back Javorius “Buck” Allen would be stymied by Seattle’s defense. He logged just 14 yards on eight carries. I also came within one point of nailing Seattle’s final score of 35.

What she got wrong: Not much — although I did give Baltimore too much credit by predicting they would score a couple touchdowns. Despite some sporadic movement up field, the Ravens were completely ineffective in the red zone.

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.

 

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