July 30, 2014

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Browns coming up big when it comes to physical play

GLENDALE, Ariz. – From the quarterback to the offensive line to the receivers to the outside linebackers to the safeties, the Browns look down on the competition.
Literally.
Quarterback Derek Anderson is 6-foot-6. Receivers Joe Jurevicius and Braylon Edwards are 6-5 and 6-3, and tight end Kellen Winslow is 6-4. With the exception of 6-2 center Hank Fraley, the line averages nearly 6-6. Outside linebackers Kamerion Wimbley and Willie McGinest are 6-3 and 6-5 and safety Brodney Pool is 6-2.
Even punter Dave Zastudil is 6-3.
“You got big receivers, you got a big quarterback, you got a big team,” Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said before the Browns beat him 33-30 in overtime.
Browns coach Romeo Crennel has repeatedly said size isn`t a requirement for success, stressing technique and athletic ability instead. But general manager Phil Savage has given him a roster filled with specimens.
Savage said during the week that the size of the offense struck him during the comeback win at St. Louis.
“It was one of the critical third-down plays,” he said. “Joe (Jurevicius) looked like a light tower coming back to Derek. They`re playing a good 4-12 inches higher than most of the people they`re playing against.”
For the first time in the Savage-Crennel era, the Browns are at, or above, the level of the competition. They are 7-4 and in control of their playoff destiny. A 3-2 finish probably gets them their first playoff berth since 2002, and anything better gives them a shot at passing Pittsburgh for the AFC North title.
That stretch run starts today vs. the Cardinals, who sit a game out of an NFC wild-card spot at 5-6. They are 2-1 vs. the AFC North and have had nine games decided by eight points or fewer.
The Browns` success has people starting to pay attention. They`re seeing a team that isn`t just tall, but physical. The Browns swept the bully Ravens and wasted a double-digit lead in Pittsburgh, always one of the toughest teams in the NFL.
“I think if you talk to the people that we play they will tell you that we are a physical team,” Crennel said. “If we`re up there with everybody else, I really don`t know? It doesn`t make any difference to me. I just know our guys play hard and they will hit you if they have the opportunity.”
Physicality is difficult to measure. Bruises aren`t an official stat, and no one in the NFL is willing to admit he was beat up. But the Browns` hits seem fiercer this year and have gotten louder as the wins pile up.
“Teams we play know we`re physical,” linebacker Andra Davis said. “They definitely know.”
Davis called the AFC North the most physical division in football. The Browns failed to compete in Crennel`s first two years, going 1-11 in the division. They are 3-2 this season.
Davis is one of the few holdovers from the Butch Davis regime and credits Crennel for instilling an attitude of toughness.
“When he first got here he said we have to be physical,” Davis said. “We weren`t winning that many games, but teams knew it was different, it wasn`t the same Cleveland Browns. They knew it was going to be a dogfight and both teams were going to leave all bruised up.”
Pool, a specimen at 6-2, 205, made the hit of the season last week in the win over Houston. He leveled tight end Owen Daniels at the 5-yard line, knocking the ball loose and forcing a field goal.
“You always want to be able to challenge people mentally and physically,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “When you can make plays like that, it sends a message to the other team as well as your teammates that you`re ready to play. It also gets noticed by other people watching tape that week. It brings nothing but good things.”
“They just look like they are big and strong,” Holmgren said. “You better bring your physical game.”
The defense isn`t the only unit bringing the lumber. Rookie cornerback Brandon McDonald made a big hit on special teams vs. the Texans, and Joshua Cribbs is always delivering punishment whether he`s returning or covering kicks.
“Having a great special teams unit, like we do, sets the tempo,” Fraley said.
The offense, labeled a finesse group because of its success passing, has joined the hit brigade the last couple of weeks. Running back Jamal Lewis, a load at 5-11, 245, has gotten more carries and the line has taken its toll on the defense in the fourth quarter. With a 10-point lead and three minutes left vs. Houston, the Browns were able to run out the clock.
“That shows your determination,” Fraley said. “We`re a team that tries to put that blue collar on and go to work.
“We have a motto: Hit them first. As a team, I think we do that.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.

WHERE: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
WHEN: Today, 4:05 p.m.
RECORDS: Browns 7-4; Cardinals 5-6
LAST WEEK: Browns beat Texans 27-17; Cardinals lost 37-31 to 49ers in overtime
SERIES: Browns lead 33-11-3, 3-1 since the Cardinals have been in Arizona
SERIES AT ARIZONA: Series tied at 1; Browns lead 18-5-1 all time on road vs. Cardinals
LAST MEETING: Browns won 44-6 on Nov. 16, 2003, in Cleveland
COACHES: Romeo Crennel is 17-26 with Browns and overall; Ken Whisenhunt is 5-6 with Cardinals and overall
TV/RADIO: Channel 19, with broadcasters Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf; WMMS 100.7-FM, WTAM 1100-AM
NFL RANKINGS (OUT OF 32 TEAMS): Browns – offense 9th (16th rushing, 11th passing), defense 32nd (28th rushing, 30th passing); Cardinals – offense 14th (27th rushing, 10th passing), defense 13th (15th rushing, 20th passing)
BROWNS UPDATE: Browns are 7-0 when winning the turnover battle.
* QB Derek Anderson has 22 touchdown passes and needs nine to pass Brian Sipe (1980) for the team`s single-season record.
* WR Braylon Edwards has 11 receiving TDs, tied for third with Cincinnati`s T.J. Houshmandzadeh behind New England`s Randy Moss (16) and Dallas` Terrell Owens (14). Edwards needs three to break Gary Collins` team record.
* Kellen Winslow leads NFL tight ends with 874 receiving yards.
* Edwards and Winslow have combined for 1,768 yards, the fourth-highest total by a duo this year.
* For the first time, the Browns have outscored their opponents for the season, 315-311.
CARDINALS UPDATE: WR Larry Fitzgerald is third in the NFL with 1,060 yards and fourth with 75 catches. The third pick in the 2004 draft has six touchdowns.
* QB Kurt Warner is sixth in fourth-quarter rating at 113.2. He`s seventh overall at 90.8.
* RB Edgerrin James is 49 yards from moving into 14th place all time on the rushing list. He`s the active leader with 11,193 yards and has 808 this season.
* Arizona is 3-0 when it wins the turnover battle. It`s minus-7 for the year.
* This will be the Cardinals` 18th straight sellout (including preseason). In 19 seasons at Sun Devil Stadium, they only sold out 12 games in time to be televised locally.
* The new stadium has a retractable roof, and the Cardinals must decide 90 minutes prior to kickoff whether to open it. If the game starts with the roof closed, it isn`t allowed to be opened.
* Whisenhunt is one of 12 head coaches who call the plays.
BROWNS INJURY REPORT: Out: NT Ethan Kelley (knee); Doubtful: CB Eric Wright (knee); Questionable: WR Braylon Edwards (hamstring), LB Antwan Peek (knee), DE Orpheus Roye (knee); Probable: TE Steve Heiden (ankle), T Kevin Shaffer (knee), DE Robaire Smith (knee)
CARDINALS INJURY REPORT: Out: DT Ross Kolodziej (quadriceps), SS Adrian Wilson (heel); Doubtful: FS Aaron Francisco (calf), WR Jerheme Urban (heel); Questionable: WR Larry Fitzgerald (groin); Probable: QB Kurt Warner (left elbow)
THE PICK: Two “easy” wins in a row? Why not? Browns 34-24.

KEYS TO THE GAME
20-20 vision
Red zone is the popular term for the area from the 20-yard line to the goal line. The red zone could be red-hot today.
The Browns have Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow and Joe Jurevicius and the Cardinals have Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Bryant Johnson. All are big targets who put defensive backs at a disadvantage on jump balls in the end zone.
The Cardinals are third in the NFL in the red zone, converting 71.4 percent (20-for-28) of the chances into touchdowns. They`ve added five field goals. The Browns are fourth with a 61 percent touchdown rate (25-for-41) and have added 12 field goals.
Defensively Arizona is 10th, allowing touchdowns on 48.6 percent of trips inside the 20. The Browns are 14th at 51.2 percent. With a shootout a distinct possibility, the team that can hold the other to field goals should come out the winner.

60-minute men
The Browns need to put two strong halves together, something they haven`t done yet on the road. The Browns are 2-3 away from Cleveland Browns Stadium, with one good half enough for each win. They rallied in St. Louis, then won in overtime in Baltimore after a second-half collapse.
The key to finding success is quarterback Derek Anderson, who`s been hot and cold on the road. The Browns need Anderson to find and keep a rhythm, because they have two road games after Arizona and will likely be on the road for the playoffs.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Browns right guard Ryan Tucker
vs. Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett

Dockett leads NFL interior linemen with eight sacks, which are tied for 12th overall in the league. Tucker has made a nice transition from tackle, but will be tested by Dockett. If Tucker loses the battle, Derek Anderson will be pressured up the middle and have a difficult time adjusting.
Tucker`s added a physical dimension to the line since his switch to guard, and the running game has benefited. If he handles Dockett, that could provide a boost for the stretch run.

Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers vs. Browns kick returner Joshua Cribbs
Opponents have paid the price for kicking to Cribbs. He`s first in the NFL with a 32.5-yard average on kickoff returns and the Browns lead the league with an average start of the 34-yard line. Cribbs has two touchdowns and has provided an immeasurable spark all season.
Rackers (left) missed the winning field goal in an overtime loss last week, but he may have the best solution for neutralizing Cribbs. Rackers is second in the NFL with 15 touchbacks, which is the only sure way to slow down Cribbs on his way to the Pro Bowl. The Cardinals are 14th in the league in kickoff coverage, as their opponents` average start is the 26.9-yard line.