Browns’ 2nd-ranked pass defense faces tall order vs. Cards’ 20th-ranked passing attack

Posted by Vic Carucci on December 16, 2011 – 9:14 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

The Browns have the NFL’s second-best pass defense.

That, alone, would figure to give them a fighting chance against almost any passing attack in the league.

The Browns would certainly seem to be able to hold up against the league’s 20th-ranked pass offense. That would be the one that belongs to the Arizona Cardinals.

But the challenge is much greater than it might seem.

After all, the Cardinals have one of the best and most dangerous wide receivers in the game in Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has caught 62 passes for a team-leading 1,092 yards and seven touchdowns. He also averages 17.6 yards per catch.

Opponents consistently try and double cover Fitzgerald, yet he still manages to get open. That’s due, in part, to his immense talent, and in part, to the Cardinals’ moving him to various spots to help him get open. Most recently, the Cards have had Fitzgerald work from the inside to make it easier for him and his quarterback to recognize when he is being double-covered.

Joe Haden is going to have primary responsibility on Fitzgerald. He’ll need to be prepared to use his aggressive, physical style to match Fitzgerald’s exceptional combination of size, strength, and athleticism. But Sheldon Brown, Dimitri Patterson and the rest of Cleveland’s secondary will have its hands full with Early Doucet, Andre Roberts, and Jeff King. All of the Cardinals’ pass-catchers have game-breaking ability, and the Browns need to focus on preventing anyone from getting deep on them.

Kevin Kolb, the Cards’ starting quarterback, has had a stretch of injuries that have kept him out of the lineup for most of the last five games. But the Cardinals recovered with John Skelton, who after taking over when Kolb exited the 49ers’ win against San Francisco last week with a concussion threw three touchdown passes. The Cardinals do a nice job of spreading the ball around; nine different receivers caught passes against San Francisco.

The Browns’ first order of business in dealing with Arizona’s passing game is preventing running back beanie wells from taking control on the ground early. If they accomplish that, they’ll be able to do what is necessary to slow down the Cardinals’ offense, and that’s make it one-dimensional.

But that only counts if the Browns’ front four can capitalize by turning up the heat. Tackles Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor have to bring pressure up the middle to collapse the pocket and allow ends Jabaal Sheard and Jayme Mitchell to generate heat from the outside.

The Cards’ frequent use of three- and four-receiver sets, and general refusal to keep tight ends in for pass protection, should help create opportunities for the Browns to have success rushing the passer. Arizona already has allowed 43 sacks this season.

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