Cleveland Browns Surging Arizona Cardinals Meet In The Desert
Sunday, December 18, 2011
by Aengus Moorehead
The Arizona Cardinals are suddenly in the thick of the playoff picture. Indeed, the desert dwellers have won five of their last six games and must dispose of the visiting Cleveland Browns on Sunday to keep any hope of the playoffs a reality. Arizona made a statement last week by holding off division rival and already crowned NFC West champion San Francisco 21-19.
The win came in large part as a result of a stifling defense that stopped the 49ers twice on the 4-yard line and once on the 6. Cleveland, mired in the basement of the AFC North, lost 14-3 on Dec. 8 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Cardinals won three in a row for the first time since 2009 with last weekend's victory, getting the go- ahead score early in the fourth quarter on John Skelton's three-yard pass to wideout Andre Roberts.
Skelton came into the game when Kevin Kolb was forced out on the team's first possession on a hit that resulted in concussion-like symptoms. Kolb, who was playing in his second game after missing four in a row with a foot injury, did not come back into the contest and Ken Whisenhunt said on Monday there is no timetable for his return.
That means the Cardinals could be going with Skelton this weekend as they try to win four in a row for the first time since 1999. Arizona is 4-1 this year in games Skelton plays in.
Arizona plays the finale of a three-game homestand and is 4-2 at University of Phoenix Stadium this season.
The Browns could be without their starting quarterback as well after Colt McCoy took a helmet-to-helmet hit from the Steelers' James Harrison in a 14-3 setback in Pittsburgh on Dec. 8. McCoy initially came out due to a hand injury, but returned to action. It was after the game in which he started to show concussion-like symptoms, leading to some questions about how the Browns handled McCoy's situation.
Harrison, meanwhile, was suspended for one game by the league for his hit on McCoy.
Pat Shurmur said he hoped to get McCoy back at practice this week as the club tries to avoid a fourth straight loss. The Browns nearly pulled ahead of the Steelers in Week 14, getting to the opposing five-yard line late before McCoy was picked off in the end zone. Pittsburgh then sealed the win with a 79-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Antonio Brown to hand Cleveland its sixth loss in seven games.
Cleveland has lost five in a row on the road since a win at Indianapolis on Sept. 18 and plays the second of three straight on the road this Sunday. The Browns also visit Baltimore next weekend.
Cleveland sports a 33-12-3 advantage in an overall series with the Cardinals that dates back to the 1950 season, when the latter was then located in Chicago, but was handed a 27-21 defeat by Arizona at University of Phoenix Stadium when these teams last met in 2007. The Browns also lost to the Cardinals on the road by a 29-21 count in 2000, but did produce a 44-6 rout over Arizona in Cleveland during the 2003 season. The Browns' last victory as the visitor in this set took place on Oct. 23, 1988, a 29-21 verdict at Sun Devil Stadium.
Whisenhunt won his only previous matchup against the Browns with that 2007 result, while Shurmur will be facing both the Cardinals and Whisenhunt for the first time in a head-coaching capacity.
Time & Venue:
- 4:15 PM ET, Sunday, December 18, 2011. University of Phoenix Stadium, Phoenix, Arizona
NFL Football Odds: Cardinals -7, O/U 37.5
Cleveland packed little punch against the Steelers. Quarterback Colt McCoy was a meagre 18 for 35 for 209 yards and two interceptions, and running back Peyton Hillis was stuffed for a lowly 25 yards on 10 carries. McCoy sustained a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit, an injury that was a hot topic after he was allowed back in the game. If he is unable to play Sunday, the Browns will turn to backup Seneca Wallace. Cleveland will finish the season with matchups against division rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
An early injury made for a brief appearance for quarterback Kevin Kolb against the 49ers. John Skelton, in as QB after three plays, threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns. The performance earned Skelton a little redemption against San Francisco, who burned him for three interceptions in a 23-7 loss to the 49ers on Nov. 20. Larry Fitzgerald led the offense for Arizona with seven catches for 149 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, the Cardinals had five sacks from five different players for the second straight week.
Look for RB Beanie Wells to shine in his first NFL game against the Browns. He has been battling a knee injury for most of the season, but that didn't stop him from posting 228 yards in St. Louis on Nov. 27. The 229-pound back has been held to only 94 yards over the past two weeks, but should have plenty of room to operate this weekend.
If any receiver can break through against Cleveland's tough secondary, it is Fitzgerald. The 6-foot-3 playmaker has never faced the Browns and figures to see a lot of the 5-foot-11 CB Joe Haden, while a possible return of T.J. Ward could also help the Browns' cause. Still, expect Skelton or Kolb to try and get Fitzgerald involved despite the matchup.
If McCoy does suit up, look for Arizona to pressure the quarterback hard. The second-year pro may get a little bit of happy feet given the vicious hit he took from Harrison a week ago, and some clean shots from the Cardinals' defense could rattle him.
It was a special day for Fitzgerald on Sunday against the 49ers. Not only was it the wide receiver's 30th 100-yard game, he also passed the 1,000-yard plateau on the season. It is the fifth straight year and sixth time in his eight-year NFL career that he reached the milestone, making him the eighth player in NFL history with such an achievement. It also set an Arizona franchise record.
If Skelton gets the start on Sunday, it will be his first since back-to-back stints in Weeks 11 and 12 against the 49ers and St. Louis Rams, in which he had a combined QB rating of 19.3.
The Browns have struggled on the road winning just once in six games.
Arizona is 8-16 SU in its last 24 games
Arizona is 6-2 SU in its last 8 games at home
The total has gone OVER in 6 of Arizona's last 8 games at home
Cleveland is 0-5 SU in its last 5 games on the road
The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Cleveland's last 5 games on the road
Cleveland is 6-13-2 ATS in its last 21 games
Though the odds are against them, even a remote chance at the playoffs has to have the Cardinals excited about this matchup against the struggling Browns. Whisenhunt is right to have his troops looking solely at this game and not what the rest of the league is doing, and the Cardinals should have their heads up high afterwards.
A healthy dose of Wells and Fitzgerald should be enough to overcome the Browns' solid play on defense, and Cleveland just isn't scoring enough on offense to be competitive. A defensive struggle may favor Cleveland, but it is likely that Arizona will put up enough points to win.
NFL Football Pick: Take Cardinals.
- NFL Picks: Cleveland Browns visit Division Co-Leaders Pittsburgh Steelers
- NFL Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers visit Hobbled Cleveland Browns
- Moot Matchup Between Seattle Seahawks And Arizona Cardinals
- Division Battle On Tap With Cleveland Browns And Baltimore Ravens
- Monday Night Football Pick: Battle of Position For Steelers and 49ers