Cleveland Browns vs. Carolina Panthers Preview

The 7-7 Cleveland Browns will face a rowdy Carolina Panther team that surprisingly has an outside shot at the playoffs despite their 5-8-1 record. The Browns will be looking to gain their fourth win against an NFC South team while the Panthers hope to notch their first win versus an AFC North opponent. The Browns have struggled mightily this season stopping the run, and running the football. With that said, the Panthers haven’t faired much better throughout the year in the aforementioned areas.

Cam Newton Carolina Panthers

The Panthers run defense is rated just 21st in the NFL, and they’re also 23rd in points given up as they’ve surrendered 25.6 points per game. Their rushing attack is ranked 12th in the NFL, but their leading rusher is Jonathan Stewart who has just 638 yards and three touchdowns on 138 attempts. Cam Newton has chipped in with 425 yards and three touchdowns on 85 carries. However, Newton will likely be more hesitant to run as a result of two transverse process fractures in his lower back stemming from a car accident. If Newton is ineffective on the ground, the Panthers will have difficulty achieving continuity on offense.

Irrespective of the uncertainty surrounding Newton’s health, Browns’ head coach Mike Pettine has prepared his team for Newton’s entire skillset.

“Their offense, it’s a large inventory,” Pettine said. “They have a lot of things they can go to, and we truly don’t know how he is, whether he’s full-go and they can open everything up with all the quarterback runs and expose him as they’ve done. We’ve prepared for what they’ve put on tape.”

While the Browns have sustained multiple injuries in the secondary, they are hopeful they might get Joe Haden back just Pierre Desir Cleveland Brownsin time for the game. If Haden is unable to play, it is possible that Justin Gilbert will line up opposite of Buster Skrine as the Browns’ No.2 cornerback. The Browns are also encouraged by the progress of rookie cornerback Pierre Desir. Pettine spoke about Desir’s evolution in Friday’s presser.

“I talked about that this week that there is a level of confidence now that he’s gone out there and shown he can do it.”

The Browns’ cornerbacks match up exceptionally well against the Panther’s wide receivers and should be able to contain them throughout the game. With that said, Panther’s tight end Greg Olsen has 81 receptions for 960 yards and six touchdowns on the season. The Browns’ linebackers will need to be mindful of where he is, as the Panthers love to line him up in different spots across the formation.

The Browns will also be relying on rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel to have a much better game than last week. “Will there be improvement? Absolutely counting on that,” Pettine said. “But at the same time, as we’ve said all along, we have to play well around him.”

After the first game against the Cincinnati Bengals, it has been tough sledding for the Browns’ running backs. The Browns have been unable to get any momentum in the run game but Pettine is hoping that will change this week. Pettine shared his thoughts on why the Browns’ rushing attack has been relatively unsuccessful.

“It’s the little things. Sometimes, it’s matchups. You look at a lot of plays we’re close on, and the difference between a successful run and an unsuccessful one, sometimes, is an inch or two. It’s a click, a tenth of a second or two, not recognizing something soon enough. So many plays are close. You’ve just got to get to the point where you get that it’s a subtle difference. It doesn’t take much to get some of those plays flipped.”

If the Browns are able to win at the point of attack and get the run game established, that will certainly go a long way toward them getting the win.

Taylor Gabriel Cleveland Browns

Browns’ standout rookie wide receiver Taylor Gabriel was once on pace for 800 yards, but has slowed down significantly since the return of Josh Gordon. The Browns should look to involve him early in the quick game to help Manziel establish a rhythm. The Browns had a number of explosive plays earlier in the season when Gabriel was in the game. It would behoove them to reestablish him as a big play presence.


The Panthers have a less than stellar run defense, which should allow the Browns to execute and run their offense. With Newton nursing an injury, the Panthers will likely be unable to run the full gamut of their offense. Taking those two factors into consideration, the Browns should be able to walk into Bank of America Stadium and dash the Panthers’ playoff hopes.

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