The NFL may have played a trick on the Cleveland Browns on this Halloween weekend as they will welcome the NFC West leading Arizona Cardinals to FirstEnergy Stadium for a one o’clock kickoff. Browns fans hope they will get a treat in win number three of the season in a game where they are seven point underdogs according to Las Vegas.
The Browns did get a treat from the league in facing the Cardinals this weekend. Arizona is coming off a Monday night win over the Baltimore Ravens and have to fly east for an early Sunday afternoon kickoff. Even with having an extra day to prepare for Sunday’s matchup, the Browns know the Cardinals are solid on both sides of the football and will be a very difficult challenge to get a win against.
“What is coming into town is a very well-rounded football team. I think both O and D are rated fourth in the league in total [yardage],” head coach Mike Pettine said. “They have done some good things teams wise. It will certainly be a big challenge for us in all three phases.”
The big topic on the minds of Browns fans is still who the Browns will start at quarterback. Josh McCown did miss some practice time this week with a shoulder injury, but if he is healthy enough it looks like he will start. If not, Johnny Manziel will be under center. The decision to not officially announce the starting quarterback could be to keep the Cardinals guessing, but they will be ready to face whoever gets the start at quarterback.
“I think (QB) Josh (McCown), he can get as hot as anybody in the league,” Arizona head coach Bruce Arians said. “Reminds me a lot of (Jets QB) Ryan Fitzpatrick in that when he gets hot baby, he’s tough to stop. You just can’t let him sit in that pocket and get hot. He’s one of those veteran guys that you’re not going to fool him with too much stuff because he is so smart. When he gets the hot hand, he can hurt you. (QB) Johnny (Manziel) is the wild card because he brings all that stuff with him – the moxy, the scrambling ability, the ability to break you down with his feet and then hurt you down the field. It’s hard to get ready for two [quarterbacks].”
Arians served as the Browns offensive coordinator under Butch Davis from 2001 through 2003. Arians built the Browns offense that made their only playoff appearance since returning to the NFL. The Browns would lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2002 AFC wild card game. Arians was fired during the 2003 season during the time when the Browns quarterback competition was between Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb. It was clear who Arians supported in that competition.
“I think at that point in time, a lot of things had happened within the entire staff, and there was a feeling that we were asking our quarterback to do too much and that’s never been one of the things I’ve felt,” Arians said. “I felt very adamant about a quarterback had to run the show, and I felt very, very confident in (former Browns QB) Tim Couch. I think Tim Couch is still one of the most underrated players because Timmy took us to the playoffs and then broke his leg. (Former Browns QB) Kelly (Holcomb) had the great game, and then all of a sudden there was a controversy, probably because I was a Tim Couch supporter.”
Arizona’s offense features a very familiar quarterback to Browns fans, Carson Palmer, the former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback. The Cardinals offense is sold both running and passing the football. Veteran running back Chris Johnson could have a field day against the NFL’s worse run defense. Larry Fitzgerald is the number one receiver for Palmer, but John Brown, Michael Floyd and another former Cincinnati Bengal Jermaine Gresham will get there share of passes thrown there way.
“Really good just from top to bottom. All the guys work extremely hard,” Palmer said. “They all have the same mindset. There are no divas. There are no soft guys. They are all extremely tough. They are all strong. They can come in and block. They will block for each other. They will block for the run game. Just a very no-nonsense group. There are so many guys at that position that get that ‘prima donna’ label, but you would never, ever, ever say that about this group. This group is a hard-nosed, hardworking, physical group of receivers.”
“I think he’s grown. Our offense is not easy,” Arians said. “Like I said, I ask a lot out of our quarterbacks. He’s more than willing to put the time in and then he’ll put his hand up say, ‘I’ve had enough.’ I say, ‘Good, we’re cool. We’re good’. That’s the communication you have to have because we’re tied to our quarterbacks as coaches. You try to push them right to the brink, and then you have to trust them to tell you enough is enough.”
There is some good news for the Browns defense, especially with facing this tough Cardinals receiving core. Cornerback Joe Haden and safety Tashaun Gipson practiced this week and should be ready to play on Sunday. Both will be needed as the rest of secondary has played a lot of snaps over the last few games in their absence.
“I know what I’m capable of, and come hell or high water, I was not missing four games in a row,” Gipson said. “I just couldn’t do that to my teammates. I missed a substantial amount of time this summer and that’s not something that I want to let those guys down. I want those guys to know they can depend on me, and I’m going to go out there and I’m going to play my game. I’m going to play fast, do what’s needed in this defense and whatever I have to do to get this thing right. I’m excited to be back out there, first and foremost, and just blessed that I’ve been able to heal the right way, proper way and just ready for some football.”
“It feels good to be back. Just being out there with the guys and interacting and being back on the field feels good,” Haden said. “Just trying to get back in the groove. Getting ready for (Cardinals WR) Larry (Fitzgerald), for (Cardinals WR Michael) Floyd, for (Cardinals RB John) Brown and then the quarterback (Carson) Palmer throws the ball perfectly. Getting ready for that group is going to be a challenge for us but I am happy to be back.”
“Anytime you get two really, really good players, especially in the passing game, when you get two ball-hawk type defenders back, it helps everybody,” Palmer said. It speeds up your pass rush seemingly. It helps in the run game. It helps in the pass game just having those two guys back. That presence in the huddle is a big pick you up on defense. I know they are probably happy to have them back.”
The Browns also expect to get linebacker Craig Robertson back on the field as well. Robertson will be needed to control Johnson and the Cardinals running attack.
Cleveland will be looking for their first win over the Cardinals since November 16, 2003. The Browns dominated Arizona on that day at Cleveland Browns Stadium 44-6. That was also the last time Arizona took on the Browns in Cleveland. The Cardinals have won last two meeting down in Arizona. The last meeting was on December 18, 2011 where the Cardinals prevailed 20-17 in overtime.
The Browns are 33-13-3 lifetime against the Cardinals. Arizona spent the majority of the franchise history in St. Louis. The last meeting between the two franchises when the Cardinals were still in St. Louis was on September 8, 1985.
Sunday’s game will air on Fox, following the Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs game from London, England. Matt Smith will have the play by play. Former Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley will serve as color analyst. The sideline reporter will be Danielle Trotta.
If you can’t watch the game, you can listen to the broadcast on the Browns radio network throughout the state of Ohio. Jim Donovan will have the play by play, former Browns offensive lineman Doug Dieken will be the color analyst and Nathan Zegura will report from the sidelines. The Browns radio broadcast is also available on SiriusXM satellite radio. For XM subscribers, the broadcast is on XM channel 228 and internet channel 807. Sirius subscribers, the broadcast is on Sirius channel 126 and internet channel 807.
A national radio broadcast of the game will be conducted by Westwood One sports. Kevin Lee will have the play by play. Former Jacksonville Jaguars left tackle Toni Boselli will provide the color commentary,
The Browns will keep with the Halloween theme by wearing their orange jerseys for the first time this season. The orange jersey will be paired up with white pants for the game.
Fans attending the game are asked to bring non-perishable food items for the Browns annual food drive for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. The food drive begins at 11 a.m. and runs until kickoff at all gates outside FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Browns will also honor members of branches of the military in their annual Salute to Service game.