On the surface of things, a Cleveland Browns versus Arizona Cardinals contest didn’t appear to be something that would provide much excitement. Indeed you only needed to look at the respective quarterbacks on display to think this game could go down as one of those instantly forgettable end of seasons.
Well credit to John Skelton, Seneca Wallace and their respective teams, because in front of a sellout crowd at the University of Phoenix stadium, we were given a match up that delivered more quality, tension and excitement than anyone could have predicted. Ultimately that was to the joy of the home fans, who saw their team overcome a 10-point deficit, with the Browns finally losing their battle to reign in the explosive Patrick Peterson’s punt returns.
That said this game deserved to be remembered more for a break down in coverage or overtime punt return. No, this was a game that featured several impressive performance (and some not so), and it’s only fair we do our bit to highlight them.
Cleveland – Three Performances of Note
It was always going to be interesting to see how the Browns faired with Seneca Wallace (+2.1) at quarterback. I’ll admit to never being overly impressed with Colt McCoy, and so I wasn’t surprised that against a good defense, Wallace helped his own offense look far more functional. Granted he was assisted by a running game that kept him in manageable situations, but Wallace was, as he tends to be, accurate and didn’t make the kind of bad decisions that I’ve come to expect from McCoy this year. The passing stats may not wow you, but his ability to deal with the blitz should. 13 times the Cardinals sent five or more men and the results were an impressive 9-of-13 for 148 yards and a touchdown. This was highlighted by his ability to avoid a sack and turn it into a touchdown throw to Greg Little (Q3, 3:15). It’s too early to give up on McCoy, and Wallace hasn’t got the upside to make him the man, but I can’t help think the Browns win column would look a lot healthier with him behind center.
You may not have realized this, but Jayme Mitchell (-4.7) actually played 53 snaps against the Cardinals. A Cardinals team that features Levi Brown, the lowest rated left tackle in our Pass Blocking Efficiency ranking heading into the week. So Mitchell, who had two sacks against Jake Long earlier in the year (just how injured was Long?) may have expected to turn around his slumping season. He didn’t. In fact he didn’t even make a contribution on the stat sheet as Brown swallowed him up in the pass game, and Jeff King had fun moving him about in the run game. I hate to say such definitively negative things but Mitchell is hands down the worst starting defensive end in the league. It’s frankly ridiculous the Browns thought that Mitchell, who managed ten snaps last year as a Viking, could hold up to the heavy workload they’ve expected of him.
Does that headline even work? You’ll have to excuse it, I didn’t expect to be writing such positive things about Shawn Lauvao (+4.5) given he had a match up with Darnell Dockett. However Lauvao, who did have some help dealing with him in the passing game, more than held his own and comprehensively won their battle in the run game, using Docketts’ desire to get up field against him. The Browns right guard will look back at his best performance as being one where he started exceptionally well, managing to take out two Cardinals defenders with a cut block on Clevelands’ second offensive play.
Arizona – Three Performances of Note
No longer the baddest tackle in all the town?
Has he just got it? Is he benefiting from the level of opposition? Has he realized he’s playing for a new contract? The ‘he’ I’m referring to is of course Levi Brown (+5.0) who is currently enjoying the best spell of his career, with this game marking his fourth positively graded game in a row. Sure Mitchell is hardly elite competition, but Brown has been beaten badly by worse before, and it’s not easy staying perfect in pass protection when your team drop-backs to throw the ball 53 times. I’m not prepared to say this is anything other than a hot streak at the moment, but I’m starting to wonder if Brown may have just turned a corner. I know, I know; I’ve jinxed it by even suggesting it. But credit where it’s due, Brown is playing exceptionally well right now.
The Skelton Dilemma
In trying to assess whether the Cardinals are better off with John Skelton (-0.6) or Kevin Kolb, I’ve come to two conclusions. Skelton is more likely to help Arizona to victory with some of his bullet throws, like the one to King with 8:21 to go in the third. But he’s also more likely to cost you a game with some frankly terrible decisions, and inaccurate throws. He certainly isn’t afraid to fit the ball in, but the end result was he can consider himself lucky that he only walked away with one interception, after having another two dropped. That’s the choice the Cardinals may have to eventually make if Kolb continues to underwhelm, because there’s no denying that Skelton is making enough good plays to contribute to his team winning.
Better with age
It seems like Adrian Wilson (+2.5) is either getting overrated or underrated on a year to year basis. After a 2010 where he clearly wasn’t at his best (even if nobody noticed), he seems to have taken his game to another level in 2011 with a series of consistent displays that are more about his complete game, than any one facet. Wilson broke up a pass (which he nearly intercepted) as he continues to show the kind of veteran savvy that you just can’t teach, also forcing an incompletion with close coverage (Q3, 4:07) and bringing up fourth down with a tackle on third (Q3, 10:44) . He’s up to number one in our safety rankings and deservedly so after a fine second half of the season that has spurred on the Cardinals defense to step up their game.
– Rookie receiver Greg Little broke three tackles in this game to give him a WR leading 14 (along with Steve Smith)
– If you blitz John Skelton you can beat him. The Browns did 12 times and the results were three completions for 25 yards with a further three sacks.
– The Browns only missed one tackle the entire game.
PFF Game Ball
In a performance where very little stood out I’m giving it to the safety pairing of Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes. The two broke up two passes and hardly put a foot wrong all game. That said this was really a team performance so don’t think of this as an emphatic statement by any means.