It's been tough trying to figure out what will come of a Panthers game. All previous ideals of a pregame breakdown thread have come with the idea of a win - or even just enough consistency to know what we can and can't do.
But Sunday, Carolina faces it's ex-girlfriend, so to speak. You both wanted to work it out, you both made it last way too long. You could've said years ago that you wore it out, and acted cool about it, but both of you cried about it in front of everyone.
And even if it wasn't right anymore, it hasn't been the same since, has it?
The Browns come in having lost their last two (Jacksonville, NYJ) after an upset win over New England. They're 3-7 on the year, their other two wins coming from Cincinnati and New England.
Delhomme's been more down than up since being named starter, having only started opening day (20/37 for 227, 1 TD, 2 INT) and played in a portion of the Atlanta loss (13/23 for 97, 2 INT), suffering ankle injuries in each performance, the second time having reinjured his after Seneca Wallace took on his own ankle issues. Colt McCoy had been efficient after getting his shot, but hurt himself last week and is out with ...an ankle injury.
With Delhomme back at the helm, look for more protection and less spread. Delhomme will be dumping the ball off fast, knowing that's the way to beat Carolina. Expect that the eventual tone of things will be running, then dumping the ball, and eventually setting up play action to go deep to Josh Cribbs. The various Browns QBs have created the 30th best pass offense so far, facing the Panthers' 7th rated pass offense. There's no doubt that Carolina outmatches their old QB here, and that they know him as well as he does them.
But that's not where the Browns will focus. Peyton Hillis (774 yd , 8 TD) faces Carolina's 24th ranked rush D. Expect a heavy dose, with former Bronco/Saint backing. Oddly enough, Colt McCoy is the second leading rusher - Seneca Wallace their fifth, and WR Josh Cribbs third.
Hillis has taken 62% of rushes, and alarmingly enough, he's also their leading receiver with 40 catches/2 TD.
Former Pat TE Benjamin Watson follows with 36/434 with 2 TD. WRs Chansi Stuckey (31/272 for a blistering 8.8 ypc) and Independence High's Mohammed Massaquoi (19/232, 2 TD) are pedestrian, with Massaquoi having a small height advantage at 6'2. Neither are explosive. Cribbs is - but he's used in a unique manner. He had 55 rushes and 20 receptions last year, Cleveland preferring to use his explosive ability in wildcat and rushing instead of deep (his 6.8 ypc last year was a surprise, but it's grown to 13.8). Without a second TE or a good fullback as a pass threat in their dumpoff-friendly system, the Browns do like to spread a lot, but it hasn't created more opportunities for the receivers, given that their fullback-turned-halfback is their top receiver and the TE is second.
Both McCoy and Wallace had receptions this year - watch for that on wildcat, as well as the halfback pass. Cribbs had 2 passes, and Hillis one. All three connected.
The Browns have given up 23 sacks on the year. Left side of Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach is still solid against the pass, and they run left more than right, though as most teams they rush toward guard/center more than anything else. Carolina's rush has been inconsistent and underpowered - Charles Johnson has a better chance of pressure facing John St. Clair than Everette Brown or Tyler Brayton have at pressuring Thomas. Rookie Shaun Laovao makes his second start at RG, so Carolina may be able to get more creative with stunts and ends playing inside.
In the end, you'll see a lot of quick balls coming out, mostly to short targets and up the seam on the TE, along with pounding run inside. Carolina, defensively, needs to execute, rather than showing fancy blitzes or tons of extra pressure.
Jimmy Clausen starts his third reign as a starting QB in his rookie season, this time coming back from a concussion sustained two weeks ago against Tampa Bay. That game finally showed some consistency from him, which in true fashion for the modern Panther offense, was lost when he got his head smashed in on a meaningless play.
Clausen must be composed - the Browns have scored 3 defensive touchdowns, and Carolina opponents have scored four defensive TDs on us (two last week). With as small a margin of error as this offense has, they can't possibly afford to give the other team points.
David Gettis is starting to draw coverage, which should be exploited by combo routes with Steve Smith, opening up the elder receiver underneath. Either one can get deep, however, and Carolina will need to test the Cleveland defense deep to stay in a winnable game.
Brandon LaFell returns from a concussion as well this game, putting him outside instead of the tremendously inconsistent David Clowney. LaFell had been somewhat hot before going out - 15 rec, 181 yards and a score in four games.
The focus has come away from Jeff King at tight end, and while Dante Rosario has given way to Gettis as most targeted on 3rd down, they need to use him more moving in formation and working toward the sideline. As well, Cleveland's LBs aren't good pass defenders, and that requires exploitation against a pressure front like the Browns bring.
With Jonathan Stewart returning, Carolina can't let up on Mike Goodson - but may want to pepper him into more passing situations to showcase his hot streak. With Goodson, who isn't all that good an inside runner, Carolina has had a lot of push inside - and that may pay dividends for Stewart as well. They'll need to continue to get that push inside, and will have to do it again without Travelle Wharton at left guard.
Cleveland's defense comes in an uninspiring 23rd overall, and 22nd each run and pass. They're 10th in scoring defense, however, facing the 32nd scoring offense. Running a 3-4, Rob Ryan is running the Bill Belichick derivative defense that Carolina's Jeff Davidson knows well from his time with the Patriots.
Up front, without Shaun Rogers playing, there's almost nothing in the front seven that the casual fan would know. Carolina fans know Scott Fujita, the former Saint OLB that once cheap-shot Steve Smith; the remaining LBs are Chris Gocong, Eric Barton, and Matt Roth. It's an experienced group, led by 11 year vet Barton, but not a flashy one. Backup Marcus Benard has 6.5 sacks, Fujita 3.5.
Safeties TJ Ward and Abram Elam lead the team in tackles, to underline the defensive problems; 3rd is nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin.
Former Eagle and Gamecock Sheldon Brown is their best cover corner, a physical guy who doesn't get fooled often. On the other side, Eric Wright is a slightly undersized liability. Nickelback Joe Haden was a first rounder out of Florida this year, and he's working his way into more playing time by leading the team with 3 INT.
Carolina must retool their return game yet again - Captain Munnerlyn has improved as a punt returner, but with injuries at RB they've used different returners each of the last three games. Maybe they return to Goodson, but Jordan Pugh is out of this game and Devin Thomas was cut this week.
Cleveland uses Cribbs on both kick and punt returns, and he's dangerous enough that opponents often kick away from him. Upbacks have fielded nearly a third of their kick returns.