Coming back down to Earth
Remember that wonderful feeling you experienced after watching Johnny Manziel take three knees in victory formation at the end of the game against the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday?
That’s a formation Browns Nation rarely sees and celebrates these days. Hell, make that since 1999.
Dwell on that feeling in the next three weekends as the Browns wrap up yet another sad chapter of what life is like at the bottom of the National Football League’s AFC North Division.
Remember the feeling as you watch the Browns take on the Seahawks in Seattle Sunday. You will need it as salve as they become this week’s fodder for the hottest team in the NFL.
The Seahawks, whose 2-4 start this season gave birth to the notion there won’t be a third straight appearance in the Super Bowl, are not the team anyone wants to face right now, let alone one of the worst in the Browns.
Seattle has won six of its last seven games, including the last four in a row, in spectacular fashion, averaging 34 points a game. In those four straight victories, quarterback Russell Wilson has been dynamic almost beyond words.
This is what the Cleveland defense will face when the Seattle offense takes the field:
In the last four games, Wilson has completed 75.4% of his passes for 1,171 yards and 16 touchdowns. That is not a typo. He is so far beyond hot, it’s as though he is playing on an entirely different plateau in an entirely different universe.
Biggest beneficiary of Wilson’s extraordinary talent is wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who has caught 17 passes for 321 yards and eight touchdowns in the last three games. Overall, he is 61-860-11 TD.
Wilson has also welcomed Tyler Lockett into his aerial circus lately, connecting with the wideout 20 times for 280 yards and four touchdowns in the last four games. And lest we forget, Jermaine Kearse is 52-503-3 TD this season.
Even more amazing is that Wilson has operated the offense the last couple of games without star tight end Jimmy Graham, out for the season with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee.
The 6-7 Graham brought a 51-touchdown resume from New Orleans to Seattle in an offseason deal, but was disappointing with only two scores before the injury, both scored in the first three games of the season.
All Wilson has to do now, it seems, is sit back there behind a good offensive line and just pick out any target he wants. After throwing just 10 touchdown passes in his first nine games and inviting comments that maybe the league has caught up to him, something clicked above the neck.
While he has become an elite passer, he has not forgotten how to run with the ball when throwing it is not an option. He has run (mostly scrambled) 87 times this season for 456 yards. To put that into perspective, Browns running back Isaiah Crowell has gained 542 yards.
Where the Seahawks are currently hurting literally is the running game. Marshawn Lynch is out indefinitely after undergoing sports hernia surgery and Thomas Rawls, the spectacular rookie who replaced him, broke an ankle last Sunday and is done for the season.
Right now, it looks as though the Seahawks will go with veterans Fred Jackson and DuJuan Harris, who have played minimally behind Lynch and Rawls, and possibly Bryce Brown, signed earlier in the week for the third time this season.
Entering the 2015 season, it was thought the Seahawks’ strength would be the defense. After all, the Legion of Boom was the major factor in their consecutive Super Bowl appearances. Even though they lead the NFC in fewest points allowed this season, the Seahawks are not nearly as fearsome or intimidating as in the past.
Wilson’s offensive outburst arrived at just the right time to bail out the defense when it had off days. But there have been times recently when that defense conjured up thoughts of the last two seasons.
In winning their last two games at Minnesota and Baltimore, the Seattle defense permitted just 25 first downs, 427 total yards, 59 yards on the ground, logged just 49 minutes on the field and surrendered one touchdown and a pair of field goals.
That’s the kind of stifling defense Johnny Manziel and the Cleveland offense will face in a venue rated one of the toughest, if not the toughest, to play in throughout the NFL.
Then again, the Seahawks have not faced a scrambling quarterback like Manziel in a game. But it won’t be as though they don’t know how to defend against that type of quarterback because they face one like that every day in practice in Wilson, one of the best quarterback scramblers in the NFL.
Combine the improving defense with Wilson’s’ football pyrotechnics in the last month or so and that one-game winning streak the Browns take into the game is in definite jeopardy.
All right, no sense in prolonging the mystery, not that the outcome of Sunday’s game requires a toss of a coin. The betting line in this one opened up with the Seahawks giving 14½ points, which seems a little low considering the opposite direction these clubs are heading bur remained at that number until game day..
Now that the Browns have placed Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden on season-ending injured reserve, the Cleveland secondary is that much more vulnerable and can expect a day-long strafing by Wilson, who won’t have to worry about being sacked nine times like San Francisco’s Blaine Gabbert last Sunday.
The diminutive Seattle quarterback tosses four more scoring passes, Jackson runs for 100 yards and a touchdown and the Seattle defense shuts down the Cleveland run game and neutralizes and confuses Manziel with a variety of blitz packages in a game requiring a wave of the white flag by halftime. Make it:
Seahawks 42, Browns 3