Cleveland Browns Game Preview: Week 14 vs. Carolina Panthers

Panthers vs. Browns logo
Panthers vs. Browns logo

Two teams with fading playoff hopes, the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers square off in an non-conference battle at FirstEnergy Stadium in week 14.

Cleveland must win their remaining four games and have lots of help. It’s unlikely a playoff birth happens in 2018. At least the thought of the playoffs is a topic of conversation in the month of December.

“We have been treating each and every week like a playoff game,” head coach Gregg Williams said. “Say it like a playoff game, it is about winning. It is about a competition and how you go about preparing to win each and every week and each and every day. That is just a part of it – another incentive part of it. It is something that we do not look the other way on, but now, we have to go execute on Sunday.”

The Panthers, currently on a four game losing streak, needs a road win to keep their post season aspirations alive.

Two keys to a Browns victory are to contain Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and running back Christian McCaffrey.

Newton has been limited in practice this week. Friday was the most time the former number one overall pick spent on the practice field. Cam is coming off a four interception game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week 13. The Browns prepared to face a healthy Newton despite the missed practice time leading up to Sunday’s game.

“You think about it as he is not going to want to come out and repeat those same mistakes,” safety Jabrill Peppers said. “You know that he is going to come out putting his best foot forward. It is a new week, a new game. So you have to wash the bad taste out of your mouth – that is for sure what he is doing – and get ready to win the game.”

Myles Garrett hopes to record his first sack of the Panthers quarterback. Garrett has a couple of reasons why he hopes to sack Newton, the Browns season sack record and Cam’s size.

He is 6-5, 245. I have probably 30 pounds on him, but he is full grown (laughter),” Garrett said.  “Fourteen. I just have not thought about [breaking it]. I am just trying to get as many as I can. For me, the bar is the guy at the top and exceeding him – not the sack record because once you pass that, it is still more season to go, hopefully.”

Newton’s favorite target in the passing game is McCaffrey. The Panthers second year running back is having a Pro Bowl type season both running and catching the football. In week 12 McCaffrey surpassed 100 yards in both categories. Cleveland needs to make McCaffrey a one dimensional player if they hope to extend their home win streak to two in a row.

“I heard he is on pace to be 1,000 receiving yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season,” linebacker Joe Schobert said. “The way they use him out of the backfield and the pass concepts and the way they use him in the run concepts, they just get the ball into his hands and try to get him in space, and he uses his explosion to create explosive plays. You just have to be aware of wherever he is at all times in the backfield or if he is split out.”

“He brings everything. He is their guy,” Peppers said. “If you watch the games, you can see that he is their guy – pass game, run game. Explosive. Quick. Great hands out of the backfield. It is all stuff that you knew while watching him at Stanford. He has just elevated his game and gotten stronger. He is more comfortable this year. Obviously, you see that from the film study. Have to try to slow him down. Hit him. Hit him hard. That is the guy that you just have to try to slow him down.”

The NFL schedule makers did both teams a favor in scheduling this game in week 14. It’s Heisman Trophy weekend and Sunday’s game features a pair of Heisman trophy winners, Newton in 2011 and Baker Mayfield in 2017.

Mayfield wants to have the bragging rights over his fellow Heisman Trophy winner. Keeping the Panthers defense off balance will go a long way toward that goal.

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“Defensively, they have been playing well,” Mayfield said. “For us, it is looking at it like we are playing a great defense because we are. Like I said weeks before, it is about doing our job. We have to know that they have a guy in the middle in (Panthers LB Luke) Kuechly that is going to know our plays just as well as we know them. We have to play fast. We have to be precise and do all of the little things right.”

Mayfield is also coming off a multiple interception performance in week 13. Baker threw three picks against the Houston Texans. It gives new meaning to Mayfield’s catch phrase ‘feeling dangerous.’

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera compares Mayfield to another quarterback who had a reputation for being dangerous on the football field, former Chicago Bears signal caller Jim McMahon.

“I will tell you what, he reminds me a lot –  I hope that he appreciates it – of a guy that I played with named (former Bears QB) Jim McMahon. I know a lot of people are likening him to (Pro Football Hall of Fame QB) Brett Favre. He has a lot of flair to him,” Rivera said. “He is one of those guys that I think he is a dynamic football player that is just still learning how to play the game but because he is a good football player, he does a lot of good things.”

The Browns get a key guy back in the secondary. Cornerback Terrance Mitchell has been activated from injured reserve. Mitchell has been out since week four due to a wrist injury. Cleveland activated the veteran cornerback from injured reserve Saturday afternoon. He has 19 tackles, one interception, three passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in four games this season.

“I will just go out there and just do my best. Let the chips fall where they may,” Mitchell said. “It feels cool. I am just trying to do my best.”

Mitchell and the rest of the secondary will need to be at their best, especially with Denzel Ward out for the game. Ward will miss Sunday’s game due to a concussion suffered against the Texans. In addition, Ward has not been cleared from the concussion protocol. Hopefully that will happen in time to play in week 15 against the Denver Broncos.

“I definitely think that we lose just his capability and his ability as a teammate,” defensive back T.J. Carrie said. “But for so long, we have had to battle with injuries through the season that we have always had to have that next man up mentality. Every cornerback that is coming in – me, myself – we have all been able to hold ourselves to a higher standard and have been playing some very great football. If we do lose Denzel, then we have a bunch of guys that are going to be able to come in and step up.”

Cleveland is a two point underdog at home against the Panthers. The forecast will be cold and sunny for kickoff at 1 P.M. It is also a good thing Sunday’s game is scheduled to be played in Cleveland. A winter storm is expected to go through Charlotte, North Carolina on Sunday.

The Browns are looking for just their second victory in franchise history over the Panthers. Cleveland is 1-4 against Carolina. The only victory took place on November 28, 2010 at then Cleveland Browns Stadium 24-23. The two teams last met on December 21, 2014. Carolina won 17-13 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

Fox Sports will broadcast the game. Dick Stockton, Mark Schlereth and Jennifer Hale will call the game.

Scott Piker is the Cleveland BrownsCleveland Cavaliers and Cleveland Indians Managing Editor for Full Press So follow him on twitter @ScottPikerSport

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