When: Sunday, 10 a.m. PDT, Cleveland Browns Stadium
Record: 2-3 after losing their past two games – 31-13 to the Titans and 24-17 to the Raiders
Where they rank: No. 24 on offense (30th rushing, 18th passing); No. 7 on defense (27th rushing, 4th passing)
Series: Seahawks lead 11-5, but the Browns won the last meet 33-30 in Cleveland on Nov. 4, 2007
Star power: Phil Taylor. The best part of the Browns’ team is its seventh-ranked defense, and the 335-pound defensive tackle is their best player. This year’s first-round draft choice, Taylor is averaging 4.6 tackles per game, which ranks third among the D-linemen in the league behind two defensive ends the Seahawks already have faced – the Cardinals’ Calais Campbell (5.8) and the Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul (5.0). As active as he is young, Taylor also has two sacks. As Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. puts it: “Instead of a big, powerful guy and an up-field 3-technique, they instead want two nose tackle-type players to just totally own the middle of the line of scrimmage. They compromise interior pass rush with their philosophy, but they put a ton of beef at defensive tackle. This allows the linebackers – particularly the middle linebacker – to run much more freely and it also tempts the offense to run on the perimeter instead of up the middle.”
Unsung hero: Ahtyba Rubin. He’s the other D-tackle that Williamson gushed about. The 330-pound Rubin also has been throwing his weight around in impressive fashion. In fact, some consider Rubin the best unknown D-tackle in the league. A relentless player, Rubin is more than just a big body in the middle of the line. He provides an inside pass rush (2½ sacks) and also is a disruptive penetrator against the run, averaging 4.2 tackles. Last season, he led all NFL linemen with 82 tackles.
On the spot: Colt McCoy. The next Joe Montana? Not so fast. The Browns’ second-year QB has some impressive stats – especially his 8-to-3 TD-to-interception ratio. But he’s also completing 55.8 percent of his passes and the Browns have scored more than 17 points only once – and that was in Week 2 against the still-winless Colts. That won’t cut it in a West Coast offense – the points or the completion percentage. The fans in Cleveland are getting restless and McCoy could be in their crosshairs on Sunday.
Burning question: What’s up with Peyton Hillis? The Madden 2011 cover boy has been making news more for his off-field predicaments than his on-field production. There has been the situation surrounding his contract negotiations, his decision to sit out a game with strep throat and now the hamstring injury he got in Sunday’s loss to the Raiders that makes him questionable for this week’s game. Because the Browns delayed announcing the injury Hillis got in the first quarter until late in the third quarter, there was speculation that coach Pat Shurmur had benched the team’s leading rusher. Shurmur, of course, denied it, offering: “In the heat of the game, the last thing I’m thinking about is letting the press box know. I don’t think there was anything to try to keep it from somebody.”
Number to know: The Browns have scored nine points in the first (three) and third (six) quarters this season.
Familiar faces: Where to start? At the top, with Mike Holmgren. In his second year as the Browns’ president, Holmgren coached the Seahawks from 1999-2008. Senior advisor to the president Gil Haskell was the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator from 2000-08. The coaching staff features five assistants who also worked for the Seahawks: senior assistant/offensive coach Keith Gilbertson (1996-98 and 2005-08); defensive line coach Dwaine Board (2003-08); senior assistant/defensive coach Ray Rhodes (2003-07); strength and conditioning coach Kent Johnston (1999-2003); and offensive assistant Chris Beake (2008-09). Pro scouts Tom Headlee (2000-09) and A.J. Durso (2006-09) also worked for the Seahawks. As for the players, QB Seneca Wallace (2003-09) and offensive lineman Steve Vallos (2008-09) also spent time with the Seahawks.
The last word: “I’ve lived this before. First for 10 years in Philadelphia and two years in St. Louis, and we were building. I get it. I understand it. It’s about winning football games. So our focus is getting this team ready to play Seattle and getting a win. That’s the focus.” – Shurmur on the Browns’ growing pains