A battle between two teams who are unlikely to make the playoffs may not measure up to the gold standard of December football. However, if we have learned anything about this current collection of Browns, it is that the final month of the season can offer an unusual brand of excitement.
So it goes with the 2010 Browns, who despite a 4-7 record have been ultra-competitive throughout the season. Thanks to a football philosophy steeped in physicality, these Browns remain a very dangerous team down the stretch.
Of course, one of the main narratives that have been written this season focuses on the gap between the Browns’ rugged, power players and the lack of dynamic playmakers.
Perhaps no better player represents this bridge than the Browns’ Matt Roth.
Roth was one of the shining stars of the Browns’ late 2009 renaissance. In just six games with the Browns, Roth collected four sacks and was a part of 32 tackles. Perhaps even more remarkable was the seamless manner in which Roth gelled into Rob Ryan’s defense.
Heading into 2010, it appeared that Roth’s potential was limitless. However, most casual fans have been disappointed with Roth’s play – at least based on his stat lines. So far in 2010, Roth has only posted 3.5 sacks.
And in a football universe poisoned by fantasy and stats, such a performance would be deemed as a failure.
As for his own opinion of his overall improvement, Roth offered the following.
“I hope so. I hope you get better, but I believe so. I believe fitting into the scheme of things and learning more of the playbook, that I’m evolving as a player.”
However, if we take a closer look at just what Roth brings to the Browns’ defense, a very different story has to be told.
Simply put, there are few numbers that can adequately measure the importance of Roth to the Browns’ defense.
From strictly a statistical perspective, Roth contributed a solid game against Carolina, registering five solo tackles, two assists and a sack.
However, when focusing on Roth throughout the game, it became evident early on that the Panthers wanted no part of the Browns’ veteran linebacker. On the Panthers’ first offensive possession, Roth was double-teamed three times. On the plays in which Roth was left alone with a single blocker, the Panthers ran the other way, including Mike Goodson’s 26-yard touchdown run.
This trend continued into the second half, as the Panthers’ Johnathan Stewart racked up most of his yardage on plays designed to go away from Roth.
This is a trend that Roth is getting used to.
“I know a lot of those times in the run game, they’ll run away. That’s just the reality of it. I’ve been doing a good job, but they will run to you sometimes.”
In short, Roth’s performance against the Panthers – much like his overall play in 2010 – was not sensational, but was highly effective. Roth was nearly dominant in shedding single blockers and managed to chase down ballcarriers on the opposite side of the field.
For another perspective, just imagine what opposing offenses could do to the Browns’ defense if Roth was not in the lineup.
Adding to the intrigue of this Sunday’s matchup is Roth’s return to Miami to face the team that released him last season.
Roth admits that there is some extra incentive for him this Sunday.
“Obviously, I want to beat them. I’m not going to sit here and lie to you. As far as emotions and letting them get the better half of me, not at all. I’m going to treat it like a normal game week.”
However, in order for the Browns to beat the Dolphins on Sunday, the play of Roth may not be much of a factor.
Against Oakland, the Dolphins ran almost exclusively inside and featured a number of two-tight end sets. During the game, the Dolphins ran only four outside running plays and relied on their inside running to set up some quick passing attempts.
In this sense, the Browns’ rush defense will have to rely on rugged interior play, including better performances by Eric Barton and Chris Gocong – two players who struggled against Carolina.
Against Oakland, the Dolphins pounded the ball inside – both from conventional formations and via the Wildcat – which eventually wore down the Raider defense.
This Sunday, the Browns’ defense will likely be given the same treatment.
And as usual, Roth will give another solid performance.