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Week 8 Game Recap: Arizona Cardinals 34, Cleveland Browns 20


What you need to know

Arizona Cardinals

It was a tale of two halves on Sunday, with a listless Cardinals team turning the ball over and digging themselves into a 10-point halftime deficit. An intense and angry halftime speech from Coach Arians clearly lit a fire under the team, leading to a dominant second-half performance, which ultimately led to another victory on the season. Considering Palmer’s quote about Arians’ play calling on Sunday and the importance of his halftime speech, the coach probably deserves a game-ball as much as anyone else.

Cleveland Browns

The Cardinals were careless with the football in this game, turning the ball over four times. The Browns were unable to take advantage of Arizona's sloppiness, however, turning the ball over twice themselves. The Cleveland run game continues to go nowhere as Josh McCown was the team's leading rusher with 18 yards. Duke Johnson, one of the team's top playmakers, strangely only saw three touches in the game. McCown took a big hit in the third quarter and was clearly hurting thereafter, but the Browns stuck with him instead of turning to Johnny Manziel. It stands to reason that McCown getting hurt led to the team going scoreless in the second half of the game after scoring 20 points in the first half.

Arizona Cardinals

QB Carson Palmer, 81 offensive snaps, Pass: 23 - 38 - 374 - 4 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 3 - 6 - 0
The trends that Palmer has established through the first seven weeks of the season were on display again on Sunday- pushing the ball downfield, throwing with accuracy, minimizing mistakes, and converting on third-downs. Despite swirling winds and a sidelined John Brown, Palmer still threw for nearly 400 yards and four touchdowns, keeping him tied with Tom Brady for the most touchdowns in the league. Earlier in the week, Palmer mentioned to media members that red-zone and third-down conversions were the only two passing stats he was concerned with, and his 60% red-zone and 80% third-down conversions would certainly classify as a success. Palmer’s one major miscue, a 3rd quarter interception, was a questionable decision at best, simply throwing it up to covered Larry Fitzgerald but also involved a questionable no-call for what appeared to be a defensive hold. Overall, it was another excellent game from Palmer, who also credited Coach Arians for having orchestrated what Palmer called “the best play-called game of [his] career.” Heading into their bye-week Palmer has guided his team to a two-game lead in their division and himself into MVP consideration.

RB Chris Johnson, 51 offensive snaps, Rush: 30 - 109 - 0 (1 targets)
Facing the 32nd-ranked rush defense, Chris Johnson did not have the gangbusters day many (especially his fantasy-owners,) were hoping for, but still managed to eclipse the 100-yard mark while providing an important balance to Palmer’s aerial attack. Despite fumbling twice (with a failed block partially responsible for the second,) Arians never waivered from his lead-back, feeding Johnson 30 times, including a goal line carry he scored on only that was called back on penalty. This trend may be what is most interesting for fantasy owners, as Johnson’s goal line carries have steadily increased the last few weeks, with early season touchdown-vulture David Johnson seeing the field less.

RB David Johnson, 6 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 4 - 0, Rec: 2 - 44 - 0 (2 targets)
Johnson found himself more involved than Ellington on Sunday, and was in the game for a few goal line possessions, albeit as a decoy only. Johnson fumbled again on Sunday, and although he did not lose this one (luckily the defender was out of bounds before he fully possessed the recovery,) it is no doubt limiting his role as coaches question his ball security. Even with his limited involvement, Johnson showed his excellent open-field running, but must fix his ball security issues for the coaches to trust him in the second half of the season.

RB Andre Ellington, 26 offensive snaps, Rush: 3 - 0 - 0 (1 targets)
Earlier in the week, Coach Arians told the media Andre Ellington’s role would continue to increase as he returns from injury. While that was technically true, Ellington was on the field for more than double the amount of plays he say last Monday night against the Ravens, he was a complete non-factor for the entire game on Sunday. Ellington was on the field for 26 snaps against the Browns, which resulted in three rushes and one target in the passing game. Those four looks amounted to zero total yards. It is difficult to know what Ellington’s role will be when the Cardinals return from their bye-week, but at this point, fantasy owners should only be playing him out of necessity and desperation, not expectation.

WR Larry Fitzgerald, 77 offensive snaps, Rec: 9 - 84 - 1 (11 targets)
Fitzgerald had another excellent game on Sunday, leading the team in targets and receptions, scoring once and providing one of the most gif-worthy moments of all of Sunday’s action, delivering a crushing stiff-(fore)arm while picking up extra yards after a catch. Fitzgerald did contribute to the team’s four turnovers, fumbling once late in the second quarter just outside the Brown’s red zone, but apart from that played a nearly flawless game. Fitzgerald did have his ankle rolled up on during his touchdown catch, causing him to come up a bit gingerly, but did return to the game, showing very few ill effects. With two weeks off due to the bye week he should have plenty of time to get healthy, but will still be worth monitoring when they begin to get ready for Seattle.

WR Michael Floyd, 67 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 106 - 1 (8 targets)
For those who have remained supportive of Michael Floyd through his tumultuous last two seasons, Sunday’s game felt like vindication. Floyd was downright dominant, amassing over 100 yards on four receptions, including a 60-yard score. What does not show in the box score is how much bigger Floyd’s day could have been. On the Cardinals second drive of the game, Floyd was overthrown on a deep ball in which he’d easily beat his defender and likely would have resulted in an 80+ yard touchdown, while having another score (on an incredible one-handed catch,) taken away from him at the end of the half due to an illegal shift penalty. The breakout was no doubt in part due to John Brown’s absence, providing more targets for Floyd, but seems also to be the culmination of several weeks of close-but-not-quite build up for Floyd. If Floyd can continue this impressive, play through the second-half of the season, the Cardinals passing attack could somehow become even better. A truly scare notion for opposing defenses.

WR John Brown
Despite his “active” designation, Brown sat out of Sunday’s game in an effort to fully rest his hamstrings for the second half of the season. While this upset many fantasy owners, Brown’s health will be paramount during a grueling second-half schedule and the Cardinals clearly have enough depth and talent at the wide receiver spot to survive one game without him.

TE Troy Niklas, 34 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 12 - 2 (2 targets)
Before Sunday’s game, Troy Niklas had totaled four receptions on five targets in his young career, so it would be fair to call yesterday his “breakout game. “ Niklas was only targeted twice, both of which in the end zone for his first two career touchdowns. Niklas’ role was has increased with the injury to Darren Fells, and seems to be making the most of his opportunity. His first touchdown came on a goal line play action call fake that left him wide open for an easy score. There was one major miscue for Niklas on his career day, badly missing a block that let a free-runner into the backfield resulting in Chris Johnson’s second fumble of the day.


Cleveland Browns

QB Josh McCown, 56 offensive snaps, Pass: 18 - 34 - 211 - 3 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 5 - 18 - 0
McCown took a beating in this game, as he was hit hard several times. At one point in the third quarter it looked like he would leave the game after taking a shot to the ribs and chest, but he remained on the field. The Browns had been moving the ball well until McCown took the hit to his ribs and struggled to get much going afterwards. It was clear that McCown was hurting as he was wincing after some throws and slow to get up at times. In the first quarter, he almost threw an interception in the end zone as he forced a throw to Gary Barnidge. Tyrann Mathieu was unable to reel in the pass for the pick, however. McCown bounced back on the next play as he completed his first touchdown pass to Brian Hartline on a post route. McCown made a perfect pass in a spot where Mathieu couldn't reach it. McCown's second touchdown pass went to favorite red zone target Gary Barnidge on a beautifully executed back shoulder fade. Later in the second quarter, McCown missed Taylor Gabriel on what would have been a touchdown pass as he threw the ball too wide for Gabriel to bring in. McCown made up for the errant pass on the next play, hooking up with Brian Hartline for a two-yard touchdown. The second half of the game was a different story as McCown struggled to move the offense. It is very possible the struggles were a result of the shot to the chest and rib area that McCown took as he was less effective delivering passes from that point forward. He fumbled once on a hit where he rolled to his right but then turned back to the left, directly into a defender's hands. His lone interception in the game came in the end zone when he forced a pass into double coverage. The intended target was Taylor Gabriel.

QB Johnny Manziel, 7 offensive snaps, Pass: 3 - 6 - 12 - 0 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 1 - 1 - 0
Manziel came into the game with 2:14 left as the Browns opted to rest McCown with the game out of hand. He completed a few passes and badly missed a few throws, almost getting intercepted on his last pass of the game. Manziel may get the start in Week 9 as McCown should again be questionable for Cleveland's Thursday night game.

RB Isaiah Crowell, 20 offensive snaps, Rush: 10 - 14 - 0, Rec: 1 - 12 - 0 (2 targets)
Crowell, in what has become customary, went up the middle with the first handoff of the game and gained two yards. On his second carry, former Brown Frostee Rucker was in the backfield almost instantly and dropped Crowell for a loss. Mitchell Schwartz missed his block, allowing Rucker to make the play. His best run of the game came on a direct snap where McCown had lined up as a receiver. Crowell did see a red zone carry after Duke Johnson's big catch and run, but he was stopped at Arizona's three yard line for a three-yard gain. Crowell made a nice catch in the third quarter, taking a short pass and breaking a tackle on his way to a 12-yard gain. He looked more effective than Robert Turbin and could see some additional playing time on Thursday considering Turbin fumbled twice in the game.

RB Robert Turbin, 19 offensive snaps, Rush: 3 - 3 - 0
Turbin had a forgettable game, fumbling twice, losing one. Both fumbles were of the non-contact variety as he bobbled two handoffs. He only saw three carries, but he did receive the first red zone carry of the game from the nine yard line. It went for no gain. It looked like Turbin could have found some room to run on the left side of the line, but he cut back towards the right and was met by two Arizona defenders. Turbin, like Crowell, saw a direct snap out of the Wildcat formation from Arizona's five-yard line. He barreled and spun his way forward for a three-yard pickup as he couldn't quite get into the end zone. Turbin's lost a fumble came in the fourth quarter. It will be interesting to see if his playing time takes a hit after this lackluster performance.

RB Duke Johnson, 24 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 3 - 0, Rec: 2 - 68 - 0 (2 targets)
Johnson was criminally underused in this game, seeing only three touches. He still finished as the team's leading receiver on just two catches. His day started off on a promising note as he took a short pass and was simply electric afterwards, stiff-arming the first would-be tackler and breaking another tackle on his way to a 52-yard gain. Johnson had motioned out of the backfield into the slot, getting a matchup against a linebacker. He continues to show that linebackers cannot stay with him in coverage. It is unclear why he wasn't used more in this game. Johnson's second catch of the game also came on a short screen where he broke two tackles on the way to a 16-yard pickup. Johnson's pass catching skills keep him in the fantasy conversation as a serviceable RB2/3. Hopefully the Browns will start to utilize him more, especially after uninspiring performances from Crowell and Turbin.

WR Brian Hartline, 51 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 32 - 2 (10 targets)
Hartline had his best game as a Brown, reeling in two touchdowns in the first half for Cleveland. Utilized infrequently throughout the season, he benefitted from the absence of Andrew Hawkins and the fact that Travis Benjamin drew shadow coverage from Patrick Peterson for much of the game. Not all went smoothly for Hartline, however. The touchdowns masked the fact that the normally sure-handed Hartline dropped at least three catchable passes in the game. Hartline's first touchdown was a 10-yard reception on a post route where he put a double-move on his defender. The second touchdown came in the second quarter as he beat his defender coming across the back of the end zone. It wasn't until the second half when the drops became a factor. The first came on a sliding attempt and the second came after he went in motion away from McCown and didn't get his head around on time. In the fourth quarter he dropped yet another pass on the left sideline.

WR Taylor Gabriel, 39 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 32 - 0 (7 targets)
Gabriel saw additional opportunities with Andrew Hawkins out, getting two end zone targets in the game. He made his first catch on a short slant across the middle of the field for a five-yard pickup. Gabriel made an acrobatic catch in the second quarter as he flew through the air, extending fully to haul in a nine-yard pass. Gabriel could have had a touchdown reception in the second quarter as he ran a quick out route, but McCown threw the pass too wide. It likely would have resulted in a touchdown had the pass been on target. Gabriel saw another end zone target in the fourth quarter but the pass was intercepted.

WR Travis Benjamin, 53 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 26 - 0 (5 targets)
Benjamin was quiet in this game as he didn't make his first catch until the second quarter was half over. He saw a lot of Patrick Peterson in the game, which presumably led to the slow day. Better times should be ahead for Benjamin, but this is a good reminder that he will be seeing increased attention from the opposition's top defensive back going forward.

WR Dwayne Bowe, 7 offensive snaps (1 targets)
Bowe was active for just the third time this season and didn't see a target until late in the fourth quarter. Johnny Manziel threw an errant pass his way which was uncatchable.

TE Gary Barnidge, 55 offensive snaps, Rec: 7 - 53 - 1 (11 targets)
Barnidge had an up-and-down game for the Browns. He scored his customary touchdown, but also had a tough drop and struggled to get on the same page as McCown at times. Barnidge made his sixth touchdown catch of the year in the second quarter, catching a three-yard touchdown pass. It came on a back shoulder fade where the 6'6" Barnidge simply out-muscled the 5'1"î Tony Jefferson. Jefferson didn't stand a chance on the play. The offensive play call was excellent as the Browns split Barnidge out wide on the left side of the field where Jefferson had no help behind him. Barnidge continues to get open and make plays in the middle of the field and is proving to be an every week starter at tight end.