Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin said even though the Giants (2-2) are the better team, the defending champs and are at home, the winless Browns (0-4) should not be taken lightly.
“Don’t be misled by Cleveland’s record. They’re a good, young team. They play hard, they battle hard,” Coughlin said, noting how well the Browns have played the upper echelon of the league. “The defense is very, very good [and] very aggressive. Their special teams feature an outstanding return game, and they’ve done a very, very good job of creating field position. … We have our work cut out for us.”
That may sound like coach-speak to the skeptics, but Coughlin made it a point to show his team the highlights of a Browns team that could actually be 3-1 had the ball bounced the right way just a handful more times.
“The Thursday Night Game against Baltimore [last week] was a very close game. And if the linebacker catches the ball in the end zone, they beat the Eagles,” Coughlin said. “They’ve played tough in all of their games. The Cincinnati game is another indicator [a 34-27 loss]. Cincinnati had a punt return of 81 yards for a touchdown. … They’ve risen up against, certainly, the teams in their division, but also a good football team like the Eagles.”
Coughlin likes to say “all hands on deck” when preparing his team for games, but heading into Sunday’s contest, it’ll be hard to know who will be ready. The Giants have a plethora of injuries to key guys. And as Coughlin warned his team, that’s not a good thing when playing against a team as physical as the Browns.
Cleveland touts a rushing attack that is led by rookie running back Trent Richardson. As a unit the Browns are only averaging 76.3 rushing yards per game, but they are capable of dominating a Giants’ defensive front that is yielding an alarming 118.3 rushing yards per game. Something has to give, and since they’re being led by a 5-foot-9, 230-pound battering ram in Richardson, Cleveland might have more than its usual amount off success on the ground.
“They have an outstanding rusher in Richardson. He’s very physical [and] that’s where the starting point is,” Coughlin said. “He catches the ball and runs the ball with power.He has speed and it looks to me like they want the ball in his hands maybe 25 times a game.He’s a good player. … [Wearing down defenses] was his forte coming out of college.That’s what he was.”
Richardson isn’t the only young threat that the Browns have. Quarterback Brandon Weeden, while only young considering his rookie status, is a rising talent and looks to be improving each week.
“They have a young quarterback, a rookie quarterback. He’s 28 years old and they’re putting more on his plate each week,” Coughlin offered. “He’s throwing the ball over 40 times a game.”
Weeden, who owns the distinction of being the Browns’ first rookie to start at quarterback in the season opener, has thrown 300 or more yards in two of his first four games in his young career, including a franchise rookie record of 322 yards against the Bengals.
He may top even that, considering he’ll be throwing against a Giants’ secondary that is currently in shambles.
Starting cornerback Corey Webster missed practice on Thursday as a precaution to rest his ailing hamstring. He’s also playing with a cast on his broken right hand. Safety Antrel Rolle has also battled a knee injury and has been limited in practice. Both say they’ll play, but even with Webster and Rolle available, the Giants will start their fourth different secondary combination in five games.
“It’s been a revolving door [because] we have not been fortunate enough to stay healthy,” defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. “Injuries alter how you play or some things that you’d like to do, but our philosophy is, ‘The next man’s up.’ So that person has to know his role, and go in and step in, and play. I believe we can execute what we’d like to call.”
Strong safety Kenny Phillips sat out practice with a knee sprain and is expected to miss the Browns game and perhaps more time, which means first-year Giant and third-year pro Stevie Brown will start in his place.
That could leave the secondary easy pickings for Weeden and Co. But no matter how many players are hurt, Coughlin said he won’t allow Big Blue to ever use injuries as an excuse for not getting the job done.
Coughlin did note, however, that the injuries could affect the defense’s aggressiveness.
“Well, it causes you to give real strong consideration to how you’re doing things and who’s doing it,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s not going to restrict us very much. Based on today, the guys that had a chance to practice today played and practiced hard. That’s pretty much been the way it’s been for us here. When someone is injured and can’t go, someone else comes in and plays well or tries as hard as they can, and gives us a great effort.”
Big Blue notes
»Wideout Hakeem Nicks is out for Sunday’s game, as the knee swelling and sore foot have prohibited him to practice all week.
»The Browns field one of the league’s youngest rosters, as they have 15 rookies and 11 second-year players.
»Coughlin hopes the running game gets back on track. He said with Nicks and Ramses Barden (concussion) both likely out, the Giants will need better balance: “Nineteen runs is not balance,” he said when looking back at the loss to Philadelphia. “However you look at it, if we have the ball more, with some more opportunities, and we’re doing some things other than just feeling like we have to throw the ball every down, it becomes a little bit easier [to execute on offense].”
» The Giants’ injury list included inaction from defensive tackle Rocky Bernard (quadriceps) and linebacker Michael Boley (hip). Right guard Chris Snee (hip) did some individual work but wasn’t doing the walk-through with the team. Center David Baas (hand) returned to practice, and right tackle David Diehl (knee), linebacker Keith Rivers (hamstring), rookie cornerback Jayron Hosley (hamstring) and cornerback Michael Coe (hamstring) were all participating in drills during the media access period — the first 15 to 20 minutes of practice.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.