A glance at the top storylines for the Cardinals-Browns game Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland:
**Make a run for it
The Cardinals have had a good season rushing the football so far, averaging 125 yards a game and in the top 10 in the NFL. They are playing a team that cannot stop the run – the Browns have allowed 151 yards a game, dead last. The storyline goes to veteran Chris Johnson, and deservedly, since his 567 yards is second in the NFL. But at some point Andre Ellington is going to reemerge (and he had 18 snaps Monday, compared to 27 for Johnson) and David Johnson is an option, and that's a lot of fresh legs to spring on a leaky defense.
A tight end to watch carefully
He doesn't have a big name – yet – but Browns tight end Gary Barnidge has already become one of the tougher receivers in the league at that position. He already has 33 receptions for 514 yards and 5 touchdowns, numbers that compare to the hot starts of Cardinals wideouts Larry Fitzgerald (46-622-6) and John Brown (37-562-3). Considering the Browns don't have nearly as good of an offense, Barnidge is the guy the Cards better keep an eye on. Everyone knows the issues the Cards used to have with tight ends; Barnidge is easily the best tight end the Cardinals will have played so far this season.
Get to McCown, get to the football
Former Cardinals quarterback Josh McCown, now starting for the Browns, already has fumbled the ball six times this season. The Cards have done a nice job making interceptions – a league-high 12 – and while they have recovered three fumbles, they'd like to have more. Fumbles are more an element of luck, of course, but if they can pressure McCown and knock it loose, there could be opportunity there.
A close one in the books, so pull away early
The Browns are struggling, and while this is a road game, the Cardinals are the favorites. Given the injuries the Steelers were dealing with at the time of the Cards' visit, it's a lot like the Cardinals' trip to Pittsburgh. We know how that turned out. The Cards got their close game against the Ravens Monday. This is one where the team needs to take control early, score a couple of touchdowns by finishing in the red zone, and step on a Cleveland team with a lot of holes.
At the bye, the big difference between 6-2 and 5-3
After this game, the Cardinals will get their bye at exactly the midpoint of the regular season. They will be in first place in the NFC West regardless, given their current lead in the division. But it makes a big difference to get this one, against a bad Browns team, no matter what their division foes might do. The schedule gets much harder in the second half of the season. You have to stack wins where you should.