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5 things to watch: Browns vs. Cardinals

Arizona's coming into Cleveland on a short week, but the Cardinals have no shortage of momentum after beating the Ravens to pick up their fifth win of the season.

The Browns, meanwhile, are hungry for a victory after falling, 24-6, to St. Louis. There's no telling what a win over a formidable, playoff-caliber team like the Cardinals would do for the team's spirits and momentum heading into the second half of the season.

Here's what we'll be watching when the showdown kicks off at 1 p.m. Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

1. Age nothing but a number for both teams

Here's one way to put it: The Cardinals' offense vs. the Browns defense has no shortage of experience.

Just look at Arizona's big three on offense: Quarterback Carson Palmer is 35, running back Chris Johnson is 30 and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is 32. All three players are on pace to put up numbers similar to what they notched during the perceived "prime" of their respective careers. Palmer is seventh in the league in quarterback rating, Johnson is second in rushing yards and Fitzgerald is tied for first with six receiving touchdowns.

That group will be pitted against a Browns defense that has seen some of its most veteran members stand out in recent weeks. Defensive lineman Randy Starks (31) picked up his first sack of the season last week at St. Louis. Karlos Dansby (33), a former Cardinal, leads the team with 54 tackles. Safety Donte Whitner (30) continues to serve as the commander of the Browns secondary and cornerback Tramon Williams (32) has been one of the defense's most reliable players.

A few other veterans playing at a high level for the Browns and Cardinals: DL Frostee Rucker (32), DL Dwight Freeney (35), QB Josh McCown (36), OL Joe Thomas (30).


2. Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers

The Browns put themselves in an early hole last week with two turnovers in the first six minutes against the Rams. If that happens again, the stats don't bode well for any sort of a comeback against the Cardinals, who are one of the NFL's best at playing with a lead.

Arizona carries a 11 turnover ratio in its five wins. The Cardinals offense has committed just four total turnovers in those games. In their two losses, the Cardinals are minus-6 in the turnover battle thanks largely to the defense not forcing a single one against the Rams and Steelers.

The Browns have committed more turnovers than their opponent in all of their losses. When Cleveland beat Tennessee, 28-14, in the home opener, it won the turnover battle, 3-0.


3. Start fast

Cleveland's offense has been at its best in the second half this season. Sunday would serve as quite the prime time for the unit to pick up its first first-half touchdown since Week 4 at San Diego.

The Cardinals have been hot out of the tunnel in the majority of their games, scoring a first-quarter touchdown in five of their seven so far this season. One of the times Arizona didn't get on the board in the first 15 minutes, it followed with a 28-point second quarter in a rout of Detroit. More than 60 percent of the plays Arizona has run have come with the Cardinals holding a lead of some sort. It's their comfort zone.


4. Who can play the cleaner game?

The Browns are committing an average of 6.5 penalties in their wins and 9.4 in their losses. The three times that number has hit double digits, the Browns have lost.

In front of their home crowd Sunday, the Browns will be in a better place before the snap. Four of Cleveland's 11 penalties against the Rams were of the pre-snap variety. Another four were for offensive holding.

"Took a step backward in that regard," Browns coach Mike Pettine said. "Can't have that to be successful."

Arizona has committed the fourth-fewest penalties of any NFL team that has played seven games. They were a major issue in the loss to Pittsburgh, though, as Arizona was flagged nine times for a whopping 111 yards.


5. Who's back, who's not?

The Browns secondary promises to be in better shape Sunday with the potential return of Pro Bowl defensive backs Tashaun Gipson and Joe Haden. Linebacker Craig Robertson, who was playing well through the first three games of the season, is also a possibility to play for the first time in more than a month.

The Browns could be without one of their most reliable weapons on offense, though, as veteran wide receiver Andrew Hawkins remains in the league's concussion protocol as of Thursday. Hawkins has been valuable on short screens that essentially serve as running plays. He's a unique weapon in the slot who is not easily replaced.

For Arizona, the injury to watch is wide receiver John Brown, who did not practice Wednesday because of a hamstring injury. Brown is a speedy deep threat that complements Fitzgerald nicely in an Arizona passing game that has been one of the NFL's steadiest through the first half of the season.

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