Cleveland has ruled out cornerback Joe Haden (concussion), quarterback Josh McCown ribs/shoulder), wide receiver Brian Hartline (concussion), defensive back Jordan Poyer (shoulder), wide receiver Andrew Hawkins (concussion), and safety Donte Whitner (concussion). That's five starters in addition to Poyer being a key backup in the secondary. Tight end Rob Housler was also ruled out after being placed on Injured/Reserve yesterday with a hamstring injury.
There's no question McCown is the biggest loss among the group. He's completing 65-percent of his passes for 1,897 yards with 11 touchdowns vs four interceptions and has a 95.2 passer rating. He's also the NFL's best quarterback on third downs with a passer rating of 137.3 on said down. McCown has quietly been one of the few bright spots for the Browns, and without him, Johnny Manziel will get the start.
This will be just Manziel's fourth regular-season start with his first coming in Week 15 of 2014 vs the Bengals. That game saw Manziel complete just 10 of 18 passes (55.6-percent) for 80 yards with two interceptions while taking three sacks and rushing for just 13 yards on five carries. In five regular-season games, Manziel is 46-of 85-passing (54.1-percent) for 568 yards with four total scores (one rushing) vs three interceptions and five fumbles.
It's a toss up as to whether Whitner or Haden is a bigger loss in the secondary. Haden has been one of the game's best corners for much of his NFL career, but he's not been up to his regular standards this season. A big reason why has been concussions. He suffered one in Week 5, causing him to miss two games before returning this past week vs the Arizona Cardinals, only to suffer another.
Haden does have three career interceptions on Andy Dalton, including a pick-six in the 2013 season. With him out of the game, the Browns will likely turn to second-year man Pierre Desir, who has already started two games this season when Haden was out. Desir has 22 tackles and five pass deflections in eight games this season.
As for Whitner, he's one of the game's hardest-hitting safeties. He leads the team in solo tackles (36) and is second in total tackles (55) to go with one forced fumble. He too suffered a concussion Sunday against the Cardinals. With him out, rookie Ibraheim Campbell is expected to get his first NFL start.
Campbell is a rookie chosen in the fourth-round of this year's draft out of Northwestern. He has played in seven games this season, but mostly on special teams as he's made just eight tackles. Poyer may have started if not for his injury. He's notched 28 tackles this season to go with a forced fumble as a backup safety.
As for Hawkins, Bengals fans know him well after the fifth-year receiver spent his first three seasons in Cincinnati. His career in Cleveland has been forgetful, especially this year with just 20 catches for 207 yards and no scores in seven games. He suffered a concussion in Week 7 that's kept him sidelined since.
Hartline hasn't been much better with just 18 grabs for 182 yards and two scores through eight games. The former Ohio State Buckeye did catch four passes for 32 yards and two scores in Sunday's loss to the Cardinals. With him and Hawkins out, backups Dwayne Bowe and Taylor Gabriel will end up getting more playing time this week.
Bowe is in his ninth season and has been a shell of his former self in recent years. From 2007-2011, Bowe had three 1,000-yard seasons. Last year, he finished with 60 catches and 754 receiving yards with the Chiefs before signing a two-year deal in Cleveland this offseason. He has been inactive in all but three games this year while not catching a pass.
As for Gabriel, he's shown flashes of promise with 23 grabs for 194 yards in eight games this season. He caught 36 passes for 621 yards and one touchdown as a rookie in 2014. He'll likely be the player who receives more targets with Hartline and Hawkins out.