Breaking Down the Jets vs the Browns
After pulling of minor miracle in Detroit, the Jets will travel to Cleveland to meet up with former head coach Eric Mangini, the man who is most responsible for the current state of the Jets franchise.
Jets Offense vs. Browns Defense
The Browns present a defense that will be extremely familiar to most Jets fans. Not only is this the same basic defense that the Jets ran from 2006 thru 2008, but many of the faces are the same. The defense features 6 former Jets as either starters or backups and overall the defense is mainly comprised of other teams castoffs that the Browns were willing to take chances on. The Browns are one of those teams that employs a “bend but don't break” philosophy. They give up a ton of yards and ton of third down conversions, but use a scheme that is very effective once the field is shortened to 15 yards, preventing touchdowns and forcing teams to settle for field goal attempts. The defense tries to confuse teams by walking around and not setting up until right before the snap. The teams run defense is poor. Though mammoth NT Shaun Rodgers still has the respect of defenses to keep them from running inside, the ends of Brian Schaefering and Kenyon Coleman, both former Jets, is poor. Neither is particularly good at sealing the edge or occupying blockers, allowing runners to drop right past them into the open field, relying on slower players such as LB Eric Barton and LB Scott Fujita to make stops. The opposing runners, once they turn the corner, are often able to break some big plays. The pass defense is non existent. CB Eric Wright has had a horrible season and is arguably the worst starting corner in the NFL. CB Sheldon Brown is 31 and has certainly lost a step while first round draft pick Joe Haden is learning the ropes. The best defensive player may be S TJ Ward who leads the team in tackles. OLB Marcus Benard if the teams best pass rusher, but is still learning to be a 3 down player. He collapsed before practice on Thursday and may not play, which would be blow to the defense.
All a fan can do is hope that those last 5 minutes of the Lions game somehow shook up the offense and helped them find their way. Prior to those final five minutes the Jets offense looked inept for the third straight game. QB Mark Sanchez has looked very unsteady while starting RB LaDainian Tomlinson has finally begun to show marks of age. Those two players bear tremendous responsibilities in this offense and when both go bad the team is in the dumps. Though the defense is beginning to resemble last years ultra productive unit, they are still not playing well enough for the Jets to continue to play offense like they did last season and expect to win games this year. The inconsistent play from the offense has been hard to watch and they are not showing much of an ability to sustain drives, going 3 and our far too often. The most consistent skill player is WR Braylon Edwards who is looking forward to this game and wants to stick it to the Browns organization and fans. Edwards has had a special season and is one of the best big play guys in the NFL. WR Santonio Holmes came alive last week for the first time ever in a Jets uniform while TE Dustin Keller seems to be a steady presence. WR Jerricho Cotchery saw his snaps reduced last week, and he has had such a poor year he may not be getting those snaps back. The Jets pass blocking has been nothing short of superb these last few games, but there have been a few glitches in the run blocking, specifically in the interior of the line where the Jets like to run so many draw plays. The big holes that were created last season do not seem to be opening up this year.
The Jets are in desperate need of a 60 minute effort on offense. The season is halfway over and its time for the team to start to gel on the field and start looking like a championship caliber offense. On paper this is a good matchup for the Jets because the Browns don't do anything well except play good red zone defense. They do not rush the QB particularly well. They don't cover receivers very well. They don't play the run very well. This is a game where the Jets should rack up huge chunks of yardage and make big plays. The Jets offense is built on big plays right now and as long as they convert those big plays into points the Browns red zone positives will never come into play. The big three targets in the passing game this week have to be Edwards, Holmes, and Keller. Each one of those players should have a major advantage over their primary defender. That said, Edwards has to be careful not to let his emotions get the best of him and start demanding the football. If the Jets try to overuse Braylon this week because of where they are playing, Sanchez is going to make a mistake and, while the Browns are not a great turnover team, Cleveland does a good job of capitalizing on mistakes. The Jets should look to establish the run early to set up the playaction pass. It has not been as effective a play these last few weeks because the team is not showing any commitment to the run when they try those plays, but it will be very successful if they get the run going early. The safety play is poor enough to where both guys will bite on the playfake if the run game is going well. The Browns defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan's brother Rob, is very familiar with Tomlinson due to the years he spent as the Raiders defensive mastermind. Getting RB Shonn Greene in earlier that expected will give the Browns a much different look that whatever they have prepared for all week. Starting Greene over Tomlinson or putting both in the backfield early may be a benefit in that regard this week.
Jets Defense vs. Browns Offense
It seems like years since the Cleveland Browns ever had a competent offense. The list of Quarterbacks since the heyday of Bernie Kosar is huge, none of whom ever came close. The names have been awful- Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Derek Anderson, Charlie Frye, and Brady Quinn- and other than a fluke 2007 season they have consistently been ranked as one of the worst 4 or 5 teams in the NFL for the last decade. Now they have turned their hopes over to rookie Colt McCoy, a third round pick out of Texas. Though the head coach has refused to name him the starter for the third straight game all signs point to McCoy playing over veteran backup Seneca Wallace. The gameplan that the Browns use with McCoy is not much different than the offensive gameplan the Jets used with Mark Sanchez. McCoy barely throws the football and once the Browns get the lead his only job is to hand the ball off to RB Peyton Hillis. Hillis is a bruiser of a running back that is a throwback to another generation. Physically he is a monster weighing in at close to 250 pounds, but he has a good burst once he gets through the line. The Jets played Hillis back in 2008 when he was with Denver and Hillis tore them apart in the bad conditions for almost 130 yards. The Jets had trouble bringing him down and he was one of the factors that ended the season for New York. Hillis is also a good receiver out of the backfield. Hillis is really the only weapon the team has. There is no other runner of merit on the team, and while Josh Cribbs does get a lot of publicity when he plays QB for the team as their Brad Smith option-style player, the results are not really there. He is a great open field runner and the Browns want to see him get more looks as a receiver, but the lack of other weapons allows the defense to key 11 sets of eyes on him when he lines up at QB. TE Ben Watson, formerly of the Patriots, is the teams leading receiver by default. He is a big safe target and the only person in the receiving game who is somewhat polished. WR Mohammed Massaquoi has the ability to get deep down the field, but is not a good route runner, and former Jet WR Chansi Stuckey is your standard slot player. Stuckey has not found much rhythm with the new QB. The offensive line has done a decent job of playing against smaller lines and opening up holes in the run game, but is not a good pass blocking unit. The right side of the line is filled with journeyman players while LT Joe Thomas has never relived that first year success. The style they play hides the fact that they can not pass protect for long periods of time, but they rarely will give the QB the great pocket to sit in before throwing the pass.
It is taking time, but the Jets defense is slowly beginning to come together and resemble last year's unit. Are they at last years level yet? No, but they are starting to play better. The most promising sign for the defense last week was the play of CB Darrelle Revis, who returned to the All Pro form his displayed in 2009 in stuffing Calvin Johnson to 1 reception for just 13 yards on the day. Hopefully this will also help boost the Jets poor interception totals on the year as a healthy Revis gives them another pass catcher on defense. The two concern areas defensively for the club are the lack of pass rush and poor play from their third corner. The two issues go hand in hand as the QB can survey the field and often find his slot player 10-15 yards down the field with a step on Coleman. Coleman did well for a few games, but it seems as if teams have caught up and he has become the sole target of the passing attack. The Jets should consider playing someone else in the position, but the roster is thin and Coleman may be the best option due to the poor progression of rookie CB Kyle Wilson. There is no apparent way to fix the pass rush as the Jets simply do not have players that can do the job. LB Calvin Pace is turning into a major disappointment since he signed a mega contract to come here in 2008. He always shows flashes, but is terribly inconsistent and his injury seems to have slowed him down even more this season. LB Jason Taylor has shown his age and the Jets do not really have other options. DE Shaun Ellis is one of the best 34 ends at rushing the QB, but he needs help and the only help the Jets can give is to blitz their inside linebackers or their corners, but that leaves them vulnerable elsewhere on the field. The Jets have gotten exceptional years out of their ILB's, David Harris and Bart Scott, whose run defense will be challenged this week by the Browns. Those two players have become the heart of the defense.
About the only thing that should worry the Jets defense this week is overconfidence. The team has started to run its mouth a little bit since they have shown improvement and this is the worst offense they have faced since the Buffalo Bills in week 4. It is hard to imagine the passing game doing anything this week. The WR corps. of the Browns is so bad that there is no way they should shake the coverage of Cromartie and Revis on the outside. Stuckey is not good enough to be able to exploit Coleman, nor is his QB going to be confident enough to throw the ball to him if there is traffic in the middle of the field. The Jets have done a better job covering the Tight End position and as long as they do not put S Jim Leonhard exclusively on Watson they should have an advantage in that matchup as well. What the Jets have to do is play very physical with Hillis and not allow him to run players over and take over the momentum of the game. We saw that happen to the Jets in Miami last season and it is the only way the Browns can do any damage here. Scott is going to be the primary force in meeting Hillis head on, but the Jets have to be in a position where they can offer him some help. As long as they keep a body on Hillis on every play they should be able to shut him down. The other issue is to make sure they watch McCoy in the pocket. McCoy is scrappy and will not hesitate to scramble with the football. The teams QB containment has been poor this season and they do not want to see him picking up positive yards when the play breaks down.
This is an Eric Mangini team and you know those teams are going to emphasize special teams. The philosophy is that if you are a poor offensive team, the extra few yards you prevent or get on specials can lead to a 3 point swing. The kick coverage is outstanding though K Phil Dawson may have the weakest leg in the league. The Browns rarely will even try longer field goals with him, though he is automatic inside 40. P Reggie Hodges used to play for the Jets and is what he is. He gets some good punts off and some awful punts off . He does not get great hang time on his punts and it leads to some big returns. As teams have grown more aware of Josh Cribbs as a returner his stats have gone down to the point where the Browns are poor in kick returns and only average as a punt returner. You still have to pay attention to him because he is dangerous, but he no longer catches anyone by surprise.
K Nick Folk certainly redeemed himself from the Packers game with two clutch kicks that gave the Jets the win. P Steve Weatherford continues the great season and had a huge punt late in the game to pin the Lions back that was one of the most important plays of the game. KR Brad Smith is able to break some big plays every now and again as well. The problem right now is with the offense playing bad and the team looking for a spark they are banging their head against the wall trying to find a punt returner. Kyle Wilson fumbled once and did nothing on his second try. Jim Leonhard has sure hands but is not explosive. You have to wonder if the Jets will give RB Joe McKnight a look or even consider putting Santonio Holmes in there at some point if the offensive struggles continue.
Everyone is familiar with Eric Mangini. He plays one of the most bland versions of football on the planet. He plays the game very conservative on both sides of the football and hopes to grind out win at the end of the day. He teams do not usually beat themselves and the players he brings in do enjoy playing for him, despite the fact that he pushes them hard and does not allow their personality to show. In almost every way possible he is the complete antithesis of the current Jets head coach. This is a big game for Mangini who has to feel some personal animosity towards New York for the way he was fired. His team was certainly excited to win the game for him against Bill Belichick and it should be expected that they give the same effort this week.
Rex Ryan is going through a rough patch with the team right now. His team looks flat and they are playing sloppy football. Ryan likes to defer the criticism from his team and point out the positives, but he is going to have to take a different approach if things do not improve soon. Ryan has spent a good portion of the week publicly clowning around by poking fun at his brother Rob, the defensive coordinator of the Browns. While it makes for an amusing scene during the week he is going to be taken to task for it if they lose this game. Teams often take their cue from the coach and right now the Jets may need to start being more businesslike in their approach. Ryan has made some sideline errors these past few weeks and Mangini's chess like approach to the game could exploit that if Rex is not prepared for the in game situations.
While a loss to the Lions last week would have carried a negative stigma a loss to Mangini would be crushing to the fan base and to the some of the Jets players, Edwards in particular. Edwards has been so important to the Jets, but can be so temperamental that a loss here could see a pretty well behaved citizen quickly fall apart. That would crush the Jets if it were to happen.
The Jets simply have to play smart football this week to win the game. Physically there is no comparison between these teams. The Jets have all star quality talent all over the field while most of the Browns starters would be deep positional backups on most NFL teams. The Browns are a team that has fallen apart late in close games while the Jets have pulled off miracles in the 4th quarter.
The key to beating most Mangini teams is to keep the game close and then pull away. Mangini has a habit of putting together quality gameplans for the early portion of the game but not being able to adjust on the fly to changes the opposition makes. Not surprisingly the Browns average 12 points or so a game in the first half and less than 7 in the second half of games. Defensively they allow 8 in the first half but 11 in the second half. That is the reason the Jets season fell apart in 2007 and why they had some troubles in 2008, and also the reason why the Browns are not 5-3 this season.
What the Browns want to do is take the early lead, allowing them to run out the clock and not put the ball in the hands of their QB. It is a strategy that worked to perfection against the Patriots and Saints. Anyone thinking that the Browns are due for a letdown off the Patriots game is going to be wrong. They play hard every week and if anything that win just gives them more confidence. They are still in position where a win can land them in the playoff hunt, especially with 5 winnable games coming up after this before they close things out against the two AFC North powerhouses. The Jets will earn this win and it isn't going to be handed to them the way the Jets have nearly handed some games to opponents.
This is the portion of the schedule where the Jets really should get fat and either keep pace with or pull away from New England as they prepare for the Foxboro showdown in a few weeks. The Jets are 4-0 on the road, but having already lost 2 home games they need to strive for a 6-2 record away from the Meadowlands to earn a 1st round bye. With the Steelers and Patriots remaining as road games this is a game the Jets have to win to give themselves a cushion for their remaining games. The Jets are due for big game and it should happen this week.
Jets 24 Browns 10