This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the New York Jets. Can Cleveland's defense rise up against a quarterback who has looked like an awful passer more times than not this season? Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.
I don't think the Jets can be too envious about their quarterback situation next year. Do they dare bring Mark Sanchez back? Do they ride with Geno Smith for another year and hope he matures? Do they try to draft a new starting quarterback? Smith doesn't have good weapons to throw to, and his comfort level has been non-existent as of late. The best asset he has going for him is his mobility.
After struggling with the winds last week, Jason Campbell will be looking to get back on track. Knowing how good the Jets are at stopping the run and how few turnovers the Jets' secondary has created, it wouldn't be surprising to see Cleveland take a lot of shots down the field. Campbell has been off-and-on, but when he's on, he can deliver far better than Smith can.
It's impossible to project what the Browns will do at the running back position this week. Willis McGahee is back from his concussion, so will he get the start again? We saw Edwin Baker get a lot of touches last week, so will he be active over Fozzy Whittaker? Does it really matter, considering how good the Jets' run defense is?
In my scouting report for this game, I highlighted the effective season that Chris Ivory is having on the ground, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. When he's in, though, expect the Jets to run the ball: he only has two catches on the season. Their backup, Bilal Powell, gets a good amount of carries as well and can catch the ball, but he isn't known to break the big one.
Even with Jordan Cameron out, Josh Gordon runs circles around every players on the Jets roster. Gordon has 1,467 yards receiving on the year. Jeremy Kerley, Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill, Jeff Cumberland, and David Nelson have 1,474 yards combined. Cumberland is the top tight end for the Jets, but Kellen Winslow still gets a fair amount of reps.
The story to watch for Cleveland this week is what they will do with Cameron and Davone Bess out. Gary Barnidge is expected to start at tight end, but if the Jets don't double team Gordon, I would expect Gordon to have almost a record-breaking amount of targets in this game. Josh Cooper might get to work from the slot with Bess out.
It's scary to think about how much penetration the Jets' defensive line will get against our pulling guards if Cleveland attempts to run the ball in that manner. Thankfully for Cleveland, the pass protection has been better from Mitchell Schwartz, and it might need to be especially better this week if Barnidge is used more as a receiver than a blocker.
The Jets' offensive line is still led by veterans Nick Mangold (center) and D'Brickashaw Ferguson (left tackle), but rookie left guard Brian Winters and second-year right tackle Austin Howard have struggled in pass protection, an area that the team ranks in the bottom of the league in. Former Steelers offensive lineman Willie Colon anchors the right guard position. The run blocking is solid for the Jets, but the horrible pass protection offsets that benefit.
I haven't given very many teams, if any, respect over the Browns' defensive line, but that changes this week. Cleveland's line has been impressive still, but I'm still wondering why Phil Taylor is seeing so few reps -- to compare, the Jets' nose tackle saw 61% of the reps in last week's game.
The two guys who work wonders for the Jets, though, are first-round pick Sheldon Richardson and 2011 first-round pick Muhammad Wilkerson. Richardson is the leading contender for defensive rookie of the year and is good at tackling running backs for a loss. Wilkerson has a career-high 10 sacks.
The Browns and the Jets have had similar production at the linebacker position this year. Both teams feature good pass-rushing outside linebackers. Last year's first-round pick, Quentin Coples, is finally starting to turn things up, notching a sack in each of his past three games. On the other side of the field, outside linebacker Calvin Pace has a career-high nine sacks.
At inside linebacker, Cleveland might have a chance to thrive this week. The Jets don't feature an explosive receiving back, nor do they feature a dynamic tight end. D'Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson shouldn't be burned as much in coverage, and even if they are, there is the question of whether Geno Smith can even get his receivers the ball. The Jets have had similar coverage issues with their inside linebackers.
This category depends on whether Joe Haden can play or not. If Haden is out, I'd probably give the Jets the full edge, because it would mean that Leon McFadden, Julian Posey, and Jordan Poyer could all see a lot of playing time despite not having much experience.
On paper, the Jets' secondary has some impressive names: Dee Milliner, Antonio Cromartie, Ed Reed, and Dawan Landry. The problem? While Cromartie has been good, Milliner has not. The team has struggled to cover without the presence of Darrelle Revis, who is now with the Buccaneers. The Jets were the only team desperate enough to sign the washed-up Ed Reed several weeks ago, and in making him a starter, their pass coverage has gotten even worse. It'd be great to see Gordon burn Reed a couple of times.
The Jets have struggled to find a kick and punt returner since Joshua Cribbs went on IR. Kicker Nick Folk is having a career year, connecting on 30-of-31 of his attempts, including 3-of-3 from beyond 50 yards. Folk averages a touchback 43.8% of the time, but the Jets' kickoff coverage has been decent.
The Jets' punter is Ryan Quigley, who again is closer to the bottom of the league in punter. I swear that the Browns have been facing most of the lesser-quality punters this season. The Jets get the overall advantage here because Folk has been more accurate than Billy Cundiff, and all of the other positions are about even.
It's been difficult to get a pulse on the Jets all season, due to their Jekyll and Hyde type of play. Over their past five games, though, they've really fallen off, thanks to Geno Smith getting worse as the season moves along. Cleveland is dealing with some key injuries this week, but I think they'll win an ugly type of game that we'll wonder after the season, "why did we cost ourselves a couple of spots in the draft?"
Cleveland Browns 17, New York Jets 16
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