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GOT NUMBERS? Previewing the Jaguars vs. the Browns

The Browns begin 2010 by playing for their first 4 game winning streak since 1994.  They are also playing for pride, for the fans, for eachother, for the coaching staff, and to show the new President, Mike Holmgren that they are worth something individually.

The Jaguars are playing for the outside chance at a playoff spot.  They need lots of help, but stranger things have happened.  Play with scenarios for the AFC wild card race here

I'm an idiot.  I'll be at the game freezing my butt off.  But, heck, I get to one game a season, I'm going to enjoy myself and cheer my lungs out, regardless of the weather.

On to the stats:

When the Jaguars have the Ball

The Jags are a 18th in weighted offensive efficiency (4.6% DVOA).  They are much better running the ball (14.5% DVOA, 4th in the NFL) than passing the ball (7.9%, 19th in the league).  The Browns defense continues to be butt-naked last (19.2% weighted DVOA), in spite of some good games, e.g. last week.

The Jaguars excellent running game is lead by the excellent Maurice Jones-Drew.  MJD is 6th in total value (196 DYAR) and 19th in value per play (6.3% DVOA).  Much of that value comes from his conference-leading 15 rushing TDs (second in the NFL to Adrian Peterson's 17).  And, unlike Peterson, Jones-Drew isn't a liability to fumble: while he has carried almost 300 times this season, he has only fumbled once. The Browns defense isn't good against the run: 30th in the league with a 9.4% DVOA.

Supplementing Jones-Drew will be David Garrard.  The Jacksonville QB is the team's second leading rusher and second only to Aaron Rogers in the league as far as value from rushing QBs (62 DYAR). The Browns have had a problem stopping QB scrambles, so watch out for this.

Garrard is more average as a thrower.  He ranks 23rd in DVOA at (-.6%).  His receivers aren't anything special either.  WR Torry Holt will be out with a hand injury.  TE Marcedes Lewis will be out with a concussion.  That takes care of the number 2 and 3 receiving threats by yards for the Jags.  And it is especially huge, because the Browns continue to be absolutely awful against TEs (47.1% worse than average.  The Browns give up more yards a game to TEs (68) than #1 or #2 WRs.). 

That's not to say Garrard will lack weapons.  Mike Sims-Walker is a big threat, with 7 TDs on the year.  But he has really struggled lately, with only 1 TD and 14 catches in the last 5 games combined (including failing to break 20 yards in three of his last 4 games).  He now ranks 37th in DVOA, just above league average at 3.0%.  Also Jones-Drew has caught over 50 balls out of the backfield.  Though hasn't broken many of these for big gainers this year. He is averaging just 7 yards per reception (and a 6.7% DVOA) and his longest for the year is a 19 yard reception.  Good thing,  the Browns are terrible at defending passes to the RB (32nd in the league, 34.1%DVOA!)

The Browns now rank 12th in sacks, with a sack for 7% of all drop backs faced.  And the Jags have a hard time protecting Garrard.  Jaguar QBs have been sacked on 8.8% of all drop backs- 28th in the league.  So let's get to the QB!

When the Browns have the ball

The Browns offense has found an identity.  Awful passing game with dedicated and stubborn commitment to the run.  The result?  It's not pretty, but it has been somewhat effective over the second half of the season.  The Browns now rank 24th in total offensive efficiency.  That is absolutely shocking considering where this offense started the season.  They are 23rd when you weigh the more recent weeks.  And while that passing game is still awful (29th at -22.7% DVOA), the running game is more than respectable (15th at .7% DVOA). 

I am normally a big propenent of throwing the football.  It's how you score points in the NFL as Ron Jaworski likes to say.  It is a more efficient way of gaining yards in the game of football and ultimately, the more effective way to score points.  But there are some obvious exceptions.  One such exception is when your QB is so bad, so terrible, that to allow him to throw is the equivalent of giving up.  This year, Derek Anderson is that bad.

DA remains 44th of 46 qualifying QBs in value on a per drop back basis.  (thank you JaMarcus Russell and some guy named Keith Null.)  His DVOA is -41.1%.  He is 41% worse than the average QB this season.  He has 3 TDs and 9 INTs- similar to Russell and Null.   But what makes him even worse in my mind?  His completion percentage is 43.5%.  That's worse than both those other terrible QBs (48% and 64%, respectively).

But wait! There is hope! The Jaguars suck almost as bad at defending the pass as DA is at passing!  They are 40% worse than average against the pass- Worse than the Lions! Worse than the Browns! worst in the league!!  They are well below average against every type of receiver.  So DA feast on this defense!!

For all the Browns offensive problems, QB protection is not one of them.  Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson have been dropped on just 6.1% of all drop backs.  That's 15th in the league.  And I'd argue most of those came from the early struggles of Quinn and the right side of the line and DA's pattened move of rolling into a sack.  Jacksonville is 31st at getting to the QB (sacks on just 3.9% of drop backs against), so DA should have time, if nothing else.

Despite DA having time and a terrible secondary to go up against, I don't see him throwing more than 15 or so times.  The Browns are a running team.  The Jaguars do stop the run though.  They rank third in the league with a DVOA of -14.8%.

After back-to-back record-breaking weeks, Jerome Harrison has shot up the charts and is now the 29th most valuable back in the NFL this year (48 DYAR) and is about league average for the season on a per play basis (-1.0 DVOA).  Josh Cribbs, listed as a QB on Football Outsiders, has a YPC of almost 7.  Harrison and Cribbs are the two best options for the Browns.

Special Teams

At #1 overall (8.7% weighted DVOA), the Browns special teams units are awesome.  Josh Cribbs leads the best kick return unit in the league (22.1% DVOA).  The punt return unit is second to the Eagles.  The kickoff coverage unit is third in the league.  And despite injuries to our All-Pro caliber kicker and punter, the FG unit and the punting unit remain solidly above league average. 

The Jaguars look very mediocre in special teams.  They are 21st overall and the only thing that stands out is a bad FG/XP unit.  (They are just 17-26 on FGs with 4 of those misses inside 50 yards).

Questions and Conclusions

I've been confident the last few weeks, and it is nice that the Browns have clear strengths to talk about.  But I don't like this matchup.  I don't have any confidence that DA can exploit the terrible pass defense of the Jaguars- who will be without a starting corner Rashean Mathis.  And their defense is real good against the run.  We'll need a big game from the run defense, who hasn't met many challenges this season.

Three questions that will determine the winner:

1.) Of the 15-20 that he will attempt, will Derek Anderson complete more than 12 passes?

2.) Will the Jaguars be caught scoreboard watching? Or will their motivation of potential playoffs be too much for the Browns, who have their bags packed?

3.) Can the Browns defense contain Maurice Jones-Drew to under 200 yards and 2 scores?

Unless Josh Cribbs wins this game by himself- always a possibility- I don't expect to see a 4th straight win.  And I expect to see a cold, miserable loss in person for the second year in a row.

Jaguars- 21

Browns- 9

Go Browns!