Jacksonville comes into tomorrow's game at 5-4. The Browns still haven't faced a team under .500 at the time of the game. That said, after an incredibly difficult portion of their schedule (Atlanta, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, New England, New York Jets), a near-average opponent should seem like a huge step down in competition. I don't think it is that much of a stretch to say that the last 5 games the Browns have played have been against the 5 best teams in the league. Jacksonville is a nice team, but they aren't in that conversation. The Browns held their own, going 2-3 in that stretch.
So how will the Browns do against someone more equal in quality? Against similarly average-y teams to start the year, the Browns fell in heartbreakers to Kansas City and Tampa Bay. The Browns look like a better team with more of an identity now. But let's see what the numbers say about Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
When the Jaguars have the ball
The Jags' offense is quite average, 16th in the league in weighted DVOA. They are 12th in passing (28% above average) and 17th in rushing (-2% DVOA). The Browns defense is 20th in the league overall with a 4.6% DVOA (i.e. 4.6% worse than average).
Jones-Drew is a tough and impressive running back. And he has had an ok year by his standards. His DVOA is just 1.5% on a per play basis, but he does get the ball a lot (3rd in the league in rushes- behind only Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson). That leads to him having the 13th most valuable season as a running back so far (82 DYAR) as he only has found the end zone 3 times and has a meh success rate of 47% (19th in the league). The Browns rush defense is 10th in the league and 10% better than average.
David Garrard has missed some time due to injury this season, but he is healthy now and is playing very well. In his last two games he has had 6 TDs, 0 INTs, 600 YDs, on just about 50 attempts and a completion percentage near 80%. Wow. The main targets for Garrard include two underrated wideouts. Mike Thomas is small, but has great hands and can make some big plays. His DVOA is 31.3%, good for 4th in the league! He has a catch rate (75%!) better than elite slot guys like Wes Welker and averages about as much per catch as big name #1 WRs like Roddy White and Anquan Boldin. On the other side of the field, Mike Sims-Walker is no slouch, with a DVOA of 12.8%. Sims-Walker has had 56 targets, Thomas has 55. Garrard is spreading the ball around to talented WRs. Jones-Drew is also a major part of the Jags' passing offense, with a 38% DVOA as a RB-pass catcher. Also lookout for TE Mercedes Lewis (30 catches, 7 TDs, 15.5% DVOA). The Browns have continued to struggle against the pass, over 14% worse than average, 21st in the league. While they should be able to contain Jones-Drew out of the backfield (8th in defending passes to RBs), they are 31st against #1 WRs and below average against #2s and TEs.
When the Browns have the ball
Are you sitting down? Good. Because this might make you dizzy: the Browns are an above-average offensive football team (8.3% weighted DVOA, 15th). Running (1.1% DVOA, 13th) and passing (20.8%, 17th). Jacksonville is not a good defensive team, 28th in the league, 22% worse than average. Let's score.
The Browns offense still centers around Peyton Hillis. Despite a very concerning 5 fumbles, Peyton Hillis ranks 4th in DVOA (15.3%) and DYAR. He has 8 rushing TDs, 3rd in the league. His success rate is an amazing 60%, first in the league. Plus, he is the 7th most valuable RB pass-catcher. Peyton Hillis is having a Pro Bowl season, folks. The Jaguars are 29th against the run with a 4.5% DVOA. Look for the Browns to rely on Hillis a lot this game.
The Jaguars stink against the pass, 37% worse than average, 28th in the league. But they do defend passes to RBs very, very well. 2nd in the league in that category. They are about average against TEs. We need some production out of Mohammed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, and Chansi Stuckey. I still only have one foot on the "Colt McCoy as the QB of the future" bandwagon. But there has been a lot of crappy backup and 3rd string QBs playing around the league this year and the Browns have been in that situation before. Not this year. McCoy is already the 24th most valuable QB in DYAR and 12th best on a per-play basis at 20.8% DVOA. Just ahead of Seneca Wallace. McCoy has also been effective when he decides to pull the ball down and run. Besides Hillis, McCoy's best options continue to be TEs Evan Moore and Ben Watson. The WRs numbers are so bad, they aren't worth putting up here.
The Browns punt coverage and kick coverage continue to drag the rest of the Browns special teams towards the tops of the Football Oustiders' rankings. They now rank 4th in weighted special teams DVOA. The kick return unit remains very bad.
Don't look for that to change this week, with an injured Josh Cribbs and a Jaguar kick coverage unit that ranks highly as well. The Jags have the best FG/XP unit in the league by DVOA. Their return units are relatively weak. But overall, they rank 5th in special teams.
Thoughts and Conclusions
The Browns need to find a way to cool down David Garrard. The DBs need to play better, but with Lewis and MJD big factors in the pass game too, the entire defense must play better in coverage. And, we need to get to the QB better. Garrard is athletic and will pull the ball down and run, but I don't want him comfortable in the pocket considering how good he has been the last two weeks.
The Browns will feed Hillis the ball constantly. If McCoy can hit one deep ball (30+ yards) to a true WR, I will have a lot of hope. Otherwise, check downs and running plays are going to lead to a small-play offense with minimum room for error.
We should score 20 or so points without a problem. I really don't like the matchup for our defense though. I see another tough loss: