This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the worst team in the AFC, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Will the Browns be able to shake off their two straight losses to division rivals, or are they in such a funk that the tank job will be in full effect? Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.
Heading into this season, I never thought that if Brandon Weeden was starting at quarterback, that I'd be giving a Jaguars quarterback the respect of an "even" ranking against him. Despite Weeden throwing a pick six and fumbling in relief last week against the Steelers, he also seemed to be making quicker decisions, something that could be a positive step forward against a young Jacksonville secondary.
Chad Henne is better than Blaine Gabbert, but he's still arguably the worst starting quarterback (maybe aside from E.J. Manuel) that Cleveland will have faced this year. He's not the type of veteran who should be able to recognize the weaknesses in Cleveland's defense and dissect them with ease. He has a decent completion percentage, but only 4 touchdowns compared to 9 interceptions.
Maurice Jones-Drew has been a shadow of his former self. Part of that is on him, but part of that is on the Jaguars lacking very many playmakers around him. He still has a nose for the end zone in goal line situations, though, and has reliable hands as a receiver. Jordan Todman, the team's backup, is a former sixth-round pick who hasn't had much success on the ground either.
For Cleveland, the running game hasn't been established the past two games because the team has fallen behind too much by half time. Chris Ogbonnaya has been successful with his reps in the first and second quarters, ripping off some much better runs than his teammates, but he's put the ball on the ground twice. Do we keep giving it to Ogbonnaya? I honestly don't have a good answer, other than hoping whoever we give it to doesn't turn the ball over.
Justin Blackmon was on a tear for the Jaguars when he returned from a suspension in October, but since getting into trouble again, Jacksonville has been left searching for answers at the receiving position. Cleveland native Cecil Shorts III is the best receiver on the roster, but the contributions after him from Ace Sanders and Mike Brown have been limited.
Josh Gordon alone is good enough to give the Browns the advantage at the receiver position over Jacksonville. After Gordon's monstrous receiving day against Pittsburgh, Gordon needs just 12 yards to reach 1,000 yards receiving on the season. Jordan Cameron had arguably his worst game of the season last week but could get some more looks now that Brandon Weeden is back under center. With Brian Tyms waived on the back-end of the roster, we may finally see Josh Cooper get a couple of snaps on offense.
The Jaguars lost Luke Joeckel, the second overall pick of the draft, to an ankle injury, which hurts his development. Eugene Monroe, the team's other offensive tackle, was traded earlier this season. The result has been a Jaguars line that is probably the worst in the NFL when you consider both pass protection and run blocking.
After the Browns' offensive line seemed to be getting better in pass protection for a stretch of time, the troubles have started to creep up again. Mitchell Schwartz continues to need help from a chipper to block his guy, and the guards have let too many defenders slip through. It might not be as much of an issue this week, but Cleveland might want to give Jason Pinkston a look at guard before the end of the season.
When I asked our Jaguars affiliate who their best defensive player was, I was surprised to hear him say defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, citing that he has had a good pass rush from the interior and has also played a role in the run defense improving a little as of late. The defensive ends struggle to get a pass-rush, though, which is a problem considering Jacksonville doesn't blitz very often.
The defensive line for Cleveland can't really be blamed for the team's collapse over the past two weeks. They've done a good enough job defending the run still, while also making a few tackles for losses. I'd still single out that I'm hoping to see more of an elite performance from Desmond Bryant, unlike the more pedestrian version of him we've seen since his back injury earlier this season.
Paul Posluszny can rack up the tackles in the middle of the Jaguars' defense, but don't expect him or the rest of Jacksonville's group to be game-changers. Geno Hayes and Russell Allen are the team's outside linebackers to compliment Posluszny.
Cleveland's pass-rush has been negated by several opponents due to the quick passing game, but I don't think that will be the case against Jacksonville. This is a week where our linebackers should have time to get to Chad Henne, and with the Jaguars' offensive line being a patched up unit, Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard, and/or Barkevious Mingo could be in store for a big day.
When I did the scouting report on Jacksonville, I cited the youth in the secondary: they have three rookies starting, including Josh Evans and Johnathan Cyprien at safety, and cornerback Dwayne Gratz. Alan Ball is the only veteran starting in the secondary. The unit had their best game of the season this past Sunday against Case Keenam, but they've been torched by a lot of quarterbacks this season.
Antonio Brown had as good of a day as one can have against Joe Haden last week; we'll see if Cecil Shorts can muster anything of similar success. Tashaun Gipson missed several tackles last week and will be looking to rebound this week. The big question might be the health of Buster Skrine, who missed a few snaps last week due to bruised ribs. If Skrine goes down, Leon McFadden will continue to get more reps on defense.
Josh Scobee kicks field goals for Jacksonville and is 16-of-18 on the season. He has been good in his career from beyond 50 yards, connecting on 22-of-35 attempts (62.9%) from that range. The Jaguars feature Bryan Anger at punter; a third-round pick in 2012, Anger is probably one of the top 10 punters in the league. Jordan Todman has had success on kickoffs, where he averages 28.2 yards per return.
The Browns opted to use Jordan Poyer on some of their punt returns last week, but we didn't get to see him in action too much. The wind isn't expected to be a factor on Sunday, so Billy Cundiff and Spencer Lanning should be able to do a decent enough job matching the Jaguars in special teams production. Fozzy Whittaker will continue to handle kickoffs for Cleveland.
There are two types of bad football teams: one that is flat out bad, and one that can't come through in the clutch. With all due respect to the Jaguars, they fall into that first group of being bad. Talent-wise, the Browns should be well ahead of Jacksonville. Now, the question is this: is our locker room mentally stable enough to go out there and put their past two losses behind them, or will they crumble and let a bad-but-hungry team take advantage of them?
It's hard to project how Brandon Weeden will play against the Jaguars. That's the most important factor that our team will live or die by. If Weeden is half-way good, we should win decisively. If his season-long issues continue, even against a bad defense, then this will be a very ugly game. I'll try to be optimistic and say that Weeden gets the job done.
Cleveland Browns 28, Jacksonville Jaguars 13
Be sure to visit Dawgs By Nature throughout the game to participate in and chat in our game threads. You can also follow us on Twitter or on Facebook.
- Browns' Week 13 Scouting Report: Jacksonville Jaguars
- Jaguars vs. Browns: Getting to Know the Enemy With Big Cat Country
- Browns Sign QB Alex Tanney, Specialist of the Trick Shot
- Jaguars vs. Browns: Week 13 TV Coverage
- QB Rankings: Getting to know the 2014 QB Draft Class: Teddy Bridgewater
- Browns Didn't Have the Right Ingredients on the Back End of Roster
- 2013 NFL Season: Pokorny's Week 13 NFL Picks
- DBN Radio: Listen to Our 11/26/13 Episode