Here are five key storylines the Cleveland Browns will be aware of as they take on their Week 16 opponent, the New York Jets.
#1 - Geno Smith Will Screw Up: Besides Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco, the Browns have been burned by or failed on third down against most of the quarterbacks they've faced this year. Even Chad Henne found some success against Cleveland's defense. Jets quarterback Geno Smith has performed the worst of them all, though. He is completing just 55% of his passes, and he turns the ball over a lot. He's thrown for 10 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, and has been sacked 43 times while losing 4 fumbles.
When it comes to interception rate and sacks per pass attempt, the Jets are the highest in the league. When the Jets pass the ball, 5.3% of the time it is an interception, and 11.33% of the time, it's a sack. It's staggering that 16.33% of the Jets' pass plays result in such a negative play. By comparison, the Browns get sacked or intercepted in 10% of their plays -- that's nothing to be proud of either, but it's no where near as bad as the Jets. For reference, an elite offense like the Broncos has a percentage of 4.46%.
#2 - Running Game Threats: For as bad as the Jets' passing game has been, their running game has helped lead them to a 6-8 record. In his first full season as a starting running back, Chris Ivory is averaging 4.5 yards per carry, and is a threat to break a big run. In his past six games, he has runs that have gone for 52, 69, 31, and 35 yards. The Browns' defense prided themselves on not giving up big runs, but last week, the bubble finally burst when Matt Forte and Michael Bush went off on them in the fourth quarter.
A rarity for the Browns this week, which should help their inside linebackers, is that Ivory is no threat in the receiving game. Stunningly, he has just 2 catches for 10 yards all season. When they need the threat of a receiving back, the Jets opt to put backup Bilal Powell in the game. Powell began the year seeing more touches than Ivory, but that has changed since the mid-way point of the season. While Powell has 31 catches on the season, he is a very pedestrian back, with productivity similar to what you would see out of a Chris Ogbonnaya.
#3 - Former Browns Leading the Way: Earlier this season, the Jets signed Joshua Cribbs and were beginning to use him in their offense and on special teams quite a bit. He suffered a season-ending injury, though, so sadly, he won't get to face his former team. The Jets do have two other former Browns on their offense, though: wide receiver David Nelson and tight end Kellen Winslow.
Despite not being on the team for the first four weeks of the season, Nelson is second among wide receivers for the Jets with 27 receptions for 324 yards. He's looked better than he did in the preseason with Cleveland, but it's hard to be very effective when you have Smith under center. Winslow served a four-game suspension in the middle of the season, but he also has 27 receptions for 319 yards. Winslow tried to stir things up this week by saying that the Browns didn't have anybody who could cover him, which our defenders brushed off, stating that he was a backup and past his prime. As a backup, Winslow has been seeing somewhere between 25% to 33% of the snaps in a game.
#4 - Forget About Running the Ball: If the Browns couldn't do much damage running the ball against poor run defenses for three weeks in a row (Jacksonville, New England, and Chicago), then they really have zero chance at being effective this week: the Jets are 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game, but the key is that they are 1st in the NFL in rushing yards per play. Teams are averaging just 3.19 yards per carry against them.
To compare, the Browns' defense is 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards per play, but that's all the way up to 3.69 yards per carry. There is a trade off, though, and it is the fact that the Jets' pass defense is no where near as effective. Also, the Jets have had a difficult time coming up with interceptions in 2013. The Jets' defense is still going to be one of the better defenses Cleveland has faced this season, though, so this should be pegged as a low-scoring type of affair.
#5 - Special Teams Overview: The Jets had found some stability at the punt and kick return positions when they signed Joshua Cribbs. When he got hurt, though, they've been in disarray at both positions and have kind of been shuffling back-and-forth through various players. On the bright side for the Jets, kicker Nick Folk is having a career year. He's connected on 30-of-31 of his attempts, including 3-of-3 from beyond 50 yards. Folk only 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.