This week, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Can Cleveland turn up the heat on the road to prove they will be a serious contender moving forward? Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.take on the
Browns: Brian Hoyer is looking like a perfect fit for Kyle Shanahan's offense and is exuding all of the qualities I preached about during the preseason. It's funny -- during that preseason, we saw that Hoyer didn't put points on the board, but that was with a limited sample size. Hoyer comes on stronger as the game goes along, as we saw last week against Pittsburgh. After starting the game with two three-and-outs, he led three straight touchdown-scoring drives in the second quarter.
Jaguars: While Cleveland's offense ended up being a destination that sets a quarterback up for success, the opposite is true for Jacksonville. The Jaguars have no running game, a lackluster offensive line, and have been banged up at the receiver position, which makes it difficult on the young Blake Bortles to succeed. He's thrown seven interceptions already, so the Browns' defense should be looking for their first multi-turnover game of the year. The thing Cleveland will have to watch for is Bortles as a threat when he scrambles -- he could be looking to take off even more than Jake Locker did a few weeks ago against the Browns.
Browns: Last year against the Jaguars, Ben Tate had 21 carries for just 54 yards (2.57 yards). Logic tells me that a new year will bring new results in favor of Cleveland. After Terrance West was a healthy scratch a week ago, head coach Mike Pettine pretty much confirmed that West would be active and in the gameplan this week. Whether he out-touches Isaiah Crowell remains to be seen after Crowell put the ball on the ground three times last week.
Jaguars: Starting running back Toby Gerhart has been ruled out again with a foot injury, but that's not a huge loss for Jacksonville because they can't block well enough in the first place. 7th round pick Storm Johnson will get the start in Gerhart's place, but he will split carries with former quarterback Denard Robinson and Jordan Todman. None of them have had sustained success on the ground this season, but Todman could be viewed as a third-down receiving back for Bortles.
Browns: The best news the Browns could have asked for last week on offense was for Jordan Cameron to have a breakout game, and he certainly did with 3 catches for 107 yards and 1 touchdown. He almost had another reception in the red zone, but a nice hit by the safety broke up the completion. Until Josh Gordon gets back, Cameron is going to have a chance to dominate one-on-one matchups with teams consistently biting on the playaction fake, or being fearful of a guy like Travis Benjamin beating them over the top.
Jaguars: The Jaguars have one of the most promising receiving units in the NFL, but they don't get the advantage here because of their lack of experience. Cecil Shorts III, who hails from Cleveland, returned from injury last week with 10 catches for 103 yards on 16 targets. Last year, he beat cornerback Joe Haden for a touchdown in the final moments of the game, resulting in a stunning victory for the Jaguars. After Shorts, the Jaguars feature three rookies -- Allen Robinson (3rd round), Allen Hurns (undrafted), and Marqise Lee (2nd round). Clay Harbor is a capable threat at the tight end position.
Browns: The Browns' offensive line will be without center Alex Mack the rest of the season. John Greco will fill in as the new starting center, but will we notice some disruptions across the offensive line? Joel Bitonio is no longer sandwiched between two Pro Bowlers. What if Greco and Hoyer have a miscommunication? Mitchell Schwartz was holding his own with a reliable right guard next to him; what if he slips due to a lesser talent (Paul McQuistan) being there instead?
Jaguars: The Jaguars' struggles on the offensive line are evident. We already mentioned their struggles on the ground. To be specific, Jacksonville is 32nd in the NFL with 69.5 yards rushing per game, and 27th in the league with an average of 3.53 yards per carry. They are worst in the NFL when it comes to sacks allowed per pass attempt, allowing a sack a staggering 12.22% of the time. Chad Henne and Blake Bortles have been taken down for 27 sacks, an average of 4.5 sacks per game.
Browns: This was the deepest position on the team heading into the season, and heading into Week 7, it turns out they had a need for all of that depth and then some. Armonty Bryant, who was starting to catch on, is done for the year with a torn ACL. Phil Taylor and Billy Winn are out with injuries. Ahtyba Rubin is banged up, but might give it a go. Cleveland will try to rely on Desmond Bryant, John Hughes, and Ishmaa'ily Kitchen, a unit that played fairly well last week.
Jaguars: From a depth perspective, the Jaguars are what Cleveland was heading into the season. They have about 8-9 defensive linemen, and they will rotate each of them in to the game for playing time. We'll see a mix of Red Bryant, Sen'Derrick Marks, Roy Miller, and Chris Clemons on the starting unit, with Tyson Alualu, Andre Branch, Ziggy Hood, Abry Jones, and Ryan Davis backing them up. The defensive linemen alone have 15 sacks this season spread among eight players.
Browns: Even though outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo hasn't been a dominant player like you'd hope for from a top draft pick, he put together a solid game against the Steelers last week while battling through a shoulder injury. Paul Kruger is expected to go again despite having some back issues. If you're looking for a week where Jabaal Sheard could have a breakout day as a sack artist, this could be it.
Jaguars: Apparently, the Jaguars' linebackers can't cover. Don't take my word for it; that is what our Jaguars affiliate said: "Another problem with our pass defense is our linebackers. Paul Posluszny can't cover worth a damn, Geno Hayes gets beat, and Telvin Smith, while flashing, is a rookie. Look for tight end Jordan Cameron to do well."
Browns: Joe Haden had a bit of redemption last week when he held Antonio Brown out of the end zone, but now he'll be on a mission to make up for the game-winning touchdown he gave up to Cecil Shorts last year. With K'Waun Williams out this week, Buster Skrine will shift to the slot in nickel situations, and rookie Justin Gilbert will play the outside. Free safety Tashaun Gipson has a thigh injury, but is expected to play.
Jaguars: Brandon Weeden torched this unit for 370 passing yards last season, so look out (although, to be fair, most of that yardage went to Josh Gordon, who is absent from this game). Alan Ball is the team's veteran cornerback. Demetrius McCray and Dwayne Gratz follow him up as the team's next two cornerbacks. The Jaguars have only allowed one passing touchdown over their past two games, but hat tip to Tony Grossi for the season stats on defense: opposing quarterbacks are completing 68.7% of their passes with 12 touchdowns and 1 interception.
Browns: Billy Cundiff's only field goal attempt last week just barely bent inside the right upright, improving him to 7-of-9 on the season. Cleveland doesn't attempt many field goals. When opposing teams take the ball out of the end zone against Cundiff, they have paid the price, starting at an average of the 18.7 yard line. On punts, Spencer Lanning is moving up the chain: he is now 15th in the NFL in net punt average. Cleveland's return game is still waiting for something to happen. It's hard to make an impact when you get so few opportunities. Marlon Moore only has 4 return attempts all season.
Jaguars: Josh Scobee is in his 11th year with the Jaguars, but he's always been an average type of kicker. He is only a 70% kicker from the 40-49 yard range in his career. Punter Bryan Anger is probably considered a slightly above average punter. Jacksonville did give up a 50-yard kick return last week, which is probably why they have the 27th ranked kick coverage unit in the NFL. Ace Sanders returns punts for Jacksonville while Jordan Todman handles kickoffs. Todman has 17 kickoff return attempts, so he's not afraid to take the ball out of the end zone and he does it fairly well.
You're either the butcher or the cattle. The Browns have been the cattle for so long, but now it's time for them to become the butcher. That means opposing teams will be gunning for them instead of the other way around, but with a running game like Cleveland has, the Browns always have a safe, reliable gameplan to fall back on if things go awry. The Browns must overcome their first half road woes, but if they do, there is no reason they shouldn't blow past the Jaguars.
Cleveland Browns 28, Jacksonville Jaguars 14
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