On Thursday, the Cleveland Browns play only scheduled first prime time game of the regular season when they take on the New York Jets. To help preview a few topics from the Jets’ perspective, we reached out to Michael Nania from Gang Green Nation and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: “The Jets signed Terrelle Pryor this offseason, formerly of the Browns, so we’re always interested in hearing how he’s been doing. Is he a starter for the Jets? How has he performed?”
Michael: “This is quite the time to ask about Pryor. He just had as eventful a day a wide receiver can have without being a fantasy superstar. Against Miami, Pryor racked up a few clutch chain-moving catches, in total collecting 4 receptions on 8 targets for 84 yards. After catching 3 of 3 targets for 49 yards and all three going for first downs, on paper it looks like a great start.
However, Pryor really cost the team in a few different ways against the Dolphins. He was primarily responsible for a red zone interception in which he basically quit the top of his route and gave up inside leverage to let his defender get the pick. He let a crucial 3rd & 22 heave near the goal line go right through his hands. He also seemed a bit lethargic as he watched teammate Chris Herndon struggle to reach the goal line as the clock ticked down on the 1st half.
Overall you are seeing the highs and lows with Pryor. At his size, he will always be a physical matchup. Teams respect that, and he’s found the soft spots in zones and taken advantage of soft coverage to move the chains 6 times through the first two games - that’s pretty good for a #3 receiver (he’s second in targets but is truly the 3rd option behind Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson). However, his drops issue from Cleveland seems to remain, and it showed up in a tight spot. His route-running rawness and borderline laziness also seems to linger, and that also cost the team big in a key spot. These issues are why he is a high-upside, high-risk supporting cast member and not a featured star.”
Chris: “Similarly, the Jets added former Browns running back Isaiah Crowell this offseason. What is the impression on him? Have fans used the nickname, “The Crow” for him yet?”
Michael: “Haha, I don’t think he’s earned a nickname yet.
He’s been impressive. He’s currently 8th in the league in total rushing and 4th in yards per attempt among qualifiers. He had a tremendous opener in Detroit, rushing 10 times for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns, breaking a high number of tackles and soundly selecting his holes in the run game. His big play ability is impressive. Against Miami, the holes weren’t there, and he picked up only 35 yards on 12 carries. Seemingly, with the offensive line struggling mightily, he picked up more yards than he should’ve. His pass protection has flashed at times as well.
He’s a great compliment to Bilal Powell and he should contribute positively throughout the year with his durability, physicality, and big play potential.”
Chris: “Sam Darnold was the No. 2 overall pick of the draft and appears to be off to a pretty solid start to his NFL career. What are his strengths and weaknesses?”
Michael: “Darnold has showcased numerous strengths only two starts into his NFL career. It would be hard not to bring up his resiliency first. Everybody knows about the ugly pick six he threw to start off against Detroit. He rebounded for a near-perfect passer rating over the rest of the game. Against Miami, the team went down 20-0 and Darnold had thrown two costly interceptions. He again rebounded, nearly rallying the team back (the team was so close and should’ve been there if a few teammates executed) and ending up with another historically efficient game for a player so young and so early in his career. Cam Newton and Jim Kelly are the only other players in history to throw for 8+ yards per attempt on 20+ pass attempts in each of the first two weeks of their careers.
He has done a tremendous job making things happen when the pocket breaks down, getting on the move and tossing dimes when he does. His touch has translated from USC and shown time and time again already. When you get there, you need to bring him down or keep him inside the pocket, or he will find a way to produce something positive.
In the short and intermediate ranges, his accuracy and ability to hit players in stride has been strong.
As for weaknesses, Darnold has thrown 3 interceptions already. As mentioned, one was not entirely his fault, but the other two were egregious. He has made rookie mistakes failing to recognize defenders in zone coverage, also tossing a few other near-picks in addition to the 3 he already has. Gregg Williams’ pressure-heavy defense will be a tough matchup for him as he continues to iron these things out.
He also has struggled to push the ball deep down the field. Robby Anderson was one of the league’s top deep threats last year as Josh McCown took full advantage of his ability to separate deep and win contested battles for the ball. Through Anderson and Jermaine Kearse (who missed W1 and played sparingly W2, could play more this week), McCown led one of league’s most prolific offenses down the sideline. Darnold has only hit one go route so far, a solid but slightly underthrown touchdown to Robby Anderson. Darnold has been hesitant to attack deep, missing an open Anderson a few times. When he has attacked beyond ~20 yards, his accuracy has been shaky.”
Chris: “What is the Jets’ strength and weakness on defense?”
Michael: “The strengths are parts of the secondary and defensive line. Trumaine Johnson had a rocky Week 1 but bounced back to lock down Kenny Stills and the Dolphins’ vertical attack last week. You can take him inside with speedy receivers, but he is tough to beat over the top or in the red zone. Jamal Adams looks to be making the strides he needed to make and has played like a Pro Bowler so far. He was already a great run defender and has shown tremendously improved coverage instincts and ball-contesting ability. Morris Claiborne is a wild card - he had a great Week 1 but pretty bad Week 2.
On the defensive line, the Jets do a lot of rotating. This is a strong group that stops the run and does its best to produce a pass-rush for a team lacking one from the edges. Leonard Williams is the start. He’s not a sack machine, but he draws a lot of attention and racks up stuffs and quarterback hits. Steve McLendon is a tremendous run defender and gap penetration. Henry Anderson has been a great pickup from the Colts in return for a 7th round pick. He’s a high motor technician who can get to the quarterback from the inside. Mike Pennel is a huge run stuffing nose.
A surprising strength has been Darron Lee. Pro Football Focus has him graded as the #1 coverage linebacker in the league so far, a far cry from the sieve he was in his first two years. I’ve tracked Lee for only 2 first downs and 56 yards allowed on 16 targets so far. His reaction time is much improved, and with his closing speed he’s capable of making some big plays. Still, the Browns would be smart to send Duke Johnson in Lee’s direction and make him prove this progression is for real.
As for weaknesses, attack slot corner Buster Skrine (former Brown). He had a handful of stupendous games last year, but more often than not is a magnet for production. He has really struggled so far, leading the team with 6 first downs and 123 yards allowed thus far, and not to mention a 143.6 quarterback rating when targeted. He’s athletic but mistake and penalty-prone.
Free safety Doug Middleton has replaced the injured Marcus Maye. He’s yielded 2 of the 3 passing touchdowns the team has allowed so far (Skrine the other). He’s no scrub, but he is certainly a step down from Maye and opponents would be foolish not to test him out and send routes his direction.
Surprisingly, the run defense of the inside linebackers has been an issue. For all of his coverage strides, Lee is still making some mistakes in the run game, too often getting plowed at the second level. Avery Williamson replaced former Brown Demario Davis, who had a great season last year. Williamson has been a very strong run stopper throughout his career, but is without a single stuff in the run game so far, not looking like his usual self.
The most glaring weakness is the edge rush. The Jets simply do not have a productive edge pass rusher. The outside pass rush struggled for the most part against Detroit, but had much more success against Miami with a pressure-heavy gameplan and a multitude of productive stunts. The team racked up 4 sacks (2 more wiped out by penalty) on Ryan Tannehill, with credit to the blitzes dialed up but also to the coverage for holding up, Johnson in particular. Still, this group is a weakness. The Jets are not going to get sufficient pressure without blitzing.”
Chris: “Tell us about a player Browns fans may not know much about, but who is playing a nice role for the Jets in 2018.”
Michael: “Right tackle Brandon Shell. The offensive line as a whole is a weakness (especially in the run game) and each starter took a step back against Miami after a great game against Detroit. However, the third-year Shell is on a clear progression path. He finished 2017 strong. After allowing a ton of heat on McCown in the first half of the year, he kept very clean in the second half. Previously a non-factor in the run game, he was tremendous as a run blocker in the preseason. Now, all of that is coming together and Shell is looking like a nice player. The Jets use his athleticism to get him in space on the outside, and have ran behind him with success. His pass protection fundamentals are much improved. He’s yet to allow a stuff in the run game, a quarterback hit, or a sack. Great start - but a big challenge against this Cleveland defense.”
Thanks again to Michael for taking the time to answer my questions.