Preview of Game #12 – Jaguars @ Browns
Well this week’s game is not one of most exciting matchups in the NFL. The Browns have been playing terribly as of late, while the Jaguars (although improving) are also putrid and boring. I expect a turnover-filled contest without a ton of big plays or excitement. If Brandon Weeden wants to pick up a win as a starter this season, then there’s no better opportunity than in Sunday’s matchup. However, this opponent once looked like the worst team in league – but after two wins in their last three games, the Browns cannot afford to take their guests for granted.
Offense: For the third time this season, Brandon Weeden is back in the saddle at quarterback. There’s no denying this displeases the fan base and his mistakes have hurt the offense. One silver lining from last week’s game was the rapport he had with Josh Gordon; Chud will likely devise his game plan around getting the ball to the top wide out frequently. The Browns are facing a defense who limited Case Keenum to just 169 passing yards, an interception, and no touchdowns. I would like to think the former first-round quarterback can surpass these totals, with the offensive weapons and experience he has gained. That being said, Weeden will likely throw for around 250 yards, a pair of touchdowns, and an interception. This type of performance can win this game – the signal caller cannot lose fumbles, however.
That type of error has recently plagued the running attack of the Browns. Willis McGahee has had his touches reduced due to lack of production; the same might occur for Chris Ogbonnaya if he continues to turn it over. The Jaguars are coming off a contest where they limited their opponent to just seventy-seven yards on twenty-one carries. The Browns will likely stray away from running the ball once again (and who can blame them). However, the off-tackle and stretch plays to Fozzy Whittaker should continue. The smaller athlete could only muster a couple of yards on these last week; but an open seam, for just a second, could produce a long gain for the Texas athlete. It will be interesting to see what the team does in the red zone. They did not really have an opportunity last game, but they will this week. Will they let a runner attempt to cross the goal line, or instead continue to heave it?
As mentioned, Josh Gordon is the one-trick pony for this offense, and the group should ride him to victory. For whatever reason, it appears that Weeden can find the target downfield better than the other two signal callers (that have played this season). Chud ought to call a few “home run” plays – I have faith the connection will occur. With Dwayne Gratz, Mike Harris, and Johnathan Cyprien in the opposing secondary; there’s no reason why other offensive targets cannot get involved. It’s well documented that Greg Little and Davone Bess have been extremely disappointing this year, though. I really hope Little can get turn a fifteen-yard catch in into a fifty-yard play, or Bess convert a quick hitch into a twenty-yard reception; but I have little faith. Now would be an excellent opportunity for Jordan Cameron to get back on track. Garrett Graham, the Texans’ tight end, collected a team-high in receptions against the Jaguars. Cameron will have plentiful opportunities to be a factor in this game.
What to make of the Cleveland Browns offensive line. They have been porous in both running and passing play calls. Backs cannot find holes, while the team is yielding the most sacks in the league. One would think that this trend will continue, as the opponent took down Case Keenum twice last week. The right side (clearly) has been the weak link, and Mitchell Schwartz needed help late in last week’s contest. That will probably be needed again, as the opponent employs both Paul Posluszny and Geno Hayes in the pass rush. This duo has been disruptive and the Browns cannot afford to lose yardage. (Of course that is also dependent on Weeden’s release).
Defense: The defensive line faces a good challenge on Sunday, with a consistent rusher in Maurice Jones-Drew. He has been one of the best running backs over his eight year career, and even though his production is down in 2013 – the Browns must prepare. The former UCLA star has five touchdowns and has one in each of his teams’ last three games. What did in the Browns early last week was the no-huddle offense (when Phil Taylor was on the sidelines); the Jaguars are not expected to employ this. The nose tackle must win the battle at the line of scrimmage, as Jones-Drew is a physical back who is not afraid of contact in the interior. If Taylor succeeds, the whole line should limit the opponent, as Ahtyba Rubin has been impressive in many games this year. The wildcards continue to be Desmond Bryant and Billy Winn – I would like to see one of these guys step up.
Chad Henne was taken down four times in his team’s most recent outing. That once again gives me faith the Browns can do a number on the passer. It all begins with the struggling linebackers on the outside, however. Jabaal Sheard was the only one to even sniff the backfield against the Steelers; he will get at least one takedown this contest. That leaves Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo – I anticipate the former will continue to be stout in the running game but not a force on passing plays. The latter has become a huge question mark; he is due for a bounce back game and I am pulling for the rookie. I don’t really need to mention the play of D’Qwell Jackson; he will be dependable in all aspects once again. With Tank Carder’s availability in question, the Browns may be forced to go to Darius Eubanks again. The Jaguars may try to exploit his coverage with tight end Mercedes Lewis; hopefully the defender can keep up.
Justin Blackmon’s suspension threw a huge wrench into the receiving group of the visiting squad. Without a number-one target, several guys have stepped up – including Cecil Shorts and Ace Sanders. These speedsters play similarly to Antonio Brown; the athlete who made Joe Haden look average in First Energy Stadium. The cornerback will rebound, but how will others do? Buster Skrine also had a tough game and now has bruised ribs, if he is unable to go Chris Owens (who has been up-and-down) will take his spot. Jordan Poyer will likely assume the nickel back role; I still believe the secondary can do well regardless of who is opposite Haden. With no dynamic wide outs, Jones-Drew will be a receiving threat. Tashaun Gipson will likely help with the back, and he has the speed to prevent a big play. However, he must wrap up as the big runner has been known to bowl over opponents. I would like to see a blitz or two from T.J. Ward; he has been great near the line of scrimmage and breaking through the line will give Henne another thing to think about.
Special Teams: The injury to Travis Benjamin still looms large in the diminished Browns’ punt return unit. Outside of a tipped or blocked punt, this group has been unable to “flip the field”. As long as the home team limits Ace Sanders, then fans will accept a push in this department. The kicking matchup is interesting, as both guys missed an attempt the prior week. Will the wind be a factor on Sunday? Hopefully Billy Cundiff can practice his tries and pick up habits toward getting the ball between the goal posts.
Coaching: Early on in this season, Ray Horton’s aggressive defense was the toast of the town. Following a sack-less two-game stretch and fans are scratching their heads. The defensive coordinator must generate a great pass rush and get all three outside linebackers involved. Chad Henne is not mobile and does not scare anyone on this defense. Offensively, the strategy should be simple. The coaching staff must keep Brandon Weeden from losing this contest. Maybe that means more running attempts or “safer” routes on passing plays. The home team is more talented but turnovers are the great equalizer, and these must be forced and not surrendered.
Prediction (My Record: 6 – 5): After predicting four consecutive games correctly, I have now been wrong on the last two. This feels like a game the Browns should win easily, but that rarely is the case. The Jags keep is close with Jones-Drew but the Browns’ defense is simply too much, and finally the team gets out of their funk – by the tune of 23 – 13.