Game Preview: Jaguars at Cleveland Browns, Week 11
By Zoltan Paksa
After last week’s must win game against the Colts, the Jacksonville Jaguars head up north to play against the Cleveland Browns. We can safely agree that the Colts are the worst football team in the entire NFL and the Jaguars may now be playing the second worst team. Cleveland is on a three game losing streak, haven’t scored a touchdown at home since October 2nd against the Titans and last week they got beaten by the St Louis Rams at home. They can’t run the ball and can’t defend the run either. Sounds like an easy victory for the visitors right? Well, not so fast.
The biggest reason not to be overconfident about this game is that these two teams look very similar. Both teams have a Top 10 overall defense. Both teams have a young QB with growing pains. Both teams have issues with scoring this season. Both teams have a play maker on offense (for the Jaguars Maurice Jones-Drew, for the Browns Joshua Cribbs). And both teams are standing 3-6 after 9 games. I say Cleveland is on a very similar talent level with Jacksonville, so this game could be another one of those barometer games. This time we will get the answer to the question can they beat a team which in my opinion very close to them talent wise on the road? Well let’s see the match ups.
Although a lot of things changed compare to last year, but let’s go back for a second for the the ’10 game of the 2 teams. On that game the Jaguars run defense made Peyton Hillis a non-factor, and with that the Browns offense absolutely 1 dimensional. The result was: the back then not so good jaguars defense sacked Colt McCoy 6 times, and despite the the 6 turnovers the offense committed, kept the Jaguars in the entire game. This can happen again, because the Browns are banged up at the RB position. Peytob Hillis is ruled out and his backup, Montario Hardesty is battling with a calf injury (listed as questinable for Sunday). Even if Hardesty plays, he will be not at 100%. Which means the Browns leading back will be Chris Ogbonnaya who recorded last week 19 carries and 90 yards against the Rams. Because the Browns offensive linemen have issues with the run-blocking(everyone of them, even LT Joe Thomas and C Alex Mack, but the guards Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston have the real major issues), I can see that the Jaguars defensive line can repeat what they done last year even without Terrance Knighton playing. If that happens, Colt McCoy must produce something. The former Texas Longhorn QB had a decent game last week when he completed 20 passes from his 27 attempts(season high 74% accuracy) for 218 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. His receivers will test the new starting Jaguars secondary for sure. Rookie WR Greg Little is showing plenty of talent so far. It seems that Mohamed Massaquoi also will return to the lineup so the defensive backs must take care of them. But main threat is TE Ben Watson and WR/Wildcat QB/ST ace Joshua Cribbs. Watson is a play maker TE, and the Jaguars still have issues defending them. Last week against the Colts the leading receiver was 3rd string TE Jacob Tamme for Indianapolis. And Watson represent much bigger challenge then him. Last year when the Browns and the Jaguars faced against each other, Cleveland played without Joshua Cribbs. This time, he will be on the field and the Jaguars defense must prepare for tricky plays (which the Browns often use with him). Last week they even use him (after a long hiatus) as a Wildcat QB- three times during the Rams game. In 1 play Cleveland even used all 3 QBs(McCoy, back-up QB Seneca Wallace and Cribbs) in the same play. Although other then this 3 QB formation play (where the Browns end up getting a 21 yard gain play) the Wildcat didn’t bring too much in the table (Brown head coach Pat Shurmur not used the Wildcat in the entire second half) the Jaguars must be aware for surprises like this. The Jaguars will be of course without Rashean Mathis, but for this game I’m not concerned about the Jaguars corners. Derek Cox is looking like finally took that next step forward to become a real core player. While William Midleton, who once again will return to the starting lineup played so far his best football in ’11 since he became a professional.
X factor, which can benefit the Jaguars. Although I mentioned that the Browns starting guards Lauvao and Pinkston have issues and not just in run blocking, I’ll focus on the battel between the the two Cleveland OTs vs. the Jaguars DEs. Joe Thomas is a very good player, he is smooth and outstanding athlete, according to former DE Jeff lageman, he might have serious problems this week with the best jaguars pass rusher Jeremy Mincey. His playing style(and effort type of pass rusher who plays really hard) might cause problems for Thomas. The other match-up is even more intriguing. There former Jaguars RT Tony Pashos will face former Browns DE Matt Roth (and John Chick). Pashos is bit banged up, and although he plays well in the pass protection, he gave up 6 sacks in 5 games. Add to that we found out this week, that Matt Roth is pretty pissed off for the Cleveland front office because of his contract situation last year(take notes, Peyton Hillis!). Roth played his best game as a Jaguar against the Colts last week,so he is in top form. If the Jaguars can stop the Browns running game, and Mincey and Roth can put real pressure on McCoy that could be a the difference for the Jaguars for game. But I have great news. The real advantage is yet to come.
And that advantage is the match up between Maurice Jones-Drew and Cleveland’s 30th ranked run defense. Although the Browns defensive line working very well as a pass rusher unit (more about that a little later), they are one of the worst (most of all at the middle) on the ground. Although DT Ahtyba Rubin is leading the league among DTs in tackles, his partner at the middle, this year’s 1st round pick Philip Taylor have issues defending the run. Look for Uche Nwaneri and Brad Meester try to use this mismatch and open up holes for Jones-Drew. Among linebackers, MLB D’ Qwell Jackson has an outstanding season and truly he is the leader of this young unit. He is great defending the run, good pass coverage, and even a threat at pass rush. Luckily for the Jaguars the other linebackers are not playing that level. Chris Gocong playing ‘Ok’, while veteran Scott Fujita has a not so great season so far. Another weak point in the run defense is FS Mike Adams, but he is the only player in the secondary, who struggles a bit. The Jaguars best chance to pound the rock (mostly with Maurice Jones Drew) down the Cleveland throat, as often as they could. Because quite frankly, I don’t expect to much success in the passing game. The reason is pretty simple – Cleveland has the best pass defense in the entire NFL, while Jacksonville still dead last in the passing game. As bad the Browns defensive line functions as run defenders, as good they are in the pass rush. There 2 highest draft choices, Taylor and 2nd round pick Jabaal Sheard are very effective rushers. Sheard had an outstanding first half earlier in this season, since then his performance fall back a bit. But he will line up against Guy Whimper, who recently starting to became a problem for the Jaguars offensive line (even rookie LG Will Rackley playing better in a more consistent period of time). Look for the Jaguars to use Marcedes Lewis or Greg Jones helping out the right side. On the left side the battle between Rubin and Meester(who will start at his 171th game as a Jaguar, will tie Jimmy Smith’s record, congratulations Brad) will be a very interesting one, while Jayme Mitchell will face Eugene Monroe, where I see a slight advantage for Jacksonville.
The real problem could be in this game, that the Brows can easily load the boy (even with 8 or 9 players) Maurice Jones Drew, and they will be still looking good at the secondary. Joe Haden is on the way to be a star shut down corner and veteran CB Sheldon Brown also playing solidly, but he may be representing better chances for the jaguars wideouts then Brown. Luckily for the visitors, the other young gun of the Cleveland secondary, FS T.J. Ward is ruled out from the game, although his backup Usama Young also having a decent year. The only weak point is FS Adams, but that being said, I don’t know how much success the Jaguars passing game will have on Sunday. I think Haden will took out one WR (My guess is Jason Hill), so I think the trio Mike Thomas, Jarrett Dillard and Chastin West must do something. Jack Del Rio said the Jaguars will likely to use more Dillard and Shorts. I still think the 3rd year player (and NCAA record holder) from Rice could be a real threat, and this might be his chance to prove it. I hope Dillard’s 1st TD catch as a pro will boost his confidence, and could help out his rookie QB. Another player who could have success in this game is TE Marcedes Lewis. I think the Browns can be hurt right now at the safety position, and Lewis need things going sooner then later. His great blocks are once again staring to appear in the consistent basis lately, I hope he and Blaine Gabbert can something going finally in the passing game as well. Speaking of Gabbert I wonder which Blaine will show up on Sunday from the Colts game. The player who played his worst game in the first half as a pro or the one who looked pretty decent in the second half? If he in fact really turned the corner as many writers who covering the Jaguars suggested this week, then maybe he will help out the running game. But that being said, I don’t expect too much compare to his average this Sunday. I hope he(and the Jaguars offense) at least take care of the ball, which will be key.
ST could play a major role in this game, basically because this can be easily another war of punts like the Jaguars experienced last week against the Colts. Joshua Cribbs is a very dangerous returner, so the entire ST cover unit must pay attention to him. Also would be nice to see at least 1 long return either from Karim or Thomas as well. The Browns are in the bottom half in allowing yards in both categories! The two kickers(Josh Scobee and Phil Dawson) have been great from long distances. I will keep my eye on Josh Scobee though. He has a history of struggling in the second half of the season, and his had his 1st miss last Sunday. I hope this time he can bounce back.
In conclusion I expect a close, not too pretty game again. The Jaguars must take care of the ball, and try to force turnovers. Since it seems the Jaguars defense doesn’t allow to score (since 52 games and counting – I really don’t understand why this isn’t a bigger issue for those who cover the Jaguars…), they could -once again- at least be a helping hand for the otherwise often struggling offense this time too. 3 of the last 4 Jaguars TD came after the defense took the ball away from the opponent(and I can think 2 more -the double lateral at the Houston game and Coleman’s interception in the Colts 1st pass play) which brought the offense right away in the red zone! I think this game will depend on how effective the Jaguars running game (to be exact Maurice Jones-Drew) will the Browns run defense. Other then that, I see no big advantage for the Jaguars (I hope that not the 32nd ranked pass offense must win this game against the best best pass defense against the league…). As I mentioned in the opening, the Browns are (talent wise) around the same level as the Jaguars right now. They are in a hole (3 game losing streak, struggling at scoring) but they are still dangerous/desperate. For example I think if Colt McCoy can’t turn around things, the Browns could look after a new starting QB via in the draft/FA. So many of them will be motivated.
As for the Jaguars, if they lose they are officially done for the ’11 season, and they will play for there pride only in the remaining 6 games after this. But if they win, that means the first winning streak in ’11, and with Houston coming to town next week with a new starting QB, they will still have left something to fight for. A new -yes, very little- hope for the post season…
Prediction: Jaguars 17 – Browns 16