With two inexperienced quarterbacks and a Browns Offense that is averaging 63 running plays per game, I’m putting down R2200 to win back R3960 that the Browns and the Jets score less than 40 combined points in this Thursday night matchup.
Week three of the NFL season gets underway with a contest between two teams looking to establish themselves as a viable force and playoff contender. Or, in the case of the Browns, establishing themselves as an actual NFL franchise. There’s a chance, three or four years from now; this will be an AFC Championship preview with two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks squaring off in an epic battle between the Oklahoma Gunslinger and the LA Arm. Alas, this is 2018, and one of those quarterbacks hasn’t taken his visor off this season, while the other has shown glimpses of greatness combined with the frustration that comes with being a rookie at the most challenging position in sports. To paraphrase ex-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, ‘You watch football on Thursday with the game you have, not the game you want.’
This season the Jets have taken on the split-personality of their hometown. In Week 1 against the Lions, rookie first-rounder Sam Darnold overcame a pick-six on his very first NFL pass to lead the Jets to a 48-17 victory. The defense picked off Lions quarterbacks five times in a performance so dominating the Jets claimed to know the plays beforehand. In a Week two, 19-10 defeat at Miami, the Jets at times looked like the didn’t know their plays, let alone those of the Dolphins. Darnold threw for 334 yards but had two ill-timed picks, and the defense couldn’t force Ryan Tannehill into making any mistakes of his own.
Jets faithful are anxious to see who shows up Thursday night. Will Bruce Bannon timidly knock at the front door in Cleveland, or will the big green Hulk rip that door off its hinges and storm through the entryway? Not unsurprisingly, the Jekyll and Hyde Jets are 1-1 Against the Spread and 1-1 Over/Under.
With just 13 seconds left in overtime against the Steelers in week one, a few enterprising Browns fans began to mill around the ten Bud-Light fridges which had been placed throughout the stadium. After a furious 4th quarter comeback which saw the Browns storm back from a two-touchdown deficit, 2nd-year kicker Zane Gonzalez lined up to attempt a 43-yard field goal through the driving rains of what had once been Hurricane Gordon. At the moment the ball was snapped TJ Watt sliced through the left side of the Browns line like it was a warm pierogi, stuck up a gigantic paw and caught of enough of the kick to send it skittering harmlessly along the field toward the goal line. The Browns had ended their losing streak in the most Browns way possible, a 21-21 draw against Pittsburgh.
Last week in a 21-18 loss to New Orleans, the Browns once again played good enough to win, only to blow a 9-point 4th quarter lead and then watch helplessly as Gonzalez missed an extra point and a field goal in the last 1:24 to seal their fate. Even though they haven’t won that elusive first game, the Browns are favored at home for the first time since 2015 and are currently 2-0 Against the Spread and 1-1 Over/Under.
New York Jets Offense vs Cleveland Browns Defense
Jets Rushing Offense
A 62-yard TD run by Isaiah Crowell helped the Jets rush for 211 yards on 55 carry against the Lions. They thudded back to reality in Week two, racking up just 42 yards on 19 carries, for an anemic 2.2 yards-per-carry. Crowell never got untracked, and Bilal Powell contributed only six yards in his five totes. The Jets are never going to an elite rushing team, but they need to show competence at least to take some heat off of their rookie signal caller.
Browns Rushing Defense
After allowing Pittsburgh backup James Conner to gash them for 135 yards, the Cleveland defense stiffened considerably against the Saints. Alvin Kamara and the rest of the Saints backs rushed for just 62 yards in 23 attempts. Then need to bring same intensity on Thursday night to make the Jets offense as one-dimensional as possible.
*105.5 yards/game – 16th
*27.5 attempts/game – t10th
*3.8 yards/carry – 21st
*110.5 yards/game – 20th
*29 attempts/game – t24th
*3.8 yards/carry – 14th
The Browns have the makings of a quality defensive unit, but getting all the new pieces to gel is an ongoing process. Linebacker Joe Schobert and DT Larry Ogunjobi are solid against the inside run, and DE Myles Garrett is a budding star. The Browns shut down Kamara and the Saints and should be able to do the same against a Jets rushing attack that is a step below last week’s opponent. That means the Jets will rely more heavily on the passing attack which tends to favor an Over play in this spot. Adding to the case, the Jets Over is 4-0 their last four games following a loss and 4-1 and their last five versus as a road team against a team with a losing record.
Darnold Will Test the Browns Early and Often
Jets Passing OffenseHe swears it’s not on his mind, but Sam Darnold still may have a small chip on his shoulder over the draft. He was convinced the Browns were going to call his name on Draft Day and was taken aback when they chose the Heisman winner from Oklahoma. Darnold, the former USC field general, had a strong enough preseason that he was made the starter by Coach Todd Bowles.
So far he has responded…like a rookie. He has had flashes of brilliance after his inauspicious start against the Lions, throwing three touchdown passes, but still tends to force throws into windows that aren’t there and was picked off two more times by the Dolphins. He will never be confused with Cam Newton, but he does have plus mobility but has still been sacked five times in the first two games. He will look to connect with wideouts Quincy Enunwa and Terrelle Pryor. Together they have been targeted 32 times and have hauled in 20 catches for 288 yards so far. Pro Football Focus (Premium Login Required) rates Enunwa at 81.7 and Pryor at 66.8. There is a considerable dropoff with third receiver Robby Anderson and tight end Neal Sterling, both of whom are rated ‘below average’ by PFF.
Browns Passing DefenseThe Browns defense has faced a stern test in the first two weeks as they have gone up against likely Hall of Famers Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees. Darnold may one day join the fun in Canton, but right now he’s a rookie in just his third week. They did allow Big Ben to throw for 335 yards, but they sacked him four times, picked him off three more and forced Ben to lose two fumbles. He connected on just one TD pass and ended up with a 60.5 quarterback rating. Last week against Brees and the Saints they gave up just 243 yards through the air and two touchdowns. That’s substantially less than the 306.1 yards per game that Brees has averaged in his time in the Big Easy. They also sacked him three times.
*250/yards per game – 15th
*31/attempts per game – 25th
*8.6/yards per attempt – 5th
*263/yards per game – 22nd
*38/attempts per game – t23rd
*7.6/yards per attempt – 18th
The Jets would love to run the football and control the tempo of the game. As previously discussed, this may be a challenging task for a Jets offensive line that only starts two players who rate ‘above average’ on PFF. That means Darnold will be forced to throw the ball against an opportunistic Cleveland pass defense. He will hope to get Enunway in the slot matched up with nickelback Briean Boddy-Calhoun in man coverage.
The Browns defense, which has tallied seven sacks in two games, will do their best to limit the time he has to work through his progressions. This doesn’t appear to be a favorable matchup for the Guys in Green. Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams will throw a different number of looks at the rookie, and we project three sacks and two interceptions for the Browns defense. Even though a lot of passes favor the OVER, interceptions have the potential to be a drive killer and can often short-circuit a team’s momentum. It seems unlikely the Jets will put big numbers on the board. That would tend to favor the Under.
Cleveland Browns Offense facing New York Jets Defense
Browns Rushing Offense
Cleveland has run the ball 48.1% of the time this year and Offensive Coordinator Todd Hailey won’t be looking to change that any time soon. 5th-year pro, Carlos Hyde, is getting the majority of carries with 38 for 105 yards. The extremely mobile quarterback Tyrod Taylor is second on the team with 103 yards in just 13 carries. First-round pick Nick Chubb is a bruising change of pace back who has recorded 35 yards in only five attempts. The Browns returned only three offensive linemen from last season and start an undrafted rookie free agent at left tackle.
Jets Rushing DefenseNew York’s rush defense was aided by Matt Stafford and the Lions abandoning the run midway through the 3rd quarter in Week 1. The Lions ended up with 15 carries for just 39 yards. The next week they gave up 135 yards to a Miami offense that currently features Kenyan Drake as their number one back. They harassed Tannehill all afternoon but failed to contain and allowed him to pick up 44 yards on eight scrambles. The Browns will quite likely look to run the ball inside and to their left, hoping to run away from McClendon and Williams.
*135 yards/game – 4th
*65 attempts/game – 1st
*4.2 yards/carry – 13th
*87 yards/game – 11th
*23 attempts/game – 12th
*3.8 yards/carry – 12th
No team in the NFL has run the ball more than Cleveland with 65 carries. Carlos Hyde, the former Ohio State standout, starts for the Browns after four years with the 49ers. Though he’s only averaging 2.8 yards-per-carry, the Browns will continue to run the ball in order to free up the rest of their offense. Tyrod Taylor is second in the team in rushing and is always dangerous on a scramble or a designed run. The Browns have yet to take the training wheels off of 1st round pick Nick Chubb. Chubb, who only caught 31 passes in his four years at Georgia, isn’t a weapon in the passing game and Hailey prefers the versatility of 3rd down specialist Duke Johnson, who has never caught less than 51 passes in three years with Cleveland. As is often the case with rookies, Chubb’s pass protection needs work and so far, he has been limited to a small number of packages. While the Jets defense is stout against the run, the Miami game they can be they can be vulnerable to inside rushes. This would seem to present an opportunity for the punishing runner Nick Chubb to increase his contribution.
Cleveland fans were not happy when Coach Hue Jackson decided to go with the veteran Tyrod Taylor over number one overall pick, Baker Mayfield. Taylor has always been a lunch pail kind of guy, who manages the game well, has the arm strength to take the occasional downfield shot, and is equipped with the wheels to always make the defense account for his whereabouts. The big news in Cleveland this week was the Browns finally running out of patience with the enigmatic Josh Gordon. Gordon had played in just 11 games since 2013 due to various suspensions and injuries. Gordon caught just one ball this year, albeit for a 17-yard touchdown. Jarvis Landry is a stud, but the Browns are struggling to find a solid number two.Jets Passing DefenseHead Coach Todd Bowles believes the best way to defend the pass is to put the quarterback on his back. Bowles loves to blitz, In fact, according to FootballOutsiders.com, the Jets blitzed 35% of the time last year, good for 5th in the NFL. They also were a top-5 blitzing team on every down. Though they didn’t record a sack in the first game, they did manage four last week, with only one coming from a defensive lineman. Even when they don’t get there, the constant pressure forces opposing teams to limit their downfield shots and rely more on the short passing game. When the opposing quarterbacks do get a chance to throw, the Jets feature strong corners and an outstanding safety in Jamal Adams. As previously mentioned, they picked off Lions quarterbacks five times but don’t record a pick last week against Miami.
*192/yards per game – 27th
*35/attempts per game – t18th
*6.3/yards per attempt – 24th
*211/yards per game – 8th
*37.5/attempts per game – 20th
*6.2/yards per attempt – 6th
Tyrod Taylor will be harassed by the Jets exotic blitz packages all night long. The key to his effectiveness will depend on his accuracy in the short passing game as he throws on the run and establishing the running game. Though Taylor has a plus arm, the Browns generally concentrate on running the ball and short, possession passes so it won’t constitute a significant change in how they scheme. The UNDER is 11-3 in Cleveland’s last 14 home games and their strong running game combined with short, possession passes will shorten the games and keep points to a minimum.
Special Teams, Coaching, Intangibles
New York punter is the 3rd-year pro, Lac Edwards. He averages 46.9 yards gross, good for 18th in the NFL. However, his net average is just 40.9, which is 22nd in the league. 3 of his 8 punts have been returned for an average of 16 yards per return (25th).
Placekicking duties fall to 4th-year kicker Jason Myers. He’s a perfect 4-for-4 this season with a long of 55 yards. All 13 of his kickoff have found the end zone, and only one has been returned.
Punt return duties are handled by veteran Andre Roberts. Roberts ranks second in the NFL, averaging 35.3 yards for his four returns. That was highlighted by a 78-yarder against the Lions for a touchdown.
The Browns lead the NFL with 15 punts in the first two games. Their punter is veteran Britton Colquitt, who averages 42.7 yards per punt (27th) while netting just 38.9 (26th). Six of his fifteen punts have been returned for an average of 9.3 yards (19th).
After making just 2 of 5 field goals this year, the Browns cut kicker Zane Gonzalez and brought in former Florida Atlantic kicker Greg Joesph. Joseph battled for the starting spot in Miami this preseason before being cut in favor of rookie Jason Sanders. He made all three of his attempts for Miami before being cut.
Ex-Wolverine Jabril Peppers handles the punt return chores for the Browns and has 15 yards in two returns so far (t13th). He is not much of a gambler as he is second in the league with six fair catches.
JetsTodd Bowles is in his fourth year with the Jets. He has had back-to-back 5-11 seasons after posting a 10-6 mark in 2015. He is a former defensive back in the NFL and is a “defense first” kind of coach. His Jets ranked 4th and 11th in yards allowed before falling off the cliff last season and finishing 25th. His current defense ranks 5th in that same category. On the other hand, his passing offenses have usually lacked quality. They finished 13th in yards in 2015 and 27th and 24th the last two seasons respectively. Things may be looking up with Darnold as the Jets currently sit 15th in passings yardage.
BrownsHopefully, sometime in your life you will find someone who believes in you as much as Browns GM John Dorsey believes in Head Coach Hue Jackson. When Dorsey was hired last December, Jackson had just completed a 0-16 campaign after going 1-15 the previous season. However, Dorsey chose to keep Jackson and honor owner Jimmy Haslam’s commitment to Jackson through this season. Players love Jackson and Dorsey has “completely changed the culture,” according to the coach.
ImpactAs much as we like Hue Jackson after watching “Hard Knocks,” and even though Todd Bowles has had less than stellar success, it’s hard to give the nod to a coach with just one victory over the last two seasons. These two guys are coaching this season like it may be their last (spoiler alert), so they know every game counts. Todd Bowles has higher expectations and a little better team. We gave him a small nod in this category.
Darnold Goes to Pound Town – Victory is so close, Cleveland fans can almost taste it. They will be fired up for this national TV games that sees them as a rare home favorite. They will do everything they can to hamper the rookie and limit his ability to communicate.
What’s Ailing You? – The only injury of note is tight end, Neal Sterling. Sterling is a block-first tight end whose absence will be felt in the running game.
The X-Factor – What happens if the Browns can’t run the ball? If the Jets can stifle the Browns ground attack, will Offensive Coordinator Todd Hailey be able to shift gears? In the past, as OC in Pittsburgh and the HC in Kansas City, Hailey has shown a stubborn streak and been slow to switch to “Plan B.” Be on the lookout for that as a possibility if the Browns can’t run the ball early. There would also be a play on a Live Jets 1st Half Spread or ML because of the chance the Browns will have many frustrating series and are less likely to put any points on the board.
Just in the Nick of Time – Carlos Hyde has averaged just 2.9 yards per carry this year after posting a career-low mark of 3.9 last season. Jackson needs to make Nick Chubb a more significant part of the offense to relieve the pressure on Hyde, who is struggling as the featured back.
That’s Gonna Leave a Mark – It’s a bad time for a short week as the Browns have their number one receiver, three defensive backs, and their starting left tackle all listed as “Questionable” on Wednesday’s injury report. While some, if not all, will likely end up taking the field, there must be concern about being 100% due to injury. Monitor this situation closely and be prepared to play Browns 1st Half UNDER if Landry is ruled inactive. The Browns will likely come out even more conservative than usual and look to chew up as much clock as possible.
The X-Factor – Even though the game will be at home and the weather should be almost perfect, Cleveland will be trotting out a placekicker making his professional debut. Is 24-year-old Greg Joseph ready to put the hopes of an entire city on his shoulders and knock through the game-winner as time expires? One thing is sure if the ex-FAU Owl can do that, he’ll never have to buy a shot and a beer again as long as he’s in Cleveland.
Where are the trends?
There have been fewer trends used in this preview than we generally use. The reasoning is two-fold. First and foremost, the Browns turned over a full 60% of their roster from a year ago. They have replaced all three quarterbacks on the roster, their top two running backs, a new kicker, and only three offensive linemen returned from the active roster in Week 17 last year. They also have a new OC and offensive scheme. Though the Jets won here last season 17-14 when backup QB Kevin Hogan’s late rally fell short, we are not able to glean as much information from that score as we would with a more established roster.
The second reason is when your team is 1-31 the previous two seasons; almost no trends are going to give that team a favorable look. With the amount of roster turnover this season, the value of historical trends is significantly devalued.
Time to place those bets
Though this game doesn’t feature any teams from the NFL’s upper crust, this could be an entertaining contest. There should also be ample opportunities for Live Bets as the game progresses. The number one thing to look for when making an in-game wager on this contest will be how are the Browns running the ball? Watch the initial point of contact when Cleveland rushes to gauge their effectiveness at scheming and handling the Jets front seven. If their running game is ineffective, jump on the Jets and don’t be afraid to gulp down a few points, even as many as 3-4, especially if Landry can’t go. There is also the possibility that Landry goes but is mainly utilized in a decoy role. Keep an eye on how many times he is targeted.
Overall, before the injury news, this looked like a small lean to the Browns. With the key injuries and the short week, the better play would be the Jets and the points. I still have the UNDER-rated as my top bet for this game, in spite of the total of just 39.5. Keep a close eye on the injury news coming out of Cleveland as well as well as watching how the lines react.
PREDICTION: New York 20, Cleveland 13