Xs&Os: Stopping Pocket Hercules

To stop the Jaguars, you have to stop Maurice Jones-Drew. To do that, start with understanding how he scored twice against the Houston Texans...

The Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars may be the NFL's best indicators this season that sometimes, your won-loss record just shows how lucky/unlucky you are. No better example exists than the way in which each team's Week 11 games ended. The Jaguars beat the Houston Texans on perhaps the most improbable Hail Mary you'll ever see, while the Browns blew a tie with the New York Jets on a last-second touchdown catch by Santonio Holmes. According to Football Outsiders' Estimated Wins metric, which looks at different efficiency parameters to determine how many wins a team would have with league average "luck" and against league average opponents, the 5-4 Jags have actually earned 3.9 of their victories, while the 3-6 Browns are owed a full two wins by the Football Gods – their 5.0 Estimated Wins ranks 14th overall.

That said, what must the Browns do to grab an actual win at Jacksonville's EverBank field? The Jags' defense is average at best. On offense, though quarterback David Garrard has his moments and a decent receiver trio in Mike Thomas, Mike Sims-Walker and tight end Marcedes Lewis, the fulcrum of the offense and the team is running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Nicknamed "Pocket Hercules" by Rich Eisen of the NFL Network because of his 5-foot-7, 208-pound frame (and 5-foot-7 is being rather generous), the fifth-year back from UCLA has been one of the elite at his position for years. He's a dynamic open-field runner, extremely tough to bring down in short-yardage situations, an outstanding pass-catcher, and one of the best blocking backs in the NFL. He may not get the props he deserves because he plays for an unexciting Jags team in an AFC South division with far splashier stars, but there's no question that every team facing Jacksonville knows who they must stop above all others.

And this is where the immovable force meets the irresistible object. For all of Jones-Drew's effectiveness this season, he's managed just three rushing touchdowns after amassing 27 in the last two seasons. However, he scored two of those three touchdowns against the Houston Texans last week, and the Browns will be very interested in how he did that; Rob Ryan's defense has allowed only two rushing scores all season. Jones-Drew's first score, a three-yard bounce off right tackle, was just as much about the Texans' awful tackling as anything – the Jags put up some decent slide protection and they're very effective when they run out of power sets, but the tackling discipline was severely lacking.

Jones-Drew's second score, a nine-yard blast up the middle, was actually a run play set up to look like a pass; while the Jags love to run power, putting the Texans in a position to implement a nickel defense really helped this play along. Two aspects of the play set the defense on its heels – the weakside twins-aligned receivers ran crossing routes, as did the tight end and the split end. This kept everyone in the secondary but the deep safety occupied and away from potential tackles. The right tackle then headed up to the second level and blocked the safety out of the play. Then, as the Texans' front six went into heavy downhill mode, Garrard gave the slightest delay before handing the ball to Drew, which have the running back the time needed to read the gaps and know where the defenders were headed. He had a straight shot up the middle off right guard, and it was as simple as that.

Against a power-running team like the Jags, defenses have to be aware that if those offenses also have aerial weapons, they could be setting a defense up to run right out of the proper lanes. The key for Cleveland will be gap and zone discipline. Jacksonville's offense will not blow you apart with the big play unless you let the Jags do that – and after that Hail Mary last Sunday, it's about time for luck to run the other way.

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