BEREA — Entering Sunday, the Cleveland Browns' first nine opponents are a combined 52-29. The Browns have faced the toughest schedule in the NFL.
Eight of their nine opponents currently have winning records — with the exception the 2-7 Cincinnati Bengals — and six are leading or tied for a division lead.
Now, here's one more fun-fact tweeted by Browns media relations coordinator Dan Murphy earlier this week, "Of the 11 NFL teams currently with six wins or more, Cleveland has faced seven of them."
The gauntlet of games that included Pittsburgh, New Orleans, New England and New York Jets are over. At 1 p.m. Sunday, the Browns travel to play at Jacksonville.
Finally, a breather. Well, not exactly.
Jacksonville is no pushover, but they're also a team that is difficult to understand. On one hand, the 5-4 Jaguars have won four of their last six games and their four losses have come against teams who are a combined 20-16. Yet their four losses — San Diego (38-13 on Sept. 19), Philadelphia (28-3 on Sept. 26), Tennessee (30-3 on Oct. 18) and Kansas City (42-20 on Oct. 24) — are by an average of 24.8 points.
"This is a good football team with a lot of talent," Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "A Jack Del Rio team will always be tough and very physical."
It was no coincidence the tough teams the Browns have faced in recent weeks also have good quarterbacks. This week's opposing quarterback is among the league's best, too, at least statistically.
Entering week 11, there are three quarterbacks have a rating more than 100: Michael Vick (115.1), Philip Rivers (102.9) and smack dab between those two is Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard (104.9).
Garrard, who is in his fourth season starting for the Jaguars, is 125-for-180 passing for 1,440 yards with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Last season, he was named to his first pro bowl and owns a 36-34 career record. Garrard did suffer a concussion in week six against Tennessee and was inactive the next week against Kansas City. Jacksonville lost those two games by a combined 72-23.
Garrard's weapons include wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker (doubtful, ankle), tight end Mercedes Lewis (30 catches for 379 yards and seven touchdowns) and running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew, who is 5-foot-7, 208 pounds, was also a 2009 pro bowler. Through nine games this season he has 754 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 186 carries with three 100-yard performances.
"This guy plays with unbelievable fire and (shoot) he's hard to tackle," Ryan said. "Like we say, he's like tackling a chainsaw. He's a load and he's got that stuff arm going for him and he's lightning quick. This guy has got all of our respect, he's got our attention."
Jacksonville has to play defense, too, and that's an area the Jaguars have struggled. Through nine games, the Jaguars are 28th in defense, allowed 27.8 points a game, 387.2 yards per game and are minus-six on the turnover differential. To make matters worse, defensive end Aaron Kampman, who leads the team with four sacks and 30 quarterback pressures in eight games, is done for the season with after suffering knee injury in practice Nov. 11.
"I think they're going to try and blitz us," Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said. "That's one thing our line has done a good job of and that's picking up blitzes. You look at the Jets, Steelers and Ravens those are teams you know are going to blitz from all over. Our quarterbacks have done a good job getting protection where it needs to be."
Since the Browns have picked up those blitzes and allowed only 17 sacks, opponents can go one of two ways, Thomas said.
"They can either think that they can't blitz us," he said. "Or they see the rookie quarterback and they know we like to run so they will blitz us. It can go either way."
As for that rookie quarterback, Colt McCoy goes back on the road for the first time since his first NFL start Oct. 31 in New Orleans. He'll face a defense that allows an average of 272.3 yards passing a game.
In four games, McCoy is 64-for-99 passing for 734 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
"He's played four games so I don't want to sound like a party pooper, but he understands that, too," Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. "He has a good understanding of how we want to operate and the things that we expect him to do and he's done that for four games. He's nowhere near where he wants to be. He's a perfectionist."
In the last period of practice Friday, the offensive starters were sitting around when McCoy grabbed Mohamed Massaquoi, Ben Watson, Chansi Stuckey and Brian Robiskie and went to a different area of the Berea practice field.
"I'm watching him from afar and he's throwing a certain route over and over and over again and that was at the end of practice today," Daboll said. "You love his ‘want to,' he wants to be really, really good. He's done a good job so far, but again, it's four games. He's going against a tough defense again this week on the road in a challenging environment. We expect him to play well, we do."