The Browns have won 2 of the last 3 meetings against the Jags and may have something to prove after last weeks sleep walk performance against the Vikings. This game should be a throw back game in old AFC Central fashion. Both teams will likely look for a big play at some point in the game but this is going to be a battle of wills in the ground game. If you love hard hitting smash mouth football, this game will be for you.
For the Jaguars coming off their bye week, it appeared as if not only would they easily secure a wildcard birth but also they would have a legitimate chance of securing a divisional title along with home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Jaguars were just two games behind the Colts with ten games remaining. The Colts would face a very difficult schedule, while the Jaguars would face just one winning team over those final ten games. That game would be at home against those same Indianapolis Colts. The Jaguars now find themselves in a battle for a wildcard birth and those "sure thing" victories are now in doubt.
With Byron Leftwich out, the Jaguars will look to use their very potent rushing attack and one of the best defenses in all of football, to carry the load and take pressure off the back of David Garrard. David is a shorter version of Byron with better mobility and less accuracy. David will look to use his legs to pick up yards. He is not Dennis Northcutt quick but rather one of those long striders that needs room to pick up speed. He does have a strong arm and a quick release. This will allow the Jaguars to use the play action fake to get the ball deep to their playmakers. Although David does have a quick release, he also has a tendency to hold the ball too long. This may enable Chaun Thompson the opportunity to make the sack and strip the ball.
The Jaguars line was built for run blocking. Their rushing attack is focused primarily between guard Vince Manuwai and center Brad Meester. These two are powerful run blockers that love to impose their physical dominance on opposing defenses. Their pass protection is rather weak especially with rookie tackle Khalif Barnes. Barnes is tremendously athletic but inexperienced and extremely vulnerable to the bull rush. Look for the Browns to target the rookie on every play. I cannot help but remember last years senior bowl, as Barnes was literally, thrown at Charlie Frye. Also, look for the browns to blitz the middle, as the Jags interior have been slow to recognize and pickup the blitz.
The Jags love to pound the football with Fred Taylor and Greg Jones. Taylor is a bit slow at the first level but once he gets past the initial line of defenders, he has that second gear to turn it up field. It is that wrestling sprawl, which makes it so hard for a single defender to bring him down. He absorbs the contact, uses that wide leg base to keep his feet under him, and then uses his upper body strength to shed the tackle. Fortunately for the Browns, it appears that Taylor will not be able to play on Sunday. His understudy, Greg Jones, is all about power. It takes a gang mentality to bring him down.
The Jaguars have big play threats all over the field. Veteran Jimmy Smith is a handful for any defense to contain but it is the young receiving threats that are beginning to emerge as a dominate force for this Jaguar offense. Reggie Williams and Ernest Wilford are big fast second year receivers. Each is 6-4 and well over 200lbs. Reggie was the Jags first round pick but Wilford has shown to be the star of that draft. He shows a knack for the clutch play and is fearless going over the middle. Reggie has been hampered with injuries for more than a month but he was finally showing progress as a receiver before the injuries set in.
The match up everyone will be talking about is between receivers Matt Jones and Braylon Edwards. Matt is one of the fastest players in all of
football and at 6-6 and 230lbs, he presents a nightmare match up for any
defensive back. Combine his size and speed with very soft hands and what you
get is a quarterback turned receiver that is simply a physical freak.
Edwards leads rookie receivers in reception yards but Matt is leading in
touchdowns and receptions.
On Defense, it is speed on the outside and push up the middle. This all starts with those two monster defensive tackles in Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. They are playing at that elite level where they can dominate without even showing up on the stat sheet. This week they will not be looking to simply play the gaps but penetrate against the banged up Browns interior. Browns center, Jeff Faine has struggled with the bigger tackles and Henderson will be attacking every play using his physical strength to drive Faine back into the lap of the quarterback.
The Jags will use a rotation at the ends to keep a fresh body coming at the quarterback. Whether it is the rookie Charlie Frye or the vet Trent Dilfer, the strategy will be "pressure the pocket". The key match up here will be the Reggie Hayward going against LJ Shelton. Hayward has many of the same moves that gave Shelton a nightmare day when he faced the Colts' Dwight Freeney. Hayward will look to shoot and spin forcing Shelton to time his initial jolt. Shelton misses that pop and it is a free ride to the quarterback.
The Jags have multidimensional backers in that all three plays both run and pass effectively along with being able to blitz. Mike Peterson is the leader of this group and he is having a stellar year in the middle. He is getting a free ride into the backfield whenever the Jags choose to blitz but it his ability to fake the blitz while dropping back into coverage that makes him a true threat. He does not possess great cover skills but it is his ability to read the play and drop into the route that gives quarterbacks nightmares.
The Jags secondary benefits from the tremendous play by the front seven. This is allowing the corners the luxury of playing the receivers tight and forcing the throw over the top. The Jags corners have the speed to stay with the receiver, thus allowing the front seven more time to get to the quarterback. They also have well disciplined safeties that seldom allow the receiver to run free past the corner. This group takes few chances but make fewer mistakes.
Special Teams could be huge in deciding the outcome of this week's game. Jaguars' punter, Chris Hanson has an extremely powerful leg but has a tendency to kick beyond the coverage. This should allow Dennis Northcutt a chance to return the ball this week.
Josh Scobee is one of the leagues best young kickers but in the swirling winds of CBS, he will be in a situation he has not had to deal with as a kicker at this level. The Browns have lost arguably the league's best long snapper in Ryan Pontbriand for the remainder of the season. There will be a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Jody Littleton as he takes over for Pontbriand.
Josh Cribbs has moved up to sixth in kick return yardage. If he can break
the first wave, he may just take it the distance against the over pursuing
Jags special teams unit.
Browns Battle Plan
The Browns have to remain patient to beat the Jaguars. You are not going to have many big plays against this defense but you can have long sustained drives. Reuben Droughns will discover open lanes between the guard and tackles. This will force the outside backers to fill that running lane and with a key block from the tight end, he could find himself with room to run. Reuben needs just 59 yards rushing to become the Browns first 1000 yard back in 20 years. It appears that he will also have the starting offensive line intact this week although guards Joe Andruzzi and Cosey Coleman remain listed as questionable.
Trent Dilfer practiced Thursday but it may be time for Charlie Frye to take over this offense on a permanent basis. Lets be honest, there is nothing else for Charlie to learn by watching Trent except for what not to do. The off-season is approaching rapidly and the Browns must make a decision. Is Charlie your future at quarterback? If not, do we draft another project or make an attempt for a free agent veteran? Bottom line, there are only five games left to decide.
No matter which quarterback starts the game, the game plan will remain the same. Run the ball and look for the receiver that is in a one-on-one match up. Also look for the Browns to get Reuben Droughns involved in the passing game this week. The Browns will try to catch the Jags in a blitz and use the RB screen as their big play weapon.
On defense, the Browns will likely be much more aggressive this week, with a run blitz geared towards the quarterback. This will put added pressure on the inexperienced Garrard to make the right decisions. He has the quick release but a quick release and quick decision-making are vastly different. Romeo Crennel will attempt to confuse him all game long and force that wrong decision.
Bottom Line: If the Browns are to win this game, they must score in other ways than just offense. Whether it is an interception and a return for a touchdown or a big special teams' play, someone has to take the pressure off the offense to score points. The offense however must avoid turnovers and mental mistakes that have plagued them all year. If Frye starts hopefully everyone will pick it up a notch and not force the rookie to carry the weight of the team.