While turmoil, injuries and staff changes are the hot topics in Cleveland, the New York Jets are one of the surprise teams thus far this season. The Jets 4-3 record is not earth shattering, but it is good enough to have them within reach of the division leading New England Patriots. This will be the first match up between former Patriot defensive coordinators Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel.
Expectations for the Jets offense could not have been any lower coming into the season. Chad Pennington was recovering from an injury many considered career threatening. Two rookie offensive linemen were starting at the two most vital positions along the offensive line at center and left tackle. The career of a future hall of fame running back was in doubt.
Despite all the negatives heading into the season, the Jets have managed to put points on the board with a dynamic passing attack. Chad Pennington is showing a mastery of the mid-to-deep aerial assault but his calmness in the pocket is the difference with this offense. Chad does not get rattled when the pressure is coming. He is simply stepping up into the pocket locating his receivers and hitting them in stride. This is allowing for those huge runs after the catch. Chad is living proof that you don't have to posses a big arm to be a vertical passer. Accuracy and timing is what makes the deep pass work.
Chad is also blessed with a trio of receiving threats. Laveranues Coles is the top playmaker on this offense. He is one of those small speedy receivers that relies on the quick break to gain separation from the corner. Facing off against cornerback Daven Holly, Coles will likely find a large cushion to prevent the deep route, but it should open up the slant and wide receiver screen.
On the opposite side of Coles is up and coming Jerricho Cotchery. Jerricho is more of the zone buster. He is quick in and out of his breaks and he shows that willingness to go over the middle. He understands how to get low to the ground and give the quarterback that window of opportunity to put the ball in his hands or in the dirt. This also allows him to avoid the big hit.
Receiver Justin McCareins is off to a slow start but he is a big play threat anytime he is in the game. Justin has made the most of his few opportunities while averaging almost 19 yards per reception.
To compliment this passing attack, the Jets may have found themselves a feature running back in rookie Leon Washington. Leon is another of those small speedster backs that are beginning to take over the NFL. He is only 5-8 but he makes himself even smaller when running with the ball. He gets so low that the defense has trouble finding him at the line of scrimmage and when they do, he has that knack for avoiding the hit and squirting his way through for positive yards. If the Browns choose to blitz, look for Leon to have a very good game as a receiving threat with the short screen and dump down pass.
When the Jets drafted left tackle, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and the Browns selected defensive end/outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, fans knew this game would be one to watch. Wimbley is an outstanding edge rusher and facing off against Ferguson should be the best match up of the day. Ferguson has the potential to be the next great left tackle and Wimbley has the potential to be the next great linebacker. Get your TVO or VCR ready because this is going to be a great battle to watch.
The Jets defense is loaded with talent but they don't necessarily have the types of players that head coach Eric Mangini desires for his 3-4 scheme. Mangini is using a hybrid defense that is primarily a base 4-3 with some elements of the 3-4 being installed. He is attempting to get the absolute most out of the players by coaching to their strengths while hiding their weakness.
Up front the defensive line is solid with talented tackles Dwayne Robinson and Kemo Von Oelhoffen but it is defensive end Bryan Thomas that is garnering the most attention. Thomas is off to a sensational start due to pure hustle as he is willing to chase the ball wherever it goes. Dwayne and Kemo are very similar in their particular skill sets as both are outstanding run stuffers but they are also blessed with solid pass rush skills combined with tremendous power. This group loves to push the pocket into the lap of the quarterback.
The Jets linebacker corps is built upon the fundamental philosophy of running to the ball and hitting with authority. They love to gang tackle while attempting to strip the ball. They also enjoy lowering their heads and putting the helmet on the ball.
This group is led by one of the best middle linebackers in football, Jonathon Vilma. Vilma plays with that high intensity which rubs off on everyone around him. This young man loves to hit anything that moves and when he is clicking, he can take over the game from the inside backer position.
The Jets secondary is a extremely underrated, especially on the left side with safety Kerry Rhodes and corner Andre Dyson. Dyson is highly intelligent, using his talents to make the quick read on opposing quarterbacks. He loves to jump the route, especially on the outside curl route. He is also very effective in taking away the quick slant by positioning his body to the inside and forcing the play to the outside. He will struggle however when this aggressiveness is used against him. Look for the Browns receivers to sell the short route, draw him in and go over the top with the deep post.
Kerry Rhodes has tremendous read and react skills. This allows him to play a bit loose in the secondary. He reminds me a great deal of Brian Russell in that he is always looking to cheat to the ball. If the quarterback can lock onto the outside receiver and use the pump fake to sell the play, he should find the middle of the field wide open.
The right side of the secondary is the conservative side. They often play
well off their man and are willing to accept damage from the short passing
attack. They are however difficult to beat over the top but the quick strikes
will be open all day.
With the resignation of offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon, offensive line coach Jeff Davidson will be given the chance to show what he can do with the anemic Browns offense. Jeff was an understudy of Charlie Weis when he was with the Patriots. He will likely begin moving the Browns offense into that direction. I expect to see a bit more of the spread offense with the pass being used to set up the run.
Quarterback Charlie Frye has to be excited with the change in coordinators. He has taken a beating behind the offensive line and as a result his mechanics, accuracy and decision making appear to be digressing. If a quarterback doesn't believe in the plays that are being called, he will not succeed.
The Jets will be looking to rattle the young quarterback with pressure and by mixing up the zone coverages. Expect Jeff Davidson to use this to his advantage by loading up with multi-receiving threats. It will be left up to Charlie to make the quick decision and to avoid making the crucial mistake.
Look for Charlie to work the middle of the field with tight end Kellen Winslow. KW2 is a horrible mismatch for any defender. He simply demands the double team on virtually every play. He wants to be the leader of this offense and he will likely be given that opportunity with increased playing time, especially in crucial third down situations.
Wide receiver Braylon Edwards has been a non-factor the last few weeks. Edwards is a sensational deep threat but the quarterback has not had time to get the ball deep. Braylon is also struggling to beat the corner at the line of scrimmage.
Braylon is a mismatch against any corner and he must become more physical allowing himself a chance to get into his pattern earlier. When the quarterback hits on his final step, it is vital for the receiver to be breaking on his route but over the last few weeks, Charlie has been hit while waiting for the receiver to come free.
The Browns running game has been nonexistent this season. Reuben Droughns has nowhere to run and on the few chances he does have for success, his speed is not allowing him to get through the hole before it closes. As the Browns implement more of the spread offense, look for Reuben to find himself with increased opportunity for successful runs. If he struggles, the Brown may just turn their attention to the rookie Jerome Harrison.
The Browns offensive line continues to simply be offensive. They aren't run
blocking and they are allowing double digit hits on the quarterback, every week.
This must change if the Browns are to have any success, but against the front
four of the Jets, it may not happen this week. Hopefully a slight change in
scheme, will allow this group to utilize more of their fines blocking instead of
relying on pure man up blocking.
The Browns defense has played well enough to win every game with exception to the Bengals game. This week they should find themselves matched up fairly well with the Jets offense.
Nose tackle Ted Washington has to be eager to face rookie center, Nick Mangold. Despite a great deal of criticism, Ted is having a good year for the Browns. He simply is no longer able to play every snap, which means the Browns are using him sparingly. Ted is a key element in forcing the Jets to becoming a one dimensional offense. If he is eating up the middle by forcing the double team, it will allow the linebackers to drop into mid level zone coverage.
The Browns linebackers will be asked to provide a pass rush as well as dropping deep into coverage. The main issue with their coverage has been the fact that they often do not drop deep enough into their zones. This is allowing the quarterback to place the ball in front of the secondary and behind the backers. By getting into the proper coverage depth, they take away the mid range options and force the quarterback to wait for his receivers to come open deep.
Look for the Browns to test Ferguson early and often with the edge rush. They will also look to use the inside blitz to force Pennington into making bad decisions. Inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson could have a huge day in both stopping the run as well as rushing the quarterback.
The Browns secondary continues to be an injury-plagued unit but Sean Jones is rapidly becoming one of this team's best defensive players. Sean has shown exceptional coverage skills. In fact he may be this team's second best cover man behind Leigh Bodden. He is also showing much improved recognition skills as he is getting himself into position to stop the run and also make plays on the ball while in flight.
Anytime the Jets and Browns face off against one another, it is one of the best games of the year and this one should live up to that high standard.
Don't expect either team to be successful with the running game but we could see a number of huge plays with the passing game. This one will likely go down to the wire and whoever shows up with the best special teams performance, is likely to leave with a victory.