The Browns are coming off of a difficult loss to the Cardinals which reminded me of the Browns last win over the Jets. This is a must-win game for the Browns to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Jets have endured a very difficult season but this is a much better team than their record indicates. The Jets are (3-9) but they have won two of their last three games including a win over the Steelers.
Josh is one of the most patient return men in the game. While he may not possess the blazing speed that most of the great special team returners seem to have, he uses patience and vision to find his way through the defense. What I love about Cribbs is that he always has his head up field as he follows his blockers. If the Jets choose to kick to Joshua Cribbs it could be a very interesting game.
Leon Washington has explosion and quickness. He has that shiftiness to make defenders miss and when he sees an opening he has that tremendous burst to explode. Leon has returned three kicks for touchdowns this year. The key to stopping Leon is maintaining the gaps on a return, which is becoming a lost art in the NFL.
Browns quarterback Derek Anderson is having a terrific season but there is room for dramatic improvement. Derek is excellent at making the quick read and getting the ball out quickly to avoid the pass rush but this is also part of the problem that I am seeing with the young quarterback. He must show more trust in an offensive line that rarely allows anyone to hit him.
By more trust, I mean showing more patience to allow the receivers to get open after their initial route. Opposing defenses are focusing on taking the early pass play out of the arsenal and forcing the dump down. The deep ball can still be made but you must give it time to develop. If it doesn't develop, you have a much greater chance for success with that dump down pass as the defense is pushed farther and farther down field as the play has developed.
The best match up of the day will be between Browns receiver Braylon Edwards and Jets rookie corner Darrelle Revis. I was very thankful on draft day when the Jets moved ahead of the Steelers to select Revis. He is a tremendously talented natural corner. Edwards does have a couple of advantages in this match up. Braylon has tremendous size and speed which will give Revis trouble, but he also has experience. Braylon must be ready to defend the pass because Darrelle has good recognition skills and if the quarterback locks on the receiver, he can turn it into a pick six. Look for Edwards to challenge Revis deep several times in this one.
Tight end Kellen Winslow will be a difficult challenge for the Jets defense. Look for Kellen to face double coverage all game long with a linebacker underneath and a safety over top. If Kellen is to have success, Derek Anderson must use the pump fake to draw the deep coverage away from his intended target. The Jets will likely look to cheat towards Edwards in this one to protect their rookie corner. A successful pump fake or a good sale of the play action should result in a huge play out of the best hands in football.
The beneficiary of the attention paid to Edwards and Winslow is Joe Jurevicius. Joe will have a huge physical advantage against veteran Hank Poteat. The Browns should be able to pick up six or seven yards with the quick wide receiver screen to Joe whenever they want it. Hank isn't a very good when it comes to making the solo tackle on the outside and it could be an even greater challenge as Joe has a seven-inch height advantage and nearly 40 pounds on Poteat.
The running game this week will depend upon how willing the Browns are to run the football. Jamal is simply a different back when he gets 25 carries. Feed the ball to Jamal early and it will pay off in the fourth quarter as the defense will not only be tired but they will also be forced to come up and support the run - which will in turn open up the passing game.
The Browns offensive line will be in for a fight throughout this contest. The key match-up here will be center Hank Fraley and nose tackle Dwayne Robinson. Robinson is the most underrated defensive tackle in the game. He has the power to physically dominate the smaller centers but he also has the quickness and great hands to defeat him with speed and technique. The Browns will need to use a guard to help Hank Fraley this week, if Robinson gets off to an early start it seems to pick up the rest of the defense.
The Jets defense reminds me a great deal of the Browns defense in that they are still in the process of learning the scheme and they do not have all the pieces to the puzzle required to run the 3-4. This defense, however, is improving especially with a young talented secondary.
Kerry Rhodes is one of the bright upcoming young safeties in the league. He has a knack for play recognition and the talent to make a play on the ball. His coverage skills have also improved.
Abram Elam is also coming along nicely in his second year at safety. Elam has been a pleasant surprise for the Jets especially in his improved coverage ability. He is a bit slow at times in his run support but for a young safety, he is doing the most important thing and that is progressing.
As stated above, the Jets defense revolves around the play of Dwayne Robinson. If Robinson is forcing the constant double it will allow the linebackers an opportunity to fill the gap and make the play at the line of scrimmage. The trouble is that the Jets linebacking corps has trouble with gap recognition. They will often over-pursue and get tangled up in a pile instead of sliding with the play and then attacking the hole.
The single greatest need on this defense is pass rushing outside linebackers. While they have shown tremendous improvement in dropping into coverage, they haven't been able to beat the tackle and provide a consistent pass rush. The only time this group seems to get to the quarterback is with a coverage sack.
The Browns defense is making slow but steady progress. The one area however that continues to disappoint is the fourth quarter aggression or lack there f. For some reason the Browns can dominate defensively for three quarters by attacking and challenging the opposition to make plays but when the fourth rolls around it is Butch Davis's prevent philosophy taking hold. This sends a message that the team stops playing to win and plays not lose.
Up front the combination of Shaun Smith and Robaire Smith are solid but injuries have depleted the defensive line to the point where Simon Fraser has been forced into a starting role. Simon is a decent third down pass rusher but he is a void in the run game. The Browns must find a run stuffer to plug in when Orpheus Roye isn't able to go.
The return of D'Qwell Jackson has been a blessing for the Browns defense. The combination of Jackson and Leon Williams is one of the reasons for the improvement to the Browns defense. Andra Davis has lost a step but his veteran leadership has been a great help to the young linebackers especially in the ability to drop into coverage.
Outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley will produce a match up I have wanted to see as he faces off against D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Ferguson has terrific speed and footwork for a left tackle but he is vulnerable to the bull rush. What makes this battle interesting is that Wimbley relies on his quickness to get into the pocket. This individual battle should be worth the price of admission to this one.
The Browns secondary has been the walking wounded over the last few years but those injuries have paid off as the Browns have found performers during the chaos. Last year it was Daven Holly that found a home with the Browns and he has been thrust into a starting role once again for the injured Eric Wright.
This year it is the rookie no one knew that has emerged into a big time performer. Brandon McDonald is receiving playing time and is pushing for a starting role as the Browns head into their playoff stretch. McDonald has great hands in controlling the receiver in that first 5 yards and he has shown the coverage skills to stay with the receiver throughout the play. Brandon may find himself isolated with Laveranues Coles and that will be another exciting match up in this one.
The Jets offense is going through a difficult period as they have made the move to rookie Kellen Clemens. Kellen has looked very poised for a rookie but his accuracy has been devastating to this offense. That could improve against the Browns secondary which is known for giving up big plays but this will also give the Browns a chance to unleash the hounds against a rookie quarterback.
Coles is banged up and it is uncertain if he will be able to play Sunday. Coles is one of the quickest receivers out of his break that you will find and he is also excellent in his route running. This is the perfect type of receiver for a young quarterback. If Coles is out, the Jets could have a difficult day trying to move the ball and it will allow the Browns to put all of their focus on receiver Jerricho Cotchery.
Up front the Jets are piecing together a solid offensive line led by Nick Mangold at center. Nick is a fierce competitor that will battle from beginning to end. Nick is tremendously quick of foot but he plays with a very low center of gravity that allows him to get a push in the run game. Shaun Smith versus Nick Mangold should be a sensational battle all game long.
The Jets are in need of a running back that can produce. Thomas Jones is a veteran back that brings stability to the position but right now he appears to be more of a number two type back than a starter at this point in his career. This might be a good time to give Leon Washington more reps just to see if he could possibly be a back that could carry the ball 15 times a game. Leon has that big play ability and it is needed for this offense.