The Browns have a tremendous opportunity to finish their season on a four game win streak. You can say whatever you wish about the Browns and current coach Eric Mangini but this Browns team is playing as hard as any team in the NFL. With nothing to play for other than pride, they are doing exactly that, playing each snap with intensity and you cannot ask for more than that.
No matter what happens after Sunday, Mangini should take pride in knowing that he took a mentally weak team and turned them into one of the most disciplined teams in football. He took a team that was very finesse on both sides of the ball and made them into a smash mouth, bone-jarring team bent on destruction. Other issues are likely to end his time in Cleveland but as the Browns go forward, the steps Mangini has taken should not be forgotten as he made the tough decisions.
Now with all that said, change is needed to go forward simply due to the offensive staff in place. No one is better to take this offense and this team to the next level than Mike Holmgren. With a knack for surrounding himself with the brilliant football mind, Mike will have to decide if there is anything salvageable from the current regime.
Jags Offense vs. Browns Defense
Speaking of things worth salvaging, Rob Ryan has my complete vote of confidence. Rob lost his best linebacker early on in D'Qwell Jackson and this group of linebackers has only gotten better. Rob lost his best defensive linemen in Shaun Rogers and the defensive line continued to improve. Safety Brodney Pool was lost for the year and the secondary continued to improve.
Rob has brought excitement back to the Browns defense. When I am watching Rob‘s defense, I am stunned by what I am seeing. He is blitzing from everywhere. He is confusing brilliant breakdown quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger. These are Rob Ryan players and they are playing with pride for their defensive coordinator. They want to make all the simple plays and turn those simple plays into game changers by driving through the tackle and doing whatever is asked.
Quarterback David Garrard has been up and down throughout the season, but he is capable of taking over the game if he is allowed the opportunity to find his receivers and also time to find running lanes of his own. Garrard cannot be allowed to become comfortable in the pocket and, against the Rob Ryan defense, you can expect pressure from every angle. The challenge is keeping this young quarterback from taking over the game with his legs. To do that they must hit him and punish him whenever he becomes a runner.
The Jags pride themselves as being a physically dominant offensive team. They want to win the battle in the trenches by using that big offensive line to plow holes for Maurice Jones-Drew. Maurice is a fan favorite due to small size and big heart. He is tremendous in blitz pickup and also as a receiver but his bread and butter is running between the tackles and just wearing down opposing defenses.
The Browns have improved throughout the season in their ability to stop the run. Moving David Bowens from outside linebacker to inside linebacker is proving to be a brilliant move, as he has become the enforcer in the middle. He also brings the ability to blitz from that inside linebacker position.
Once again, I have to give props to Matt Roth. Matt has changed the face of this Browns defense. He is disciplined and patient against the run but he can also fly to the ball as well as pressure the quarterback. Most importantly, however, has been his ability to finish play after play after play. Once this young man gets his hands on the ball carrier it is all over.
David Garrard has a newfound favorite target in Mike Sims-Walker. Walker is a terrific route-running receiver with excellent speed. He is also very physical with the ability to break tackles. You must wrap him up and not allow him to make the big run after catch.
Expect the Browns to play up close to the line bringing pressure from everywhere as they challenge the offensive line of the Jags to protect David Garrard. This will be an excellent test for the Browns defense to gauge just how far they have really come.
Browns Offense vs. Jaguars Defense
Left tackle Joe Thomas and return ace Joshua Cribbs are still smiling from being selected to another Pro Bowl but the happiest Brown walking has to be Jerome Harrison. Harrison is setting records on his way to free agency. No back in the league is running better than Jerome Harrison. Jerome is displaying speed and quickness along with durability and toughness. What makes Jerome special is his balance. He can make that quick one cut without losing any speed. This is a rare ability and it is certain to make him a great deal of money in the near future.
Jerome is playing great but you have to take your hat off to the offensive line. Joe Thomas will one day be in the Hall of Fame but his play is often taken for granted. Joe along with rookie center Alex Mack and tackle Floyd Womack are playing like men possessed when it comes to run blocking. They are burying defenders and giving Harrison the lanes he needs to be successful.
The Browns will be looking to pound out another victory in this one but, with cornerback Rashean Mathis expected to be absent from this one, the Browns will not hesitate to target his backup in William Middleton.
With the playoffs unlikely and with it also being the final game of the season, it will be a challenge to get this Jaguars defense to show up. They were a no show one week ago against the Pats when they had everything to play for. In the cold and blustery conditions of Cleveland Browns Stadium, it will be even more difficult. It could be a very long day for the Jags defense if the Browns offensive line and Jerome Harrison get off to an early start.