To intercept or not to intercept? That could be the question. It feels like fate drawing the Browns and the Jaguars together on week eleven of the NFL season, especially after how each of their week ten games ended. The Browns lost to the Jets in overtime after rookie CB Joe Haden intercepted a ball that he probably should have knocked down on the Browns 3-yard line. On the other hand, Jacksonville won last week on a last second Hail Mary. Texans CB Glover Quin tried to bat the ball to the ground rather than trying to catch it. What he ended up doing was batting it right into the hands of a Jaguars receiver, who stepped into the end-zone for the game winning score. To be fair, both plays were freak instances, so Haden and Quin are certainly beyond reproach.
For the Browns, this will be the first time since October 3rd (against the Bengals) that an opponent is not in either first or second place in their division. The Jaguars are currently third in the AFC South behind Indianapolis and Tennessee, and without that freak win last week, they would be in last. That being said, the Jags are never an easy team to beat, and the Browns will have to overcome a myriad of injuries to do so. Most notably, defensive captain Scott Fujita will miss the game with a knee injury. The injury could end Fujita’s season, but that determination has yet to be made. Two other starters, WR Joshua Cribbs and CB Sheldon Brown were injured in last weekends game. Both have not practiced as of Thursday, and both are listed as questionable for the game Sunday. Moving down the list, the Browns have placed OG Billy Yates on Injured Reserve. Yates was starting in place of the injured John St. Clair. If St. Clair is not ready to go Sunday, it will likely force rookie third round pick Shawn Lauvao into action. Left Guard Eric Steinbach and Right Tackle ‘Pork-Chop’ Womack are also listed on the teams injury report, but both are likely to play.
Two injured players that we do not have to worry about anymore are QBs Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace. While they were each out nursing injuries, rookie Colt McCoy has lifted the team with his confident and energetic style of play. Cleveland is hoping to have finally found their franchise quarterback for which they have been searching since their return to the league in 1999. His development will be priority number one for the rest of the season for the Browns.
McCoy will be going up against a Jacksonville defense that is ranked 29th in the league against the pass, and ranks 28th in points allowed. This will probably seem like a vacation for McCoy, who has faced three of the top five defenses in the NFL over his first four starts in the league. Although Jacksonville can certainly be scored upon, McCoy and the Browns offense should not get too wide eyed. As previously mentioned, they are quite tattered along the offensive line. In addition, the Browns have been a team that has earned their stripes on offense by grinding it out, and not making costly errors. Look for the Browns to continue their trend of calculated aggression on offense. The recipe for the Browns recent success: McCoy needs to keep the defense just soft enough so that RB Peyton Hillis can do his Juggernaut act.
Bad news for the Browns defense, Jags QB David Garrard might be harder to tackle than the Jets Mark Sanchez. The Browns were able to generate plenty of pressure last week against a very solid Jets offensive line, but the pass rushers were not able to finish the plays. Sanchez eluded several sacks and turned the tables for some big plays. Look for LBs Matt Roth and Marcus Benard to be out for blood after being disappointed in their missed opportunities last week.
The most difficult task for the Browns will be containing RB Maurice Drew. Drew is an explosive runner who is small, thus hard to find and harder to tackle. He is equally adroit in the running game and as a receiver out of the back field. He is the one player on the Jaguars offensive that needs to be accounted for on each and every play. Drew will be going for his third straight 100-yard game, and the key to slowing down the Jags offensive is to slow down their talented running back.
One interesting comparison between these two teams is that they rank close together in defensive yards allowed. The Browns are 24th in the league while the Jags are 28th. When you look at points allowed, however, the Browns rank 10th in the league giving up just over twenty points per game, while the Jags are 28th in the league at nearly twenty-eight points per game allowed. Though I can not find anywhere that lists this statistic, I would assume that the Browns opponents starting field position is much worse than the Jags. Give the nod to Coach Eric Mangini, who has done an excellent job of managing the battle for field position, which has been a key to the talent-deprived Browns improved play this season.
This is probably the first game this entire season for the Browns that you could make the statement that they are as good as their opponent on paper. Definitely the first game since week two which that statement would be true. Lucky for us, the games aren’t played on paper so we all get to enjoy what should be a good game this Sunday.
About the Author
Written by Fran Berkman
Francis (Fran) Berkman is a graduate of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY with a BS in Human Development. He is currently working towards a master's degree in journalism at Hofstra University. He lives in Massapequa, NY.