On offense the Cleveland Browns have four skill position players who account for more than 70% of their offense. They are running backs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, tight end Gary Barnidge and wide receiver Terrelle Pryor. These four players essentially are the Browns offense. Which ones are most likely to give the Jets problems?
Starting with the running backs, Isaiah Crowell has had a nice year thus far with nearly 500 yards rushing. Most of that damage was done in weeks two through four, when he rushed for more than 330 yards. Since then he has largely been held in check, registering just 101 rushing yards over the last three games. Crowell is a bruising power runner who has little impact in the passing game. He has had a very nice year, but he is not the kind of back that has given the Jets excellent run defense trouble. I would expect Crowell to be contained, and if the Browns fall behind, I think he will become a non-factor in the game. If, however, the Browns find themselves playing with a sizable lead, Crowell might be used effectively to run out the clock.
Duke Johnson presents a different challenge. Junior partner to Crowell in the running game, Johnson excels catching passes out of the backfield. While he has not had a really big day yet in 2016, he consistently does damage in the passing game. Given how poorly the Jets cover pass catching backs, Johnson could end up doing more damage in this game than his more celebrated backfield teammate. Containing Johnson catching passes out of the backfield will be one of the keys to a Jets victory.
Tight end Gary Barnidge presents a challenge at another problem area for the Jets defense. Covering tight ends has not been a strong point. Barnidge, after a long career of mediocrity, suddenly blossomed into one of the league's premier pass catching tight ends in 2015, and after being shut out in week one, he has continued his success in 2016. Barnidge represents a big challenge to the Jets safeties and linebackers, none of whom should be considered favorites to win their battles with the Cleveland tight end. Barnidge has the ability to hurt the Jets badly; how they fare in containing him will go a long way to determining the outcome of this game.
That brings us to perhaps the most dangerous weapon the Browns have: a 6' 4", 240 pound monster of a wide receiver with 4.4 speed, Terrelle Pryor. This man, while still somewhat raw and unrefined in his techniques, is physically a matchup nightmare. No defensive back is big or physical enough to contain him, and no linebacker is fast enough to stay with him. Fortunately he is still learning his new position at wide receiver and is prone to wildly inconsistent outings. Pryor had a monster game in week three against the Dolphins but since then has been held largely in check, with three of the last four games with less than 50 yards receiving. In years past Darrelle Revis could be counted on to shut this kind of receiver down, but those days are over. If Revis can just hold Pryor in check, keep him from taking over the game, the Jets should be in good position to win this game. But Pryor is a big wildcard in this game, with the physical tools to be all but unstoppable.
If these four players are held in check, the rest of the Browns offense should not hurt the Jets too badly, and the Jets should be well on their way to victory. But any one of these players could exploit a suspect Jets defense. Barnidge and Pryor in particular have the potential for monster games against a defense that has no obvious answers for their skills. The Browns, for all their woes, are not devoid of matchup problems for the Jets. How the Jets defense manages to devise answers should largely determine the outcome of this game.