This Sunday, the Jets will try to do something their local peers from the Bronx couldn’t; get an October win in Cleveland. The team many thought was the favorite for the #1 pick is on the verge of taking itself out of contention only five weeks into the year. Of the last 14 top selections, 13 went to teams that won 2 games or fewer.
With that, here is your Jets-Browns Week 5 preview.
Browns Offseason Changes and Notes
The Browns have stayed loyal to head coach Hue Jackson despite their severe lack of performance. With ten draft picks, the Browns added a few key contributors. Top pick Myles Garrett will make his regular season debut this week. Jabrill Peppers, the 25th pick, starts at safety. Their 29th overall selection, David Njoku, has caught two touchdowns from the tight end spot. Second round pick DeShone Kizer starts at quarterback.
With money to burn in free agency, the Browns made quite a few significant additions. They invested heavily in the offensive line, signing former Packers center JC Tretter and former Bengals right guard Kevin Zeitler. Wide receiver Kenny Britt, formerly of the Rams, and cornerback Jason McCourty, formerly of the Titans, round out their headline signings.
For the Browns, top receiver Kenny Britt and linebacker Jamie Collins are doubtful to play. Running back Duke Johnson leads the team in targets, but Britt’s absence leaves the team razor thin at wide receiver.
For the Jets, Kony Ealy, Matt Forte, Josh Martin, and Darryl Roberts will all miss the game. Muhammad Wilkerson and Juston Burris are questionable. Brandon Shell will return after missing last week’s game. Jordan Leggett is healthy and could make the gameday roster after Will Tye was cut.
Ealy’s absence is unfortunate after his monster performance last week, while Josh Martin’s second straight missed game leaves two holes on the edge for the Jets. With Dylan Donahue also revealed to be out for the year this past week, the depth chart is bare on the edge this week. David Bass could see more playing time.
Forte’s absence gives the team yet another chance to rely on Elijah McGuire and Bilal Powell.
3.0 - Yards per attempt on the ground yielded by the Browns this year, second lowest in the league. The Jets come in ranked third in rushing yards per attempt at 4.9, so this should be an interesting strength on strength matchup.
54.5 - Team quarterback rating posted by the Browns between Kevin Hogan (81.7, 19 passes) and DeShone Kizer (50.9, 142 passes), worst in the league by a humongous margin.
Jets Offensive Plan
As mentioned, the Browns have done a solid job stopping the run so far. Their defensive line, specifically run-stuffer Larry Ogunjobi, is known for its ability to hold the ground game in check. With Matt Forte out, Powell and McGuire will again figure to be a big part of the offense. Against Jacksonville, much of the big yardage was self-produced by the two. The offensive line was solid, but the backs didn’t have their hands held to the end zone. They played exceptional running back, making defenders miss left and right. The Jets are going to need more of that against a strong run defense.
For all the praise I’ve thrown at their run defense, the Browns’ passing defense been quite the opposite. Playing a light quarterback schedule featuring two of the five worst rated passing offenses (by QB rating) in the league, Cleveland has still allowed the highest passer rating in the NFL at 115.2.
The Browns have really struggled to create pressure on the quarterback, something that could change a bit with Myles Garrett back. According to Pro-Football-Reference, the Browns have particularly struggled against passes in the short to intermediate range, allowing the second most yards per play and most touchdowns.
In the passing game, I’m looking at Josh McCown particularly closely this game. The Browns don’t generate turnovers or pressure very much, and struggle most in the short range McCown and the Jets love to operate. He can’t let Cleveland stay in the game with the sloppy mistakes he was making last week. Get the ball out quick and effectively and keep the mistakes at a minimum. Jermaine Kearse has been quiet the past couple weeks, but I think he figures to be a bigger part of this game, in addition to Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Jets Defensive Plan
The most proven threat on the Browns offense has been running back Duke Johnson. He’s a receiving back first, with a team-high 28 targets to just 10 carries, but has been a model of efficiency. Johnson is averaging 5.7 yards per carry with 2 touchdowns and has caught 71% of his targets for 10.4 yards a reception, very solid for a running back. Demario Davis has come on the past couple weeks, but I’m still skeptical about Darron Lee. If the Browns are smart, Johnson against Lee is a matchup they’ll want to exploit. Is Lee up to the challenge?
Considering the Browns’ lack of weapons and DeShone Kizer’s struggles as a pocket passer, I’d like to see the Jets limit the pressure a bit and force him into throwing the ball. He’s averaging almost as many yards per rush (4.4) as he is per pass (5.4). Kizer is a good athlete who has flashed while running with the ball, but has had tons of trouble reading the field and making accurate throws in the short to intermediate range. I want to see the Jets contain him in the pocket and leave as many defenders back to help out Lee and compensate for the losses on defense. This is a decent Cleveland offensive line. If the Jets are over-aggressive, Kizer will gain confidence on the ground and room will open up for the underneath game where Cleveland works best.
Offense: Kelvin Beachum
It hasn’t been a great bounceback year for Beachum after returning from injury in Jacksonville last year. He’s been responsible for a lot of pressure on Josh McCown. With Myles Garrett returning to make his NFL debut, the Browns might have gotten the weapon they needed to rejuvenate their defense. Will Garrett be himself right away? That’s to be seen. However, this is a guy as physically gifted as any defensive prospect in a long time. Beachum has been inferior in pass protection to Brandon Shell on the other side, so he could see a lot of time against Garrett. If Beachum can’t hold his own, the Browns will get the Jet mistakes they need to win this game.
Defense: Darron Lee
Lee in particular gets my spotlight. He has been a bit better over the last two weeks, but still takes on the identity of what John B accurately called a “home-run hitter.” He has made big plays more consistently recently, flashing the speed and hit power that made him a first round pick. With that, though, he is still striking out at an alarming rate. Those strikeouts (bad coverage busts, play-action bites, etc.) are costing the Jets more than his big plays are earning them.
The athletic and versatile Duke Johnson against the erratic Lee is perhaps the most enticing matchup for Cleveland. Also considering the efficiency they have gotten out of their tight ends (228 yards and 2 touchdowns on 32 targets) compared to their receivers (352 yards and 1 touchdown on 63 targets), the Browns figure to rely on their backs and tight ends a ton in the receiving game, especially with Kenny Britt out. If Lee can hold his own in coverage, the Browns are going to be hard-pressed to find ways to move the football. If he can’t, that will play right into Cleveland’s strengths on offense.