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Jets-Browns Preview: Key Matchups to Watch

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NFL: Tennessee Titans at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Browns run defense vs. Jets run blocking

In Week 1, the Jets offense was only able to maintain any semblance of competency because of the majestic running of Le’Veon Bell. With a quarterbacking battling illness, a receiver playing with an injured neck, and an offensive line playing its first game together, Bell was pretty much the Jets’ only hope of moving the football. And he delivered.

The run blocking of the offensive line was terrible for the Jets in Week 1. PFF ranked the Jets 30th in run blocking grade. Yet, the Jets were still able to scratch out respectable production on the ground, ranking a much more palatable 19th in rushing DVOA.

Bell was able to keep the Jets offense on track with his elusiveness alone. He was credited with a whopping nine avoided tackles in the run game, which led the league in Week 1.

However, as great as Bell is, he is not going to be able to bail out his offensive line every single week. No running back can. If the Jets offensive line continues to do a poor job creating running lanes, there are going to be games where the rushing attack struggles mightily.

Now with a game under their belts as a group, there’s hope that the Jets offensive line can pick it up going forward. They may be drawing a favorable matchup in Week 2, as the Browns front seven did a poor job defending the run in their season opener. Cleveland ranked 27th in rush defense DVOA in Week 1, after ranking 25th throughout the 2018 season.

The Jets are going to be relying on a backup quarterback over the next few weeks (at least). Giving him a quality run game to lean on will be essential, and that always starts up front.

Browns WR Odell Beckham vs. Jets CB Trumaine Johnson

Yikes.

Even though both of these players are among the richest at their respective positions, this is as much of a David vs. Goliath matchup as you could see in the NFL.

Odell Beckham is one of the most productive wide receivers to ever step foot on a football field. His career average of 92.5 receiving yards per game is the second-highest in NFL history (minimum 50 games played), behind only Julio Jones.

Trumaine Johnson is one of the most overpaid players in the league right now. In Week 1, he was credited with allowing seven receptions for 110 yards and five first downs.

Johnson simply does not have the speed to play press coverage anymore, which used to be his strength. He consistently plays way off the line to avoid getting beat over the top, and in turn gives out production for free in the intermediate range.

Beckham thrives everywhere, but he is especially dangerous in the intermediate area. The Jets defense is going to have a hard time if Beckham is catching passes on slant route after slant route underneath the soft coverage of Johnson.

Gregg Williams needs to figure out a creative way to stop Beckham and force Cleveland’s other weapons to carry the load. If that means allocating double or even triple coverage on Beckham, so be it. Make Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins beat you. Don’t be fooled into thinking Johnson is capable of effectively covering Beckham without significant help.

Browns CBs Denzel Ward & Greedy Williams vs. Jets WRs Robby Anderson and Demaryius Thomas

Adam Gase was critical of the wide receiver group’s performance against Buffalo following the game. As it turns out, Quincy Enunwa was playing through a neck injury, but it seems Gase was also unhappy with Robby Anderson’s route running (although Sam Darnold missed a wide open Anderson multiple times).

Regardless of who was to blame or what the issue was, the passing attack needs to be better. The Jets averaged 3.4 yards per pass play in Week 1, worst in the league.

The new wild card for the Jets is Demaryius Thomas. He seems to have lost a step into his 30s, but he is still capable of putting up some decent No. 2 numbers. Thomas has scored five touchdowns in each of the past three seasons. In 2018, he averaged 45.1 receiving yards per game, the lowest number he had posted since his rookie season but still more than Quincy Enunwa or Jamison Crowder averaged last year.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Thomas brings the Jets something they did not have in the wide receiver room — a red zone threat. He hauled in four red zone touchdowns last season, equal to the the career totals of Robby Anderson (3) and Quincy Enunwa (1) combined.

From 2017-18, Thomas pulled in nine touchdown receptions of 20 yards or less, which placed him 13th in the league among wide receivers over that span.

Thomas already has experience with Siemian. In 2016, Thomas caught 76 of 123 targets from Siemian for 916 yards (7.4 per target) and four touchdowns, while Siemian tossed one interception. Siemian had a 92.1 passer rating when targeting Thomas that year.

In 2017, the pairing was not as successful. That year, Thomas caught 48 of 88 targets from Siemian for 610 yards (6.9 per target) and just one touchdown, while Siemian threw six interceptions. That culminates in a 51.8 passer rating.

Anderson has typically taken some time to get going over the past two seasons, and it seems that will be the case again this year. That is often the case with receivers who specialize in the deep game, as their production tends to come in bunches.

The Jets’ outside duo will clash with the intriguing pair of young outside cornerbacks in brown, Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams. Ward established himself as one of the better young cornerbacks in the league last season, allowing just 5.5 yards per attempt on throws in his direction. He had a rough Week 1, though, allowing a 47-yard bomb, getting called for two penalties, and having a few bad cover snaps bailed out by some misses from Marcus Mariota.

Williams had a quiet debut, allowing one 16-yard catch over 17 snaps in coverage. He was also called for a hold as a member of the punt return unit.

Trevor Siemian needs as much help as he get. Thomas should be a nice weapon for him in his Jets debut, given the experience they have together. He’s not a great athlete anymore, but he can still get big in the red zone and find soft spots against zone.

Anderson was open for a few game-changing plays last week, but unfortunately couldn’t connect with the ailing Darnold. If Anderson can muster a few more toastings this week, perhaps a healthier Siemian will cash in on them. The Browns allowed three completions of 40 yards or more last week — one of them on a bomb (involving Ward thinking he had help over the middle), one on a screen pass, and one on an intermediate route featuring a bunch of missed tackles after the catch.

The longest play recorded by Adam Gase’s offense last week was just 19 yards. Perhaps the Cleveland defense presents the matchup that will allow Anderson and the entire Jets offense to get the big plays flowing.

Poll

Which of these three matchups do you think is most important for the Jets to win on Monday?

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    Browns run defense vs. Jets OL run blocking
    (92 votes)
  • 49%
    Odell Beckham vs. Trumaine Johnson / secondary
    (104 votes)
  • 7%
    Ward/Greedy vs. Robby/Thomas
    (15 votes)
211 votes total Vote Now

How did last week’s key matchups turn out?

Jerry Hughes vs. Kelvin Beachum - Hughes had a big game. He beat Beachum for a full sack and a half sack. Later, he beat Beachum to deflect a Darnold pass from behind on the final play of the game in which the Jets still had a realistic chance, sealing the Buffalo win. Beachum was called for a hold on that play. Hughes also added another pass deflection and a run stuff for a near-safety. Hughes did get called for two penalties of his own (neutral zone and illegal use of hands), but he still takes a blowout victory here. Winner: Bills

Tre’Davious White vs. Robby Anderson - White did not see much action against Anderson, as the two players typically lined up on opposite sides (both on the left). However, Buffalo’s secondary clearly beat the Jets receiving core. White allowed four catches on five targets for only 37 yards and one first down. Anderson caught three of seven targets for 23 yards and no first downs. Winner: Bills

Cole Beasley vs. Brian Poole - Beasley was only targeted one time against Poole, a tough over-the-shoulder opportunity along the sideline that he dropped (in a tight window). Overall, the Bills and Jets got opposite results from their newly-signed slot specialists. Beasley caught five of eight targets for only 40 yards and two first downs, dropping two passes, one of which resulted in a C.J. Mosley pick-six. Poole was targeted only two times, allowing one catch to Dawson Knox for one yard (no first down). He also was in on a safety. Winner: Jets

The Bills won two out of the three matchups — and the football game. I’m curious to see if this correlation holds up at all going forward!