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Previewing the Jets’ opposition: Cleveland Browns

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Tennessee Titans v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Almost exactly a year ago, the Jets traveled to Cleveland for an early-season primetime game. Much as they did last week, they ground their way to a two-touchdown lead, only to blow it in the fourth quarter. The debuting Baker Mayfield entered after the Jets had knocked Tyrod Taylor out of the game and sparked the comeback. After a rough week, the Jets now host the Browns who are expected to be one of the top teams in the AFC this season. However, they’re dealing with their own adversity after having lost to Tennessee in an opening day blowout.

Quarterbacks

Mayfield is now entrenched as the starter after a rookie year that saw him pass for over 4,000 yards and lead the Browns to the brink of the postseason. However, he was humbled in the season opener, throwing three interceptions in a span of nine pass attempts in the fourth quarter. Tennessee ultimately won by 30.

As the Jets saw last year, Mayfield can move around effectively and is accurate with the football but his overconfident bravado may have factored into some of the mistakes he made on Sunday.

Drew Stanton is Mayfield’s backup. Jets fans will recall signing Stanton back in 2012 only to then trade him seven days later after having traded for Tim Tebow.

Offensive Line

The Browns were expecting their offensive line to be a strength after everything they’ve invested into it over the past few years, but it hasn’t really worked out that way.

Left guard Joel Bitonio is probably their best all-round lineman, which is why he was signed to a big money extension in 2017. He has been limited in practice during the last few days with an abdominal injury though.

Center JC Tretter and right tackle Chris Hubbard are returning starters from last year. Tretter is a solid veteran but Hubbard struggled as a run blocker and gave up a team-high six sacks last season.

At right guard, journeyman Eric Kush replaces Kevin Zeitler, who was traded to the Giants in the Odell Beckham deal.

The fifth starter is Greg Robinson, the former second overall pick. He started for the second half of last season after beginning the year as a backup. Robinson - who had 10 penalties in nine games last season - was ejected last week for kicking an opponent in the head, but won’t be suspended for Monday night’s game.

Justin McCray, who was added during the offseason, came off the bench for Robinson and entered the game at right tackle with Hubbard moving to the left side. McCray had 13 starts due to injuries with the Packers over the past two years, but many of those were at guard. In just over half a game on Sunday, he gave up seven pressures, including a sack.

Other than McCray, the Browns have some quality depth with tackle Kendall Lamm having started 24 games in his career and guard Wyatt Teller - a recent trade acquisition - having shown promise in his seven starts during his rookie year with the Bills. Austin Corbett, a second round pick last year, is the backup center. He started one game as a rookie.

Running Backs

With Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson gone, Nick Chubb has even more responsibility as the lead back in his second season. He fell four yards short of a thousand-yard season last year, scoring 10 touchdowns and averaging over five yards per carry. In week one, he rushed for 75 yards on 17 carries and caught three passes for 10 yards.

Dontrell Hilliard is listed as the backup but may not be able to play after incurring a concussion in week one. The other reserve is D’Ernest Johnson, who made his NFL debut last week after playing in the AAF during the offseason.

The Browns also acquired former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt during the offseason, but he’s suspended at the moment.

Pass catchers

Beckham is the big story here, having been acquired during the offseason. He’s obviously one of the league’s most productive and dynamic receivers and the only other time he played the Jets he caught six passes for 149 yards and a touchdown in an overtime loss in 2015.

Jarvis Landry wasn’t quite used as much in his first year in Cleveland as he had been in his final year in Adam Gase’s offense, but was still targeted 149 times. He caught 81 passes, falling just short of a thousand-yard season for the second year in a row. In week one, Beckham caught seven passes for 71 yards and Landry caught four for 67 as each of them played every offensive snap.

The Browns’ depth at wide receiver has been dented by Antonio Callway’s suspension. He caught 43 passes, 586 yards and five scores last season. The other main contributor off the bench from last year’s team was Rashard Higgins, who caught 39 passes and averaged almost 15 yards per catch.

Damion Ratley, who caught 13 passes as a rookie last year, saw plenty of reps and caught two passes last week. However, the Browns traded for Taywan Taylor two weeks ago and he might be ready to step up soon.

KhaDarel Hodge, who has two career receptions, rounds out the rotation.

At tight end, David Njoku is the starter, looking to build on a solid 2018 season where he caught 56 passes. As a rookie, Njoku had a couple of catches including a touchdown on Jamal Adams, but last year wasn’t able to do any damage against him.

Demetrius Harris, an offseason free agency addition, is a blocking specialist who can leak out and contribute in the passing game. Pharoah Brown and Ricky Seals-Jones are the backups but didn’t get any offensive reps last week.

The Browns don’t actually have a single offensive rookie on their roster, although they have two on injured reserve and two on the practice squad.

Defensive Line

Myles Garrett will be keen to prove something to Gregg Williams after the former number one pick complained in the offseason that Williams was holding him back by dissuading him from using certain pass rush moves. Even so, he boosted his output to 13.5 sacks last season, including two in the Jets game as he was working against Kelvin Beachum. He opened up this year with two more.

Olivier Vernon - the other addition in that Beckham mega-trade - starts on the other edge. Vernon was a late addition to the pro bowl last year after having racked up seven sacks in 11 games.

Two draft picks from last year provide depth off the bench. Third-rounder Chad Thomas barely played last year, but fifth-rounder Genard Avery made five starts and had 4.5 sacks and four passes defensed. Thomas got reps ahead of him in the opener though. Veteran Chris Smith rounds out the rotation.

At defensive tackle, Larry Ogunjobi is best known as a run stuffer, but he actually had 5.5 sacks last year and one in the opener last week. He’ll be paired with a familiar face in Sheldon Richardson. The former Jet hasn’t exactly set the world alight since leaving the Jets, but he had 4.5 sacks with the Vikings last year.

The Browns don’t have much depth behind the starters. Devaroe Lawrence got some rotational reps last week but Daniel Ekuale didn’t see any time on defense.

Linebackers

The Browns’ starters at linebacker are Christian Kirksey, Joe Schobert and Adarius Taylor, although Taylor is dealing with an ankle injury. Last week, Kirksey and Schobert played every defensive snap, but Taylor played just three as the Browns spent basically the whole game in nickel packages.

Schobert had 103 tackles and three sacks last year, while Kirksey typically plays more of a coverage-based role. He was blocked out of the play on Derrick Henry’s 75-yard touchdown catch last week.

Youngster Malik Jefferson and fifth round rookie Mack Wilson can provide depth, but another rookie, Sione Takitaki, was inactive last week.

Defensive Backs

Denzel Ward was the player selected after Sam Darnold in last year’s draft and his rookie year featured three interceptions. Two of those were in week one though. In last week’s game, he gave up a long play and had three defensive penalties.

Greedy Williams was the only Browns rookie to get any non-special teams reps on opening day as he earned a surprise start across from Ward, albeit as part of a rotation. He held up quite well.

Veterans TJ Carrie and Terrance Mitchell also got reps with Mitchell giving up one long play. Carrie played mostly in the slot.

Demarious Randall and Morgan Burnett are the starters at safety. Randall led the Browns with four interceptions last year. The 30-year old Burnett signed in April, a few weeks after Jabrill Peppers was traded away in the Beckham deal.

Eric Murray and Jermaine Whitehead saw action off the bench in Sunday’s game. The versatile Murray played well, but Whitehead struggled. Rookie Sheldrick Redwine was inactive.

Special Teams

The Browns’ kicking game depends on a couple of rookies as kicker Austin Seibert and punter Jamie Gillan each made their NFL debut on Sunday. Seibert made 12 of 13 kicks in preseason to beat out Greg Joseph with his only miss coming from beyond 50. However, he missed an extra point in the loss to the Titans. Gillan’s preseason numbers were unspectacular but he did a good job in week one with no returns and three of his five punts landed inside the 20.

In the return game, Hilliard is listed as the kick and punt returner, but if he can’t play then Johnson is his backup. Carrie or Landry could also be an option to return punts.

Carrie, Reserve defensive back Tavierre Thomas and some of the youngsters like Jefferson could be the main contributors in coverage. Thomas, a primary gunner, was productive last year, but had a missed tackle and a penalty in the opener.