The New York Jets defeated the Washington Commanders on a last second field goal by Greg Zuerlein, 30 - 28 last week. The victory brought their record on the season to 6-9. Now the Jets take on the Cleveland Browns in the final Thursday Night Football game of this season.
The 10-5 Browns own the AFC’s third best record. They currently sit in second place in the AFC North. The Browns have survived the losses of starting quarterback Deshaun Watson, Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb, both starting offensive tackles, and a host of other starters and thrived. Old friend Joe Flacco is now the Browns’ starting quarterback. They come into this game winners of six of their last eight games. They boast the best defense in the NFL in terms of yards allowed, passing yards allowed and first downs allowed. This is a formidable opponent for the Jets.
Previewing this matchup, Chis Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding the 2023 Cleveland Browns.
Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook for all your betting needs this season.
1. What is the biggest strength and the biggest weakness of this Browns team on offense? What is the biggest strength and the biggest weakness of this Browns team on defense?
The biggest strength on offense, thanks to Joe Flacco, has morphed into the passing game. I mean, good lord, the guy was signed off of the street and is throwing dimes left and right for 300+ legitimate yards each week. The weakness has turned into the running game. The ground game began the year as the strength, but Nick Chubb went down early on, and his replacement (Jerome Ford) just doesn’t have the same instincts of knowing which holes or cuts to make, and Kareem Hunt is only good for powering through for those tough short-yardage gains. The run game has suffered a variety of injuries on the offensive line too. On defense, the strength has been aggressiveness whenever an opposing team has a vanilla offense (i.e. safe passing game). It allows the defense to utilize their speed to create pressure and play tight coverage, wreaking havoc on those offenses. The weakness on defense stems from teams using misdirections, with quarterbacks who can make them pay off of fakes with those misdirections. That often involves a mobile quarterback, but a team like the Rams were able to do it too with Matthew Stafford.
2. Each team’s fanbase knows their team much better than other fans. Usually there are a few guys who your team’s fans know about and love, but other fans might not be too familiar with. Could you let Jets fans know a few unsung heroes on the Browns, if possible at least one on both offense and defense?
On offense, most of the Browns’ impactful players are known (i.e. Amari Cooper and David Njoku), so I will go with rookie receiver Cedric Tillman. He’s not doing anything special per se, but Joe Flacco is allowing the entire offense to shine, and that means Tillman is getting 4 to 5 catches for 50 yards per week.
On defense, there are far more names to go with, but I’ll single out linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and rookie safety Ronnie Hickman. Hickman has been playing due to injuries at the safety position, but he has blown everyone away with his instincts and pursuit of the ball, looking like an energetic veteran out there. JOK has really been stepping things up with his pursuit of running backs and making stops in the backfield; he should develop into a future Pro Bowler.
3. Tell us about Joe Flacco. Jets fans weren’t too impressed when he served as the backup quarterback the past few years, but he has seemingly had a resurgence in Cleveland. What do you think of his play? Is what he is doing sustainable? Do you feel confident going into the playoffs with Flacco as the starting quarterback? Should he be re-signed by the Browns for the 2024 season?
What Flacco has done has been nothing short of incredible. In just a short span, he looks like the best quarterback in a Browns uniform since 1999. Even his age seems like a non-factor, because his arm is as strong as ever, and he has been very effective on his play action fakes and natural movement within the pocket. Our receivers are thriving with him, and he is spreading the ball each week to different receivers, always finding the right target. His interception number is a tad high, but that is a tad misleading when you look at last week’s game, for example: one interception came on a heat check deep ball that he threw in a one-on-one situation, and our receiver did a poor job going for the ball. The other interception came on a fourth down passing situation with the Browns already winning, but because our kicker was hurt, the Browns were going for it on every fourth down. So rather than turn the ball over on downs, he took a shot at the end zone and was picked off. I think re-signing him for the 2024 season makes sense on one hand, to be the backup quarterback, but on the other hand, I don’t see how another team can see his performance and not say, “We’ll pay him to compete for a starting job.” We’re confident going into the playoffs with Flacco, probably even more so than if we had Deshaun Watson. The one asterisk that I will throw out there is this: Flacco has had the benefit of facing poor pass defenses for the past three weeks, so we’ll see how he does against a solid Jets pass defense.
4. Speaking of quarterbacks, tell us about Deshaun Watson. He’s had a pretty rough ride with the Browns so far. Why do you think he has been so much worse in a Browns uniform than he was in Houston, do you think he’s likely to turn things around in the years to come, and will he ever play well enough to justify those giant $64 million cap hits he’s on the books for each of the next three years?
Deshaun Watson was suspended for much of last year, and then rusty-beyond-belief when he played at the end of the year. Then, this season, he was still a bit “off” with his play, and then the first shoulder injury happened that led to P.J. Walker and rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson having to play. On November 12, in a 33-31 victory over the Ravens, it was the first time that fans looked at Watson’s performance and legitimately saw, “Wow, that’s the guy we’ve been waiting for.” A few days later, it was announced he was having season-ending shoulder surgery for a new injury. Ugh. I think we’re beyond the point now of debating the move, because what’s done is done. The general mentality now is, “Alright, we’ve got Watson, let’s get him back on the field next year and get ready to be a top contender again.” Of course, we can’t help but also see how effective Joe Flacco has been after spending the season out of football...
5. If you were a betting man which team would you bet on winning this game, and why?
For a straight up win, I’m taking the Browns. Cleveland’s defense has thrived against a certain type of opposition, and the Jets seem to fit that bill. The Browns have also been a good home team, and a win would officially clinch a playoff spot for the Browns.