The Jets have an opportunity to seriously damage the Browns' playoff chances with a win this Sunday. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
When the New York Jets play host to the Cleveland Browns at the Meadowlands on Sunday, this match-up will pit one of this season’s most disappointing teams against one of the most surprising.
A year removed from clinching a surprising playoff berth in the 2006 season, the Jets took a step backwards in their journey to repeat that success, standing currently at 3-9 and pretty much out of playoff contention. Injuries and inconsistency in their overall play have been culprits for much of the season. Now, they look towards the future, with Kellen Clemens starting at QB and the likes of Wallace Wright and Brad Smith playing more in the wide-out positions.
Meanwhile, the Browns, who finished their 2006 campaign with a horrific 4-12 record, have surprised many fans and experts this season. They sit in second place behind Pittsburgh with a 7-5 record, and are vying for a playoff spot as a wild-card candidate, in spite of last week’s 27-21 defeat to Arizona. Even more astounding than Cleveland’s rise to the role of potential playoff contenders is the emergence of their starting QB, one Derek Anderson.
Prior to this season, Anderson was a back-up for then-starter Charlie Frye. Yet during the Browns’ week one loss to the Steelers, Anderson was put in the game in place of the ineffective Frye. Afterwards, Frye was sent off to Seattle, and Anderson was given the starting QB role. While Frye has not played a game for the Seahawks yet, Anderson has blossomed, throwing for 3,062 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Jets Head Coach Eric Mangini has been impressed with the very man whom he is trying to stop this Sunday.
“I really like the way that he's operated in this system,” he explained. “(He is) a little different than some of the other guys that we've talked about, whether it's (Tony) Romo or (Ben) Roethlisberger, but he does have that ability and he has that arm strength, as well.”
Countering Anderson will be Clemens, who is still looking to prove to Gang Green that he is their quarterback of the future. Last week in the team’s 40-13 win over the Miami Dolphins, he was 15-for-24 with 236 yards and a touchdown. Even with that impressive performance last week, a really sharp, mistake-free game against the Browns could be the ticket to make the Jets feel really hopeful about 2008. To do so, there is one area in Clemens’ repertoire that is in need of improvement.
“I think Kellen has done a nice job,” said Mangini. “The one thing about Kellen is you almost have to coach him out of staying in the pocket too long because he's taken some big hits where he's trying to let the receiver uncover. Young guys sometimes want to stay in a little bit longer. But I've been pleased with the progress we're making there, and some of that just comes with experience.”
When the Jets Have the Ball
The Jets blew out the rival Dolphins last week thanks to stellar play from the one-two punch of RBs Leon Washington and Thomas Jones. Washington rushed for 68 yards and two TDs, while Jones got his first touchdown as a Jet to go along with 75 yards. Clemens spread his passing yards out to a multitude of receivers, including a touchdown pass to Smith. A repeat performance is what the team is hoping for, and it is likely that it will happen. The defense has been an Achilles heel for the Browns, ranking dead last in yards allowed per game (389.9) and points allowed per game (28.2), and have holes in all of its phases.
When the Browns Have the Ball
Although still ranked in the bottom half of the league in most categories, the defensive game for Gang Green has improved in recent weeks. Against the Steelers and Dolphins, the defense registered a combined total of 10 sacks, four interceptions, and four forced fumbles. Kerry Rhodes registered one interception in each of the last three games, the defensive line has improved its game, and the presence of young LB David Harris has boosted this unit. Keeping up that pace will not be easy against the Browns, who have one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Anderson is a rising star and his targets, WRs Kellen Winslow Jr., Braylon Edwards are helping his cause plenty. Add to the mix RB Jamal Lewis (who is tied for fourth in the league in rushing TDs), and there is a reason why Cleveland is ranked fourth in points per game (28) and sixth in total yards per game (353.3).
This match-up will feature two elite return specialists that the NFL has to offer. While New York will look to Washington to make something happen, Cleveland will counter with Joshua Cribbs. Clearly, there is no significant difference between the two. Cribbs averages 31.2 return yards per game, ranking third overall, while Washington is ranked fourth with 30.6. Washington, though, leads all return men with three touchdowns, and Cribbs is not far behind with two return scores. Both teams are even at kicker as well, with Mike Nugent and Phil Dawson proving to be very solid. As far as punting goes, Gang Green has seen Ben Graham struggle recently. Cleveland, meanwhile, has gone through three different punters this season, settling on Dave Zastudil. However, just as Graham is struggling, Zastudil is emerging. Currently, they are tied with each other in average punting yards. Other than that, there is no noteworthy discrepancy between both special teams units.
The Jets will need to either equal or do even better than last week’s superb performance in order to spoil the Browns’ playoff hopes. Now that they are out of playoff contention and looking ahead to 2008, the Jets will play like they got nothing to lose. The Browns, after suffering seasons of ineptness, are looking to get in the playoffs, meaning that the pressure is on them to not screw it up. Timely play on both sides of the ball will help the Jets.
Prediction: Jets 27, Browns 24
Connections of Significance
Both head coaches for the two teams, Mangini and Romeo Crennel, have a history between them. Mangini and Crennel coached together under both Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. Both won three Super Bowl rings in New England as members of Belichick’s staff. Mangini, along with assistant coach Rick Lyle, were part of Belichick’s coaching staff in Cleveland for two years, from 1994 until 1995; Mangini was a coach’s assistant, while Lyle coached the defensive line. Crennel, meanwhile, was a defensive line coach for the Jets from 1997-99.
Cleveland TE Joe Jurevicius once called Giants Stadium his home field. Jurevicius was the Giants’ second round draft pick in 1998 and played for four seasons with Big Blue.
Series In a Nutshell
Sunday’s meeting will be the 19th between the Jets and Browns. Cleveland leads the regular season series 11-7. The last regular season meeting between the two teams occurred last season, with the Browns coming away with a 20-13 victory in Cleveland. The Jets’ comeback hopes were dashed after Chris Baker’s one-handed catch in the end zone was ruled out of bounds on fourth down with just over a minute remaining. The Jets’ last win over the Browns came in 2004, with Quincy Carter leading the way for Gang Green’s 10-7 victory.
Game time is at 4:15 p.m. on Sunday, local TV on CBS 2 and local radio on 1050 ESPN radio and WCRN 104.3 on Long Island. Be sure to check back to JetsInsider.com after the game for a complete recap!