The first question I always want to know about an opponent is “How good (or bad) are they?” I’m still trying to figure that out, frankly. The Jets went 5-11 a year ago, then lost their first two games. But they won their last two to reach .500, suggesting something good is going on.
The reality is that they lost to Buffalo (which is 3-1) and Oakland (who made the playoffs last year and are 2-2 now). There’s no disgrace to losing to either team.
They beat Miami for a fairly simple reason. Head Coach Adam Gase builds his offense around a superhero quarterback. Ryan Tannehill (who had a 95.5 passer rating last year) went down for the season in pre-season– the best replacement the Dolphins could find was 34-year-old team cancer Jay Cutler (a transaction that, in and of itself, proves Colin Kaepernick is being blackballed).
Miami scored 19 points against the Chargers (who are 0-4), then 6 against the Jets. Last week they were shut out by the Saints.. an achievement New Orleans has achieved only one other time in the century (2012, against Tampa).
Last week New York beat Jacksonville late in overtime, after the Jaguars punted from their own two. The punt traveled only to the Jacksonville 47, was returned for 7 yard (to the Jacksonville 40) — at which point Jacksonville was called for unsportsmanlike conduct. That gave the Jets a first down at the opponent’s 25 in sudden death– something even free agent QB Josh McCown couldn’t screw up.
Whose crew could miss a player being blindsided by an opponent– but throw the flag when he shoves the guy? Gene Steratore, rapidly moving into the realm of of dreadfulness occupied by Ed Huchuli, Terry McAulay and Jeff Triplette.
I’ve followed McCown from a distance and still consider him the best argument for reform of the passer rating. He’s compiled an 87.8 rating because:
- He’s completed 82 of 117 passes (70.1%)
- He’s gained 826 yards (7.1 per attempt)
- He has 3 TD passes and 3 interceptions– and TD passes are grossly undervalued.
McCown has been sacked 12 times (tied for eighth-highest)– on 9.3% of his throws (seventh-highest) and lost 88 yards (also seventh)– but none of that counts. He’s fumbled a league-leading 6 times, losing 2 (tied for second):
- The first was recovered by Oakland on the Jet 18, which led to a touchdown two plays later.
- The second was run back by Jacksonville for a score.
None of that– the sacks, the fumbles (which, like sacks, cost you a down and lost yards), the fumbles lost (which are turnovers, and often more within his control than interceptions– which can be tipped by a receiver) or the points or yards gained on the runbacks– is included in the rating.
McCown threw three interceptions against the Bills. One interception came on a two-point conversion attempt (which isn’t counted, because the NFL doesn’t consider it an official play). The second killed a drive on the Buffalo 23. The third was a desperation heave with 1:44 left and New York down by 9 (thanks to the missed two-pointer), so meaningless.
The other interception also came against Jacksonville, giving the Jaguars the ball on the Jet 35, which set up a field goal.
I mention this for two reasons. First, McCown’s fans treat his frequent mistakes as things it would be unfair to blame him for.
Second, if the Browns have any chance to win, it will be partly because they pressure McCown into errors.
Mistakes won’t happen if New York runs the ball. Bilal Powell is averaging 4.8 yards a carry, Matt Forte 4.1, and Elijah McGuire 6.8 (but on only 23 carries).
105 of McGuire’s 156 yards have come on only five carries– but he’s had a couple of long runs in each of the last three games, and his total carries have gone from 0 in game one to 6 to 7 to 10 last week.
He also caught two balls for 38 yards last week– meaning he could make mincemeat of the Cleveland linebackers if they give McCown time to throw. Since Forte is expected to miss the game with a toe injury, his touches will be going somewhere.
The Jets don’t have nearly as good a line as they had last season; WR Brandon Marshall went away and Quincy Enumwa is on injured reserve. But the Jets got Jeavon Kearse from Seattle and got Jeremy Kerley back from the 49ers. Undrafted free agent Robby Anderson caught 42 passes last year and has 12 so far– he’s a deep threat.
I’ll mention TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (acquired late last year from Tampa) for two reasons. First, he isn’t any good (never had more than 21 catches; this is his fourth year), but the tight end usually burns the Browns. Second, because “Austin Seferian-Jenkins” is fun to say, and I’m hoping he’ll be guarded by Briean Boddy-Calhoun, just to torment the announcers.
The Jet defense is ranked 21st, which probably states its quality accurately. Turnovers (two other Jets have fumbled and lost it) have put them in a hole a lot. On the other hand, they’re playing bad offenses. New York has traded most of its high-salaried players; DL Muhammad Wilkerson (shoulder injury; probably won’t play) and CB Buster Skrine are the only ones still around.
Hey, remember when Terry was talking about how the Browns had gotten Tramon Williams (3 years, $21 million) for less money than Skrine (4 years, $25 million) — and how “Snapchat” Farmed believed Skrine would be out of the league before Williams?
He isn’t. Williams is technically still in the league (he’s played seven snaps for the Cardinals), but he’s not likely to last. Skrine also reworked his contract to save the Jets $2.5 million.
The 31-7 loss to Cincinnati set off a finger-pointing spree that is still iterating. People in Cleveland are picking all different sides. The rest of the universe sees it pretty simply:
- Gregg Williams has been a successful coordinator for years and was 17-31 as a head coach. He’s also been missing overall #1 pick Myles Garrett, Pro Bowl linebacker Jamie Collins and backup DT Danny Shelton (a former #1).
- Hue Jackson went 8-8 as a head coach in Oakland, was a successful assistant when Marvin Lewis was riding herd on him and always has a juicy quote for reporters.
- The Marx Brothers (Sasho, Paulo and Ando, successors to The Three Stooges) have never worked in college scouting, have barely worked at all (Sasho was a lawyer for the Jaguars; Ando did Pro Personnel for the Colts) and are now 1-20 running the show.
- Jimmy Haslam has fired (1) Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert and Pat Shurmur, (2) fellow Stooges Moe Banner and Curly Lombardi, and Rob Chudzynski and (3) Snapchat Farmer and Mike Pettine. Jimmy also lets his wife weigh in on all decisions.
There are people cutting Haslam slack because he’s friendly to reporters, also gives good quote– and, frankly, isn’t going anywhere unless he gets convicted of a federal crime.
His detractors note that he’s on his fourth management team since 2012, and some of those people are working for other clubs:
- Heckert is in Denver’s front office.
- Shurmur (Minnesota) and Chudzynski (Indianapolis) are running offenses
- Curly Lombardi has a sinecure from his friend in New England– but the reigning champs are still paying him
The people blaming the front office point to the number of wins, and blown draft picks (pretty much everyone).
Since I’ve been asked, the five best players from the draft are probably:
- RT Shon Coleman (the 76th pick in 2016), has started four games, played 279 snaps and only committed two penalties.
- DE Emmanuel Ogbah (32nd pick in 2016), who has 7.5 sacks– but 4.5 in three games against the Bengals, and is considered to be a one-dimensional pass rusher– a young Armonty Bryant.
- TE Seth Devalve (who would have gone undrafted, had the Browns not used pick 138 on him in 2016), who is 19-30 for 261 yards and a TD.
- DE Carl Nassib (taken 65th in 2016) might become a decent blue-collar player.
- DT Larry Ogunjobi (taken 65th this year) had made some plays in his 81 snaps.
Other than Coleman– Ogbah, if you believe it’s coincidence that 60% of his production comes against Cincinnati– nobody is doing well, given where he was taken.
You could argue LB Joe Schobert (though he can’t cover) or K Zane Gonzalez (who’s missed one of his three field goal tries) belongs on the last two spots. If I had to fill out the top ten, it would be those guys, Garrett (on potential), Spencer Drango and Derrick Kindred.
RB Isaish Crowell is furious that not getting 20 carries a game in which to average 3.0 yards. He intends to leave. If the Browns did offer him a new contract (they won’t) he would turn it down unless it included a huge signing bonus. Jackson is denying that Crowell is in the doghouse, but not giving him much to do.
Meanwhile, “Duck” Johnson is wondering why he isn’t getting more touches. (He’s not angry, I’m told– he’s guessed that Crowell is on his way out.)
The front office won’t cut WR Kenny Britt, but Jackson has no plans to play him. Meanwhile Terrelle Pryor is providing ammunition for both sides. He’s on pace for 52 catches, 744 yards and 4 TDs– better than anything the Browns have, but not close to last year’s production (much less what he wanted to be paid).
Also, Pryor caught 55.0% of his throws, and blamed his quarterbacks for not giving him catchable balls. He’s catching 54.2% of the balls from Kirk Cousins, whose stats (107.6 rating, 8.3 yards per pass, 7-1 TD-INT ratio) make it fairly clear that he isn’t the problem.
Pryor is close to losing his status as most favored receiver to fourth year man Chris Thompson (14-21 for 235 yards– 16.8 per catch– and 2 TDs).
The poor play of the defense– 26.8 points per game (29th), 2 interceptions (tied for 22-25), and 9 sacks (16th) has also blown up any plans to cut Jackson loose and put the club in the hands of the analytics-friendly Williams. According to ESPN, he’s blitzing more than any other club. It isn’t working– doesn’t even look like it might work if he had Garrett, Collins and Shelton, so he’s taking criticism.
It’s likely the reason Garrett is going to start even though high ankle sprains don’t normally heal this quickly. Collins probably has recovered from his concussion (thanks to Mike Holmgren, the NFL now takes that seriously). SHo knows if Shelton (also expected to play) has.
Jackson (who said he doesn’t have enough talent to win this year) isn’t making his case effectively. Nobody can understand why Jackson has called the fourth-highest number of pass attempts (161, tied with Green Bay, behind New England’s 195, Arizona’s 183 and the Giants’ 166). It’s putting enormous pressure on DeShone Kizer (50.9 rating, 5.4 yards per pass, 3-8 TD-INT, 11 sacks).
The team definitely isn’t pulling together. It’s unclear how close they are to coming apart at the seams.
The Jets play a phenomenally dreary brand of football. Their game plan consists mostly of sucking– a lot on offense and a fair amount on defense– and hoping the opponent sucks worse. They run the ball and throw dink passes, hoping to avoid turnovers, while they force opponents into turnovers.
The hitch is that they’ve forced only four, but give up (thanks to McCown) seven. And he has a sore shoulder, but will play anyway.
There is no excuse for the Browns failing to win this game. The game is at home; the Jets are 0-2 on the road this year and went 2-6 last year.
The Jets are allowing 4.7 yards per rush. They’ve gotten only six sacks; Wilkerson and DT Leonard Williams have no sacks. Ealy won’t play. Kizer will get none of the pressure he’s received in the last four weeks.
Skrine and Morris Claiborne (dumped by Dallas after five disappointing years) are the corners; Rookies Jamal Adams (the sixth pick in the draft) and Marcus Maye (the 39th) are the safeties. They’re both highly rated, but neither Adams (16 tackles, a sack and two knockdowns) nor Maye (19 tackles; nothing else) have lit up the league.
The Jets can run the ball, but Forte, who was getting 25% of the carries, won;t be playing.
When McCown played the Rams two years ago, Williams pressured him to death, sacking him four times and hitting him seven other times. McCown fumbled twice, losing them both– and didn’t finish the game. The line committed four false starts and two holding penalties.
The Browns don’t have the pass rush the Rams did– but the Jet line doesn’t have Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz and Joel Bitonio. New York has allowed 12 sacks. That’s largely because McCown won’t throw the ball away– he holds the ball until he’s brought down. But, for whatever reason, it’s an opportunity. And if McCown goes down, Bryce Petty was dreadful last year.
If the Browns can’t win this, it’s almost impossible to see any other wins on the schedule. Maybe the Chargers, or Chicago in week 15.
I really am tempted to pick Cleveland to win– I could even see this becoming a blowout. But my rule is “If a team is on a roll, bet it continues until they show you differently.” I can see all kinds of scenarios where the Browns can win– but I could see those in each of the last three weeks. I didn’t pick them to win– and they didn’t.
Currently, there is no evidence that the Browns can score until the other team is playing a prevent. They haven’t yet shown they can run the ball– or that they want to. I have no idea who they expect to throw to; other than the Duck, nobody has been able to catch the ball. TE David Njoku (9-12) and Crowell (5-8) have caught a handful of passes. Everyone else is 50% or worse– largely due to drops.
The Jets got 163 yards rushing out of Powell last week, and 93 from McGuire, with both guys breaking runs of 69 yards or more. The Browns have been playing good run defense on straight-ahead stuff, but they still don’t seal the edges; they still let opponents cut back. It the back gets past the 8 guys up front, Cleveland has given up some big runs.
Every week, the opposing tight end– and a pass-catching running back– tears them to pieces.
Last week the kicking teams missed a field goal and let 34-year-old Pacman Jones run a punt back 40 yards.
Plus, they don’t sound like a team pulling together– they look like one coming apart. That’s what I’m guessing will happen.