3TFO: Jaguars @ Browns, Week 13
The Jaguars and Browns both came into the season with similar expectations, with both predicted to finish in the cellar of their respective divisions. At the end of Week 5 though, the Browns found themselves tied for the division lead and looking like a team that could make a run at the playoffs. The wheels fell off from there though, with just one win from their last six games and they are now sitting in the basement of the AFC North.
The Jaguars started out the season by living up to the pre-season rankings, losing their first eight games, all by double figures. Since the bye, however, they have won two games against division rivals, and lost a game that was closer than the score suggests against the Cardinals. Following last week’s win, they also pulled themselves out of last place in the AFC South.
With both teams looking for talent more than wins, here are three areas to focus on.
Defending the Deep
The Browns have an outside receiver in Josh Gordon, who, despite missing two games due to suspension, is just 12 yards short of 1,000 for the season. He ranks fifth in the league for yards among wide receivers, but if you look at his Yards per Route Run, he jumps to third in the league, with 2.40 YPRR. The other major threat in the Cleveland passing game is Jordan Cameron, who leads the team in receptions. Cameron is third in the legaue in both yards and receptions among tight ends, and his Catch Rate of 66.7 on deep passes leads all tight ends. With more than a fifth of Gordon’s targets coming on deep passes (19 of his 92 targets) and more than a third of those caught, the Jaguars will need to defend the deep ball.
The Jaguars’ defensive backfield is young, with two rookies, John Cyprien and Josh Evans, starting at safety and another rookie, Dwayne Gratz, getting time at cornerback. This is combined with second-year Mike Harris covering the slot for the Jaguars while journeymen Will Blackmon, who missed last week’s victory, and Alan Ball manning the other sides of the field. Both Will Blackmon and Alan Ball have played well, each meriting mentions as Secret Superstars. However, the two rookies in the middle of the field have struggled. Evans has allowed 84.2% of passes into his coverage to be complete, while only getting his hands to one pass. Cyprien has fared slightly better going off the numbers, allowing 62.9% of passes to be caught, however, despite being targeted 16 times more, he also has managed to defense just one pass. They have also combined to miss 21 tackles, with Evans’ Tackling Efficiency ranking in the Bottom 10 among safeties. On pass plays it’s worse as he ranks sixth, missing a tackle for every 4.2 attempted in the passing game. These two young players will want to continue the improvements they’ve shown in recent weeks and contain one of the better deep threat combinations in the league.
Jaguars Enter the Defensive Dawg Pound
On the other side of the ball, the Jaguars’ wide receiver corps has been scraped bare, with Justin Blackmon’s suspension meaning Cecil Shorts III is the only active WR with more than 30 career receptions. Joe Haden is likely to follow Shorts around the field on Sunday and his season has been impressive as he ranks fifth in the league for cornerbacks in Yards per Cover Snap, allowing just 0.83 Y/CS, despite being targeted on average once every 6.4 snaps. Shorts has been targeted more than all the other active receivers on the Jaguars combined and if he is to have an impact in this game he’ll have to play to the best of his ability.
It is more likely that the other receivers will have to step up for the Jaguars to have any success through the air. Ace Sanders is likely be the man Chad Henne will be looking to get the ball to with Mike Brown coming back from injury. The Jaguars look to get the ball to Sanders on quick, short passes and let him use his quickness to get yards after the catch. Despite this, he has had receptions of 20 yards or more in five of the 10 games he has played in. With Sanders working from the slot the majority of the time, he will face Buster Skrine who allows just 1.01 Yards/Cover Snap when covering the slot, which is one of better showings in the slot. Whoever the Jaguars look to get the ball to, they are likely to face stiff resistance. However, if they want to stop the linebackers clogging up running lanes, they will need to find some success.
Will the Quarterbacks Go Down?
Both the Jaguars and Browns have below-average pass rushing defenses, as Rick Drummond showed earlier this week. The Browns will be looking to Paul Kruger to improve his Bottom 10 Pass Rush Productivity rank, while the down linemen have struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The one bright spot for the Cleveland pass rush has been Jabaal Sheard who ranks 15th among 3-4 outside linebackers, although he has rushed just 71 times. The Jaguars’ pass rushers haven’t distinguished themselves either though, as Tyson Alualu has a PRP of just 4.0 on his 239 pass rushes, tied for the worst of all 4-3 defensive ends. The player the Jaguars have been counting on for pass rush from the LEO spot on the defensive line is Jason Babin who is in the middle of the pack ranking 23rd. However, in both of the last two weeks, Andre Branch has ranked in the Top 10, notching 11 total pressures on less than 50 rushes.
Facing these rushers, each team will face a tackle who doesn’t allow much pressure with Joe Thomas for the Browns and Austin Pasztor for the Jaguars, both having Top 5 Pass Blocking Efficiencies. The tackles on the other end of the line for both teams have struggled, with Mitchell Swartz and Cameron Bradfield ranking in the Bottom 15 of the same metric. On the interior, the Jaguars’ Mike Brewster has been among the worst pass protecting guards, but the other likely starters on both teams rank in the middle of the pack in their respective positions for Pass Blocking Efficiency.
While there are no outstanding pass rushers on both sides, the fact that neither line has more than one player who can shut down opposing pass rushers should lead to some interesting scheming to take advantage of the better matchups and pressure the opposing quarterback.