While the two game win streak the Jaguars have earned on the back of strong offense is nice, they will face a defense this week that doesn't rank among the league's worst like the Cowboys and the Texans. Instead they will face a Browns squad that has done relatively well for itself, allowing the 10th fewest amount of points in the league.
They've done particularly well against some of the league's top offenses holding both the Saints and the Patriots under 20 points. With a Jacksonville defense that is sure to struggle holding a team under that total, the Jaguars will need to get as much help as they can get from their offense to earn a victory this weekend.With strong defensive performances against two of the league's top quarterbacks, Drew Brees and Tom Brady, one would assume that the pass defense of the Browns is the strong aspect of their defensive unit. However, Football Outsiders tells us that their rush defense that ranks 10th is a much stronger unit than their 21st ranked pass defense.
The strongest in run defense is the left side of their defense so don't expect to see Maurice Jones-Drew running behind Jordan Black as much in this defense. In fact, teams that have faced the Browns so far have been running to the right side 16% of the time while they have run to the left side 28% of the time. Eugene Monroe and Vince Manuwai will likely be charged with the responsibility for being the road graders of the week against the right side of the defensive line.
The defensive line as a whole hasn't been the strength of the Browns defense in run defense. It's the linebacking corps in their 3-4 defense that have provided the biggest boost to their defense as a whole. Matt Roth, Chris Gocong, Eric Barton and Scott Fujita have played lights out football this season for the Browns in rush defense and coverage.
Where the defense as a whole has struggled most is at producing a pass rush. Through 9 games they have accumuated 16 sacks with 9 of those sacks coming from the combination of linebackers Marcus Benard (5.5 sacks) and Scott Fujita (3.5 sacks). With both players on the injury report, Cleveland's chances at producing a pass rush against the Jaguars are even slimmer.
While it's probably safe to say that Fujita will not play on Sunday, it's probably equally safe to say that Benard will. Fujita will be out for a while this season following a knee injury. Benard was withheld from practice on Wednesday due to an "illness" that provided for a scary situation last Thursday. On the 11th, Benard fainted in the locker room and was briefly hospitalized. Benard blames stress for the incident and was able to return to the lineup on Sunday against the Jets and was able to come away with a sack to add to his team leading total. Blocking the second year man will be a top priority if the Jaguars wish to give Garrard time.
The Browns have been very susceptible through the air, allowing 245 yards a game and ranking at 9th in the NFL in pass yards allowed. They have also allowed 17 passing touchdowns which ranks as the 6th most in the NFL. The Cleveland secondary has been particularly bad against opposing teams' #1 receivers ranking 31st in FO's stats of that category. Mike Sims-Walker's recovery from an ankle injury sustained against the Texans is going to be key for the Jaguars offense to take advantage of the secondary.
An interesting story line will come from rookie starting safety T.J. Ward, the Browns 2nd round draft choice. Coincidently he is the cousin of Maurice Jones-Drew.