The Cleveland Browns are not a good football team. That’s no secret. At 0-9 and with only one win in 2016 and 2017 combined, this is a bad team. And by all accounts, the Jacksonville Jaguars are actually a good squad (first time we can say that in a while).
In short, the Jaguars should be able to easily handle the lowly Browns despite being on the road.
But I think it’s important to remember that this is the NFL — and despite the Browns being so awful (and Alfie Crow’s insightful thoughts on the matter), this has “trap game” written all over it.
Yes, a trap game.
I don’t know if many of you know this, but I live in the Detroit area, so I am also a Detroit Lions fan and watch them pretty much every week. Cleveland came to Detroit last week and gave the Lions all they could handle. The Lions eventually won by two touchdowns, but Cleveland was extremely competitive for almost the entire duration of that game.
In fact, four of the Browns’ losses were by exactly three points. This team hasn’t figured out how to win a game yet, but it has been closer than you may think. And as I alluded to earlier, the Browns actually were tied with the Lions in the fourth quarter last week.
Cleveland has a young quarterback in DeShone Kizer and the Browns haven’t seemed to quite make up their mind on him yet. The offense has struggled to find a rhythm, but Kizer turned in a good game against Detroit, with an 87.9 Pro Football Focus grade. Unfortunately for him, he has to face the vaunted Jacksonville secondary this week.
The Browns’ defense hasn’t looked that impressive in terms of advanced metrics (21st in DVOA), but there is talent there. Cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who is a former Jaguars player, has quietly turned in a nice season. He’s locked down opposing receivers with an overall PFF grade of 83. He is one of the best at covering in the slots. The Browns aren’t afraid to blitz him off the edge, either.
Jason McCourty, at age 30, is turning in possibly his best season ever. He is the No. 2 ranked cornerback in the league according to PFF, with a 92.5 elite grade. McCourty is one of the top playmakers at the cornerback position, according to Pro Football Focus’ “Playmaker Index” (basically, when a player deflects on intercepts a ball).
Additionally, the Browns are only giving up 86 yards per game on the ground. At 3.1 yards per carry, the Cleveland defense, believe it or not, is No. 1 in the league in that category. Jacksonville, despite struggling to run the ball last week, is still the top rushing team in the league in terms of yards per game (163) and yards per carry (4.8 — tied with the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs).
So, we all know Blake Bortles’ struggles as a passer. Those of us who are expecting Bortles to have a field day against an 0-9 football team may be sorely mistaken. If the Browns, who are very capable of doing so, can take away the run like the Los Angeles Chargers did, and force Bortles to beat them, this contest may be closer than anticipated.
The Browns’ running game has been much improved the last two games as well, averaging 158 yards per game the past two contests, including 201 yards on the ground against Detroit’s 10th-ranked rushing defense. This is an area that Jacksonville has struggled in throughout the year, but has improved upon since acquiring Marcell Dareus.
Bad weather, including snow, is predicted in the forecast. The Jaguars aren’t accustomed to cold and snowy conditions. That could play a factor and may be something else to consider. Though, since the Jaguars are built on a strong defense and ground attack, it may not necessarily be an issue.
However, all that said, I expect the Jaguars to win by 14 points.
I don’t see Cleveland scoring much against this vicious Jacksonville defense — especially without Joe Thomas anchoring the offensive line. But I think the Browns’ defense may be able to keep things close for a while and I just wanted to point some things out because it seems that everybody is just expecting to blow Cleveland out of the water.
This is a game that Jacksonville should win. It’s a game they have to win. But to do that, the Jaguars simply cannot afford to look past this Cleveland team and simply show up and expect a victory on the road.
Don’t sleep on this Cleveland Browns team. It may be a better game than initially thought.