The New York Jets are facing one of the hottest teams in the league on Sunday — if a two-game winning streak makes a team hot. The Cleveland Browns have played extremely well the last two weeks, beating two of the better teams in the league — New England and New Orleans. In their past two games, the Jets struggled to get by Detroit and were shut out by Green Bay.
It’s a game that has wild interconnections between the two teams.
Rex Ryan is the Jets’ coach. His twin brother Rob is the Browns defensive coordinator. This week Rex placed a ‘bounty’ on his brother, a play off the game when the Dallas Cowboys accused Buddy Ryan (father of Rex and Rob) of placing a bounty on the Cowboys kicker. The reward for taking out Rob Ryan from Rex? “Not much,” Rex said. “Five bucks.”
Browns coach Eric Mangini piloted the Jets in New York before being fired and coming to Cleveland. Mangini had two winning seasons, then one losing one in Brett Favre’s only year in New York.
One of the first big trades Mangini made came on draft day when he sent the fifth overall pick in the draft to the Jets, who took quarterback Mark Sanchez. He then sent wide receiver Braylon Edwards to New York, giving the Jets two of their more talented skill position players.
Edwards has stirred the waters this week by telling the New York media how happy he was to leave Cleveland and how much he is looking forward to coming back to playing the Browns. Of course when Edwards talked to the Cleveland media he toned things down a bit.
All that is merely window dressing to the actual game, though, and this one features a Browns offense playing a very physical Jets defense that is ranked fourth against the rush, third in points allowed and fourth in rushing defense. The Jets offense also is very physical, ranking fourth in the league in rushing, averaging 148 yards per game.
The Browns have been up to different challenges the past two weeks. Sunday they face a team that has won seven in a row on the road and is 4-0 away from the Meadowlands this season.
Keys for the Browns
• Protect Colt McCoy. It’s been repeated often the past two weeks, but the Browns have to be wise about their rookie quarterback. New Orleans was a stout defense, New England a confusing one. McCoy won both games. The Jets bring a physical, aggressive approach, and they will try to exploit McCoy’s inexperience with a variety of blitzes that have confused veterans. The Browns have the system on the offensive line to protect. Now they have to execute.
• Stop the run. New York has a lot of talent in the passing game, but its offense is fueled by LaDainian Tomlinson’s revival. Tomlinson has averaged 129.8 yards and scored eight touchdowns in five games against the Browns. New York’s offense is predicated on the running game, which opens things up for Sanchez, Edwards and Santonio Holmes. Stopping L.T. is key.
Keys for the Jets
• Rush the passer. McCoy has done a good job for the Browns, but he’s not been pressured. If the Jets can challenge him and not let him escape the pocket he may make the rookie mistake he has largely avoided. New York has the players and the system to rattle McCoy.
• Get Edwards involved early. Edwards has talked big about coming back to Cleveland, but he’s usually not up to the challenge when he talks big. If the Jets can get him some passes early, though, it will calm him and keep him in the game. If they don’t, Edwards will hear it from the Browns crowd — and few players in the league listen more to the crowd than Edwards. Once he starts listening, his game is done. Keeping him focused early avoids that issue.
Nobody expected the Browns to win the last two games, yet they did. And they did it by playing good, physical football. For that reason, nobody would be surprised if they win on Sunday. The Browns actually have a chance to thrust themselves into the playoff fringe if the magic continues. It won’t. New York has too much talent and is too physical. The Jets end the Browns hot streak. Jets 24-17.