The Cleveland Brown's game plan against the New York Jets Sunday should be to show that they actually still care. They have displayed heart and passion to this point, but now things get tough.
The way a team reacts when it has lost five straight games says a lot about the coach and roster. The way a team in the midst of a five-game losing streak approaches a meaningless game against a team that has lost four of its past five says even more.
On the field, the Browns should have a considerable edge depending on which version of quarterback Jason Campbell shows up. If he is anywhere near the guy who was electric in New England two weeks ago, they should be fine.
If he is anything like the guy who stunk up FirstEnergy Stadium last Sunday, then this game could be very interesting. The Jets have the third-best run defense in the NFL. Fortunately for the Browns, they refuse to run the football.
Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith has had a tough year. He has completed just 55 percent of his passes for 2,642 yards with 10 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.
New York has committed to Smith for this year and the future. Some of his high points this season have been on the ground. He has four rushing touchdowns on the year.
The Browns have the eighth-best run defense, and the Jets have the ninth-best rushing offense. Something has to give.
The Competitive Edge
Usually this would be where we break down each position and decide which team has the advantage. Instead of deciding meaningless battles on paper, from here until the end of the season we will examine Browns players, which will be evaluated for one reason or another.
Player by player we will explain why they are under heavier evaluation and update their status week by week.
Quarterbacks: Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden
Campbell proved last week that he is still the same quarterback he’s always been. He followed up a dazzling performance with two interceptions and a 67.6 quarterback rating.
While he threw for 273 yards, 81 of his yards came on a meaningless drive against prevent defense once the game was out of reach.
If he can find any consistency over the next two weeks, he could play himself into a job next season. At the very least, he could get a chance in a legitimate competition next training camp.
Brandon Weeden is still just sitting as the backup, and without any more playing time this season, he may be hard-pressed to find a job next year. Of the 35 quarterbacks who have played this year, Weeden has the fourth-lowest quarterback rating.
Running Back: Fozzy Whittaker and Edwin Baker
Fozzy Whittaker did not do much to bolster his resume for next year against the Bears. He had just one rush for one yard and two catches for four yards.
In the kick return game he had four returns for 44 yards. Eleven yards per return is not the way to catch a team’s attention.
Edwin Baker, who was signed last week, did a lot to raise interest in his abilities. He rushed eight times for 38 yards and a touchdown.
While the numbers were not gaudy, he showed good vision and burst. If he can duplicate his production against the Jets' third-ranked rushing defense, he will definitely raise some eyebrows.
Wide Receivers: Greg Little and Davone Bess
Greg Little had a nice game on Sunday, catching four passes for 68 yards, including a bubble screen that he turned into a 44-yard gain. These are the type of games that make Little an intriguing receiver.
Unfortunately, they just don’t happen often enough. He has gone over 50 receiving yards just three times this season, has caught more than four passes just once and has just two touchdowns on the year.
Davone Bess continued his horrendous 2013 campaign by catching just one pass for nine yards. He was targeted two other times and did not reel in either catchable ball.
Offensive Linemen: Mitchell Schwartz, Alex Mack, Shawn Lauvao, Jason Pinkston and John Greco
John Greco sat out Sunday with a knee injury, so he obviously did nothing to help his stock next season.
The rest of the linemen, however, were very solid and did not allow Campbell to be sacked all afternoon. In fact, they allowed him to be hit just four times.
There was some pressure at times, but Campbell did a good job of avoiding it when the pocket did collapse.
Campbell’s poor day had much less to do with blocking and much more to do with his terrible decision-making and accuracy.
Linebacker: Craig Robertson
It was another rough day for Craig Robertson. He increasingly looks like a backup in the NFL and not the type of guy who can play every down in a 3-4 defense.
He had four tackles with one tackle for loss on Sunday but was abused in coverage over the middle. Early in the game when Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was struggling, the only place he found any rhythm was against Robertson across the middle.
I expect the Browns to address this position in the early rounds of the draft and make little to no effort to re-sign Robertson after this season.
Defensive Backs: Joe Haden and T.J. Ward
Joe Haden, who is playing to get a new contract this offseason, left the game Sunday with a hip-pointer injury. Before he left the game, however, Brandon Marshall abused him on a drive. He allowed a deep bomb and then a five-yard touchdown pass.
These may seem insignificant in the large scheme of things, but Browns CEO Joe Banner is a master negotiator and will use any little thing as leverage.
Even if Haden sits out the rest of the year, he still had a very good 2013 campaign.
T.J. Ward, on the other hand, put on an absolute show Sunday. He had nine tackles, one tackles for loss, one pass defended and returned a fumble for a touchdown.
He is well on his way to his deserved payday whether it is in Cleveland or somewhere else. The Browns need to get that contract done before he hits the free-agent market. Check out his funny Pro Bowl commercial (above), which has been circulating throughout Cleveland.
Browns Offense vs. Jets Defense
This seems to be a great matchup for the Browns this week. The Jets' biggest strength, their run defense, is an area the Browns don’t even try to utilize. They have the third-fewest rushing attempts in the NFL and average just 3.9 yards per carry.
The Jets' biggest weakness, their pass defense which is ranked 26th in the league, is what the Browns do most. The Browns have the most passing attempts in the NFL this season.
The tough part for Cleveland, however, is that the team is not consistent through the air. Despite throwing the ball more than any other team, the Browns are 27th in yards per attempt. They pick up just 6.6 yards on each pass.
The culprit in this situation is the revolving door at quarterback and Campbell’s inconsistent play. If he is efficient and making plays down the field, then the Browns should be successful.
If he is indecisive and can't find ways to stretch out the secondary, however, the Jets could improve their home record to 6-2.
Browns Defense vs. Jets Offense
This would appear to be another favorable matchup for the Browns, but the numbers may be deceiving. The Browns have the eighth-best run defense, and the Jets have the ninth-best run offense.
So Cleveland should be fine, right? Maybe not.
Against the best rushing teams on their schedule, the Browns have been gashed. Buffalo, who ranks fourth in the NFL, rushed for 155 yards against them. Green Bay, the seventh-best rushing attack, tallied 104 yards on the ground.
Minnesota has the 10th-best rushing attack in the league, and the Browns allowed the Vikings to gain 134 yards on the ground.
So while the Browns do have a good rushing defense, they have mostly feasted on the weak. The stronger rushing attacks have been able to have success, especially late in games.
The Jets have a pair of backs in Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell who have combined for 1,272 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. The Browns will get a heavy dose of them on Sunday.
While both teams have very similar numbers and averages in the return games, there is one exciting X-factor that will be missing Sunday.
This should have been the first time that former Browns kick returner Josh Cribbs faced off against his former team. Unfortunately, Cribbs was placed on injured reserve two weeks ago with a shoulder injury.
The Jets are now using Antonio Comartie on kick returns and Kyle Wilson on punt returns. Neither of those names have the flare of a Cribbs vs. Cleveland grudge match.
What They’re Saying
“I’ve said all along I believe in our plan that we have, and that’s a long-term plan for sustained success. I see progress, and although the outcomes and the wins and the losses aren’t what I or anybody else wants them to be, I see the progress, and it’s internal progress.”
—Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski on why he thinks the team is going in the right direction.
“Right now I feel a lot more comfortable than I felt even four or five weeks ago. I can’t expect to be up there with (the best quarterbacks) at 23.”
—Jets quarterback Geno Smith on how comfortable he is in his growth this season.
Browns’ Wednesday Injury Report
It’s funny how the injury report seems to grow awful long this time of year when the team is out of contention. That is not to say anyone is faking an injury, but it certainly hurts a little more when there is nothing to play for.
Tight end Jordan Cameron is the big surprise on the injury report. Chudzinski told the press, via Nate Ulrich of The Akron-Beacon Journal, “Jordan Cameron will not practice today. He came in on Monday, and he’s in the concussion protocol for this week so we’ll see how that goes as the week progresses.”
This is huge blow to the Browns passing game, as it is highly unlikely he will play against the Jets on Sunday. In his absence, Gary Barnidge and MarQueis Gray will get more playing time and will need to step up.
Running back Willis McGahee is back at practice this week after missing Sunday’s game with a concussion. He will probably see a diminished role even if he can play because of Baker’s success last week.
Cornerback Joe Haden also missed practice with a hip-pointer, and as I said earlier, the Browns should just shut him down for the season. I understand he would really like to make a Pro Bowl, but the future of your defense means much more. There are valuable reps that young cornerbacks could be taking in his absence.
This Week’s Game Stats and Facts
Josh Gordon leads the NFL with 1,467 receiving yards, in just 12 games. He is averaging 122.3 receiving yards per game, the most in the NFL. In addition, Gordon is fourth in the league in yards from scrimmage with 1,533 yards.
Gordon is the first Browns player with at least one touchdown catch in five consecutive games since Hall of Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield in 1976.
Despite having two quarterbacks start over the past five games, Cleveland has thrown for 1,650 yards, the second-highest total in the NFL during that span.
The Browns have four defensive scores this season, their most since recording five in 2001.
All quotes and observations obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Game stats and facts are courtesy of the Browns’ and Jets' communications departments.