After losing to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1, the New York Jets have a chance to upset the Cleveland Browns on the road
Defensively, it started with stopping the run (which they did), and Jackson’s middle-of-the-field passing game (also accomplished). Offensively, New York needed to contain the Ravens IDL (a failure), while its receivers had to create pressure against man coverage (also a failure).
On top of that, Joe Flacco underperformed.
So, while there was a path, it was a long one.
The story is different this week, against the Cleveland Browns. It’s not that there isn’t a path to winning. There is. But it is a lot shorter this time.
The Browns, schematically, are very similar to the Jets. Starting on the offense, both teams run the ball outside a lot. Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland’s head coach and play caller, is also a Shanahan guy.
On defense, Cleveland’s defensive coordinator Joe Woods coached under Robert Saleh in 2019 with the San Francisco 49ers and runs the same zone-heavy scheme that Saleh deploys in New York.
Besides the schematic similarities, both teams are starting their backup quarterbacks in Joe Flacco and Jacoby Brissett.
So, what does all of that mean for this specific game? Is there a way for the Jets to take advantage of their knowledge of the Browns’ Xs and Os? Couldn’t Cleveland do the same?
Undoubtedly, Cleveland will try to take advantage of the Jets’ tendencies. On offense, I could see them trying to conflict Jeff Ulbrich‘s linebackers by lining up Kareen Hunt out wide and splitting David Njoku outside on money downs.
Nonetheless, the Browns’ offense is more unidimensional than the Jets’. And that simplifies things for New York. On offense, the ultimate game-changer will be the Jets’ ability to protect Joe Flacco.
Let’s get into some of the keys for the Jets on defense and offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, the plan couldn’t be any simpler for the New York Jets.
Watching Jacoby Brissett and the Browns’ All-22 film from Week 1, I saw a backup quarterback on the field. Brissett missed throws, missed windows, and held onto the football for too long. Besides that, Cleveland’s wide receivers struggled to separate against the Carolina Panthers’ defensive backs.
Considering how Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed played in Week 1 against Baltimore, the Jets shouldn’t have much trouble on the perimeter.
Through the air, Cleveland’s most worrisome pass catcher for the Jets is RB Kareen Hunt – who Stefanski loves to split out wide and have running option routes out of the backfield.
Hunt could be trouble for the Jets linebackers in third down situations, where they like to play man coverage. If Jordan Whitehead plays, It would be a good game for the Jets to implement their big nickel package, with 3 safeties on the field (something Robert Saleh loved in San Francisco), giving either Tony Adams or Will Parks a chance to hit the field.
Nonetheless, the truth is that the Browns’ offense lives or dies on the ground – much more so than the Jets’ attack. And that’s where Ulbrich and Saleh need to place their efforts.
In Week 1, the Browns had success running two types of running concepts: outside/wide zones behind center and pin-and-pull in the shotgun.
The Browns love the pin-and-pull concept (where both guards/a guard and the center are “pulling”, i.e., going to the second level of the defense) because Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller, LG and RG, respectively, are excellent downfield blockers.
This is how the Browns’ main two runs look:
Pin-and-pull: Uncovered lineman pull, covered linemen “pin”
Under-center outside zone: Something Jets fans are used to seeing
After holding Lamar Jackson and the Ravens to only 63 rushing yards, the Jets have arguably a tougher task against Nick Chubb and company.
Despite Cleveland deploying a more zone-oriented running game, which bodes well for the Jets attacking modes on the defensive line, the Browns’ offensive line is on just another level.
It’s going to be the ultimate litmus test for this front-7: If they can pass with flying colors against the Ravens and the Browns, they have a chance to be elite against the run.
Considering that the Jets will be facing Brissett and Cleveland’s unimpressive receiving group, I would be lining up with 8-man boxes for the majority of the game and in every snap in which the Browns deploy 12 personnel (1 back, 2 TEs).
All things considered, the defensive path is simple (while not necessarily easy): Force Jacoby Brissett to beat you with his arm.
Offensively, the Jets will also face something that they are used to seeing.
Joe Woods not only worked under Saleh, but he also seems like a true disciple, considering the approach that I saw in Week 1.
The Browns went with a Cover 3 heavy approach on early downs against the Panthers all game long, with little to no disguise.
1st down and 10 – the Browns are not disguising their Cover 3 defense
It’s going to be interesting to see how the Jets fare against Cleveland through the air. It will all be about pass protection.
The Jets offense has excellent Cover 3 beaters. They love hi-lo concepts in the 3-step drop passing game and their verticals are all designed to put the single-high safety in conflict. If Joe Flacco has time, he will have options down the field.
George Fant against Myles Garrett might be the most important matchup of the game, but the Jets have ways around it. Play action, chipping, and, ultimately, an effective running game can help slow Garrett down.
As for the running game, I would like to see the Jets using two things more than they did in Week 1:
First, get Braxton Berrios going in the jet-motion package. It will help stress Cleveland’s linebackers horizontally while keeping their talented edge rushers (Garrett, Clowney) guessing.
Secondly, why not more gap runs? The Jets sprinkled two good ones against the Ravens with Michael Carter following Alijah Vera-Tucker’s lead on power concepts. Jets fans know how much trouble an effective gap-blocking scheme can give to an attacking DL.
I feel like it’s time for Mike LaFleur to abandon a bit of his scheme stubbornness and start to use specific plays that suit the players the Jets have.
Make no mistake about it: this is a winnable game for the New York Jets.
Considering how similar both teams are, play-making ability and the small adjustments made by each coaching staff will make all the difference.
Next Article: NY Jets must overcome 3 major mismatches vs. Browns
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