Jacoby Brissett can be the equalizer in New York Jets-Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns have an excellent all-around roster. On both sides of the ball, they are loaded with talent and ready to compete.
There’s just one big problem that could render all of that talent moot: Cleveland is weak at the most important position in sports.
While the Browns wait for Deshaun Watson to return from his 11-game suspension, Jacoby Brissett is the man under center in The Land.
Brissett has 38 games of starting experience in his career, making him a more reliable backup quarterback than many other QB2s in the NFL. With that being said, Brissett is still a backup-quality player. He is not one of the 32 best quarterbacks in the NFL. That makes him a significant hindrance to the Browns’ chances of winning games.
Since his 2016 rookie season, Brissett ranks 48th out of 60 qualified quarterbacks (min. 500 pass attempts) with a passer rating of 82.8. He also ranks 54th in yards per attempt (6.4) and 56th in touchdown pass rate (3.0%).
Over the past three seasons, Brissett has been even worse. Since 2020, Brissett ranks seventh-worst out of 49 qualifiers (min. 200 pass attempts) in passer rating (76.2) while placing second-worst in yards per attempt (5.4) and third-worst in touchdown pass rate (2.2%).
When you are starting that caliber of a quarterback on a weekly basis, you will leave the door open for less talented teams to beat you. This almost happened last week, as the Browns were nearly beaten by a lesser Panthers team despite outgaining Carolina by 94 yards and clearly being the better team throughout the game.
Brissett’s weak performance was the main reason Carolina stuck around. He completed 18 of 34 passes (53%) for only 147 yards, ranking 32nd out of 32 starting quarterbacks with only 4.3 yards per attempt. On film, you could see that Brissett misfired on multiple downfield throws in which Cleveland receivers were open for a big play.
If the New York Jets want to surprise the Cleveland Browns in Week 2, it’s all going to start with exposing Brissett. Despite all of the talent the Browns have, they can be beaten by anyone because of Brissett’s limitations.
New York cannot afford to let Brissett bounce back this week. If he is playing well, the Browns are a juggernaut. The Jets must make sure they hold Brissett to another performance like the one he had in Week 1.
Here’s how they can do it.
Go with a light-blitzing approach
You do not need to throw a heavy dosage of blitzes at Brissett to shut him down. In fact, it might be better to lessen your blitz frequency against him.
Pro Football Focus scored Brissett with a higher grade on blitzed plays than non-blitzed plays in each of his past two seasons where he received extended playing time (2021 with Dolphins and 2019 with Colts).
This carried over into the Browns’ opener against the Panthers. Brissett was actually much better when he was blitzed. When facing five rushers or more, Brissett ranked eighth out of 32 quarterbacks with a 118.8 passer rating and 16th with 6.0 yards per attempt. However, when facing four rushers or fewer, Brissett ranked 28th with a 55.4 passer rating and 32nd with 3.6 yards per attempt.
Brissett’s ball security is the aspect of his game that sees the biggest change depending on whether he is blitzed. Since 2019, Brissett has thrown one interception over 204 pass attempts against the blitz (0.5% rate). Meanwhile, he has thrown nine interceptions over 509 pass attempts when not blitzed (1.8% rate).
PFF claims Brissett is lucky the difference isn’t even more significant. According to PFF’s tracking, Brissett has logged 22 turnover-worthy plays when not blized since 2019, a rate of 4.3%. Over the same span, he has only five turnover-worthy plays when blitzed, a rate of 2.5%.
The Jets should explore using a light-blitzing approach against Brissett. Challenge him to attack tight windows against seven defenders in coverage.
Make him throw outside of the numbers
Take away the middle of the field and make Brissett work outside. Accomplish that and good things will happen.
In Week 1, Brissett ranked last out of 32 starting quarterbacks with a 42.4 passer rating when throwing outside of the numbers, per NFL Next Gen Stats. He went 4-of-12 for 25 yards.
This is a continuation of Brissett’s struggles to throw the ball outside with Miami. In 2021, Brissett placed 35th out of 40 qualifiers with a 67.2 passer rating when throwing outside of the numbers. He went 54-of-94 (57.2%) for 608 yards (6.5 Y/A), 1 touchdown, and 3 interceptions.
Not only does making Brissett work outside exploit one of his greatest weaknesses, but it forces him to work against the strength of the Jets’ defense. New York’s outside cornerback duo of D.J. Reed and Sauce Gardner is dangerous. It’s up the middle – primarily against safeties Lamarcus Joyner and Jordan Whitehead – where the Ravens found success last week.
Stack the box on early downs
The Browns want to run the football. We know this. They ranked ninth in rushing attempts last season (28.5 per game) and tied for the NFL lead with 39 rushing attempts in Week 1.
Cleveland’s offensive strength lies with an elite offensive line and an elite running back duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The Jets must dedicate their resources to stopping this aspect of the Browns’ offense, daring Brissett to beat them down the field on early downs. Stacking the box with eight defenders would be wise.
If the Jets can stop the run on first and second down, they will force Brissett into third-and-long situations, which is where he really struggles due to his lack of ability to push the ball downfield.
In 2021, Brissett ranked 38th out of 40 qualified quarterbacks with 4.9 yards per attempt on third down with 7+ yards to go. In the same situations in 2019, Brissett placed 37th out of 42 with 6.4 yards per attempt. Brissett was similarly poor against Carolina last week as he went 4-of-9 for 56 yards (6.2 Y/A) on third-and-7+.
Brissett is highly unlikely to consistently rescue his team from third-and-long situations. Your defense will have a great day if you can win on first and second down to force a bevy of third-and-longs.
But if the Browns can run the ball efficiently on first and second down to create short-yardage situations, Brissett will be far more successful. His safe, conservative mentality makes him effective at moving the chains in second-and-short or third-and-short situations.
Since 2019, when facing 3 or fewer yards to go, Brissett has a passer rating of 103.9, going 45-of-68 for 442 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions while also throwing for 35 first downs.
The theme here is clear: Go all-out on stopping the run and make Brissett beat you.
Brissett has proven to be a very poor thrower in non-blitzed situations, on outside-the-numbers attempts, and in third-and-long situations – all areas where arm talent is key. His struggles in these areas should allow the Jets to feel confident about living with whatever Brissett can accomplish with his arm; while focusing on allocating their resources to stopping the run and dropping an extra man in coverage.