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Browns-Jets: Five keys

Posted Dec 20, 2013

Browns Senior Editor Vic Carucci breaks down the five keys for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.

>>Make Geno Smith continue to look like the struggling rookie he has been for most of the season. Smith’s numbers support the obvious conclusion that he’s in way over his head as a starting quarterback in his first year in the NFL. He has thrown 21 interceptions to 10 touchdowns, and the Jets have the league’s 30th-ranked passing offense. Smith also hasn’t been helped by a depleted corps of receivers. The Browns’ pass rush absolutely needs to rattle him early and often, forcing him to remain a turnover machine. Cornerback Joe Haden is doing all he can to overcome the hip pointer he suffered against Chicago last week, and his presence in the Browns’ secondary no doubt would do plenty to enhance the chances of forcing Smith into mistakes by causing him to hold the ball longer against tight coverage.

>>Jason Campbell shows poise in the face of the Jets’ aggressive pass rush and takes good care of the ball while exploiting a pass defense that ranks near the bottom of the league. This is where Campbell’s nine seasons of NFL experience need to show up in a big way. He has dealt with the defense of Jets coach Rex Ryan before. He has had enough exposure, in practice and in games, to the Browns’ offense and the direction of coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner to function at as advanced a level as any since his arrival in Cleveland in the offseason. Campbell needs to be smart with his decisions while also seeking the big-play opportunities that the Jets’ blitzing and porous secondary should present.

>>Get Josh Gordon involved in the offense early and often. For whatever reason, Gordon spent most of the first half of last week’s game against the Bears as a forgotten man. Although he would be targeted 10 times in the game, the most of any Browns receiver, he had only one target through the first two quarters. That can’t happen if the Browns have any hope for victory. Campbell needs to be looking Gordon’s way from the start, connecting with him on hitch routes and other short and intermediate patterns if the deep stuff isn’t available. And that should be available as well. When Gordon is rolling immediately, the Browns’ entire offense gains rapid momentum and others tend to have greater opportunities to make plays. And that is going to be particularly important with the Browns missing the only other playmaker in their passing game, tight end Jordan Cameron, who is out with a concussion.

>>Let’s see much more of Edwin Baker. The running back made a very strong first impression in his Browns’ debut against Chicago. He displayed tremendous quickness to the hole and excellent open-field speed. He ran with decisiveness, made some nice cuts, and also showed no hesitation to run up the middle (where the majority of Browns running plays are directed) despite being relatively small at 5-foot-8 and 210 pounds. Despite having only a couple of days of practice, Baker showed that he is an ideal fit in the Chudzinski-Turner offense, which takes full advantage of a speedy back on screens and quick-hitting run plays.

>>Let’s see what MarQueis Gray can do as a primary tight-end target. With Cameron sidelined, the rookie has an excellent opportunity to make an impact. Gray is a superb athlete, with an impressive combination of size (6-4, 250 pounds), speed, and power that has also allowed him to work as an H-Back, fullback and quarterback. He caught the attention of plenty of Browns observers with his two direct-snap carries for 30 yards last week. Now, we should get some indication of how effective he can be at taking advantage of an opponent that has had plenty of issues covering tight ends. Gray’s background as a quarterback in high school and at the University of Minnesota figures to help with his ability to quickly develop chemistry with Campbell.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET, for Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at daily@clevelandbrowns.com or by calling 855-363-2459.