The Cleveland Browns look to break a two-game losing streak with Sunday’s game at FirstEnergy Stadium against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team they have beaten in the last two games between the former AFC Central Division foes.
“This is a resilient group,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said of his team. “Certainly, those were disappointing games. Every week is a new opportunity. This is an opportunity to go play again, and their approach has been the same all year long. These guys like playing football and they’re passionate about that. The character of this locker room is outstanding. We’ll be ready to play and we’re going to be excited.”
After a slow start to the season, the Jaguars have won two of their last three games, including a 13-6 victory over the Houston Texans last week.
“I guarantee you that our guys respect these guys,” defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. “They’re 2-1 in the last three games, and they’ve won both games on the road. That’s quite a feat, and they have our respect. We won’t go in and say, ‘Jacksonville’s coming to town.’ We’ll say, ‘This is a 2-1 team that’s won two games on the road.’”
Chudzinski said the Jaguars’ offense has “come on” as of late due to the play of veteran quarterback Chad Henne.
Since relieving Blaine Gabbert, Henne has completed 196 of 315 attempts (62.2 percent) for 2,124 yards and four touchdowns against nine interceptions in 10 games, including eight starts, this season.
“They’re an opportunistic offense, led at quarterback by Henne,” Chudzinski said. “He’s played well and efficiently in that role.”
Second-year Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts III has been one of Henne’s favorite targets.
The Cleveland native and graduate of both Collinwood High School and the University of Mount Union leads the team with 58 receptions, which he has turned into 700 yards and one touchdown.
“Cecil Shorts is a very good wide receiver, very versatile, does a lot for them,” Chudzinski said. “He’s a playmaker. He can run any type of route that you want, and really has been productive and playing well.”
Horton added, “He definitely demands respect. He is one of their playmakers. He’s having a fantastic year. He had a tremendous game last week against Houston. It seems like, and I’ve seen every one of their games, he has a big play in every game. It’s easy to overlook somebody because of their record, but he shines on their team. I always find a way to show our guys their playmakers, and Cecil Shorts was definitely one.”
In addition to Shorts, Chudzinski said the Jaguars are “very talented at the skill positions,” particularly at running back.
In eight seasons with Jacksonville, running back Maurice Jones-Drew has rushed for 7,807 yards and 68 touchdowns on 1,741 carries. He has also turned 322 career receptions into 2,774 yards and 11 scores. This year, Jones-Drew has battled his way through injuries to gain 539 yards and score five touchdowns on 171 rushes.
“Maurice Jones-Drew has been one of the best running backs in the league for a long time, and he’s still playing at a high level,” Chudzinski said. “They’ve had some changes on their offensive line, but they’ve seemed to have solidified things there.”
Defensively, the Jaguars have a deep core group of defensive linemen, in Tyson Alualu, Jeremy Mincey, Jason Babin and Andre Branch at defensive end, as well as an active group of linebackers with Geno Hayes and Russell Allen on the outside and veteran Paul Posluszny manning the middle.
Posluszny leads the Jaguars with 102 total tackles, 79 solo stops, 23 assists and two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown against the Denver Broncos on Oct. 13.
“Defensively, it’s a high-motor, very active defense, attacking defense,” Chudzinski said. Their defensive line is excellent. It’s a deep group. They play a lot of guys there. Jason Babin, Branch and Alualu are very good defensive ends and (Sen-Derrick) Marks is playing well inside at defensive end.
“Their linebackers, Posluszny, Hayes and Allen, they’re all tough guys and play good defense. Their defensive backs are a young group, a very talented group. I think they’re starting three rookies in the back end. Some of these guys, we had a chance to evaluate and really liked going into the draft.”
“They’re a good, good, very sound defense,” Weeden said. “They’re young on the back end. They seem like they try to keep it to where they’re comfortable in their system with the guys they have in place.
“They like to create a lot of eight-man boxes to try and stop the run, but it’s a very sound, very active front, a very good tackling team with good linebackers that are good in the run. They’re a sound team that’s playing better. The last three weeks, they’ve played really good football, and kind of helped that team win two out of three.”