The city of New York is full of glitz and glamor, especially around Christmastime, but for the Cleveland Browns, this weekend’s trip to the East Coast to play in the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium is all about business.
The Browns look to break a five-game losing streak and close out the season with victories over the Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers.
“We don’t really get a chance to enjoy any of the festivities in the city of New York,” quarterback
Campbell and the Browns are approaching Sunday’s game with focus because they know they will be competing against an aggressive New York defensive front that has limited opponents to an average of 86.1 rushing yards per game.
“I think the Jets really have a good defense and when you’re a team that’s leading the league or high in the league in turnovers, and you’re still playing defense the way that they’re playing, it really says a lot,” Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “They’ve given up some big plays, but teams have gotten a lot of opportunities to take shots at big plays.
“They’re a very good run defense. It’ll be a real challenge. They always give you a lot of problems in protection, so we need to be able to throw the ball. People that watch us know that if we’re not successful throwing the ball, we’re not going to have a lot production. There’s things we need to be able to go do.”
Although the Jets are young in terms of years of service, what they lack in NFL experience, the defenders more than make up for with speed and relentless pursuit of the football. The Jets have registered 38 sacks for 232 lost yards, as well as eight interceptions and seven forced fumbles.
Third-year defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson leads the team with 10 sacks for 60 lost yards, and has added 37 hits on opposing quarterbacks with one interception and a forced fumble. His 83 total tackles rank fourth on the team.
Rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson is third on the team with 92 total stops, and of those tackles, 3.5 have been on quarterbacks for a loss of 29 yards.
Playing being that aggressive defensive line is a productive group of linebackers, led by David Harris, Calvin Pace and Quentin Coples. Harris has a team-best 134 total tackles, including 83 solo stops, while Pace and Coples have a combined total of 13 quarterback sacks.
“They have an outstanding defense,” Chudzinski said. “They play multiple fronts, pressure packages. Their front seven has a lot of playmakers. Wilkerson and Richardson are two young, very impressive guys that can be dominant players, and are showing to be dominant players in this league. David Harris, I have a lot of respect for. As an inside linebacker, he’s very active and does a lot for their defense in getting them going.”
Running the ball against the Jets may not be the only thing that is a challenge for the Browns. Stopping the run is something the Browns have had success with in 2013, and the defense will again be tested by the Jets.
Running backs Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell have combined for 1,272 yards and four touchdowns on 305 carries. On a team-high 157 carries, Ivory has gained 705 yards and scored three touchdowns. Powell has turned his 148 carries into 567 yards, and added 250 yards on 31 receptions, second-most on the team.
In addition to the running backs, the Jets have a mobile quarterback in Geno Smith, who has rushed for 274 yards and team-best four rushing touchdowns on 52 carries.
“Ivory and Powell are very good runners,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “They complement each other. Ivory’s a very physical player, and Powell is one of their guys that’s getting a lot of balls and catching a lot of balls. They’re a good one-two punch for them.”
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton added, “Run game, I think they will threaten and put pressure because of the read-option, the college read-option, the wildcat that they run. The running quarterback, he creates a new dimension and dilemma because you have to account for him in the run game. To me, that’s going to be the biggest key of the game, is how we handle their run, their option, their wildcat, those perimeter plays.”
While Smith has had success running the football, he is working to develop more consistency as a passer.
The first-year quarterback from West Virginia University has completed 210 of 380 attempts (55.3 percent) for 2,642 yards with 10 touchdowns against 21 interceptions. He has also been sacked 43 times for 315 lost yards.
“If you’re a rookie quarterback or cornerback, teams tend to come after you, and he has had an inconsistent year,” Horton said. “He’s looked good. They beat New Orleans lately, and the team follows him. He’s having a down game, they probably struggle to win, and when he’s playing well, it gives them an opportunity. But I think he’s having a typical rookie year, meaning it’s inconsistent.”
Chudzinski added, “Offensively, they’re very versatile with big-play potential. Their quarterback, Geno Smith, is a young, talented player that we had a chance to take a look at and get to know before the draft. He’s developing, is very athletic and has a big arm.”