The Browns are off to New York for a chance at redemption after a Week 1 loss at home. They'll face the Jets, who are also looking for their first win after a one-point loss at home to the Buffalo Bills.
The injury report has been the focus of the lead-up to this week's game, thanks to the revelation that Jets quarterback Sam Darnold came down with mononucleosis sometime after their loss. Jets linebacker and prized offseason acquisition C.J. Mosley will also miss the game with a groin injury, as will first-round pick Quinnen Williams, taking away two key players up the middle for the new-look Jets.
Here are the keys to how the Browns can take advantage of these developments.
1. Establish the run early
In an adrenaline-filled home opener, the Browns often took shots down the field in the passing game, especially early. When compounded with the seemingly endless penalties they committed, the offense wasn't able to establish any sort of balance between the run and pass.
Such a development ended up hurting the passing game later, when the Titans were able to pin their ears back and hunt quarterback Baker Mayfield. The key this week: Prevent such an approach from even being considered by handing the ball to lead back Nick Chubb plenty. Chubb was effective in his limited opportunities in Week 1, rushing 17 times for 75 yards. He also racked up additional yards that were negated by penalties, which forced the Browns to throw out of need.
Better balance should keep the Jets from committing fully to pressuring Mayfield, which would only increase his chances of success when the Browns do decide to air it out. They have the talent in their receiving corps to do plenty of damage, but the element of surprise will only help.
2. Take advantage of the injuries
This could fit in with the first key, but we'll separate it because the Jets are missing players on both sides of the ball. When Mosley left the game in Week 1, New York's defense crumbled, going from allowing 4.8 yards per play with Mosley on the field to 8.9 yards per play without him. The result: a one-point loss after building a halftime lead. And along with Mosley, seven additional Jets are also questionable: RB Le'Veon Bell (shoulder), OL Kelvin Beachum (ankle), WR Demaryius Thomas (hamstring), WR Braxton Berrios (hamstring), DL Steve McLendon (hip), OL Brian Winters (shoulder) and OL Alex Lewis (shoulder).
Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens was correct when he said we shouldn't spend time worrying about who is and isn't playing, but Mosley's and Williams' absences could mean a big day for Chubb, who thrives running inside the tackles. The Browns should attack the middle of the Jets' defense with frequent handoffs to Chubb, who can churn his legs to gain the yards needed to keep the chains moving and allow Cleveland's offense to enter a rhythm and win the time of possession battle. Such an approach can also set up the play-action pass, which we all know can be very dangerous with Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry within Kitchens' offense.
On the defensive side, the Browns will face former Broncos starter Trevor Siemian, who landed in New York after losing his job in Denver and spending the past season in Minnesota. He'll be called into the starting lineup in place of Darnold for his first regular-season action as a Jet. He'll also be without big-bodied receiver Quincy Enunwa, who was placed on injured reserve with a neck injury, but will still have plenty of options in Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder and Thomas, among others.
The key here: Pressure Siemian with the hope that he'll make a mistake or two that will result in a takeaway. The extra possessions could be the difference between 1-1 and 0-2.
Check out photos as the team travels to New York City to play the Jets on Monday Night Football by team photographer Matt Starkey
3. Play within yourselves
Under the bright lights of Monday night, the Browns enter a contest that each team will likely want to win even more than usual after they both started 0-1. Cleveland's most important areas of concern are controllable: Playing clean football (and not committing the astounding 18 penalties accepted in Week 1), and playing disciplined football.
Those two points of focus might sound the same, but there is a difference: Clean is penalty-free, while disciplined is with good technique and within the parameters of the defensive scheme. Don't try to be the hero.
The reason: Bell, while listed as questionable, exists in the Jets' backfield and looms as a threat on every down in both the running and passing games. Attempting to make the star play instead of the right play could open up a lane for Bell, who will most certainly take advantage of it. Disciplined football will require maintaining gap integrity and contain and not losing track of assignments on each down. Combine that with clean football — avoiding penalties that give the opponent second chances — and you'll play a complete game on the defensive side of the ball, giving your offense its best chance to do its job and produce a victory in front of a national audience.