Thursday, November 11, 2010

It's all about the bull's-eye

As they wend their way triumphantly toward the middle of the pack in the National Football League, the Browns, in the process, have acquired a rather large bull's-eye on their backs.

That's what victories over two of the league's best teams will do. It doesn't take long for news to travel around the NFL warning teams that playing the Cleveland Browns is no longer like having a week off. No, that has changed.

And you can bet the New York Jets will be pounded by their coaches this week on that very notion. The Braylon Edwards silliness aside, the Jets will arrive in Cleveland Saturday knowing that one of the hottest teams in the league awaits with a confidence that has been lacking way too long.

Sunday's game is being billed in some quarters as the Robbie and Rexie Show in deference to the fabulous Ryan brothers, whose mouths always precede their accomplishments. Makes for good entertainment.

All the Ryan nonsense aside, the Jets are clearly the better team. Better personnel, more playmakers. Then again, so were the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots and we all know what happened there.

The Jets, however, have a more balanced offense than the Saints and Patriots, whose philosophy was slanted decidedly toward the passing game. The Jets run the ball as often as they allow Mark Sanchez to throw the ball.

The second-year quarterback runs hot and cold, however. His first five games this season produced 10 of his 12 touchdown passes with no interceptions. His last three efforts show just a couple of TDs and all five of his interceptions. The big question is which Sanchez, who has been sacked just 12 times, will show up Sunday.

It has become quite obvious that his favorite receivers are Edwards and tight end Dustin Keller, each of whom own five TD receptions, Edwards in just 25 catches. Keller is his go-to guy in third-down situations, while Edwards and Santonio Holmes are his deep threats. His loquacious manner aside, the inconsistent Edwards is still a dangerous threat. It'll be interesting to see how members of the Cleveland secondary treat him after his latest barrage of disparaging remarks.

One member of the Jets' offense who figures to be another object of the Browns' attention is the rejuvenated LaDainian Tomlinson. The ex-Charger, thought to be well on the downside of his career, is on pace for a 1,200-yard, 10-touchdown season. More petrol in the tank than initially believed. He's also a dangerous receiver out of the backfield.

If Rob Ryan needs any clues as to how to handle the Jets' offense, all he needs to do is watch tapes of New York's 9-0 loss to the Green Bay Packers a couple of weeks ago. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who runs a similar look to Ryan's, never allowed the New York attack to get going. The Jets' only trip into the red zone (just barely at the 19-yard line) resulted in a missed field goal.

Defensively, the Jets do not intimidate with a modest 17 sacks and a paltry five interceptions, but they counter that with 10 fumble recoveries and have forced opponents to average more than six punts a game.

It'll be interesting to see what receiver Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis is assigned, considering the Browns do not have what you'd call an elite wideout. It's quite possible Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will try to confuse Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy with a combo defense that couples a zone with man looks.

Right now, defensive coordinators are trying to figure out what McCoy's weaknesses are and try to exploit them. What they have discovered thus far is a quarterback who is faster and more accurate throwing on the run than originally thought. They have also found out he doesn't fluster easily and make bad throws.

The keys to victory for the Browns in this one are no different than the keys in the Saints and Patriots victories. Keep the chains moving, take what the Jets' defense gives them, take care of the ball and minimize mistakes on offense, and maintain their aggressiveness on defense.

Will we see some of the UFO, milling-around, confused-look defense this week? Probably not because Sanchez is not nearly the savvy veteran quarterback that Drew Brees and Tom Brady are and, thus, does not rely on pre-snap reads to determine his course of action. Look for a more traditional look, probably because the Jets will be prepared for what the Saints and Pats faced.

On offense, Peyton Hillis once again faces a very good run defense. The Jets have limited opponents to just 87 yards a game on the ground. Just another challenge for the human tank.

The X-factor is Eric Mangini. Even though he's been away from the Jets for a while, the Browns coach still knows their tendencies, what they like to do in certain situations. That has not changed. It could be a chess game all afternoon.

It promises to be a close game for the better part of 60 minutes, but higher talent quotient seems to win more often in games like this. The Browns will come close to making it three in a row, but fall just short. A longed Nick Folk field goal in the waning moments will be the difference. Make it:

Jets 20, Browns 17

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