Hello, and welcome to the now weekly opponent X&O preview. The goal here each week is to give you, the loyal Browns fans, an analytical preview of what is to come from the Browns’ opponent each Sunday. I hope to give you all plenty of fodder and, more importantly, provide you with a nugget of knowledge you can use to impress your friends as you watch the Browns trudge through another week. As the accessible data around football improves each year, I am hoping to condense that knowledge, and a few clips, to help you process what you are seeing on Sunday. With that I will also help you recognize the concepts teams will try to employ against the Browns. Football knowledge and concepts are complex, and the assignments/tasks aren’t as visible and recognizable as they are in baseball and basketball. Luckily we have some tools at hand now to evaluate player performance, and get a better feel for what is working and what is clearly not. With those tools, we can now paint you a fairly decent picture of what is to come, and who it is coming from. Let’s not waste anymore time.
The Jets come to First Energy Stadium this Sunday in a position Browns fans deeply envy: the Jets are 2-2 and playing well above their perceived skill level. If you look at the roster of skill positions on paper, the Browns might get the nod, but that perception has not been a reality. The Jets are getting contributions everywhere, but their two rookie Safeties and two added wide receivers are making the difference.
Top #Jets season grades through 1/4 of the year
82.9 Kony Ealy
81.7 Jamal Adams
80.4 Leonard Williams
75.3 Jeremy Kerley
74.7 Jermaine Kearse
73.9 Marcus Maye
— PFF NY Jets (@PFF_NYJets) October 3, 2017
When your team is under-skilled, and it is known you are rebuilding, results have to come from unknown sources if wins are to happen. That is exactly what the Jets are getting from Kony Ealy and Jermaine Kearse. Ealy was claimed off waivers from New England when the Patriots waived him prior to the season, and Kearse was thrown in the Sheldon Richardson trade from Seattle. The Jets are getting these types of contributions everywhere, and they’re even getting league average play from a familair name: Josh McCown. According to Pro Football Focus, McCown has graded out at a 73.3 which is his best grade since 2013. First we will take a look at what the Jets are doing offensively that has them averaging 323 yards per game in 2017.
The Jets like to keep their offense simple. With so many new faces and moving parts, it’s a sound strategy. I mean, they’re without Matt Forte, have a new quarterback, acquired two new wide receivers after camp concluded and introduced a new tight end. What also helps is how well they have been running the ball. They love the zone scheme, and 78% of their running plays in 2017 have come from it. Although they will sprinkle in some power (backside guard pulls for play side inside linebacker), zone is their base. Whether it is inside zone, outside zone, or simple interior base zone concepts, it is what they are most comfortable in and do really well. They hurt Jacksonville with it continually last week en route to 256 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
The Jets have done a great job working those double teams effectively and climbing to the next level. They weren’t as sharp in Weeks 1 and 2, but they have developed a nice rhythm out of multiple sets in Weeks 3 and 4. They’ll run inside and outside zone from under center and the gun. Bilal Powell and rookie Elijah McGuire have both looked comfortable in it, and it may be addition by subtraction with Forte out last week, and likely out this week as well. These two backs are shifty and slip tackles really well within these schemes. Watch McGuire press his aiming point here and put his foot in the ground to attack the seam created after his right guard walls off the Mike linebacker. This is a thing of beauty.
The Jets will also mix a myriad of play-action schemes off of this run game to get the ball out of McCown’s hands quickly for some easy throws. Here is their favorite.
They have run this play-action slant concept off a scheme that is fooling opposing linebackers as it looks similar to zone and then the ball is out quickly. They have run this concept six times in four games. It’s an easy throw and catch and you can see McCown identify the invert linebacker to throw his window open.
The Jets also use this boot concept often off the outside zone scheme.
They have run this boot drag five times this year and love giving McCown layered option off of it. Sneaking the tight end under the outside zone sell keeps him protected and McCown has found success finding him on that route. The Browns linebackers will have to show us some discipline that we haven’t seen thus far.
Downfield passing game is severely lacking this year (especially drop back), but the Jets make the most of their talent with plenty of coverage beaters that employ their speedy slot receivers getting into advantageous match-ups. Concepts such as the scissors scheme we see below. They love working in bunch sets and pushing outwards routes to challenge coverage.
When targeting the outside receivers the Jets trust the post concept most often. They throw the ball to the backside receiver often working against quarters coverage in 3×1 and 2×1 concepts. They aren’t a double move team so far in 2017.
Overall, expect the Jets to use a heavy dose of their zone schemes, and if the Browns continue to stuff the box like we’ve seen, the Jets will deploy the play action often. Covering Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be a top priority this week for the Browns. Expect more 1 on 1 outside coverage by Jamar Taylor, Jason McCourty, and Briean Boddy-Calhoun as the Browns will dare McCown to beat them with Kearse and Robby Anderson.
The Jets defense is a mixed bag of results. They started the year poorly (45-20 loss to Raiders, and 21-12 to Buffalo) playing a ton of zone coverage, but since then they have started to become more aggressive and attack the LOS. They have started using different fronts and shifting where we see Jamal Adams – their dynamic rookie safety.
Jamal Adams snap breakdown through 4 weeks:
— PFF NY Jets (@PFF_NYJets) October 3, 2017
The different alignments from Adams has caused opponents headaches. Watch Adams hold the edge here.
The front four is anchored by Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson, and the linebacker core of Demario Davis is playing adequate football – Davis ranks second in the league in tackles, and is making the Davis for Calvin Pryor trade the Browns front office green lit in the off-season look even worse now than it did then. The issue with the Jets, and why they’re 29th in rush defense, is that Muhammed Wilkerson isn’t playing up to par, and Darron Lee has been really bad while in the interior this year. Lee has a 32.5 grade this year from PFF and is best served in or around the slot and Wilkerson just looks like something is completely off, as his effort has been really poor. The Browns have to attack both of these weak links.
The pass coverage has been a surprise from the Jets so far in 2017. They are getting positive contributions from two cast-offs in Morris Claiborne and Buster Skrine, and their “other” rookie safety Marcus Maye has been dynamic.
Marcus Maye has been targeted once every 48 snaps in coverage this season — a rate which ranks 5th of 83 qualified safeties #Jets
— John Gatta (@PFF_JohnGatta) October 4, 2017
Maye brings an element of instincts that has allowed the Jets to use Adams more freely, and Maye has earned trust in center field. He is showing signs of elite play-making. See this pass breakup below.
The Jets will use more single high safeties for their comfort zone in Cover 1/3 than true Cover 2/4 looks, and I don’t expect them to be blitzing all too often as their front four naturally creates adequate pressure.
Josh McCown will be going for his third straight win as a starting quarterback – that hasn’t happened for him since 2013. With all sign pointing to Myles Garrett coming back, the Browns will need to generate pressure on McCown without bringing the blitz.
The Browns are currently first in blitz rate (42.5% of dropbacks) and last in pressure rate (26.0%). That's unbelievably bad
— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) October 3, 2017
The problems are obvious, Gregg Williams has to try to generate a pass rush by blitzing and its forcing the Browns to become vulnerable elsewhere. Hopefully Myles Garrett helps, and we see the Browns use Jabrill Peppers more like Jamal Adams and less like Malik Hooker. The corners can hold their own against Kearse and Anderson, and so can Boddy-Calhoun against Kerley in the slot. It’s Jets zone running game and play-action that worry me most.
Offensively the Browns have to find some rhythm, somehow. If they let these two young safeties dictate their play-calling, it can get ugly for Cleveland. Jamal Adams’ energy is the life of this defense, and Demario Davis is playing better than ever. Focus on attacking the weak corners and Darron Lee, and the Browns can find some success. We say it weekly, but the Browns have to find some balance with the run game, and use play-action to help Kizer if they want some success. The Jets have given up plenty of rushing yards so look for Duke Johnson to be a focal point much the same we saw Leonard Forunette last week used in the zone rushing game and then leading to touches in the passing game as well. It’s paramount that the Browns have some kind of a quick start, and get out in front in this one. Browns 23, Jets 20.