Cleveland vs. Jacksonville: 10 Things to Watch For
Will this be the week? Can the Jaguars finally get the big “W” and silence the fan base that is growing tired of coming home without a win each week. Can the running game show some progress? Can the secondary play a bit tougher and can Blake Bortles continue his progression as an NFL quarterback?
The Jaguars will face a Cleveland Browns team that is making some noise with its impressive record as of late and its quarterback play.
No, I am not talking about how Johnny Manziel is lighting up scoreboards or how his personality has taken the NFL by storm. Instead the Browns are riding the arm of Brian Hoyer, who has led the team to wins over New Orleans and Pittsburgh this season.
If the Jaguars are going to win, here are 10 things to watch for, according to John Oehser and Jaguars.com.
Stop the run
Why are the Browns good? Maybe the biggest reason is they believe they can run – and because they’re right to believe that. They believe it so much they’ll keep trying the run even when it’s not working and even when they’re trailing. The Jaguars’ defense has done a decent job against the run most weeks. Except for a Week 2 loss to Washington, they haven’t let opposing backs take over the game. That must continue this week. If the Browns establish the run, they’ll wear you down with it.
This is the Jaguars’ defensive dilemma
The Browns love to run, but they’re also really good at beating you with play action once they establish the run. That’s a concern for the Jaguars because they’ve given up plays in the passing game while focusing on the run. Do that against the Browns and you’re in trouble.
Protect the quarterback
The Jaguars got better here for a while. Last week against the Titans the Jaguars allowed six sacks. That’s not better. Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles has pocket presence and escapability. Don’t make him use it so much. Give him time.
Not to focus entirely on the offensive line, but make no mistake: that area will be a huge focus Sunday. The Jaguars have protected the passer OK at times this season, but have yet to get the run game going. To move consistently, you at least need the threat of the run. The Jaguars haven’t threatened much so far this season.
The missed tackles that were an issue early in the season flared up again in Tennessee. After a couple of weeks in the single digits, the Jaguars missed 15 tackles against the Titans. The defense didn’t cost them the game, but that many missed tackles means too many more opportunities for the opposition. Wrap up. Get the guy down. You can’t let what should have been fourth-and-4 become first-and-10. NFL offenses turn those sorts of opportunities into points.
Keep tight end Clay Harbor involved
He has been effective since returning from a calf injury, and he has been reliable in the passing game. Whenever he is targeted, he seems to create first downs and touchdowns. The Jaguars don’t have that many skill guys that do that. Use it.
Cover the tight end
This will be an issue until it’s not. Browns tight end Jordan Cameron may not be the biggest-name player at the positon the Jaguars will play all year, but he’s effective. Once the Browns get the running game going, he gets even more dangerous. Quarterback Brian Hoyer is good enough – and accurate enough – in the play-action game to get him the ball.
Make a play
The Jaguars have done little above the Xs and Os this season. They have made plays on offense and defense, but not many big ones that change games. The opportunities were there last week, and too often they were missed. They’ll be there again, particularly against a Browns defense that struggled this season until beating Pittsburgh last week. When they’re there, make a play. That’s how you get off this losing streak.
The Jaguars have 19 sacks defensively, but just four takeaways. They have created one takeaway since the regular-season opener. That’s not enough for many teams to win, and it’s certainly not enough for a team still building the roster.
Believe in progress
It’s not vogue to believe in the Jaguars these days. What is vogue is to believe they’re not improving and have no chance on a week-to-week basis. Not so. The team has been competitive since Bortles entered the starting lineup, and the coaches and players are starting to believe in and trust in him more each week. So, yes, let’s go with that: Believe in Bortles … Believe in Blake … whatever. Keep building on what the rookie’s doing. Start making plays around him. It’s a key cog in the foundation, and the best hope going forward.