Browns biggest strengths:
The Browns offensive line is a force to be reckoned with. Alex Mack is the heart and soul of the group and his season-ending injury scuttled the teams playoff hopes once the Browns were unable to effectively control the line of scrimmage from that point on. Mack is back to full health this year and works with the elite Joe Thomas (LT), 2014 rookie sensation Joel Bitonio (LG) competently grouped with with John Greco (RG) and Mitchell Schwartz (RT) on the right side.
On the other side of the ball, the Browns secondary is one of the best in the league. In 2014 the group notched the second-most interceptions (21) in the league. While the team lost Buster Skrine to the Jets, the group is led by one of the better corners in the game in Joe Haden and veteran Donte Whitner at safety. The secondary is rounded out quite nicely with free agent Tramon Williams at corner and Tashaun Gipson next to Whitner at safety.
Jets biggest advantage:
Pass defense – The Jets were horrible at stopping the pass last season, but the return of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, along with former Brown Buster Skrine, should be able to eat up the likes of Brian Hartline, Dwayne Bowe and Andrew Hawkins/Terrelle Pryor. Josh McCown had a great season in Chicago two years ago when he could throw to the likes of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey, Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett ... but this group of receivers is not that one and nor the talent he had last year in Tampa Bay.
To win this game the Jets must:
Convert short yardage third downs.
The Jets have to keep moving the chains and the best way to do that is to convert short yardage third down situations to keep the offense on the field. The Browns struggled last year in stopping the run and took steps to address the issue by drafting Danny Shelton to plug up this defensive line. The Browns could be substantially better up front thanks to Shelton, but the Jets are going to be better off grinding those hard yards to pick up first downs than trying to get too risky against this secondary.
Top individual matchups
Browns RB Isaiah Crowell vs. Jets LB David Harris: With the Browns dumping Terrance West and rookie Duke Johnson recovering from a concussion, expect Crowell to see the bulk of the carries between the tackles for the Browns. The Browns seem to like Crowell but due to effort and attention from the young 2014 Browns backfield saw a lot of week specific players highlighted for the Browns. Crowell has a great group of blockers ahead of him but the Jets equally strong defensive line should be in good position to neutralize that Browns' strength, which means it will come down to how the linebacker and runner squares off. The Browns would be wise to use Duke Johnson in space to what might be the most devastating effect against the Jets defense.
Browns DT Danny Shelton vs. Jets OC Nick Mangold: Shelton is an impressive young player but we will give the nod to Mangold, who is one of the best centers in the league and gets an extra advantage for being a battle-tested veteran. Mangold's blocks will be key to the Jets setting up inside zone runs for Chris Ivory to grind yards against a good defense and keep the ball away from that opportunistic secondary.
Browns CB Justin Gilbert vs. Jets WR Brandon Marshall: There's been a lot of ink spilled in New York about new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's love of larger receivers as well as the team's use of some of their bigger bodies in the slot. Brandon Marshall is the team's best receiver and has seen extensive use as a slot receiver in recent years. Justin Gilbert is a 2014 first rounder and is a talented player and might be the Browns' primary slot cornerback this year. Gilbert has had some maturity issues with the coaching staff since entering the league last year but his talent is undeniable. Can his talent match up with Brandon Marshall's? We might get an extended look this week as Chan Gailey and Ryan Fitzpatrick look for ways of avoiding Joe Haden and Tramon Williams on the outside.
Number of note:
3.1 yards per carry. That's what the Browns averaged during the preseason at what might be their strong suit on offense combining a young and powerful group of runners with a top ten NFL offensive line. The problem is that number gets worse (2.8 YPC) when you look at the average for their likely lead player Isaiah Crowell on his preseason carries. The Browns will need to establish the run better than they did in August and down tempo the Jets offense to stay in this game.
Quote of the week:
"Isaiah Crowell, I think, proved last year that he is a legitimate back in this league. We feel very good about where Duke is and our offensive line worked on a lot of things in this preseason and our tight ends. Understand when we get into game-planning mode that we're going to be able to do something schematically. Very confident in that group. I know that it's easy to beat up the run game based on the preseason. Like I said, internally, we're confident, and we'll just have to wait and see."
-Head coach Mike Pettine