Jets coach Robert Saleh, who was a finalist for the Browns' job in 2020, is already battling negativity in the New York market after an 0-1 start lowered his record to 4-14. (USA Today)
Browns’ challenge is avoiding the trap set by the Jets
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.
Four downs on Browns (1-0) v. New York Jets (0-1)
First down: Trap game.
The Browns come off an emotional, lucky win in Carolina and have a short turnaround before hosting an emotional game against arch-rival Pittsburgh on Thursday night. But first they play the hapless Jets. This is the very definition of a trap game. The “trap” is taking the Jets lightly. It’s easy to do. The Jets were 4-13 in Robert Saleh’s first season as coach and are 0-1 after losing without a fight to the Baltimore Ravens, 24-9. One of the tasks of a head coach is to convince his team not to take the trap. This shouldn’t be that hard for Kevin Stefanski because the Browns embarrassed themselves by lifting punch-drunk Baker Mayfield off the canvas and letting him land a few haymakers across their faces. It took not one but two favorable official’s calls on their last offensive drive and a jaw-dropping, 58-yard field goal by rookie Cade York for the Browns to eke by, 26-24. Otherwise, their work week would have been brutal with a funeral dirge playing as background music at practice. So, they shouldn’t take anything for granted. Plus, they can see the elements of their own defense in Saleh’s unit with the Jets. For that matter, the Jets’ offense also shares DNA with that of the Browns. Thus, familiarity with the Jets’ schemes, plus an obvious advantage in roster talent, make anything less than a Browns victory unacceptable.
Second down: Whatever happened to Joe Flacco?
Once upon a time, Joe Flacco dominated the Browns like no other NFL quarterback not named Ben Roethlisberger. For 11 years from 2008 to 2018, Flacco won 17 of 20 starts against the Browns while in his prime with the Ravens. But now, at 37, Flacco is just another veteran quarterback hanging on before he figures out what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Flacco hasn’t won a game in which he has started since Oct. 13, 2019 with the Denver Broncos. Since then, he has lost eight starts in a row, including his last six with the Jets. Flacco still has one of the strongest arms among NFL quarterbacks. But he is as immobile as the Otto Graham statue outside FirstEnergy Stadium. And Flacco never possessed the moxie that enabled Roethlisberger to somehow defeat the Browns two more times in 2021 at the age of 39 before retiring.
Third down: Bibs, please.
Last week, right defensive end Myles Garrett drew a rookie, left tackle Icky Ikwonu, in his first matchup of the season. Garrett turned the rookie inside out and made two sacks of Mayfield, a forced fumble, a batted pass and another tackle-for-loss. This week, left end Jadeveon Clowney draws a rookie – Jets right tackle Max Mitchell. He is a fourth-round draft pick from Louisiana – not LSU – who is being force-fed because of injuries to Mekhi Becton and Duane Brown. Clowney was good, too, in his season debut, credited with a quarterback hit and two pass bat-downs. While Garrett is 1.5 sacks of matching Clay Matthews’ “official” franchise career sack record of 62, Clowney surely wants to hit the tote board with a couple of his own against a rook. By the way, Matthews actually had another 13 sacks in the years before the NFL recognized the statistic starting in 1982. So Garrett really is 14.5 shy of the real franchise record.
Fourth down: Anatomy of a loss.
How do the Jets pull off an upset and keep the Browns from reaching a 2-0 start for the first time since 1993? 1. Their under-rated defense clogs up the Browns’ running game and forces mistakes by Jacoby Brissett. 2. Flacco somehow finds the time to connect deep with rookie receiver Garrett Wilson. 3. All-Pro return specialist Braxton Berrios (first last year with a 30.4-yard kickoff return average and second with a 13.4-yard punt return average) shocks the Browns with some game-changing returns. There is enough there on Jets game film to keep the Browns from getting full of themselves.
The pick: Browns 16, Jets 3.
My record: 1-0.