By Brad Carroll
Those who favored the New York Jets tanking the season away in order to draft Southern California quarterback Sam Darnold need to either find another alternative or start rooting for the team to actually win games this season. The Jets aren’t getting Darnold, if he does indeed go No. 1 overall, after winning two straight games and putting themselves more in the hunt for a postseason berth than a high draft pick.
Forget the tank, these Jets just might have something to play for this season.
Every Jets fan realizes the team can pull the rug out from under them at a moment’s notice, and it looked to be that way late in last week’s win over the Jaguars, but they survived and moved to 2-2 on the season after their second straight win. The Jets are tied with the New England Patriots and are one game back of the Buffalo Bills. That might not last long, but there’s no reason to bail on the Jets now.
The reason for even more hope is the opponent the Jets face this week: the winless and hapless Cleveland Browns. The Jets absolutely should, not to mention must, beat the Browns Sunday on the road. Do that and the record stands at 3-2 with a realistic chance of being in first place come Sunday afternoon. The Bills play the Cincinnati Bengals on the road, while the Patriots travel to Tampa Bay to play the Buccaneers on Thursday night. Both could easily lose those games, which would put the Jets atop the division with the Bills and a game up on the Patriots.
Who would’ve thunk it?
Typically a team coming off two wins in a row and having all the momentum in the world would be ripe for a letdown against a bad opponent. But with how the Jets have been perceived this offseason and early in the year, with many predicting they wouldn't win a single game, there should be none of that, as this will be yet another opportunity to prove something to themselves and everyone else in the NFL.
This season has taken an unexpected turn and there’s no reason for fans not to see it through and hope for the best.
Here are the three keys to victory Sunday afternoon against the Browns in Cleveland.
Force DeShone Kizer To Throw Ball
The Browns are starting a rookie at quarterback and he’s still a huge project. Kizer completed just 16-of-34 passes for 118 yards and an interception last week in a 31-7 loss to the Bengals. On the season, Kizer has completed just over 51 percent of his passes and has three touchdowns compared to eight interceptions. The Jets defense needs to force turnovers, and this is the game they could get a couple. Of course, the biggest way for the Jets to force Kizer to throw the ball is to stop the run early. The Browns have two solid backs in Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, the latter of which is a threat out of the backfield in the receiving game as well. If the Jets follow the same script as the Bengals last week, they will win this game. The Bengals defense held Crowell to 20 yards on seven carries and Johnson to 13 yards on four carries. Johnson did contribute nine catches for 47 yards to the passing game. But the Jets will gladly sign up for those rushing totals, as that means Kizer will be forced to win this game with his arm, a scenario that should deliver the Jets their third straight win.
Exploit Porous Browns Secondary
The Jets had a breakout game against the Jaguars on the ground, as Bilal Powell rushed for 168 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown, and Elijah McGuire had 93 yards, including a 69-yard scoring run, but the key to beating the Browns Sunday will be through the air. The Browns have been solid against the run this year, allowing 87.3 yards per game and three-yard per carry average. In last week’s loss to the Bengals, the Browns allowed 86 yards on 30 carries. The Browns lost because of the passing game, and Josh McCown and the Jets are going to have to pass the ball consistently to be successful this coming week. It could be a big day for Robby Anderson or Jermaine Kearse, as wide receivers have had some big games against the Browns secondary. Antonio Brown had 11 catches for 182 yards and TY Hilton had seven receptions for 153 yards and a touchdown. As much as the Jets are going to try and run the ball Sunday, they must exploit a porous Browns secondary.
Don’t Let Duke Johnson Beat You
The one playmaker the Browns can lean on is Duke Johnson, and he’s a player who can single-handedly win a game with some big plays in the running and passing games. Johnson isn’t in the class of Le’Veon Bell or Kareem Hunt or any of the big-name, explosive running backs out there, but he is a player the Jets defense must contain in order to win. Johnson has run the ball only 10 times this season, but he’s by far the team’s most targeted receiver, catching 20 passes for 207 yards. Three of those receptions have gone for over 20 yards. He has double the number of receptions as his nearest teammate and has been targeted eight more times than everyone else on the roster. Stop Johnson and the Browns have proven they have no one else to go to.