BEREA, Ohio – For all the positive vibes coming out of Cleveland, cautious optimists are bracing for the next challenges hurtled the Browns’ way.
These are the Browns. And this is Cleveland. The fans have good reason for a fatalistic attitude toward most Browns teams because of their past, even if Week 7's opponent is winless Jacksonville.
First, the good news: There’s a lot to like about this Browns team. Stout running game. Impressive offensive line. A quarterback who thrives in play-action and has one interception in 149 attempts. A defense that’s finally shrugging off a sluggish start. A locker room that offensive guard John Greco says has “just a feel, maybe a different level of confidence” than last year’s team, which started 3-2 before losing 10 of the last 11.
Now, the challenge: Jacksonville has 19 sacks this season and often gets to the quarterback by rushing four, meaning eight defenders will be waiting patiently in that box for Ben Tate, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West on running plays.
If the Jaguars can thwart the run and stave off play-action, Brian Hoyer must get it done from the pocket with his receivers.
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan seems to be ready for anything.
“No matter what you do good, eventually a team will stop that,” Shanahan said. “There’s no doubt about that, and you’ve got to be able to counteract that. Once you can do that, then you can come back to what you want to do.”
Based on last week’s 38 runs to 17 passes, clearly what the Browns want is to hand it off early and often.
Losing center Alex Mack to a leg injury is a “huge blow,” Shanahan said, which leaves Greco – who filled in for Mack admirably last week against Pittsburgh – directing the running game and getting everybody lined up properly. Paul McQuistan likely steps in at guard for Greco.
Here’s why Ben Tate is so crucial for the offense: In the two games he missed, Browns averaged 3.4 yards per carry (102 yards on 30 attempts per game). In three games with Tate, those averages spike to 5.0 yards per carry (175 yards on 35 carries). Tate left one of those games early, but still had 41 yards on six carries in Week 1.
If Tate can set the tone again, the Browns can soften up the Jaguars’ defense with Crowell, Cameron and others.