9:20 PM ET, NFL Network – Line: Browns -3, Over/Under: 39.5
A pair of rebuilding teams desperately in search of improvement clash tonight in Northern Ohio, as the Cleveland Browns host the New York Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium for a primetime Thursday Night encounter. After suffering through consecutive 5-11 campaigns, the Jets (1-1, T-2nd in AFC East)continued their roster overhaul this Offseason with the hopes of finally climbing out of the cellar in the AFC East. Of course, the biggest change came under Center, where New York selected Sam Darnold (66.1%, 266.0 Y/G, 7.46 NY/A, 3 TD, 3 INT, 88.9 RATE) with the Third Overall Pick in the NFL Draft, with designs on the Southern Cal product being their Franchise Quarterback for the foreseeable future. While possessing plenty of talent and skill, the general consensus was that Darnold would be afforded the luxury of developing slowly, particularly with the presence of veteran Signal-Callers such as Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater occupying roster spots. However, Todd Bowles and his Staff saw enough out of the Rookie throughout the Preseason to warrant making him the youngest Starting Quarterback in NFL History (21 Years, 104 Days) heading into the Season Opener at the Detroit Lions. And all things considered, the kid hasn’t disappointed; after throwing a disastrous Pick-6 on his first career pass against the Lions, Darnold calmed down considerably, and deftly piloted the Jets Offense in a 48-17 demolition of the hosts in the Motor City, connecting on 16-of-21 Attempts for 198 Yards and a pair of Touchdowns, taking advantage of the excellent field position his teammates afforded him via a staggering Five Takeaways. Indeed, there was plenty to be excited about for Gang Green fans, who witnessed an efficient offensive attack that racked up a balanced 349 Yards (198 through the air and 169 on the ground), went 6-of-14 on Third Down, 2-of-3 on Fourth Down, and owned the Time of Possession (33:07). With that said, last weekend’s Home Opener at MetLife Stadium against the Miami Dolphins was a different matter altogether, as Bowles’ charges fell into a 20-0 hole by Halftime, causing his young Quarterback to attempt to throw his way back into the contest. Darnold completed 25-of-41 Passes for 334 Yards, a Touchdown but Two Interceptions, struggling to crack the Dolphins’ staunch Defense. This was a case in which he clearly missed the benefit of a running game, with the hosts having to abandon that aspect of the attack altogether for much of the Second Half, totaling a meager Forty-Two Yards on just Nineteen Carries. Still, there was plenty of room for optimism despite the outcome, for it was clear that New York was indeed the stronger side after Halftime; Darnold & Co. ventured into Miami territory on all but one of their five possessions, though settled for Field Goals on two occasions, while turning the football over immediately after recovering a Dolphins’ Fumble on their opponent’s 12-Yard Line. Furthermore, after giving up 172 Yards of Total Offense in the First Half, the Defense stiffened considerably (108 Total Yards), shutting the visitors out over the final thirty minutes of play. There will no doubt be a point of emphasis placed on finishing this week in practice, for Thursday Night’s meeting with the Browns will be an affair featuring two clubs who will no doubt be lamenting missed opportunities last week (which we’ll get into shortly).
Meanwhile, finishing should absolutely be a point of emphasis for the Browns (0-1-1, T-3rd in AFC North) at this point, for one could make a very strong case that if they managed to do just that then they could be one of the few undefeated teams left in the league at this juncture instead of still searching for their first victory since December 24th of 2016. Then again, only Cleveland can manage to snap a 17-Game Losing Streak without actually winning a game, which was the case in their epically perplexing 21-21 Season Opening Tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s right, folks, the game ended in a tie, which might be the most Browns thing ever. Remarkably, Hue Jackson’s charges managed to do everything to earn that ever elusive win, while simultaneously sabotaging themselves at every turn. So let’s start with the good; Cleveland’s Defense harassed Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger throughout the rain-soaked affair, limiting him to 23-of-41 Passing and forcing him into a whopping Five Turnovers (3 Interceptions and 2 Lost Fumbles), and sacked him on four occasions, while Tyrod Taylor (15-of-40, 197 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT, 8 CAR, 77 YDS, 1 TD) and the Offense made plays, with the Offseason Acquisition rushing for a 20-Yard Touchdown early in the Third Quarter, and hitting the much-maligned Josh Gordon (1 REC, 17 YDS, 1 TD) for a 17-Yard Touchdown down the sideline to tie the score with just under two minutes left to play. And now for the bad; despite the big plays, the Offense struggled mightily on Third Down (5-of-18), while Taylor completed only Fifteen of his Forty Passing Attempts, with Special Teams wasting the final Drive, with Place Kicker Zane Gonzalez shanking a 43-Yard Field Goal at the end of the Extra Period. Unfortunately, Gonzalez would cost Cleveland dearly the following week in New Orleans, in which the Kicker inexplicably missed a pair of Extra Points, not to mention two Fourth Quarter Field Goals, as Jackson’s charges squandered a 12-10 lead in the final frame in route to a disappointing 21-18 finish. This one really had to hurt, folks, for they were clearly the better team for the vast majority of the game. Taylor was far more efficient inside the comfortable environment of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, completing 22-of-30 Passes for 246 Yards, a Touchdown and an Interception, while rushing for another Twenty-Six Yards on Four Carries, while the Defense once again impressed, neutralizing yet another prolific veteran Quarterback (Drew Brees threw for just 243 Yards) and explosive Offense, permitting the explosive Saints’ attack to post just 275 Total Yards, Eighteen First Downs, and 3-of-12 on Third Down. Keep an eye on the latter Thursday Night, for the Browns have proven in the early stages of this campaign to be proficient at creating pressure and capitalizing off of it, generating Seven Sacks and Seven Turnovers, which must be kept in mind with a young Rookie Quarterback on deck. Former No. One Overall Pick Myles Garrett (7 TKL, 2.0 SK, 1 PD, 2 FF) is off to a strong start off the Edge, while fellow Sophomore Defensive Lineman Larry Ogunjobi (11 TKL, 3.0 SK) has benefitted greatly from the attention paid to his 2017 Draft Classmate, with this year’s First Round Pick, Cornerback Denzel Ward (12 TKL, 2 INT, 3 PD) turning heads in Week One, intercepting Roethlisberger twice.