As the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9) prepare to welcome the Cleveland Browns (7-3) on Sunday, the club will also be starting their third quarterback in five games. And the defense—which will be without four starters due to injury—must face the third-best rushing offense in the league.
Knowing that adjustments will need to be made, here are the three keys to the game versus the Browns.
Swarm to the Backs and the Ball
As mentioned the Browns have the third-best rushing offense in the league, averaging 156.8 yards per game on the ground. The Jags defense has been allowing an average of 129.1 rushing yards a game.
Despite spending four years with Cleveland, middle linebacker Joe Schobert is preparing for a newer look offense on Sunday, one predicated on the ground game.
“I think they’re a run-first offense. They really want to run the ball. That’s what they pride themselves in and they do a good job of it. Off of that, the running game, they have a good play-action and boot system.
"[They] get [Browns QB] Baker [Mayfield] moving outside the pocket, set his feet, and throw the ball down the field to they have a bunch of tight ends playing, a couple receivers, deep threats. Jarvis Landy, a slot receiver, running underneath routes, a really quick guy. They do a good job of a good balanced, offensive approach I’d say, and the run game really sets everything up.”
The two-headed rushing attack is led by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. To counterbalance their impact—and without Josh Allen, who was placed on IR this week—Marrone wants to see his guys swarming to the ball and allowing no space at all.
“I think we’re talking about two elite running backs, two guys that—you miss a tackle, they can out-run that second wave or that next wave of people that are coming. I think that in space, both players are outstanding in space. So, you’ve got to get as many people to the football as you possibly can to try to get them down. I think they’re both two #1-type backs that are in the backfield, that can do an awful lot. There’s a lot of misdirection to their offense. So, you’ve got to make sure that your eyes are disciplined, everything that you’re doing is disciplined.”
Luckily for Schobert, he’ll have some extra motivation to take down the guy that averages 95.8 yards per game—third in the league—and always stole his time after practice in Cleveland.
“I always want to hit Nick Chubb. I think he just has this reputation as being a good guy, but Nick’s the worst,” joked Schobert with a smile.
"People don’t know that about him. He’s the worst person. He always stole my stretch [from Browns Assistant Strength and Conditioning coach] Dale Jones. I’d always try to get a stretch after practice and Nick would always jump me in line and try to steal my stretches. I mean so if there’s anyone I could hit, it’d be Nick.”
Control Time of Possession
Because of the Browns' tendency to keep the game on the ground, they can eat up the clock. They currently average 29:51 of game time each week.
“They’re one of the best running teams in the NFL. They’re shortening the game, time of possession,” points out Marrone.
While that’s just below 50%, it’s still a significant chunk of the clock, especially when taking the ball away from a Jaguars offense that would prefer to ride their own running back in James Robinson and keep the ball from having to be throw. This is particularly true on Sunday when Mike Glennon is making his first start since late in the 2017 season.
To force Cleveland to put the ball in Baker Mayfield’s hands, the Jags will lean on the clock and their rookie back Robinson, and his ability to consistently find positive yardage.
“He does a good job of getting those dirty runs where we don’t lose yards and that’s a heck of a tribute to him,” said Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden.
“Not every run is blocked for four or five, ten yards. Some aren’t blocked very well. Sometimes the defense has a good plan for you, they bust through the line of scrimmage, but James [Robinson] does an unbelievable job at getting to the line of scrimmage and keeping us out of negative plays. We just haven’t been able to capitalize on our play actions and our shot game this year which has really hurt our offense.”
Keep Glennon Prepared
As mentioned, the Jags are starting their third quarterback in five games as Mike Glennon takes the reins on Sunday. Rookie Jake Luton was benched after a poor performance in last Sunday’s loss versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. Incumbent starter Gardner Minshew II is still recovering from torn ligaments and fractures in his throwing hand and Marrone isn’t comfortable starting him again just yet.
As of Friday, Marrone believes Minshew will be available and active as an emergency back-up.
Uncertainty at the quarterback position along with a secondary that now has a player who knows the system in former Jags safety Ronnie Harrison will also add a layer of complexity.
The rotating passers are admittedly tough for Gruden who is trying to keep all three guys prepared during a season in which they will clearly need them all.
Explained Gruden, “It’s hard enough to play this position when you do get the reps but then when you’re asked to jump in there with limited reps on a weekly basis, it’s very difficult to really give them a good feel for what they’re going to see on Sunday, the speed of the game, the different coverages and different looks, different route concepts against different coverages, but you have to do it.
"These guys have to be prepared and unfortunately [the] last couple weeks hasn’t shown very well. We’ve only scored one touchdown I think in two games and obviously we have higher standards for our offense than that.”
The fact that Glennon is being pushed into this role though for a 1-9 team is something the veteran passer believes could work in his favor.
“The thing to me is I have nothing to lose,” admitted Glennon.
"I mean I haven’t been the starter in three years. I don’t know when this opportunity’s going to come again. I’m just going to go out there, have fun, let it rip, and see what happens. We’re a 1-9 football team and I’m just going to do whatever I can to help us win. I’ve been through some good, I’ve been through some bad, and at this point in my career I just want to kind of go out and play like I have nothing to lose.”