With the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9) set to host the Cleveland Browns (7-3) in Jacksonville this Sunday, each team is battling through its own flurry of injuries. The Jaguars are missing most of their defensive staff and secondary, while the Browns will be without Myles Garrett.
To preview the clash between the two beat-up teams, we have spoken with Pete Smith of BrownsDigest to go over the biggest storylines ahead of Sunday. Who do the Jaguars have to pay the most attention to? What is the score prediction? These questions and more are answered here.
1. Has Baker Mayfield taken the step in year 3 that was expected and even hoped for?
Not quite. Baker Mayfield doesn't look like a star quarterback in year three. Being on his fourth head coach in three seasons does not help, but the last month has been encouraging. The weather has had an impact and there have been missed opportunities, but he's seeing the game well and is protecting the ball. In some respects, it seems like he's due to break out the way of the wind-induced stall and put together a performance like he did against the Cincinnati Bengals where threw for five touchdowns. If you watch highlights, they tend to grasp on to some of the more painful misses he has and he certainly has had those, but he also has some genuinely brilliant throws where he looks like everything they hope he can be.
2. How much do Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt's games complement and elevate one another?
Nick Chubb is a meat and potatoes runner in terms of his running style, but possesses outstanding vision occasionally flirting with foresight. He's difficult to tackle, enabling him to create explosive plays. Kareem Hunt does not see as well, but he doesn't hesitate and runs hard behind his pads. The difference is that Hunt can be a problematic receiving threat and offers more versatility. Chubb is ultimately the superior runner while Hunt can be utilized in ways to put stress on individual players within a defense.
3. The Jaguars gave up on Ronnie Harrison after just two years. How well has he played for Cleveland?
Ronnie Harrison has been nothing short of a revelation. When he was acquired, it was assumed it was with the idea that the Browns found cheap depth with a good amount of starting experience. Rookie Grant Delpit had just gone down for the season and Harrison was still young, under control and could be depth for two seasons. As it has turned out, the Browns have found a starting strong safety who has played at a high level. He's got length and strength at the position. Able to offer help in coverage particularly against tight ends, he's versatile and able to help down in the box as a linebacker as well. He's been one of the top three defenders on the team this season, competing for the second spot with Denzel Ward behind Myles Garrett.
Coming into the season, it was expecting Delpit to be the free safety and maybe Karl Joseph could prove to be worth keeping longer than the one-year deal he had signed. Now, it's hoping that Delpit can fully recover from his ruptured Achilles' so the Browns can have Harrison and Delpit start together, giving the Browns one of the bigger sets of safeties in the NFL.
4. Who is the most dangerous person on the Browns' defensive line without Myles Garrett?
On a game to game basis, it's Sheldon Richardson. Right this second, it's Olivier Vernon. Richardson is inconsistent but can take over games here and there. Athletic, occasionally showcasing explosive strength and quick hands, he can disrupt the interior of the offensive line and make impact plays. Vernon, meanwhile, has dealt with an abdominal injury that limited him much of the season.
However, between the Las Vegas Raiders game and the Philadelphia Eagles game in a three-game stretch, he has posted five sacks. Against the Eagles, he recorded three sacks, one of which was for a safety -- and that's not really illustrating how much of an impact he had on the game. If that Olivier Vernon continues to show up, he's a game wrecker. The potential problem for the Browns this week is as of writing this, they have three defensive ends between the active roster and practice squad. Three are on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, so their rotation is short.
5. Score prediction?