The Cleveland Browns open their season against the New York Jets on Sunday, which is bound to be a hard-fought battle between the two sides. It will be a matchup between an elite defensive line for the Jets and the Browns' very strong offensive line.
Rookie Leonard Williams is making his NFL debut for the Jets as he'll look to get pressure on Josh McCown and clog running lanes. When the Jets' offense takes the field, everyone's focus will turn to the back-and-forth battle between Joe Haden and Brandon Marshall. It's a clash of two AFC teams looking to turn around their teams from disappointing seasons a year ago.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Browns and Jets.
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1. Josh McCown can't force it
The new Browns quarterback must take what the Jets defense gives him. McCown made a few mental gaffes in the preseason by forcing balls that should've been thrown away. The Browns' lack of offensive punch reduces his margin for error, so protecting the ball is his highest priority. Staying away from Darrelle Revis is probably a good idea as well.
2. Take advantage of Sheldon Richardson's absence
Richardson, a Pro Football Focus All-Pro from last season, is suspended for the first four games of the season. The Browns should attack the Jets right up the gut with some power runs behind Alex Mack, and then bring misdirection with some draws and screens to rookie playmaker Duke Johnson against an overzealous pass rush. Defensive end and sixth overall pick Leonard Williams is also dinged up, and he's never played against anyone like Joe Thomas.
3. Unleash the beast
Rookie defensive tackle Danny Shelton has already proven to be a monster in the preseason. He'll have his hands full with Jets Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold, but the No. 12 overall pick will need to make his presence felt for the Browns to have any chance of stopping the run. Cleveland's run defense was last in the league last year, and the Jets will surely be looking to establish the run with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback.
1. Make Josh McCown beat you
The Browns don't have the league's most prolific offense, but they do have the ability to run the ball. With that said, the Jets must force McCown to beat them. New York has an elite secondary which should be able to cover the Browns' receivers with ease, so if the Jets are able to shut down the run game, Cleveland's offense will sputter.
2. Establish the run
Like the Jets, Cleveland has a strong secondary headlined by Joe Haden. Marshall will be matched up against Haden, which is no easy battle for the veteran receiver. To open up the passing game, the Jets must establish the run with Chris Ivory to take pressure off of Ryan Fitzpatrick.
3. Win in the trenches
This game will be a battle between a great offensive line for the Browns and a stout defensive line for the Jets. Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson will need to get pressure on McCown and close the running lanes for Isaiah Crowell. The Jets must win in the trenches against the Browns.