Around 3 p.m. last Sunday, the New York Jets looked like a team that might just be heading in the right direction at last.
But that was before they squandered a 16-0 late third quarter lead for a deflating home loss to the AFC East rival Buffalo Bills, signed their third starting kicker of the past four weeks, lost slot receiver Quincy Enunwa for the year to another neck injury and learned young franchise quarterback Sam Darnold will miss a sizable chunk of the season as he battles mononucleosis.
The latter development, which hit the public on Thursday, scuttled one of the biggest hooks of putting these Jets on Monday Night Football: a matchup against the Cleveland Browns and quarterback Baker Mayfield, who went No. 1 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, two spots ahead of Darnold.
Nonetheless, the matchup of 0-1 teams with postseason droughts dating back to 2010 (Jets) and 2002 (Browns) occupies one of the league’s most luxurious timeslots this week. If one can still stomach Gang Green, read on for three keys to the matchup at MetLife Stadium.
For all the Jets faults the past eight seasons, this team always seems to have one of the better backup quarterback situations in the NFL. That’s something that only matters when things go terribly wrong, like when the starter comes down with an illness more closely associated with high schoolers kissing.
In comes Trevor Siemian, who went 13-11 as the Denver Broncos’ first starting quarterback of the post-Peyton Manning era. Granted, he hasn’t thrown a meaningful pass since Dec. 14, 2017, but the Jets could do much worse over the next three to seven weeks or so while Darnold recovers from mono.
Siemian figures to be among the least accurate of the 32 starters this week, with a career completion percentage of 59.3%. At least in his first year as a starter for the then-defending champions, he posted 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions through 14 games. Perhaps past experience as a starter and added time to learn from the sidelines how to lead an NFL team will be a boon for the Jets. Or, he’ll look like a guy who no team felt merited a starting job each of the past two offseasons.
Leave it to Le’Veon
The Jets debut of running back Le’Veon Bell last week was solid, if unspectacular. That’s not exactly what head coach Adam Gase had in mind for his top offensive weapon, but 92 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown was a decent start.
With Darnold out, leaning on Bell becomes more important. He’ll need to outdo his 3.5 yards per carry against Buffalo, which is nearly a yard below his career average.
All off this is contingent on Bell actually playing. He’s questionable with a shoulder injury, one that didn’t appear to worry the star rusher late last week. Still, if he misses the game as well, the Jets could be in big trouble.
For all the great expectations heaped upon this Cleveland team before the season, they haven’t won anything yet. Part of the blame falls upon the shoulders of Mayfield — the face of the franchise who tossed 27 TD passes as a rookie in 14 games and asserted himself as the early leader from the five-QB first-round class of ’18.
In last weeks’ 43-13 loss at home against the Tennessee Titans, Mayfield was picked off three times in the final 17 minutes of the game. But to put it all on Mayfield isn’t fair. His offensive line did him no favors, surrendering five sacks and permitting a first-half safety. Don’t bank on Mayfield playing quite so poorly this week against a lesser Jets defense, but Gang Green would be wise to take advantage of a potentially weak Cleveland O-line. That will be tough with both rookie defensive lineman Quinnen Williams and high-priced linebacker C.J. Mosley out this week, putting more pressure on Leonard Williams and Henry Anderson to apply pressure up front and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to get crafty with his blitz-heavy approach.
Browns 27, Jets 13