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Open Locker Room: Geared up for the run


JACKSONVILLE – Johnathan Cyprien knows what to expect Sunday.

That goes for pretty much anyone on defense as the Jaguars prepare to play the Cleveland Browns, who don't disguise what they do offensively – at least in part because there's little need to do so.

If history holds, the Browns will run on Sunday.

If that fails, they will run some more and run some more.

So far this season, the Browns haven't failed to run very often for very long, which gives Cyprien – the Jaguars' starting strong safety – and the rest of the defense an idea what to expect.

"You want to stop the run – this is what they do," Cyprien said Thursday as the Jaguars (0-6) prepared to play the Browns (3-2) at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m. "They run their offense through the run first, then pass it second. That's the first step to stopping this team."

While quarterback Brian Hoyer has become a focal point for many when discussing the Browns, it is the running game – a zone-blocking scheme similar to the one the Jaguars faced in Washington in Week 2 –that has been the core of the team's offense.

"They're very persistent in their running attack," Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "They're going to stick with it throughout the game."

The Browns this season rank third in the NFL in rushing at 146.4 yards per game, with three backs – Ben Tate, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West – rushing for more than 200 yards in five games. Each is averaging at least 4.4 yards per carry.

"There are three different styles you have to be aware of," Jaguars defensive coordinator Bob Babich said. "They do a good job mixing them in."

Babich said it's persistency – the willingness to keep running even when trailing and even when the approach isn't productive – that's notable about the Browns.

The Browns trailed the Tennessee Titans 28-3 in the first half and 28-10 at halftime two weeks ago. They rallied to win, 29-28, and while Hoyer threw two late touchdown passes, the Browns also ran 20 times for 84 yards in the second half of that game.

"They're committed to what they do, and they continue throughout the game," Babich said. "Even at the beginning of the game, if things aren't going well, they're committed to it, and it's worked out throughout the season."

The effectiveness of the running game has helped Hoyer, particularly in play-action situations. Hoyer, who won the starting job over rookie Johnny Manziel in the preseason, has completed 90 of 149 passes for 1,224 yards this season. And while Hoyer has yet to throw for 300 yards in a game this season, he has seven touchdowns with just one interception and leads the NFL with 13.6 yards per completion.

"That's obviously going to be the priority," Posluszny said. "They like to run, run, run, then take the play-action pass shot. That's the threat. That's the challenge for us. They have a great running game. They run the ball well, then they take the play-action pass and try to make big plays.

"We have to be really solid in the run game, and then have great awareness so when it's play-pass we turn, run and get to our landmarks so we can be in those throwing lanes."

Also around the Jaguars:

*Babich said the Jaguars against Cleveland could stay with the approach used at left cornerback against Tennessee last week. In that game, Demetrius McCray started and played 36 plays with Dwayne Gratz playing 18 plays. "We thought Dwayne did a great job preparing himself during the week and deserved the opportunity along with Demetrius to play," Babich said. "They both have done a good job this week." Gratz began the year as the starter with McCray moving into the lineup when Gratz sustained a concussion and keeping the job when Gratz returned to health last week. "Dwayne had a tough situation, but he handled it as a professional and did a good job," Babich said. Babich said the players shared reps in practice Wednesday and each could play Sunday. …

*Posluszny on the impact on the defense as quarterback Blake Bortles and the offense improve: "From a schematic standpoint, we'll be the same, but we also know that he's going to make some plays and the offense is going to score some points. That will give us more opportunities. Especially our defensive line, it will give them more opportunities to attack. When we're behind in games, and they (opponents) just run the ball and get the ball out quick, it's difficult to make big plays like that. When we're up, and teams have to throws, that gives us opportunities to attack."

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