JACKSONVILLE – Here's this week's Setting the Table: Storylines and stuff to watch as the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9) prepare to play the Cleveland Browns (4-7) at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio Sunday ...
The buzz this week is there really is a buzz around the Jaguars.
It's the buzz of a young team showing significant improvement, not to mention the buzz of a franchise beginning to develop under a first-year head coach and first-year general manager.
The Jaguars (2-9), after losing their first eight games of the season by double digits, have played their best three games of the season following a Week Nine bye week, beating the Tennessee Titans in Nashville on November 10 and the Houston Texans in Houston this past Sunday.
The Jaguars haven't won back-to-back games since 2010 and haven't won three consecutive road games since 2007.
The Jaguars' post-bye improvement has been largely about an improving defense that simplified its approach after the bye with dramatic results. The Jaguars forced four turnovers against Tennessee, held the Cardinals to 14 yards rushing the following week, and held the Texans to 218 total yards and two field goals on Sunday.
The Jaguars entered the bye ranked 32nd against the run, but held Tennessee, Arizona and Houston under 100 yards rushing.
Offensively, the Jaguars rank No. 32 in the NFL and struggled the past three games without second-year wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who will miss at least the rest of this season while suspended indefinitely. They rank 32nd in the NFL in rushing and 22nd in passing, but had one of their better days of the season rushing Sunday in Houston.
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, rushed for a season-high 84 yards on 14 carries Sunday, and the team's 118 yards rushing also were a season high. The Jaguars rushed for 54 and 32 yards the previous two games.
Chad Henne, the Jaguars' starting quarterback the past six games, also had one of his better games of the season against Houston. Sacked four times and playing under a heavy rush, Henne completed 23 of 32 passes for 239 yards and no touchdowns with no interceptions.
Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said Henne will remain the starter this week against the Browns.
The Browns (4-7), one of the surprise teams in the NFL through five games, have slipped in recent weeks – at least in part because of a difficult midseason schedule. One of the NFL's most underrated defensive teams, Cleveland won three consecutive games in September and early October, beating Minnesota, Cincinnati and Buffalo to move to 3-2. But they have lost five of their last six games to playoff-contending teams: Detroit (6-5), Green Bay (5-5-1), Kansas City (9-2), Cincinnati (7-4) and Pittsburgh (5-6). The Browns have struggled offensively, with quarterback Brandon Weeden throwing six touchdowns and seven interceptions for 1,361 yards and a 66.0 passer rating. The offense is ranked 25th, and the problems there have overshadowed a strong defense that is ranked fourth overall in the NFL.
The game at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, at 1 p.m. Sunday will be broadcast regionally on CBS and locally on WTEV-TV CBS-47. Kevin Harlan will handle play-by-play duties with Solomon Wilcots on analysis.
Early matchup to watch
Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts III versus Browns cornerback Joe Haden. Haden, the No. 7 overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, has continued this season to emerge as one of the NFL's top players at his position. He has drawn assignments covering Dwayne Bowe of Kansas City, Calvin Johnson of Detroit and A.J. Green of Cincinnati, helping Cleveland hold Bowe to seven yards receiving, Johnson to 25 yards receiving and Green to seven and 58 yards in two games. Shorts has caught 58 passes for 700 yards and a touchdown this season and with Blackmon suspended, he's the Jaguars top receiving option. He caught a team-high eight passes for 71 yards against Houston last week after catching two passes for 22 yards against cornerback Patrick Peterson and Arizona the week before.
Player to watch
Maurice Jones-Drew.The Jaguars' three-time Pro Bowl running back played with a reduced workload Sunday, and the result was his most productive game of the season. The NFL's leading rusher in 2011, he rushed for 84 yards on 14 carries for a 6.0-yards-per-carry average against Houston, and also had a season-long 44-yard run. He scored the game's only touchdown on a one-yard run to cap the Jaguars' first drive and he also caught six passes for 60 yards. The 144 yards of offense was the first time this season Jones-Drew had had 100 yards total offense. Bradley said he was impressed with how Jones-Drew handled the reduced workload, saying the result was an example of unselfishness benefitting not only the team but the player demonstrating the unselfishness. The Jaguars' 118 rushing yards as a team were their highest rushing total this year, with backup Jordan Todman rushing for 31 yards on 11 carries. Third-team running back Justin Forsett caught one pass for nine yards, but sustained a fractured foot and is expected to miss the rest of the season.
What to watch
*Defensive tackle Roy Miller (shoulder) and linebacker Geno Hayes (knee) likely won't practice Wednesday because of lingering injuries, but Bradley said they likely will play Sunday.…
*Cornerback Will Blackmon (AC joint/shoulder) and wide receiver Mike Brown (AC joint/shoulder) each missed Sunday's game, but are expected to practice Wednesday, Bradley said.
*Safety Winston Guy has been sharing repetitions at free safety with Josh Evans, and defensive end Ryan Davis has been earning more repetitions in recent weeks.
*Wide receiver Kerry Taylor got a season-high 57 repetitions last week, but that could be reduced if Brown returns and is healthy.