This is the game for which the 2010 Jaguars were built, for it was this game a year ago that drove the offseason changes General Manager Gene Smith made.
"The Cleveland game was a defining game for us. If the fans need an indication of why some of the changes were made, they need to go back and evaluate what happened in the Browns game. To me that was a defining game," Smith told jaguars.com in the days following this year's draft, when Smith made a defensive lineman the pick with each of his first four selections.
On the final day of the 2009 season, Smith sat in the frozen Cleveland Browns Stadium press box and watched the franchise he cheered as a boy physically dominate the franchise Smith now directs. The Browns rushed for 214 yards; they attempted only 11 passes, and won going away.
Smith watched the Browns dominate the line of scrimmage. As it unfolded, Smith vowed to change that dynamic.
A half a season later, second-year defensive tackle Terrance Knighton is the only remaining starter on the defensive line from the players who were in the starting lineup on Jan. 3. Quentin Groves and John Henderson are in Oakland; Derrick Harvey has been benched.
"We got whipped," Maurice Jones-Drew said when asked what he remembered of that game. "We got beat down pretty bad, so that definitely adds to the preparation."
When the Jaguars and Browns square off at EverBank Field on Sunday, Knighton will be joined at defensive tackle by first-round draft pick Tyson Alualu. The two will attempt to halt Browns running back Peyton Hillis' assault, which has reached 726 yards rushing, eight touchdowns and a 4.8 yards-per-carry average.
"I just remember them dominating us in all aspects of the game," Knighton said. "I just remember them flat-out beating us. They wanted it more. They beat us up physically."
It helped the Browns' cause that Josh Cribbs ran for 47 yards and a touchdown out of the wildcat formation that day, but it was running back Jerome Harrison who did the bulk of the damage (147 yards rushing). Harrison is now with the Eagles and Hillis is thought to be an upgrade. Cribbs, however, has a foot injury and may not play on Sunday.
Can the Jaguars stop the Browns' running game? It's that simple. You beat the Browns by stopping their run.
"This year, we really believe we have what it takes to be a contending team. Last year, things were falling apart and we just packed it in. This year, we're ready to take this to the next level," Knighton said.
The Jaguars will move into a tie for first place in the AFC South if they beat the Browns and the Colts lose in New England. The Titans would also move into a tie with the Jaguars and Colts if that scenario plays out and the Titans beat the Redskins.
"It's night and day," tight end Marcedes Lewis said of the difference between this year's Jaguars team and last season's. "We set the tone in camp. When Gene (Smith) drafted the defensive linemen like he did, he set the tone in camp as to who we wanted to be."