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By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor helped the Jacksonville Jaguars make a deep run into the playoffs last year and finish second in the NFL in rushing offense. The tandem will try to get Jacksonville's ground attack rolling again this Sunday, when the Jaguars host the visiting Cleveland Browns.
Jacksonville has won three of its last four games and entered its recent bye week with a big win at Denver on October 12. Jones-Drew was forced to carry the load after Taylor exited the game early with a head injury and finished with 125 yards and two scores on 22 carries. Taylor is now fine, and the extra time off allowed the team to rest and relax before hitting the field again.
The Jaguars aren't happy with their 3-3 record so far and sit tied with Indianapolis for second place in the AFC South division. Undefeated Tennessee is on top of both clubs in the standings.
Even though Jacksonville hasn't opened the season in quality fashion, it still has won six of its last seven games against AFC North opponents. The only loss in that span was a 26-21 defeat versus Pittsburgh in Week 5.
Cleveland will close out a short two-week road trip at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. The team saw a two-game winning streak come to an end with a 14-11 defeat at Washington last week, with the Browns having trouble stopping the run in their loss.
The Browns were trying to build off wins over the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Giants, but struggled on both sides of the ball against the Redskins. Running back Jamal Lewis was the lone bright spot with 80 yards on 19 touches, but faces another uphill battle this week against a stout Jaguars run defense.
Browns tight end Kellen Winslow was suspended for this week's game by calling out the organization concerning the treatment on his recent staph infection, although a recent report in the The Cleveland Plain Dealer said he has appealed his one-game penalty for the his comments. The enigmatic Miami- Florida product, who was also fined a game check, was hospitalized for three days and treated at home for another three days because of an illness that kept him out of Cleveland's 35-14 win over the New York Giants on October 13.
The 2-4 Browns can only hope Winslow will be able to play on Sunday, because they're slipping rapidly from the AFC playoff picture.
Jacksonville has a 8-2 edge in its all-time series with Cleveland, including a 20-14 road victory when the teams last met, in 2005. The Browns won the previous meeting, a 21-20 road decision in 2002. The Jags are 0-2 in home games in the series since last scoring such a victory over Cleveland in 2000.
Cleveland's Romeo Crennel is 0-1 against Jacksonville, while the Jaguars' Jack Del Rio is 1-0 versus both Crennel and Cleveland as a head coach.
WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL
Quarterback Derek Anderson (989 passing yards, 6 TD, 6 INT) has been able to protect the football the last few games, having compiled three touchdown passes, no interceptions and a 85.8 quarterback rating over that stretch. Anderson didn't play so well last week at Washington, passing for just 136 yards in the loss. The Browns mostly ran the football on Sunday, since Anderson was having trouble finding his receivers and went just 14-of-37. He did manage to set a season high with a completion to nine different receivers against the Redskins. Braylon Edwards (20 receptions, 2 TD) is always a favorite target of Anderson's, despite his many dropped passes in recent games. Edwards had 58 yards on four receptions last week. but needs to step up in order to get the Browns back in contention. He has just one game this season in which he's reeled in 100 or more yards receiving. Anderson will most likely be without Winslow (21 receptions, 1 TD) for this week. Backup tight end Steve Heiden (7 receptions) will fill in, although he did not practice early this week with a strained pectoral muscle suffered last Sunday. Wideout Donte Stallworth (4 receptions) has played in the last two games since going down with a leg injury before the season began.
Jacksonville's pass defense is allowing 229.7 yards a game this season, good enough for 23rd in the NFL. Second-year safety Reggie Nelson (11 tackles) has missed the last three games with a knee injury, but was not listed on the early injury report. Nelson should see action on Sunday, while cornerback Drayton Florence (15 tackles) returned last week after missing the Pittsburgh game because of a groin injury. Gerald Sensabaugh (24 tackles, 2 INT) took Nelson's place in the lineup and has been playing well, having picked off Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler on a deep pass intended for Brandon Marshall in the first quarter two weeks ago. Pro Bowl cornerback Rashean Mathis (17 tackles, 2 INT) matches up well with Edwards and is one of the top defensive backs in the league. He had two stops and a pass defensed against Denver and already has two picks returned for scores this season. Safety Brian Williams (37 tackles, INT) leads the team in tackles.
The Browns are only 25th in the NFL in rushing this year, averaging 99.0 yards per week. Lewis (409 rushing yards, 2 TD) is a bruiser who has rushed for no less than 79 yards in each of the previous three games. The veteran, who ranks fifth on the all-time career rushing list among active players, had 80 yards on 19 carries against a tough Redskins defense and will face another test at Jacksonville. If the Browns can get their ground game established, it will obviously open more options for Anderson and the passing game. The offensive line is banged up, with right tackle Ryan Tucker missing recent practices because of a sore knee. Lewis, a nine-year pro, has led the Browns to a 10-1 record in games where he has had 20 or more carries. He has been one of Crennel's most consistent players with his 403 yards on 109 carries and 3.7 yards per attempt.
Luckily for the Jaguars, Cleveland has a mediocre ground game despite the efforts by Lewis. Jacksonville was once known for its stingy run defense but is only 17th in that category this season, allowing 110.8 rushing yards per contest. Broncos running back Michael Pittman cracked the 100-yard rushing mark a few weeks ago against this Jacksonville stop unit. Veteran defensive tackle John Henderson (22 tackles, 1 sack) made four tackles in that game and is a vital cog in defending the run. Fellow tackle Rob Meier (9 tackles, 1 sack) was inactive against the Broncos with a knee injury, his first missed game since the 2004 season, but is expected to return this week. Defensive end Paul Spicer (18 tackles, 0.5 sacks) has been wreaking havoc on opposing signal-callers and leads the team with 16 quarterback pressures in six games. Spicer led the team with 7 1/2 sacks last season. Jaguars rookie end Derrick Harvey (6 tackles, INT) has been flourishing so far under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' scheme while having started the past three games. Linebackers Mike Peterson (33 tackles) and Daryl Smith (27 tackles, 1 sack) will be flying around the ball and combined for 11 tackles in the Denver game.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
David Garrard (1,259 yards, 4 TD, 4 INT) is doing the right things to get the job done. He isn't a flashy quarterback and is certainly not the efficient passer he was from a year ago, as evidenced by his four touchdown throws and four interceptions. Garrard, though, has been playing well the past three games, having compiled three touchdown passes and no interceptions for a 98.7 passer rating. Garrard, who led the Jags to a 9-3 mark in 12 starts in 2007, is 22-14 as a starter. He ranks third in the AFC and fifth in the NFL with a 66.7 completion percentage and recorded his 17th career 100-plus rating game at Denver, ending 25-of-34 for 276 yards with one touchdown for a 107.0 quarterback rating. Garrard's best receiver, Matt Jones, is facing a three- game suspension for an offseason arrest on drug possession, but reports indicate that he'll be eligible for this week's tilt. Jones leads the team with 30 receptions while Jones-Drew is second on the team in catches (21) and receiving yards (184). Wideout Reggie Williams (14 receptions) has been a disappointment so far, but tight end Marcedes Lewis (10 receptions) is tops on the team with a pair of receiving scores for Jacksonville's 20th-ranked pass attack. First-year Jaguar wideout Jerry Porter has just one catch for six yards and is reportedly not seeing any time because of his attitude. Porter signed a big contract with Jacksonville in the offseason.
Cleveland doesn't have much of a pass rush and will be tested a lot through the air, as it is just 28th in the NFL in pass defense. Talented defensive back Eric Wright (28 tackles, 3 INT) leads the team with three interceptions and will be responsible for helping shut down Jacksonville's mediocre receiving corps. Even though the Jaguars don't have any household names as wideouts like Terrell Owens or Chad Johnson, the Browns better be prepared anyway. Wright has an interception in two of his previous three games. Safety Mike Adams (28 tackles, 2 INT) was deactivated against Washington and missed early-week practice because of a hamstring injury. Safety Sean Jones (16 tackles) was back on the field last week after missing the previous four games with a knee problem. He made an immediate impact with 10 total stops.
Jones-Drew (301 rushing yards, 5 TD), who ranks second among AFC running backs in receiving yards, has been getting the job done with his legs lately. He recorded just his second 100-yard rushing performance of the season a few weeks ago at Denver after Taylor (242 rushing yards) left early with a head injury. Taylor has only 54 yards rushing in his last three games and posted 10 in the win over the Broncos. He needs 43 rushing yards to reach the 11,000- yard mark in his career and is trying for his fourth straight game with at least 100 yards rushing against the Browns. Taylor also ranks 18th in NFL history for most rushing yards with 10,957 in 133 games. He has led the Jaguars in rushing in eight of the last 10 seasons. Jacksonville's 14th-rated ground attack is expected to get a boost with the return of center Brad Meester and guard Chris Naeole. Both players are expected to make their 2008 debuts this weekend versus Cleveland. Meester has been resting since early in training camp after a torn right biceps required him to undergo surgery.
Cleveland has allowed 146.3 rushing yards per game, good enough for 26th in the NFL. Last week the Redskins were able to establish the run behind Clinton Portis, who shredded the Browns for 175 yards and a touchdown. It doesn't get any better this week with Jacksonville having two threats in the backfield. Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (57 yards, 1 INT) leads the team in tackles and made 11 stops against the Redskins. Defensive linemen Shaun Rogers (27 tackles, 3 sacks) and Corey Williams (18 tackles, 0.5 sack) are having a strong season together and will try to slow down Jacksonville's talented running back duo. Rookie linebacker Alex Hall (14 tackles, 3 sacks) is having a productive first year in the league and leads all NFL rookies in sacks. On a positive note for the Cleveland defense, it has limited three of its last five opponents under 300 yards of total offense.
Even though the Browns are an underdog, they have more fantasy value than the Jaguars. Anderson is a starter despite his rocky performance and is bound to break out one of these weeks. Edwards was selected within the first three rounds in most fantasy drafts and will face a tough challenge this Sunday. Edwards drops a lot of balls, but also can reach the 100-yard receiving mark with ease. Lewis has perhaps the most upside this week despite the fact Jacksonville has a strong run defense. Look for Lewis to carry the ball 15 to 20 times on Sunday for at least 80 yards. Jacksonville's only fantasy-worthy players are Jones-Drew, Taylor and the defense. Jones-Drew should get a starting nod every week, while Taylor should be used in emergency situations because of his slow start. If you're desperate for a quarterback, give Garrard a try for this week. Jags kicker Josh Scobee has been hot lately.
Jacksonville is facing a must-win situation this weekend in order to keep pace in the AFC South and can't afford to fall behind Indianapolis and Tennessee. Barring any major catastrophe, the undefeated Titans should lock up the division, with the Colts trying to keep pace for a wild card berth. Garrard doesn't have much to throw to, which leaves the door open for the Jaguars to feed Jones-Drew plenty of carries. Taylor will get some looks Sunday as well, but it's wise to stick with the hot hand in Jones-Drew. The Browns can make it interesting if Lewis hits the right holes and Anderson has a strong day passing. Even if Edwards catches every ball thrown his way, Cleveland still does not have a shot at topping the favored Jaguars.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jaguars 23, Browns 17
10/23 19:23:09 ET
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