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NFL Preview - Jacksonville (3-6) at Cleveland (3-6)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - When it comes to NFL experience, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert is still wet behind the ears.
But even a rookie with a half-dozen starts under his belt knows when his best move is to take the snap, turn to one side and hand the ball to a proven load- carrier.
And if that load-carrier just happens to be Maurice Jones-Drew? Well...let's just say a good decision becomes a no-brainer.
"He's the best running back in the NFL in my eyes," Gabbert said. "Whenever he gets on a roll like that, and he's getting six yards a pop, we're going to lean on him."
Gabbert makes the eighth start of his inaugural season on Sunday, when the Jaguars visit Cleveland Browns Stadium for a clash with the facility's home- standing namesake.
As for Jones-Drew, he'll be that little guy with the ball in his hands.
A two-time 1,000-yard rusher on the verge of a third season in quadruple digits, Jones-Drew rumbled for 114 yards on 25 carries last week in the Jaguars' 17-3 defeat of Indianapolis -- their first road triumph since a 17-6 win at Tennessee last December.
Gabbert completed 14-of-21 passes for 118 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He's thrown for more than 200 yards just once in seven starts.
Jacksonville had been outscored, 157-81, in six road losses dating to last season.
It was the second win in three games since an ugly 1-5 start for the Jaguars, who stand as the median in the AFC South Division, 3 1/2 games back of first- place Houston and 3 1/2 up on the last-place Colts.
Jones-Drew's three-yard touchdown run with 3:52 remaining secured the win at Indianapolis.
"There was just sheer will and desire and passion, just laying it on the line for his teammates," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said of Jones-Drew's effort last week.
Jones-Drew is fourth in the league with 854 rushing yards on an Jaguars offense that's second-to-last in scoring, averaging 12.8 points per game. And while Cleveland has allowed a league-low 163.3 passing yards per game, it's given up 568 rushing yards -- the most in the NFL since Oct. 30 -- during a three-game skid.
"I feel the same frustration," said Browns head coach Pat Shurmur about the fans' displeasure over his team's struggles. I'm disappointed, but not discouraged. I feel it. I've lived it. I'm from this region, I understand what everybody feels when you don't win and so what we're trying to do is change that. I believe in my heart of hearts we can get it done. There's no question."
The Browns enter the week after a 13-12 loss to visiting St. Louis last Sunday, going 0-for-4 in the red zone and missing what would have been a go-ahead 22- yard field goal with just more than two minutes remaining courtesy of a bad snap. The Phil Dawson miss was fifth-shortest by an NFL kicker in the final three minutes of a game since 1983.
Cleveland's moribund offense should benefit from the absence of Jacksonville cornerback Rashean Mathis, who was placed on injured reserve Monday with a torn left ACL suffered against the Colts. The Jaguars have surrendered the league's fifth-fewest passing yards per game (189.3).
"That's a huge loss," Jacksonville defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. "That's a veteran voice we need out there. We've got guys that have to step in and pick up where he left off and grow up, hopefully do the same thing he did."
Jacksonville holds a 9-4 advantage in its all-time series with Cleveland and snapped a string of two straight losses to the Browns with a 24-20 victory at EverBank Field during Week 11 of last season. Cleveland was a 23-17 home winner over the Jaguars in the 2009 regular-season finale and also dealt Jacksonville a 23-17 loss in North Florida during the 2008 campaign. The Jags have gone 5-1 in Cleveland over the course of their existence, however, and the visitor has prevailed in five of the last seven meetings between these onetime co-AFC Central members.
Del Rio is 2-2 in his career against the Browns, while Shurmur will be taking on both Jacksonville and Del Rio for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
Rookie quarterback Gabbert, the 10th overall pick in last April's draft recorded his first win as starter on the road last week and has thrown a touchdown pass in six of seven starts. Jones-Drew posted his third 100-yard rushing game of the season against the Colts has rushed for at least 80 yards in eight of nine games in 2011. He has 215 rushing yards in his past two matchups against the Browns and averages 94.7 rushing yards per game since 2010, second-best in the NFL behind Houston's Arian Foster (98.2) over that span. Jones-Drew (854 rushing yards) needs 146 yards to reach 1,000 for the third consecutive season. Wide receiver Mike Thomas had a touchdown catch in Jacksonville's win over the Browns last season, while counterpart Jarrett Dillard posted his first career touchdown catch last week. Tight end Marcedes Lewis needs three catches to join Kyle Brady (241) as the only Jaguar tight ends with 200 career receptions. Lewis had 66 receiving yards and a touchdown in last year's game against Cleveland.
For the Cleveland defense, linebacker Scott Fujita registered his first interception of the season last week. Rookie lineman Phil Taylor, the team's first-round choice in the 2011 draft, has two sacks in the past three games, while cornerback Joe Haden had an interception in his only meeting with the Jaguars in 2010.
Statistically speaking, Jacksonville is second-to-last in scoring offense (12.8 ppg), last in both total yards (243.6 ypg) and passing yards (122.1 ypg) and 11th in rushing yards (121.4 ypg). On defense, Cleveland is 11th in points allowed (20.3 ppg), sixth in total yards allowed (306.1 ypg), first in pass defense (163.3 ypg) and 30th against the run (142.8 ypg).
WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL
Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy had a season-best 97.5 passer rating last week and in five career starts in November, has completed 83-of-127 passes (65.4 percent) for 984 yards with three touchdowns, two interceptions and a 90.1 rating. Running back Chris Ogbonnaya had a career-best 90 rush yards against the Rams and figures to see plenty of carries again this week with usual bell- cow Peyton Hillis (hamstring) and second-year pro Montario Hardesty (calf) still out with injuries. Tight end Benjamin Watson needs four catches to reach 100 with the Browns, while rookie wide receiver Greg Little -- a second-round selection in this past draft -- had a career-best 84 receiving yards last week and tied a career-high with six catches. Little ranks second in the NFL among rookies with 37 receptions, trailing only Cincinnati's A.J. Green (41). Wide receiver Joshua Cribbs has two touchdown catches in his past three games.
On the Jacksonville defense, linebacker Paul Posluszny posted his first interception since December of 2009 last week, while Mincey had a career-high 2 1/2 sacks against the Colts and has 3 1/2 over his past three games. Cornerback Drew Coleman has two interceptions in his last three outings.
By the numbers, Cleveland's offense is 29th in scoring (14.6 ppg), 30th in total yards (294.1 ypg), 24th in passing (207.1 ypg) and 30th in rushing (87.0 ypg). On defense, the Jaguars are sixth in points allowed (18.4 ppg), fourth in yards allowed (296.4 ypg), fifth against the pass (189.3 ypg) and 14th against the run (107.1 ypg).
KEYS TO THE GAME
Jones-Drew figures to carry early and often against a Browns defense that's 30th in the league against the run. That will also keep the heat off youngster Gabbert, whom Cleveland wants to force into obvious passing situations to have its best chance of success.
The absence of Mathis may open things up for University of Texas product McCoy, who's shown flashes of being a gunslinger since taking over as starter last season. Cleveland needs to improve its offensive production to put its current losing streak to an end.
Was Jacksonville's win at Indianapolis merely the product of a poor opponent, or have the Jaguars actually turned the corner towards becoming a quality road team? With good defense and solid running game against an anemic foe, it could be the latter.
When all else fails, go with the team that's got the best player. In this case, it's probably Jones-Drew. Add in a superior defense as well, even without Mathis, and Jacksonville seems to have the edge. Assuming they control the clock and limit mistakes, there's no reason the Jaguars' road streak shouldn't go to two straight.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jaguars 17, Browns 14
11/17 09:13:27 ET