Strong safety T.J. Ward was right. The Browns can’t win committing four turnovers a game, which is exactly what they did the last two weeks in disheartening, season-wrecking losses to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. The Browns, who have fallen to tied for 26th in the NFL with a minus-7 turnover ratio, just don’t have enough talent and firepower on offense to overcome such mistakes and missed opportunities. Chris Ogbonnaya has been reliable in all his roles – ball carrier, lead blocker, blitz protector, receiver – but his fumbles the last two weeks were pivotal.
“The No. 1 thing that we have to do as an offensive group is eliminate the turnovers,” coordinator Norv Turner said. “When we’ve played our best, we’ve won the turnover battle and we’ve not had very many turnovers.”
Ward’s point about eliminating turnovers was on the money, but he should’ve been equally strong discussing the defense’s role in the substandard turnover margin. It’s forced only three turnovers in the last five losses. Jacksonville ranks 25th with a minus-6 ratio, so this is the perfect chance for the Browns to get back on track.
SILENCE THE MASSES
Quarterback Brandon Weeden is on an island. Browns fans don’t want to see him play. His coaches benched him twice. His teammates said the right things, but had a hard time mustering any conviction behind the words. The Jaguars might be the only people not named Weeden who gained confidence with Weeden’s return to the lineup as Jason Campbell sits with a concussion.
Weeden said he’s tuned out all the negativity, but he’s lying. While he isn’t focusing on particular criticisms from fans and media, he can’t help but hear the boos at his home stadium and will try to use them as fuel for a turnaround of his season and career.
“At that position, you have to be confident,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “Brandon has had a very good week of preparation and practice, and that’s one of the things specifically that I’ve noticed is he’s been very confident this week and expects to do well.”
Weeden might not get a better chance to shut up the fans — and possibly draw some cheers. The Jacksonville defense ranks 30th in points allowed (29.5 per game), 29th against the run (133.5) and 18th against the pass (242.4). Weeden needs to protect the ball — he threw a pick-six and lost a fumble last week — and improve his accuracy. His 51.5 completion percentage ranks 34th in the NFL.
GET OFF THE MAT
The season isn’t over. That may be hard for fans to accept following the lopsided losses to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, but the Browns can’t afford to wallow in the disappointment. Yes, the playoffs suddenly seem like an impossibility, but there’s plenty still at stake.
“This is a resilient group. I think we’ve seen that all season long,” Chudzinski said. “Certainly, those were disappointing games, but every week is a new opportunity. These guys like playing football, and they are passionate about that. The character of this locker room is outstanding. We’ll be ready to play and we’re going to be excited to play.”
With five games left, the Browns aren’t mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, though they’d need four wins to finish 8-8 and have even a remote chance. A more immediate goal should be getting to seven wins, which would constitute a significant improvement over last year’s 5-11 finish. Past teams would let the two-game slide turn into a December meltdown. Chudzinski’s group needs to show things have changed.
Points per game scored by the Browns, 29th in the NFL. Jacksonville is last with 12.9.
Percent of third downs converted by the Jaguars, last in the league.
Rushing touchdown by the Browns this season – Willis McGahee in Week 5. Their opponents have nine.
Browns fans fall in love with Brandon Weeden all over again. OK, that’s not going to happen, but he does get a win over a bad Jacksonville team. Browns 24, Jaguars 10.
Browns: Quarterback Jason Campbell (concussion), inside linebackers Craig Robertson (knee) and Tank Carder (shoulder), offensive linemen Martin Wallace, Garrett Gilkey and Reid Fragel and nose tackle Ishmaa’ily Kitchen.
Rookie Darius Eubanks will make his first start at inside linebacker, replacing Robertson, who’s missing his second straight game.
Jaguars: Quarterback Ricky Stanzi, receivers Stephen Burton and Jeremy Ebert, running back Justin Forsett, cornerback Jamell Fleming, guard Jacques McClendon, defensive lineman Jeremy Mincey.