National Football League
Browns-Jets Preview
National Football League

Browns-Jets Preview

Published Sep. 9, 2015 10:18 p.m. ET

While the New York Jets defense is known for delivering punishing blows to quarterbacks, the biggest hit it delivered this offseason was to its own signal- caller.

With Geno Smith out for at least the first four weeks, Ryan Fitzpatrick steps in to help the Jets open a fifth straight season with a win Sunday against the visiting Cleveland Browns.

New York (4-12) regularly ranked among the top defenses in the NFL in six seasons under former coach Rex Ryan, and the unit tied for sixth with 45 sacks in 2014.

That's not expected to change with rookie coach Todd Bowles at the helm. However, Smith absorbed perhaps the most vicious blow of the summer when his jaw was broken last month by a punch from linebacker Ikemefuna Enemkpali, who was immediately released before signing with Ryan in Buffalo.


"I've put it behind me," Smith said. "We're focusing on the Cleveland Browns as a team and we've got a big game ahead of us, so that's all that really matters at this point."

More specifically, Fitzpatrick is focusing on the Browns (7-9). The journeyman is reunited with offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, who coached the Bills from 2010-12 with Fitzpatrick as his starter.

Fitzpatrick spent last season with Houston, completing a career-high 63.1 percent of his passes for 2,483 yards with 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 12 games before breaking his left leg against Indianapolis in Week 15.

After needing a rod inserted in his leg to recover, Fitzpatrick is looking forward to being under center again - a job he has a chance to keep when Smith returns.

"You know what?" Fitzpatrick said. "It's going to be awesome."

He'll have wide receiver Brandon Marshall to throw to along with Eric Decker, and they'll try to improve an offense that was last in the league with 184.1 passing yards per game. The Jets, though, ranked third with 142.5 rushing yards.

Marshall, acquired in a trade with Chicago during the offseason, had 61 catches for 721 yards and eight touchdowns last season, while Decker had 962 yards and five scores on 74 receptions - all team highs.

"I feel like I'm breaking through my potential," Marshall said. "It's weird because I'm 31 years old and it's year 10, but I honestly feel great."

The same can't be said of defensive end Sheldon Richardson, who is suspended for the first four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Richardson was then charged for resisting arrest 12 days later after driving his car at speeds as high as 143 mph.

"I know what I signed up for," Bowles said. "This is the NFL. We're not in needling class or anything like that. There are going to be things that come up every day that you have to deal with."

Leonard Williams, the sixth overall pick in this year's draft, will replace Richardson on the defensive line after a muscle injury behind his knee hampered him during the preseason.

The Jets' secondary welcomes Darrelle Revis back after spending the last two seasons with Tampa Bay and New England. The return of "Revis Island" should bolster a defense that tied for last in the NFL with a franchise-low six interceptions last season.

The Browns haven't started a season with a victory since 2004, but they were 7-4 last year before losing their last five.

"For us to finish like that left a real sour taste," cornerback Joe Haden said. "We're full of talent. We have a lot of young guys that are hungry and thirsty and ready to play. Talent-wise, there's no problem."

There is actually, and it's at quarterback. Cleveland is turning to 36-year-old Josh McCown, who completed 56.3 percent of his passes for 2,206 yards with 11 TDs and 14 picks in 11 games for Tampa Bay last year, winning once.

''It's our job to put him in situations where he can thrive and I think that's true with any team, but especially true for us,'' coach Mike Pettine said. ''To me, he's only going to be as good as his supporting cast.''

The Browns are still reluctant to turn the reigns over to Johnny Manziel, who checked into rehab during the offseason due to his excessive partying.

No matter who is under center, Cleveland doesn't have a top target. Free-agent signings Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline lead a group that includes Andrew Hawkins, Cleveland's leader last year with 63 catches and 824 yards.

The backfield is also unsettled with Isaiah Crowell owning a tenuous hold on the starting spot ahead of third-round pick Duke Johnson, who has returned from a concussion sustained in the preseason.

Johnson had 1,652 yards while averaging 6.8 per carry with 10 touchdowns last season at Miami, adding 38 catches for 421 yards and three scores.

He'll get a chance to supplant Crowell, who had 607 yards and 4.1 per attempt with eight touchdowns as a rookie last year.

"We feel good about where Crow is," Pettine said. "We feel much more comfortable throwing him the ball this year and much more trusting of him in pass protection."

The Browns had the worst run defense in the league last year, allowing 141.6 yards per game, and that's not going to bode well against Chris Ivory, a physical runner who had 821 yards and 4.1 per carry with six touchdowns.


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