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Thursday Night Preview: Can Cleveland Finally Win a Game?

The New York Jets head to Ohio to take on the Cleveland Browns, and these squads are both looking to bounce back after Week 2 losses.

For Cleveland, they have been on the very cusp of two victories, but still remain winless over the last 634 days. The Jets took their Week 1 contest, but lost an AFC East matchup last week against the Miami Dolphins.

Per our team rankings (based on our nERD metric), the Jets seem to have the edge, ranking 11th, while the home Browns are a bit further back at 25th.

It will also feature an interesting contrast in styles. The Browns offense moves at a lightning quick pace, having run the fourth-most plays in the NFL (155), and they rank fifth in seconds-per-play. The Jets, meanwhile, are working at a snail's pace, ranking eighth-worst in offensive plays run (130) and second-worst in pace.

Can the Browns break their winless streak, which dates back to Christmas Eve of 2016, or can the Jets hold them off and move to 2-1? Let's dig in and find out.

Quarterback Breakdown

The quarterback situation here couldn't be more different, as a veteran with a new team faces off against a young rookie making his third NFL start.

Let's start with the veteran in Tyrod Taylor. Among the 35 quarterbacks who recorded at least 200 drop backs in 2017, Taylor was pretty average last season as a member of the Buffalo Bills. In peeking at Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, Taylor ranked 19th with a 0.06 per drop back. In terms of Passing Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs which result in positive NEP -- Taylor slid back to 23rd with a mark of 43.13%.

Defining Taylor only as a passer is a bit unfair, as the mobile quarterback was quite successful on the ground. He ranked fourth in rushing attempts with a very nice 69 carries, and despite the high volume, was pretty efficient with those attempts, ranking 12th in Rushing NEP per play among all quarterbacks (0.46).

Rookie Sam Darnold has been decent to start his NFL career. Among the 32 quarterbacks in 2018 with 30 or more drop backs, Darnold ranks 17th in both Passing NEP per drop back (0.08) and Passing Success Rate (47.76%).

While the season is young, both quarterbacks have shown no fear in chucking it deep. In looking at Average Intended Air Yards (IAY) -- the average air yards a passer throws on all attempts -- both sit inside the top-10 of passers this season at 9.4 air yards per attempt.

With no real advantage for either team at the quarterback position, how do the running games stack up?

Running Back Play

Both teams feature lead backs that changed teams this off-season, so it makes it easy to compare and contrast the rushing attacks. Interestingly, the Jets' lead back spent his first four NFL seasons in Cleveland, so let's start there.

Isaiah Crowell has been pretty effective so far in 2018. Among the 38 running backs with 20 or more carries, the fifth-year back ranks second-best in Rushing NEP per attempt with a mark of 0.25. However, it's important to note that for Crowell, Week 1 and Week 2 were far different. In a Week 1 win over the Lions, Crowell blasted his way to 102 rushing yards on a mere 10 attempts. In Week 2, he struggled for 35 rushing yards on 12 attempts.

In looking at Rushing Success Rate, Crowell doesn't fare so hot, ranking only 20th with a mark of 36.36%. In the passing game, Crowell has been virtually nonexistent, catching only two passes.

Carlos Hyde, also a member of the 2014 draft class, spent his first four seasons elsewhere, landing in Cleveland as part of their rebuilding efforts. Unfortunately for Hyde, he's struggled out of the gates, ranking 21st in Rushing NEP per attempt (-0.08), and 34th in Rushing Success Rate (28.95%). Lurking in the background is Duke Johnson, who ranked fourth among running backs with 80 carries or more in 2017 with a Rushing NEP per attempt of 0.12, adding 74 receptions to boot.

The Jets would appear to have the edge in running the football, but how do these two defenses stack up?

Defensive Matchup

Two of the top defenses in the NFL will square off tonight, making life certainly tough on both offensive units.

The Jets' defense has been dominant this year, tied for first overall in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play, and also first against the pass. They have also still been quite solid against the run, ranking 15th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play.

In looking at Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate, which measures sacks plus intentional grounding penalties, the Jets have been just average at harassing the opposing quarterback, checking in 20th (5.5%) with just four sacks to their name. However, they are tied for the league lead with five interceptions.

The Browns' defense, meanwhile, has been quite good as well, ranking fifth overall by numberFire's metrics, and fifth against both the pass and run.

One area the Browns have excelled in is adjusted sack rate, ranking ninth (8.9%). They also lead the league in takeaways with eight turnovers this year (three interceptions, five recovered fumbles).

Both defenses have also excelled in getting the ball back to their offenses, as Cleveland ranks fifth in yards allowed per drive (25.34) and the Jets rank sixth (25.56).

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