Everyone knows the most important game on the schedule for any team is one they are playing this week, but this game carries a bit more weight for the Cleveland Browns. If the Browns pull out a win on Thursday night, they officially clinch the playoffs for just the third time since the franchise came back in 1999.
The 6-9 New York Jets are officially out of the playoffs but have refused to lay down and die after winning two of their last three games. That means even though Cleveland is favored, they can't take the visiting team lightly. Below we look at the key matchup of Thursday night's game in Cleveland
Amari Cooper vs Sauce Gardner
Amari Cooper made history last week setting a single-game franchise record with 265 receiving yards against the Houston Texans. It just hasn’t been one good game for Cooper, as over the past three weeks he's accumulated 22 catches, 451 yards, and three touchdowns.
On the other end, former Defensive Rookie of the Year Sauce Gardner picked up where he left off last year, only allowing 243 yards and a single touchdown so far in 2023. Gardner has yet to have a bad game either never allowing more than 59 receiving in a game this year. It's tough to imagine Cooper is going to have another 200-yard game vs one of the league's best corners.
Browns OL vs Jets Pass rush
Watching the box score you’d think the Browns offensive lineman did a great job blocking for Joe Flacco, but looking further, it was far from a good outing for the hogs up front. The offensive line gave up one sack and 23 pressures, the latter of which is the most they’ve given up in a game all year. This is even more concerning considering the Texans were without first-rounder edge rusher Will Anderson and their sack leader Jonathan Greenard left the game early with an injury as well.
New York's pass rush isn’t an elite group but they are among the top half of the league in terms of getting after the quarterback. As a group, they average over 20 quarterback pressure and over 2.5 sacks a game. Bryce Huff leads the team with eight sacks and he’s among two other players to have over 50 pressures on the year. The Browns' offensive line has to step up to make sure the Jets' front seven doesn’t control this game.
Denzel Ward vs Garrett Wilson
On the defensive side of the ball, two former Ohio State Buckeyes will face off as cornerback Denzel Ward will line up against fellow alumnus Garrett Wilson. Ward has been playing his best stretch of ball as he's given up a meager average of 15 yards a game in the past five games he's played in. The biggest issue with Ward this season is the amount of yards he’s allowed after the catch, with it being 59.2 percent of his 407 total passing yards given up.
Wilson has been the only consistent offensive player for the Jets this year. Despite playing with his fourth quarterback this season, he has hauled in 88 catches for 958 yards and three touchdowns. The game plan will revolve around the second-year player considering Wilson was targeted 10 or more times in eight games this season. Cleveland has to take away the Jets' best weapon to guarantee their win, and Ward will be asked to carry the load.
Bryce Hall vs the Browns defense
Lastly, the Browns defense will need to stop Bryce Hall from getting going on Thursday night to keep control of the game. Hall has been a do-it-all running back for the Jets for the past three weeks, accumulating 335 total yards and three touchdowns. Now this goes without saying, very rarely has Cleveland had lapses defending the run this year.
As a unit, they have only allowed one 100-yard rusher, Jaylen Warren in Week 11 facing the Pittsburgh Steelers. In terms of the entire season, Cleveland has given up over 120 rushing yards in only four of their 15 games this season. They will need to continue their dominance vs the ground game as a backup quarterback's best friend is an efficient ground game.
In conclusion, the Browns flat-out need to take care of business on Thursday night. It's their last home game of the season and nothing would be sweeter to the fans than to see their team clinch a playoff spot in their home stadium. The team is doing their best to encourage high fan morale as not only is the team wearing their alternate all-white uniforms but they have encouraged all fans to wear white apparel to make the game a true “white out”. The stadium will be rocking in downtown Cleveland as the Browns will try to make history.