Browns vs. Jets: Takeaways from New York's 24-13 Win over Cleveland
In one of their most well-played games of the season, the Jets were able to get a win for their head coach to get their record back to 7-8, surpassing last year's win total.
Geno Smith had one of his best games of the season, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another. Most importantly, he did not commit any costly turnovers to give the game away.
This was a meaningless game in terms of playoff implications, but it was a huge win for Rex Ryan as he tries to convince his superiors to keep him as head coach.
Here are the takeaways from this week's win over the Browns.
Geno Smith Is as Solid as Ever
Geno Smith did not set any offensive records, but he played as well as the Jets ever needed him to play this season.
Not only did he account for three touchdowns (two passes and one run), he did not commit a single turnover that would have normally sunk the Jets in a tightly contested game.
The difference for Smith was that he was finally given a decent amount of pass protection, allowing him to go through his reads and step into his throws. He is simply a completely different player when his offensive line plays well.
Still, as well as Smith played in this win, the Jets cannot overreact to one game. They need a quarterback who can play this well on a weekly basis, not a few times per year. New competition still must be brought in for next season.
Dee Milliner Is Turning the Corner
It may have taken three months and three benchings, but the Jets' top draft pick from 2013 is finally starting to play like the ninth-best player in the draft.
Tasked with covering the dangerous Josh Gordon, Milliner not only limited his effectiveness by breaking up a pair of passes, but he even notched his first interception of the season.
Milliner was not perfect—he gave up a few too many completions, and his technique is still in need of refining. He also missed a few tackles, which is a bit uncharacteristic of him.
Still, this was a tremendous game for a rookie who has not had a debut season to speak highly of.
Offensive Line Sets the Tone
The biggest reason why the Jets were finally able to sustain drives and keep their defense off the field was because of the play of their offensive line.
Geno Smith was given a ton of time to operate all day long, as he grew more and more comfortable as the game went on. He was accurate and poised because he was not panicking about rushers coming after him from every angle.
The Jets also ran the ball very well, going for over 200 yards on the day. Chris Ivory accounted for 109 of them on his own.
If the Jets' line had played this well earlier in the season, they might still be in the playoff picture.
Pass Rush Disappoints
While the numbers may say otherwise—the Jets sacked Jason Campbell three times—their vaunted pass rush was invisible for most of the afternoon.
The Jets were able to handle the big-play threat of Josh Gordon, but contrary to what has happened in all of their previous games this season, it was the secondary that outplayed the defensive line. If Dee Milliner or Antonio Cromartie did not have their best games of the season, Gordon may have had another record-setting day.
Perhaps it is a result of being worn out from being on the field for so long, but the Jets are looking for a bit more from players like Sheldon Richardson and Quinton Coples as pass-rushers.
Run Defense Is Leaky
The Jets have been one of the league's best run defenses all year, but the wear of being on the field for so long is starting to take its toll.
After yielding a lot of yards on the ground last week, the Jets surrendered another 115 yards to the likes of players like Edwin Baker.
While the run defense is far from being bad, there has been a clear trend of decline over the past few weeks. The Jets are using a few more Cover 2 looks (taking a safety out of the box), but this decline in run defense is more due to their defensive line being worn out than anything they are doing differently from a schematic standpoint.
David Nelson Provides Great Value
Prior to the season, David Nelson could not find a spot on an NFL roster coming off a brutal ACL injury.
Since joining the Jets in the middle of the season, Nelson has provided some excellent value as a member of the depleted wide receiver corps for the Jets.
Against the Browns, Nelson caught four passes, two of them going for touchdowns.
Nelson is not the fastest player on the field, but he has good size that makes him a useful weapon in the red zone, grabbing contested catches that other receivers on the Jets are simply unable to grab.
The Jets are bound to make wholesale changes to their receiving depth chart, but Nelson has at least earned an invitation to compete for his roster spot next year.
Jeremy Kerley Comes Back to Life
More than anything else, the Jets offense was lacking the clutch third-down conversions that wide receiver Jeremy Kerley provided earlier in the season.
Since returning from his injury, Kerley's impact as a reliable target over the middle has been somewhat minimized. Against the Browns, however, Kerley gave Cleveland fits in clutch situations with a team-leading five catches for 70 yards.
Those numbers don't quite jump off the page, but the timing of his receptions and the fact that they kept drives alive are at least as important as how much yardage they got.
If Geno Smith and Kerley can be on the same page like this for every game, the Jets offense will be much more difficult to stop.
Rex Ryan Gaining Momentum
Despite the report from Fox Sports' Jay Glazer that Rex Ryan believes that he is getting fired after the season, the Jets' head coach is making an excellent case for himself to stay at his post for at least another season.
Whether Ryan stays as coach after the season will come down to more than just the results of these final weeks, but Ryan would certainly like to get as much momentum as possible behind him for when the Jets' brass comes to a decision on his future.
There are a lot of reasons to dislike Ryan as a coach, but he certainly deserves credit for keeping him team focused on winning in a lost season.
If Rex can keep his team playing well enough to get a win next week to finish 8-8, the Jets will have a tough time justifying the idea of firing him.