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6 Players to Watch as Jets Try to Get an Edge on Familiar Foes from Cleveland

Thursday Night Spotlight Will Be on Breece Hall, Jets Tackles and Coverage of D.J. Reed & Co. on Amari Cooper


The Jets and the Browns, who will get the NFL's Week 17 started on Thursday Night Football, have had some uncanny connections through the years. In their first meeting after the merger, they got Monday Night Football off and flying in 1970. There was the 2015 season opener, their Thursday night matchup in '18, and a Monday night a year later. The teams kicked off the 2023 season, filled with much promise for both sides, in August in the Hall of Fame Game.

Then there's the series record — dead-even from several angles. They're tied, 9-9 in games at Cleveland and 14-14 in all regular-season games. Factoring in Cleveland's 1986 playoff win and the Jets' 2-1 preseason edge, they're 16-16 in all games.

Want to talk defense? The Browns are No. 1 overall and No. 1 in net passing yards, the Jets are No. 3 and No. 2. And could the Dawg Pound be the site of a 3-and-out Groundhog Day? Cleveland is first and the Jets second in the league in most 1-2-3-punt series forced on their opponents.

One thing that's not even-steven is each team's status with two games to go. The Jets, with either Zach Wilson or, if he's not cleared out of the league's concussion protocol, Trevor Siemian at quarterback, are 6-9 and out of playoff contention. The Browns, with former Jets backup and occasional starter Joe Flacco their QB at the moment, are 10-5 and a virtual lock for an AFC Wild Card berth.

Here are six players to watch as the Jets seek to prevail in the Dawg Pound and continue their desired path toward a three-game season-ending win streak.

RB Breece Hall — Against the Commanders, Hall's 95 rushing yards and 96 receiving yards made him one of only three 90/90 players in franchise history and the only Jet with two such games (he went 97/100 vs. Miami last season).He also scored twice and his 11 first downs were the most by any Jet since 2016. The Browns feature the NFL's top pass defense in several different metrics but aren't as dominant against the run (12th in yards/carry), while the Jets are coming off of their 164-yard ground game vs. Washington, their third-highest total of the season. It would seem Hall could be productive again toting the rock while also making opponents miss on checkdowns, screens and crosses.

Tackles Mekhi Becton and Carter Warren — Have the Jets found an OL that can get them at least to January? Becton-Tomlinson-Tippmann-Hanson-Warren opened holes for their best rushing performance in 10 games and the line allowed no sacks for the first time all season. But the pressure will be on in Cleveland for both young vet LT Becton and rookie Warren, making his third pro start at RT. That's because Myles Garrett looms. The Browns DE lines up wide against both tackles and he's produced a truckload of '23 numbers, including 13 sacks, 26 QB hits and 4 forced fumbles.

LB Quincy Williams — Here's another opportunity for Williams to flash. He and C.J. Mosley need to lead the run defense against a struggling Browns rushing attack (3.86 yards/carry, 26th in the league). If they keep a lid on that, the front four can apply pressure to old friend Flacco in the pocket while Quincy drops into coverage. He got his first career INT Sunday and his 10 PDs are second among all LBs this season. And he could well pitch in on the coverage of TE David Njoku, one of the Browns' three main receiving threats who leads the team in receptions (75) and TD catches (6)

CB D.J. Reed — Flacco we know can throw for 300 yards. We also know he can turn the ball over — he has eight TOs in his four Cleveland starts and the Browns lead the NFL with most INTs thrown (20) and most giveaways (32). Then there's WR Amari Cooper, who can do damage from both sides but was particularly potent vs. right-side coverage during his monster 11-catch, 265-yard, two-TD game in Houston. That means RCB Reed but also Sauce Gardner, Michael Carter and the safeties will welcome any help from Quincy Williams and the front seven to help level the playing field when they have to run with and defend against the ageless Cooper, not to mention former Jet Elijah Moore..

K Greg Zuerlein — Cleveland Browns Stadium for some reason has been a home away from home for Jets kickers. Chandler Catanzaro set the franchise distance record of 57 yards there in 2017 and Zuerlein matched that with his own 57-yarder in '22. Now "Greg the Leg," fresh off his game-winning 54-yarder vs. Washington that simultaneously set the Jets' consecutive-FGs record at 25 in a row (but bothered by an aching right quad), could be needed again from long range to pull out another late nailbiter, in conjunction with P Thomas Morstead's inside-the-20 punts helping to control field position against the tough Brownies.

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