Whether it’s Eric Mangini facing his former team, Braylon Edwards(notes) returning to Cleveland or the twin defensive-minded coaches squaring off, there are no shortage of story lines for the Browns’ visit from the New York Jets.
An enticing matchup on the field might be the best of all.
After consecutive routs of supposed Super Bowl contenders - including one of Mangini’s former employer - the Browns have another upset in mind Sunday as Cleveland’s coach faces the Jets for the first time since Rex Ryan replaced him.
All but one of the Browns’ first eight opponents has a winning record, and all they had to show through six games were three losses by less than a touchdown and a win over the lone sub-.500 team they faced (Cincinnati).
Suddenly, Cleveland (3-5) is doing much more than just staying close. Coordinator Rob Ryan’s defense picked off Drew Brees(notes) four times in a 30-17 win at New Orleans in Week 8, then Peyton Hillis(notes) ran for 184 yards and two touchdowns as the Browns handed Mangini mentor Bill Belichick and New England a 34-14 loss last Sunday.
“We know we can beat anybody,” receiver Joshua Cribbs(notes) said. “If you beat these supposedly best two teams in the league, it gives us confidence there isn’t one team in this league that we don’t think we can beat.”
That’s a bold claim that Jets coach Rex Ryan is no stranger to making. Ryan said as much when New York (6-2) went into its bye week fresh off five consecutive victories, but his team hasn’t looked like the NFL’s best the past two weeks.
Three turnovers proved costly in a 9-0 home loss to Green Bay in Week 8, and the Jets were on the verge of falling again Sunday in Detroit. However, New York scored 10 late points to tie the score at 20, then got a 30-yard field goal from Nick Folk(notes) in overtime to escape with a 23-20 win.
Not that Ryan ever lost faith.
“We found a way, and that’s what great teams do,” said Ryan, hired three weeks after the Jets fired Mangini in 2008.
Mangini recommended Ryan to New York general manager Mike Tannenbaum upon his dismissal, citing Ryan’s similar defensive philosophies. He insists he’s not bitter about his departure from the Jets, saying it made him a better person and coach, though he’s certainly eager to face them.
“It’s going to be special,” Mangini said, “and last week was special, too.”
Attempting to stop Mark Sanchez(notes), LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) and the Jets’ offense this week will be Rex’s twin brother, Rob, whose defense held Brees and Tom Brady(notes) to a combined 69.5 passer rating the past two weeks.
“He’s one of the most creative coaches in the league, probably the most on defense,” said Rex Ryan, who joked that he’s taken out a bounty on his brother.
“I think him and Mangini together, that’s a pretty good tandem right there. … They’re doing all kind of different things, multiple fronts, multiple coverages, blitzes. It’s great to see and tough to go against.”
What the Jets offer that the Saints and Patriots don’t is a power running game. New York is fourth in the league with 148.0 rushing yards per game behind the tandem of Tomlinson and Shonn Greene(notes), though it’s coming off its worst rushing day of the year (110 yards, 3.7 per carry) in Detroit.
The duo might need a big day with Sanchez struggling. The Jets have spent much of the past three games playing from behind, which has meant more attempts - and interceptions - for the second-year quarterback. Sanchez has five picks in that stretch after not throwing one the first five weeks.
One of his targets will certainly have the attention of the Browns’ secondary - and their fan base. Edwards returns to Cleveland for the first time since being shipped to New York for Chansi Stuckey(notes) and two draft picks in October 2009.
The 2007 Pro Bowler was a major contributor to the Browns finishing second in the NFL in dropped passes the past two seasons, and he hasn’t helped his image in Cleveland by criticizing his time with the organization and the city’s lack of entertainment options.
The Browns don’t currently have a receiver with Edwards’ talent, but it appears they’ve found their future offensive backfield. Hillis is averaging 4.8 yards per carry and has seven touchdowns, while quarterback Colt McCoy(notes) has completed 67.6 percent of his passes in his first three NFL starts.
“He knows what he’s talking about.”
Since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Browns have won three of the four meetings, all of which were decided by seven points or less.
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