|Winless Browns face uphill climb vs. stingy Jaguars|
The Cleveland Browns' offense is gaining traction just in time to face the toughest defense against which to score in the NFL.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, winners of three straight and tied for first with the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South at 6-3, visit FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland on Sunday. They have allowed the fewest points (134) in the NFL.
The Browns (0-9) are coming off a 38-24 loss to the Lions in Detroit. The 24 points were the most scored by the Browns since a 31-28 loss to the Colts in Indianapolis in the third week of the season.
"On paper, we don't (match up well with the Browns)," Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said on Wednesday. "Defensively, they give you a lot of problems. Obviously, one of the best run defenses. Obviously, we try to run the football. That's going to be a very difficult matchup for us."
The Jaguars lead the NFL with 35 sacks. The pressure is going to be on the Browns' offensive line because both tackle spots could be manned by backups. Spencer Drango will start at left tackle because Joe Thomas (left triceps) is on injured reserve. Zach Banner, inactive the first eight games, started at right tackle in practice Wednesday because Shon Coleman is in the concussion protocol.
Browns coach Hue Jackson is hopeful Coleman might be cleared in time to play Sunday, but for now Banner is preparing to start.
Cleveland center JC Tretter (shoulder/knee/quad) was also held from practice Wednesday.
Six Jaguars did not practice Wednesday -- linebacker Blair Brown (hamstring), wide receiver Marqise Lee (knee), wide receiver Allen Hurns (ankle), left guard Patrick Omaneh, right tackle Jermey Parnell (knee) and defensive end Dawuane Smoot (knee).
"They don't just have one guy," Banner said. "When you talk about (Jaguars defensive end Calais) Campbell, as you talk about a lot of the guys they have, he played a lot on my side last week. They're all great players.
"At this level, and even at the college level, I was never a guy that ever underestimated anybody. I think that's what helped bring along success in the past is that you don't look down upon anybody and you don't underestimate anybody. You expect that you're going to get their best every single time, especially at this level."
Campbell leads the Jaguars with 11 sacks while right end Yannick Ngakoue has 6.5 sacks. The pressure the Jaguars put on opposing quarterbacks is a major reason why they have 11 interceptions. Only the Ravens (13) and Rams (12) have more picks.
The early weather forecast for Cleveland on Sunday calls for a high of 34 degrees and a mix of snow and rain. That would seem to favor the Jaguars with rookie running back Leonard Fournette rushing 147 times for 629 yards and six touchdowns. Fournette has missed two games -- one against the Colts with an ankle injury and one against the Bengals for disciplinary reason.
"I'm from New York," Marrone said. "We have a bunch of guys that are from the north. I know I will be OK. I'm used to it. I'm not really worried about the players."
Fournette played against the Los Angeles Chargers last week but was held to 33 yards and 17 carries. It was the first game in which he did not score a touchdown. Fournette was limited in practice Wednesday with an ankle injury.
"He's a hard runner," Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey said. "He reminds me a little bit of Adrian Peterson's early days. He's a guy that can run the ball and is looking for contact. So we'll be ready for him."
Both quarterbacks have struggled with turnovers. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has thrown 11 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Browns rookie DeShone Kizer has thrown four touchdown passes, and although he has thrown 12 picks, he is coming off his best game of the season. On Sunday, he has to go against the best defense the Browns have faced in 2017.
One of those ball hawks in the Jacksonville secondary is former Browns safety Tashaun Gipson. Gipson has three interceptions and is eager to show the team that let him walk in free agency after four years that he can still play.
Gipson provided bulletin board material for the Browns by predicting in a radio interview that his former team would go 0-16.
"You bet your bottom dollar I did," Jackson said when asked if he told his players about Gipson's comments.