Cleveland Mired in 0-4 Start Despite Playing Well
The Patriots head back out on the road on Sunday when they travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns at 1 p.m. The Pats have both Tom Brady and Rob Ninkovich back and each is eligible to play this weekend. Odds are pretty strong that #12 will be active for this one.
The Pats had their three-game winning streak snapped in a 16-0 loss to the Bills last weekend. The offense was shut out at home for the first time since the 1993 season. But sitting at 3-1, they still hold the division lead and with Brady back, should be in great shape moving forward.
The Browns (0-4), played well against Washington and led after three-quarters only to see the lead evaporate in the final 15 minutes as they fell to the Redskins 30-21. One of the intriguing aspects of Cleveland has been that they’ve been in the position to win at least three of their games with the exception of the opener.
Here are our Five First Impressions of the Brown:
Jackson Believes they are ready to turn the corner: When the Browns lost to the Redskins on Sunday, the loss dropped them to 0-4 and the only winless team in the NFL. But Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson is focusing on what lays ahead and believes that his team is ready to turn the corner and can start winning these close games in the fourth quarter.
“The good thing is our guys are fighting hard and putting themselves in position for a chance to win,” Jackson said. “Whether it’s turnovers or mistake here or mistake there, those are the things that do get you beat. Again, we have to continue to learn and grow from these things so that we can get better.”
Cleveland has played well in the last three games only to lose games in the second half. They’re now trying to turn those things around. “I think it’s us playing better in those critical moments,” Jackson said. “Do intelligent things that good football teams do to give themselves a chance to win and players making plays in those situations. I think all of those things will factor in but there’s no question in my mind it’s going to happen. When it’s going to happen, I don’t know but I know it’s going to happen. I feel good about that.”
But even Jackson knows that his team faces long odds this week. Asked on Monday about facing a Patriots offense led by Tom Brady, fresh off of his suspension, Jackson said simply, “Not fun at all.”
Browns are on their 3rd QB too: The Cleveland Browns have been searching, it seems for years for their franchise QB. They gambled, and lost on the immature Johnny Manziel but were looking forward to re-starting the once promising career of Robert W. Griffin III in 2016. Griffin was the starter for the season opener but broke a bone in his shoulder leading to Josh McCown who started 8 games a year ago. He too suffered a shoulder injury which led to rookie Cody Kessler who has started the past two games.
So the Browns, like the Patriots are on their third starting QB for the season. However, the Pats are getting their starter back this week in Brady. Kessler has played fairly well, he had the Browns in position to win the Miami game a week ago with a FG attempt at the end of the game which was missed. On Sunday, he again had Cleveland ahead in the fourth quarter but turnovers hurt them leading to two late touchdowns.
Kessler was a 3rd round pick (93rd overall) of the Browns in the 2016 NFL Draft. The 6’1 QB from USC is very accurate, smart and anticipates the routes of the receivers to hit them in stride. He doesn’t possess the strongest arm, nor has the size most teams looked for in a QB. One thing that scouts pointed out during the draft process was that he was inconsistent when under pressure. At times taking his eyes off the play downfield and would move out of the pocket.
Browns Running Game has been solid: Led by Isiah Crowell, the Browns are off to good start in one area and that is running the football. The Browns wanted to be a run-first smash mouth football team this year. And with Crowell, they’ve been able to do that so far in 2016. The Browns as a team rushed for 163 yards on Sunday and have more than 120 rushing yards in four straight games to begin the season.
Crowell is a 5’11, 225-pound running back sees the field well and is decisive. One he sees an opening, he hits it hard, and he has the ability to break tackles easily. On Sunday he had the Browns four longest plays from scrimmage, a 19-yard run, an 18-yard run and a pair of 17-yard runs. He carried the ball 15 times for 112 yards against the Redskins.
Crowell on the year has 60 carries for 386 yards, good for an excellent 6.4 yards per carry average and three touchdowns. His goal was to rush for 1000 yards this season, he is on pace to easily surpass that. His 386 yards rushing in the first four games is the most by a Browns running back since Jim Brown ran for 476 in 1965.
Pryor is the Guy to Watch This Week: There are players that bear watching every week and this week one of those guys will be Browns Terrelle Pryor. The QB turned WR nearly became a Patriot in 2015. After being released by the Browns due to a balky hamstring, he had a workout with the Patriots that even left Pryor surprised that he wasn’t signed.
“I know Bill Belichick really liked me. I had a great workout for them and everything went really well. I really thought he was going to sign me.” The Patriots passed because Belichick wasn’t sure his hamstring was completely healed.
Pryor has been doing it all for the Browns; last week against Miami, he played WR, QB and even at safety. He finished with 144 receiving yards, 35 passing yards, and 21 rushing yards. Not since Frank Gifford in 1959 has anyone put up that kind of numbers.
The 6’4 speedster is an athletic specimen and will be a key focus of the Patriots defense to stop this week. On the season he’s caught 19 passes for 290 yards, (15.3 yard average) and a touchdown.,
Cleveland Pass Defense Facing a Tough Task: One of the weaknesses on the Browns the first four weeks has been their pass defense. After allowing rookie Carson Wentz to throw for 278 yards in the opener, Joe Flacco threw for 302 more in Week 2. Ryan Tannehill of the Dolphins followed that up with 319 more in Week 3.
While they held Washington’s Kirk Cousins to his lowest output of the season (183 yards), they were also hit with pass interference penalties worth an additional 71 more in the game. Washington’s biggest target on Sunday was TE Jordan Reed who caught 9 passes for 73 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The Patriots have a bookend tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett who can make life difficult for safeties and linebackers. Plus, with Tom Brady under center this week, the NE passing game will definitely have a much different feel from it this week.
Cleveland has been good at taking the ball away with five interceptions, and they have the outstanding Joe Haden at corner but this matchup on Sunday will bear watching. New England has a lot of options to use in the passing game and it will be difficult for them to cover them all.
Check back with us later in the week as we’ll break down the key matchups for the game right here on PatsFans.com.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots season Bill Belichick Cleveland Browns Cody Kessler Danny Amendola Hue Jackson Isiah Crowell Jabaal Sheard Joe Haden Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Terrelle Pryor Tom Brady