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Five Patriots Players to Watch Against the Browns

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
7 years ago at 1:29 pm ET
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary

Five Patriots Players to Watch Against the BrownsWinslow Townson - USA TODAY Sports

Patriots Offensive Identity Changes This Week

The Patriots hit the road this week as they travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns. The good news is that QB Tom Brady is back and should be activated and start on Sunday. Brady missed the first four games of the season with his Deflategate suspension and the Patriots passing offense has languished in his absence.

The opponent this week, the Browns have a very young team so there really isn’t a lot of film on many of their players yet. But they run the football extremely well, being #1 in the league with over 149 yards a game. With Isaiah Crowell and the versatile Terrelle Pryor, Cleveland has a couple of dynamic playmakers that will have to be accounted for.

The Patriots passing offense, as we mentioned above, needs to get going and Brady will try to get as many of those players involved as possible. The Browns defense hasn’t been very good and they’ll try to take advantage of some mismatches in the secondary.

Here are our five players from a Patriots perspective to watch on Sunday:

Quarterback Tom Brady: The Patriots QB was inactive for the first quarter of the season and during his suspension was throwing passes to his wife, some high schoolers and former teammate Wes Welker. There is no better way to prepare for a football game than by throwing to teammates with the other 10 members of the offense on the field. The amount of rust that he’ll experience will be an area to watch.

However, no one sees the field pre-snap better than Brady and he’ll be looking to get off on a good note by getting all of his receivers involved right away. So the Patriots opponents won’t have the benefit this week of knowing that the QB will really be targeting just half the field as was the case a week ago.

This will be the first time that the offense still sans Dion Lewis is close to being the one that the coaches envisioned during the off-season. All eyes will be on #12 this week. That’s usually when he performs his best.

TE Rob Gronkowski: The big man has been barely visible himself the first four weeks, missing the first two games and then barely being used in the passing game since. Gronk has just one catch so far this season and that came a week ago when he was targeted just twice in the passing game.

Since injuring his hamstring against the Bears during the joint practices in early August, the Patriots have been very cautious with his practicing, his usage and about pushing him back too early. They need a healthy Gronk in January, not in September.

With Brady not yet activated on the roster, Gronk took his normal spot on the Wednesday media session which is a good sign that he’s getting closer to 100 percent physically. I look for Brady to use the big man early and often on Sunday. He and Martellus Bennett are two big mismatches against the Browns defense.

LB Dont’a Hightower: The Patriots big bruising linebacker has another tough task this week. Facing the top rushing team in the NFL and with the dangerous Isaiah Crowell, Hightower will have to be on top of his game this week to slow down the Browns running game.

One area that must improve overall for the defense is their tackling and that will start with the big thumper in the middle. The Patriots as a unit were abysmal a week ago at tackling and facing a runner like Crowell, he can take it to the house every time he touches the ball.

Look for Hightower to be aggressive and active against Crowell this week. If they can slow down or neutralize the Cleveland running game, it will go a long way in ensuring that the team comes away with a victory on Sunday.

Logan Ryan: The Patriots corner will also probably have a tough task this week when he’ll be asked to cover the Browns’ Terrelle Pryor this week. Pryor is Cleveland’s athletic, explosive and very versatile wide receiver and Ryan will probably also have some over the top safety help this week.

Ryan was the team’s leading tackler a week ago with 17 and seemed to be getting picked on a bit by the Bills Tyrod Taylor. How much of that was production or scheme related is a topic for discussion? It seemed that the Patriots played the Bills soft and were allowing the underneath routes and paid the price.

Ryan will have a tough task to be sure but the defense as a whole will place a premium in stopping Pryor this week.

James White: With Brady returning the Pats’ offensive identity will obviously change somewhat this week. I don’t see the team running the ball in the neighborhood of 52-55 percent of the time as they’ve done thus far this season.

So with less LeGarrette Blount in the lineup, it means more snaps for James White. White should see more snaps and be much more active in the passing game with Brady back. And with Gronkowski taking on a more active role in pass receiving, White may have to pick up some of the slack on his pass blocking duties.

But White’s biggest asset is his pass receiving and look for him and Brady to frequently put extra pressure on the Browns linebackers by splitting White out and forcing them to declare who’s in coverage.

Chris Hogan: The Patriots WR who came over from Buffalo has played well thus far in the season but has been called up mostly to block in a support role with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett in there at quarterback. That should change this week.

Hogan is filling the old Brandon LaFell spot as the outside, “X” wide receiver and has been targeted occasionally with the deep ball in the first four weeks. Expect his targets and production to increase as they begin to test defenses with the deep in patterns and the sideline comeback routes that Brady can work to perfection.

Hogan and Brady can also test the field vertically as well, in the preseason they worked a 33-yard touchdown toss against the Panthers that was perfectly executed. The two worked together on the side during the spring and summer and it will be interesting to see where their communication and chemistry are at after the first four weeks. Hogan told the media this week, that he’s been staying late after practice working with Brady on their communication. Here will be their first big test.

Stay tuned to as well have up-to-the-minute breaking news as well as post-game analysis.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots season Bill Belichick Buffalo Bills Chris Hogan Cleveland Browns Danny Amendola Dion Lewis Dont'a Hightower Isaiah Crowell Jabaal Sheard James White Jimmy Garoppolo Joe Haden Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Logan Ryan Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Terrelle Pryor Tom Brady

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