The Patriots head back out on the road as they travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns on Sunday afternoon.
This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS. Kevin Harlan will be calling the play-by-play with Trent Green as the color analyst. Melanie Collins will be the sideline reporter. The game will also be aired on the Patriots’ flagship radio station, 98.5 The Sports Hub, with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.
With a win, the Patriots can climb back to .500 but are once again facing a tough offense that will require the defense to bring their “A” game. The Browns lead the league in rushing, averaging a whopping 192.4 yards per game. Overall, the Browns are fourth in total yards, and sixth in points scored.
The Patriots (2-3) are coming off a big win at home against the Lions 29-0. The defense was outstanding, shutting a team that had league at that point, averaging 35 points a game. They also set an NFL record by holding Detroit to 0-6 on fourth down.
The offense gashed the Lions on the ground gaining 176 yards, with Rhamondre Stevenson getting 161 of those.
The Browns (2-3) lost to the Los Angeles Chargers 30-28 when a 54-yard field goal was missed. The Browns could easily be 4-1 or 5-0 as all three losses came very late with the Browns in a position to win.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2022 to give some quick analysis of some of the game’s key matchups and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
First up is the Patriots offense:
Patriots RBs vs Browns Front Seven – Edge New England
The Patriots running game lost Damien Harris to a hamstring injury but Rhamondre Stevenson more than picked up his slack, amassing 161 yards rushing, a career-high for him, as well as catching a pair of passes out of the backfield.
The big question is who they will elevate for this game. While most believe it will be veteran J.J. Taylor from the practice squad, he is a kind of change of pace back but not much of a receiver out of the backfield, and because of his size, he struggles in pass protection. Then the choice is either Kevin Harris off the practice squad, he’s a big, physical runner, or Pierre Strong, who was inactive against the Lions. Strong has excellent speed and is viewed as the future 3rd down back as a receiver, who is already good in blitz pickup.
Despite having several outstanding players on the front seven, the Browns have struggled against the run, allowing 138.2 yards per game (28th in the league). After losing LB Anthony Walker in Week 3, the Browns have traded for Deion Jones from the Falcons. How much he will be able to play on Sunday remains to be seen.
The Patriots will look to continue to run against the Browns as Stevenson is really coming into his own. However, with a rookie third-string QB at the helm, look for the Browns to stack the box and dare New England to beat them through the air.
Patriots WRs vs Browns Secondary – Edge Cleveland
Despite many fans and media proclaiming a QB controversy that doesn’t exist, rookie Bailey Zappe has performed well in the past two games in a game-manager role but hasn’t been asked to do much…yet.
Zappe has seen the field well, moved around the pocket well to extend plays, and has been accurate in throwing the ball. With Nelson Agholor limited with a hamstring injury, we’ll probably see Tyquan Thornton more this week, who played in his first game last week after returning from a fractured collarbone.
The Browns’ secondary is a much better unit than the sieve the Patriots faced a week ago in Detroit. They are in the top half of defenses in the league (14th) against the pass and have a solid group of defensive backs in Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome, Grant Delpit, John Johnson, and Ronnie Harrison. Ward is in concussion protocol and hasn’t yet been cleared to play.
The Patriots have plenty of options in the passing game, and despite the Browns defending tight ends very well thus far, this week could see the Patriots targeting Hunter Henry more, especially in the red zone. Watch for Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney to try to tee off against the Patriots’ rookie QB this week.
Next up is the Cleveland offense:
Browns RBs vs NE Front Seven– Edge Cleveland
The Patriots’ run defense made a huge turnaround against the Lions, holding them to just 3,7 yards per carry, which was more than 2 yards under their season average.
The Browns have the top rushing attack in the league averaging more than 192 yards per game. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are outstanding 1-2 punche; running behind a very physical offensive line will be a tough task. The Browns, as a team, average 5.3 yards per carry.
The Browns will want to pound the ball and wear down the Patriots’ front seven, controlling the clock and tempo and opening up chunk plays down the field in the passing game. The Patriots’ defensive line will once again have a big task against them, and players such as Devon Godchaux, Christian Barmore, Deatrich Wise, and Carl Davis will have to stop the push upfront and allow the linebackers to clean up and slow down the running game.
Browns WRs vs NE Secondary- Edge New England
This Browns passing game with backup QB Jacoby Brissett has not been as effective as hoped despite having good playmakers Amari Cooper, and Donovan Peoples-Jones, as well as excellent TE David Njoku. They are producing less passing yardage than the Patriots.
The Patriots pass defense was outstanding a week ago, especially defending TE T.J. Hockenson, who was held to just one catch for six yards. They’ll want Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips to shadow Njoku and limit the damage. Jonathan Jones (ankle) and Jalen Mills (hamstring), are two players to watch this week, as their availability may be limited again. Jack Jones has shown the ability to be a ballhawk in the secondary.
Brissett isn’t especially mobile but moves well in the pocket and has only been sacked five times this year. However, Matthew Judon has been “en fuego” thus far this year, with sacks in every game. Bill Belichick knows Brissett well and knows his strengths and weaknesses, look for him to throw a few wrinkles at him.
Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England
Nick Folk continues to be money inside of 50 yards (63 straight), earning lofty praise from Belichick. Jake Bailey looked very good last week against the Lions, which is more like him than he was the previous two weeks.
The Browns have Caleb York, who is 8-10 on FG attempts with a long of 58, and Corey Bojorquez, who averages 47.6 yards per punt. While his punts have only been returned four times this year, those four have averaged 14 yards each. With Marcus Jones back there, it could be an area to watch closely.
Next up, who wins and why…
This one should be another tough physical battle in the trenches. Whoever controls the line of scrimmage better will probably come out on top. Both teams want to run the ball and control the clock. Turnovers will play a big factor in this one, as generating them may give the offenses a short field and/or a defensive score. The penalties and turnover factors, as always, will be paramount.
Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:
Red Zone Scoring Has to Improve — The New England offense was 0-4 inside the 20 last week. That can’t continue this week and beyond as the offense has to start turning all of those threes into sevens.
The coaches have to trust Zappe to throw more inside the red area, especially on first and second down, using play-action passing. Hunter Henry should see an uptick in red zone passes coming his way.
Slow Down Cleveland’s Running Game — The key this week is to force the Browns and Brissett to beat them through the air, much like the Browns will attempt to force the game on Zappe’s shoulders. Chubb and Hunt are a formidable duo, and they are going to get their yards, but the defense can’t allow them to be the difference in the game.
We should expect to see some bigger packages with Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai inside in run support, which means Njoku will probably be a big focus this week in the Browns’ passing game.
Stretch the Field — The Patriots have to keep the Browns from loading the box too much, and to do that, they have to stretch the field vertically and horizontally. Tyquan Thornton could be an intriguing player to watch this week. There isn’t a ton of film on him, and this could play in the Patriots’ favor.
I think this one will be a tough, physical, fairly low-scoring game. It will another close one, but the defense gets a late turnover which puts the team over the top. New England improves to 3-3. Patriots 24-20
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bill Belichick Damien Harris Devin McCourty Jakobi Meyers Kendrick Bourne Mac Jones New England Patriots Rhamondre Stevenson