After back-to-back heartbreaking losses, the Cleveland Browns are looking to bounce back Sunday against the New England Patriots to even their record at 3-3. For the Browns to win, they will have to overcome injuries to Jadeveon Clowney and Denzel Ward, as well as Deion Jones not being ready to play. Jones, the newly acquired linebacker from the Falcons, is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and was practicing this week, an indication that he may be ready soon. The Browns are not the only team facing injuries. The New England Patriots will be starting rookie, third-string quarterback Bailey Zappe due to injuries previously to Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer.
Offensive Key to Victory – Use Quick Passing Game to Open Up Run Game
On paper, this matchup seems absolutely ideal for the Cleveland Browns. The Browns come in as the #1 rushing team (192.4 yards per game) in the league while the Patriots have the 21st-ranked run defense (128.8 yards per game allowed). The Patriots are allowing 4.8 yards per carry while the Browns average 5.3 yards per carry. While it may seem obvious what the game plan should be, on the opposing sideline will be one of the greatest defensive masterminds in the history of the NFL: Bill Belichick. If anyone can prepare his team for this game, it is Belichick.
The Patriots will likely do everything they can to stop Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. That should open the quick passing game. If the pass catchers can get open quickly and have an effective and efficient passing attack, that will then pull the safeties and linebackers back a step. By freeing Chubb and Hunt the space they need to run, the Browns can get chunk plays in the running game that will also chew the clock.
David Njoku and Donovan Peoples-Jones should be the stars of this game. Both have shown so far this season that they can get open quickly. Jacoby Brissett has been less than consistent in the passing game, often missing some of the easier throws or trying too hard to push the ball down the field. If he gets into a rhythm with Njoku, Peoples-Jones, and Amari Cooper, it is going to be a long day for a Patriots defense that is looking to shut down one of the greatest playmakers in football, in Nick Chubb.
Defensive Key to the Game – Make the Rookie Beat You
The Cleveland Browns have had a historically bad two games stopping the run, moving the team to 30th against the run. Jadeveon Clowney, possibly the best run-stopping defensive lineman the Browns have is out with an injury. The team already lost a linebacker, and most importantly, the quarterback of the defense in Anthony Walker, Jr. They have looked lost since Walker went down. The Falcons exploited this in the 4th quarter of their game in Week 4 and the Chargers followed suit, rushing for 238 yards at 7.0 yards per carry. The game was without a doubt one of the worst defensive performances seen since the return in 1999, and that has been a lot of bad football. Now we get to see if Joe Woods is up to the task of making this team look like the “Top Five” defense he claims it can be.
Bailey Zappe will be starting just his second game. He replaced Brian Hoyer after Hoyer suffered an injury in Green Bay on October 2nd. Zappe has played admirably, completing 75% of his passes, 287 yards, 2 TDs, and an interception. However, he will now be starting his first game on the road, with an angry Cleveland Browns fanbase ready to be loud and have something to cheer about. The Patriots are smart and will likely not try to put the game in Bailey Zappe’s hands, leaning towards a running game against a defense that hasn’t shown it can stop anybody.
The Patriots do not have much in terms of receiving threats. In recent weeks Jacobi Meyers and Hunter Henry have had good weeks, but the Patriots have not developed anything in terms of a consistent passing attack. They are 21st in passing yards per game (207.8ypg) and only have 4 passing touchdowns (t-24th in the NFL).
If the Patriots do plan to heavily rely on the running game as I believe they will, the Browns have to do whatever is needed to stop it, including bringing in 8-man boxes to clog the running lanes. Rhamondre Stevenson, the second-year running back out of Oklahoma, has rushed for 300 yards over the last 3 games, including 161 yards in the Patriots’ 29-0 demolishing of the Detroit Lions. Stevenson has really begun to show that he can be a feature back in this league. If the Browns can shut Stevenson and the running game down, the pressure on Zappe to lead his team to victory could prove to be too much.
Prediction: Browns win 21-17