CLEVELAND, Ohio – Following a pair of close losses to the Falcons and Chargers, the Cleveland Browns are ready to get back on the right track at home against the New England Patriots. Kickoff from FirstEnergy Stadium is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET.
In the past two weeks, the Browns (2-3) have lost by a combined five points. Defensive breakdowns have been the main storyline of those losses, and the target lies on defensive coordinator Joe Woods’s back.
“You have an opportunity, I feel like the organization provides us with good players on defense at all three levels,” Woods said at his Friday press conference. “Right now we’re not performing well. There’s stretches where we’re doing good things but we’re not consistently playing well for 60 minutes. And it just comes with the territory, you know what I mean?”
Woods isn’t ready to hit the panic button, and the Browns’ defense has an interesting offense in the Bill Belichick-led Patriots (2-3). All season, the Patriots, minus offensive coordinator turned Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels, have lacked an offensive identity. With injuries in the quarterback room, including to Mac Jones (ankle) and Brian Hoyer (concussion), the offense will be led by either Jones or rookie Bailey Zappe.
Both teams have had difficult starts to the season, and a win today on the shores of Lake Erie could put either team on the right track.
Time: 1:00 p.m.
Where: Cleveland, Ohio – FirstEnergy Stadium
TV: CBS – Kevin Harlan, Trent Green
Radio: Cleveland Browns Radio Network
Weather: 61oF, 0% chance of rain, 11 mph winds SSW
TV Coverage Map
New England Patriots (2-3, AFC East)
- Total Offense: 17th (349.8 ypg)
- Passing Offense: 20th (207.8 ypg)
- Rushing Offense: 9th (138.0 ypg)
- Scoring Offense: 19th (20.6 ppg)
- Total Defense: 15th (339.8 ypg)
- Passing Defense: 11th (211.0 ypg)
- Rushing Defense: 21st (128.8 ypg)
- Scoring Defense: 12th (19.6 ppg)
- LB Deion Jones (shoulder) Out
- DE Jadeveon Clowney (ankle) Out
- CB Denzel Ward (concussion) Out
- OT Joe Haeg (concussion) Out
- WR Nelson Agholor (hamstring) Out
- CB Jonathan Jones (ankle) Out
- QB Mac Jones (ankle) Questionable
- RB Damien Harris (hamstring) Questionable
- WR Jakobi Meyers (knee) Questionable
- The biggest news of the season came on Oct. 9, following the heartbreaking loss to the Chargers, when Andrew Berry pulled the trigger on a trade for Falcons linebacker Deion Jones. Jones, a former Pro Bowl selection and Defensive Rookie of the Year finalist is expected to solidify the middle of a middling Browns defense. Wednesday, Oct. 12, the linebacker was designated to return from injured reserve, and it was announced he will not make his Browns debut against the Patriots.
- When Cleveland has success, that’s because it puts the ball in the hands of star running back Nick Chubb. Chubb currently averages 118.6 yards rushing per game and an astonishing 1.4 touchdowns on the ground each game. His torrid pace stretched across a 17-game season would be good for 2,016.4 yards and 23.8 touchdowns, which would surpass Jim Brown’s season rushing mark of 1,863. Nick Chubb is on a historic pace, and Batman has the team on his back when they need him most.
- Every Batman needs a Robin, and Kareem Hunt has been no slouch out of the backfield either. Hunt, mostly serving as Chubb’s change-of-pace battery mate, is a top-30 back in the NFL in his own right, averaging 4.3 yards per carry on 57 carries alongside two scores. He also is a valuable safety valve for quarterback Jacoby Brissett, hauling in 14 catches on 15 targets for 83 yards and another score. If Cleveland is going to make a run on this tough schedule, they need their running backs to lead the way.
- Quarterback turmoil is not new to Cleveland, and Brissett is not an exception to that. He has struggled in big moments, throwing all three of his interceptions in the final three minutes of games on potentially game-winning drives. The other 57 minutes, though? He’s been incredibly efficient in Kevin Stefanski’s offense. He has a 64% completion rate and averages a passable 212 yards through the air each game. He’s also graded well, posting a 78.0 overall PFF grade on the season. Brissett is a capable starter when he plays within his means, and that’s what Stefanski needs to focus on in Week 6.
- After signing a potentially head-scratching contract extension in the offseason, tight end David Njoku has done nothing but produce this season. He currently ranks in the top five in the NFL in contested catches (5), PFF receiving grade (81.9), PFF overall grade (79.4), yards after catch (156), first downs (17), receptions for a tight end (24) and tight end receiving yards (289). Brissett has always valued his tight ends, and Njoku has proven to be his best one yet. As the Browns and Stefanski continue with their power running and play action-focused offense, Njoku will continue to break out and put up big numbers for the Browns.
- The other top receiver in Cleveland has been the offseason trade acquisition, Amari Cooper. Cooper has been old reliable for Brissett, hauling in 27 receptions on 41 targets for 304 yards. He’s also the Browns’ most lethal receiving target looking for a score, as he’s top-five in the NFL in receiving touchdowns. When Brissett drops back, it’s either going to be targeted for Cooper or Njoku most passes, and both have shown they’re up to the task.
- On the other side of the ball, the defense has struggled mightily this season. They are still led by perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Myles Garrett, though. He’s back and mostly healthy after a scary car accident (he didn’t appear on this week’s injury report). While his stats haven’t jumped off the page – only five tackles, three sacks, and two forced fumbles in five games – he’s made a massive impact. He owns an elite 91.5 PFF grade and often forces double or triple teams that open up the rest of the defense. The problem is, the rest of the defense hasn’t converted on Garrett’s opportunities.
- The Browns will be without pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney this week after he was ineffective in his return against the Chargers. He has 1.5 sacks and a strip sack to his name and not much else. In his place is rookie Alex Wright, who has flashed at times. Wright hasn’t gotten home yet on a pass rush, but he’s been asked to cover a lot, which is strange for a defensive lineman. If Wright continues to make strides in the right direction, the Browns can give Clowney an easier road to recovery.
- Cleveland’s defense up the middle this year has been atrocious. With linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. missing the season with a torn quad, Jacob Phillips hasn’t filled in as well as we expected and/or hoped. PFF gives him an abysmal 36.0 grade as he looks out of place and is confused more often than not. Phillips is wearing the Browns’ green dot to call plays, but I would expect that to shift to someone like safety John Johnson III when Deion Jones returns from injury and steals away Phillips’s snaps.
- With cornerback Denzel Ward out with a concussion, the Browns will plug in Greedy Williams who is fresh off of injured reserve with a hamstring injury, is making his season debut. A year ago, Williams put together his best season as a pro, playing in 16 games and snatching two interceptions. He held opposing quarterbacks to a 55.2% completion percentage when targeted, good for a QBR of 74.0. Williams will probably not be the same player in his first game, but with patience, he can continue to develop into a good third option at the position.
- When the pressure was on last week, rookie kicker Cade York didn’t answer for the first time in his young career. York, perfect up until the Week 5 Charges debacle, is a rookie. He’s going to miss. While he did miss with the game on the line, that’s part of the growing pains of having a rookie kicker. York has shown he has the talent to be a top-line NFL kicker, but now he needs to show he can bounce back. The winds should be calm – well, calm for Cleveland – on a brisk afternoon, so York won’t be facing any major weather obstacles.
- The biggest question mark for the Patriots is at the quarterback position. Who’s going to start: Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe? Jones had a great rookie season but has struggled in the early going this year, completing 66% of his passes but is marred by a 2-5 TD to INT ratio. With an ankle injury and no official word from Belichick, if he will play, it seems unlikely that the Patriots would put Jones under center. That leaves Bailey Zappe, rookie, out of Western Kentucky, at the reins of the New England offense. Zappe, the leading passer in FBS football a year ago with the Hilltoppers, has played well in his two games of action. He’s authored a QBR of 104.7, thrown for 287 yards and two touchdowns with only one interception. Zappe isn’t an experienced quarterback, and Garrett and company could apply enough pressure to rattle the rookie signal caller.
- Last week, the Patriots went heavy with tailback Rhamondre Stevenson, putting the ball in his hands 25 times for 161 yards. While he didn’t find the end zone, he could exploit a Browns run defense that ranks 28th in the NFL and has been exposed in back-to-back weeks by LA’s Austin Ekeler and Atlanta’s Cordarelle Patterson and Tyler Allgeier (who?).
- The Patriots are missing their two top pass catchers, though, in Agholor and Meyers. While that bodes well for more Stevenson carries, the Pats do still have a strong tight end room led by Hunter Henry. Henry only has five targets this season, but he’s had three straight seasons of over 600 yards and added 9 touchdowns a year ago with the Patriots. He’s a capable pass catcher, and the Browns haven’t covered big-bodied tight ends well this season.
- New England has a strong offensive line, led by tackles Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn. Brown is the best tackle that has lined up against Garrett this season and should give Myles a run for his money. On the other side, Wynn isn’t a slouch either. The Cleveland pass rush has its work cut out for it today.
- The Patriots are banged up in the secondary, which could allow receivers like Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones to break open in coverage. Devin McCourty is still on the back end for the Patriots and can play solid zone coverage. Besides McCourty, there isn’t much on the New England secondary this season.
- Cleveland and New England have battled to a 13-13 series tie-up to today, with the Patriots taking eight of the last ten games.
- In Cleveland, though, the Browns hold an 8-5 lead.
- The two teams are also even in FirstEnergy Stadium, with the series sitting at a 2-2 tie.
- Cleveland and New England haven’t met since 2016 when the Patriots blew out the Charlie Whitehurst and Cody Kessler-led Browns 33-13.
Cleveland will pack its bags and hit the road for a divisional matchup against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, Oct. 23. Kickoff from Baltimore is scheduled for 1 p.m. and will air on CBS.
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