After a bye week over Halloween, the Cleveland Browns are back and set to take on perhaps their toughest competition of the season: the New England Patriots. With several Super Bowl wins under his belt, the Patriots have compiled the league's best record at 6-1. Eric Mangini will face Bill Belichick for the first time as a coach of the Browns, and he features a team that is coming off an impressive victory over the New Orleans Saints. Some have compared the Browns' current roster to the type of roster you'd see in New England. Does Cleveland have the tools now to defeat New England though?
Here are some notes heading into the game, followed by my positional breakdown and prediction for the game:
- After the bye week, players have had a chance to get healthy. Here is the 8-man inactive list I anticipate the Browns having against New England: QB Jake Delhomme, QB Brett Ratliff, RB Thomas Clayton, WR Carlton Mitchell, TE Alex Smith, OL John St. Clair, OL Steve Vallos, and DL/LB Jayme Mitchell (still would like to see him in there).
- Don't be alarmed if you hear, "...and Demetrius Williams makes the catch for Cleveland." Remember, when the Browns waived Yamon Figurs heading into the bye, they signed Williams, a former receiver for the Baltimore Ravens. Williams has a lot of speed and should be considered more of a receiving threat than Figurs was. Williams has had two weeks to practice with the team, and if he looked more impressive than someone like Brian Robiskie and Carlton Mitchell, I don't think Eric Mangini would hesitate to immediately shoot him up on the depth chart. That is all speculation on my part though, and nothing more.
- I know that Peyton Hillis said he felt good heading into the Saints game, but with him having the extra week off, you have to imagine he feels really good right now. Having Mike Bell in the game seems like a lost down -- we should remove his touches and give them to Joshua Cribbs from the Wildcat instead. The last time Cribbs was in the Wildcat, he got concussed by James Harrison though.
- Linebacker David Bowens will never have the type of game he did against the Saints again. However, that doesn't mean he can't contribute to getting in the vision of Tom Brady at the line of scrimmage. Before his interceptions, I think he had a couple of balls batted down this year.
- Even though there is film on what the Browns did to New Orleans defensively now, I'd love to see Cleveland come out with similar defensive looks. I think it's the best way to cause pre-snap confusion for an opposing quarterback, and when the ball is snapped there's a higher chance that a free blitzer will be able to shoot in.
- If Matt Roth is lined up on tight end Aaron Hernandez this week, will he be able to stay with him in coverage? That might end up being a key matchup for the Browns' defense, as Hernandez can cross the field quickly.
- I don't have anything against Danny Woodhead or anything, but I'd love to see him get a carry and then get plowed over by Matt Roth or Scott Fujita behind the line of scrimmage. Between defending Hernandez and Woodhead, the linebackers will be busy in pass coverage.
|QB||This positional advantage doesn't really need to be dignified: everyone knows how good of a quarterback Tom Brady is. While he did ten times over a three-game span prior to him facing the Vikings, he is deadly when he has a lot of time to throw. It's hard to imagine the Browns' defense being able to confuse both Brees and Brady back-to-back.
Colt McCoy will make his third consecutive start at quarterback for Cleveland. This will be his first home game, so it'll be fun to see if that gives his production a boost. He'll also be facing the weakest secondary he'll have encountered.
|RB||While the Patriots have been successful at running the football, I still hesitate to officially deem it as a strength on their team. I think they accumulate more yardage by catching defenses off guard with good play calls, rather than being able to "wear down a defense." BenJarvus Green-Ellis has yet to have a 20-carry game this year, and he's been held to a 2.2 yards per carry average in three of his games.
Danny Woodhead is a good utility player, but my hunch is that the 5'9" back won't do much on the ground. Peyton Hillis' carries have been down as of late, having only 10, 12, and 16 carries over his past three games. Over the bye week, and at home, hopefully offensive coordinator Brian Daboll finds a way to get Hillis hot early.
Chansi Stuckey, none of whom are the team's starting wideouts.
at the tight end position. When it comes to Cleveland's receivers, I've almost settled on the fact that all we should expect is a heavy dose of Ben Watson, Peyton Hillis, and |
|OL||With Logan Mankins ending his holdout this week and just being placed on the active roster, it's probably safe to assume that he'll start in his first game back. That gives the Patriots a boost on an already-performing offensive line.
The Browns will make a game-time decision of who to start at right guard between Billy Yates and Shawn Lauvao, both of whom reportedly took snaps with the first-team offense in practice. The Patriots don't feature many pass rushers that our offensive line can't handle.
|DL||How good was Shaun Rogers against the Saints? He was the only down lineman at times, and yet was right in the face of Drew Brees, forcing bad throws. That leads me to believe that he's healthy and motivated for the time being, especially coming off a bye week. Having him at full strength evens this unit up with the Patriots, who have Vince Wilfork at nose tackle.
|LB||I haven't seen the Patriots linebackers play a lot, but with 86 combined tackles, Jared Mayo is by far the Patriots' leading tackler. They don't have a great pass rusher here, which should play to the advantage of Colt McCoy. Cleveland's linebackers have been very opportunistic as of late and seem to be finding their niche (i.e. Scott Fujita, David Bowens, Matt Roth, and Marcus Benard).
|DB||I was impressed with the play of our safeties against the Saints. I'd like to see Abram Elam and T.J. Ward have the opportunity to play back and then come up to make a play again when the Browns aren't bringing an all-out blitz. Hopefully Eric Wright has been able to shake off some of his struggles over the bye week, because Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense pick the right times to attack deep.
The Patriots feature two starting safeties without much starting experience, if any, prior to this season in Devin McCourty and and Kyle Arrington. The Patriots rank near the bottom of the league in defending the pass. While I want the Browns to be able to pound it away with Hillis, it will probably tempting to try to attack this unit.
|ST||Brandon Tate has been very good for the Patriots on kickoffs this year. Do you know what else has been good? The Browns' coverage units. I haven't seen anyone even come close to having a good return against Cleveland, and until I see that, I'm forced to negate the other team's return game threat.
Reggie Hodges is having a Pro Bowl caliber season in my mind, and Phil Dawson has connected on his last nine field goals. We'll see if Joshua Cribbs' lateral throw against the Saints on special teams opens anything up for him in the return game this week.
I used my upset special two weeks ago against the Saints, and I was actually right when Cleveland pulled off the upset. It is tempting to take Cleveland again here, considering they are at home and have had a longer time to plan for this game, but I can't. Many of the positions above show an "even" ranking, but what they don't show is the frustration factor that New England will give the Browns after being able to slowly move the ball down the field and putting points on the board.
CHRIS' RECORD IN PICKING BROWNS GAMES: 5-2
CHRIS' OVERALL NFL PREDICTIONS RECORD: 68-49