On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the New England Patriots in Week 8 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.
- Aside from a bad game against the Bills, Tom Brady has been his normal self and hasn’t shown any signs of wear from being a 42-year-old quarterback in the NFL. The Patriots have fewer proven receiving targets, but Brady is stilla averaging 284 yards passing per game -- although the touchdown numbers (11) are down a bit. He’s throwing 1.5 touchdown passes per game, compared to 1.8 per game last year and 1.9 per game for his career.
- Baker Mayfield had trouble with his completion percentage to start last year, but a switch from Desmond Harrison to Greg Robinson at left tackle coincided with Mayfield completing 85%, 73%, 67%, and 81% of his passes over a four-game stretch. Could Cleveland be looking for similar magic this year in switching from Robinson to (presumably) Justin McCray? Mayfield’s scrambling was an asset against the Seahawks, even though it hurt his hip. That needs to be part of his arsenal if teams go man-to-man coverage.
- The Patriots’ starting running back is Sony Michel, but New England running the ball isn’t a strength this year. Michel is averaging 3.3 YPC on the season. He ran for 3 touchdowns against the Jets this past Monday, but that was on 19 carries for 42 yards (2.2 YPC).
- Rex Burkhead has missed the past three games with a foot injury, and is questionable this week. James White and Brandon Bolden can also see work in the backfield rotation, but will see more action as receiving backs. White in particular is second on the team in receiving with 38 catches for 283 yards.
- It hasn’t mattered how well opposing run defenses have been against Nick Chubb, who is averaging 5.3 YPC on the season. With the Browns knowing that Kareem Hunt is only two games away from being eligible to play, I expect the Browns to lean extra hard on Chubb’s utilization over these next two games, especially coming off of the bye, knowing that Hunt will be ready to take some of that workload off of him in the weeks that follow.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
- Julian Edelman is the Patriots’ leading receiver with 45 catches for 496 yards and 2 touchdowns. Their receiving situation has been quite unique this year, as they’ve had Josh Gordon, Antonio Brown, and Demaryius Thomas on the roster at some point.
- None of them are there now, but the team has received contributions from Phillip Dorsett (18 catches for 243 yards and 4 touchdowns) and rookie Jakobi Meyers (13 catches for 167 yards). The team acquired Mohamed Sanu from the Falcons this week via a trade. That is a nice addition for New England, but the question is how many snaps he’ll receive on a short week trying to learn the offense.
- The Patriots have basically not had a receiving tight end be part of their offense this year. They did re-sign Ben Watson last week and started him, and the veteran contributed 3 catches for 18 yards on 5 targets, so that’s something.
- After the bye week, and I’m not just talking about this game, but for the rest of the season, it is time for the wide receivers to elevate their play. They haven’t been terrible or anything, but Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, and Antonio Callaway should be a four-deep group that is among the top ones in the NFL, and they have underdelivered a bit. This week, they go up against a standout secondary, so let’s see how up to the challenge they are of being difference makers.
- The Patriots’ starting offensive line features LT Marshall Newhouse, LG Joe Thuney, C Ted Karras, RG Shaq Mason, and RT Marcus Cannon. Newhouse is a replacement fill in for starter Isaiah Wynn, but thankfully for the Patriots, Brady knows how to get the ball out quick. Otherwise, that is a huge disadvantage for the Patriots.
- Here’s what we think we know: Joel Bitonio will start at left guard, and JC Tretter will start at center. Everything else is probably up for grabs. Greg Robinson admitted he’s been benched at left tackle, and with veteran Kendall Lamm still nursing an injury, it sounds like Justin McCray will get a crack at starting in his place. Mike Krupka had this to share about McCray’s pass and run blocking:
Unless this means we're planning to run the ball a ton (in which case Justin McCray is the 6th best run blocking Tackle per @PFF) I just don't see how this ends very well— + x (@HawaiiBrownsHui) October 25, 2019
Defensive Line / Linebacker
- The Patriots run a 3-4 defense, with DE Lawrence Guy and DT Danny Shelton as two of the starters, and a rotation of players taking on the other defensive end spot. Guy has been solid against the run, and after a mediocre first season in 2018 with New England, he has taken a big leap forward in 2019, much like the success he started having in his latter days with the Browns.
- Myles Garrett is probably thankful that he won’t have to face a mobile quarterback this week, but the Browns’ defensive line will also have to be patient. The Patriots will suck the line in before firing short passes at the line — receiver screens, running back screens, etc. One thing that made Browns fans livid this past week was Steve Wilks’ answer as to why DE Genard Avery isn’t playing:
#Browns DC Steve Wilks on DE Genard Avery not getting on the field: Says media should petition the #NFL to let all 53 be active. Says if he's active, 'he'll make a major impact on the game'— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) October 24, 2019
- The Patriots’ starting linebackers include OLB Jamie Collins, ILB Dont’a Hightower, ILB Elandon Roberts, and OLB Kyle Van Noy. Collins has the best coverage linebacker grade in the NFL, per PFF, and is playing like a defensive player of the year. He also has 4.5 sacks on the year, while Van Noy has 3.5 sacks.
- The Patriots’ two starting cornerbacks are Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty, with Jonathan Jones being the nickelback. Gilmore is the top-ranked cornerback in the NFL; and although it’s been awhile since he faced Odell Beckham, here’s how their one match-up went:
Will Stephon Gilmore shadowed Odell Beckham Jr? The two have only played once. Week 4 of 2015. Bills vs. Giants. Giants won 24-10. According to @PFF, Gilmore had 6 targets, 2 receptions, 16 yards, and a 42.4 passer rating allowed in coverage vs Beckham. #Patriots #Browns— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) October 23, 2019
- New England’s starting safeties are FS Devin McCourty and SS Patrick Chung. Chung is questionable this week and missed last week’s game; if he can’t go, then Duron Harmon would get the call. Both McCourty brothers have been great for New England, who has been almost impossible to pass against.
- Cleveland gets Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams back this week, but one can only hope that they are placed into man coverage as opposed to zone coverage. Cleveland’s best chance of winning is by stopping the Patriots’ offense and playing field position.
- Mike Nugent is the Patriots’ kicker. He is 3-of-4 on field goals and 12-of-13 on extra points. Austin Seibert hasn’t been tested much long, but he did miss an extra point before the bye in the swirling winds of FirstEnergy Stadium.
- Jake Bailey is the Patriots’ punter. A fifth-round pick this year, he is averaging 44.2 yards per punt and a net average of 41.7 yards per punt. Jamie Gillan is averaging 46 yards per punt and a net average of 42 yards.
- Gunner Olszewski is the Patriots’ punt returner. He has 19 returns for 171 yards (9.0 average), so he’s not afraid to field them. Brandon Bolden returns kickoffs. The Browns look to continue with Dontrell Hilliard as their kick returner and Jarvis Landry as their punt returner.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “I would love to buy into the Browns being the toughest test that the Patriots have faced on their schedule. Coming off of a bye week, Cleveland has had extra time to prepare a solid gameplan, but New England are at a historic rate of near-perfectionism on defense. For a Browns team whose season has been defined by so many self-inflicted cripping mistakes, this is the top team in the NFL that will capialize on those mistakes with ease. Combining those together isn’t a good mix, but Cleveland will keep it relatively close, leaving optimism for the back half of the season.” Patriots 23, Browns 17.
rufio: “We play well, but in the end just can’t beat the Pats. They are playing at a really high level right now and always seem to do the little things that we can’t seem to get right at this point in the year. This ends up more like the Tennessee loss where we were actually in the game until late (as opposed to the game against the 49ers where we just got wrecked).” Patriots 31, Browns 17.
Tom Moore: “The game plan is simple for the Browns on Sunday. Run Nick Chubb - whose rushing numbers are right on par with presumed MVP candidate Christian McCaffrey - and then run him some more. Hit a few big plays to Odell Beckham Jr. and/or Jarvis Landry. Hit Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as hard and as much as possible. And for god’s sake stop with the stupid penalties that kill the offense before it has a chance to get rolling. Time for the Browns to tell the rest of the NFL to suck it. ” Browns 28, Patriots 10.
Josh Finney: “Maybe next week.”
BigTownBrown: “Welp here we are. Going to Foxboro for another lose on the season. The Patriots are THE best team in the NFL right now and it looks like with the amount of mental mistakes we are prone to make it will stay that way. They are 41-0 all time with Tom Brady and Julian Edleman in the lineup vs AFC opponents. And an astonishing 91-2 in when winning the turnover battle. There is ZERO chance the Browns win this game. We as fans can only hope they take mercy on us and we come out of this game injury free.” Patriots 32, Browns 7.
Barry Shuck: “The big question will be can Myles Garrett get pressure on Tom Brady. When Brady is rushed, he does not make accurate throws. The Patriots are the fifth-best passing team in the league whereas the Browns are the sixth-best against the pass so that matchup is going to tell this story.” Patriots 38, Browns 20.
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.