The Cleveland Browns are back on the road Sunday for another important AFC game against the New England Patriots.
The Browns and the Patriots are among a group of nine teams in the conference with five wins, and Cleveland needs to start pocketing some tiebreakers as they have already lost to the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, two other teams clumped in the five-win category.
Cleveland found its mojo on offense last week in a convincing win over the Cincinnati Bengals, and the defense is on a nice streak as they have allowed just 45 total points in the past three games.
The Patriots, meanwhile, have won three in a row and are just an overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys away from a five-game winning streak.
Both teams will be itching for a win to stay on pace in the suddenly competitive AFC, so here is everything you need to know as the Browns look to get back over .500 in the conference for the season.
Records: Cleveland is 5-4. New England is 5-4
Conference records: Cleveland is 3-3. New England is 4-1
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Stadium: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
Announcers: Ian Eagle, Charles Davis, Evan Washburn (sidelines)
Radio: 92.3 The Fan (WKRK), ESPN 850 WKNR and WNCX (98.5)
Announcers: Jim Donovan, Doug Dieken, Nathan Zegura (sideline reporter)
Last meeting: The Patriots won the last meeting, 27-13, in Week 8 of the 2019 season. (Boxscore)
All-time series: The Browns lead the all-time regular-season series, 13-12. The Browns have lost their last six road games to the Patriots, however.
Weather: 50 degrees and mostly cloudy, with a 0 percent chance of rain. (weather.com)
Uniform: The Browns will once again be sporting white jerseys and orange pants.
Back at it with the White Tops & Orange Pants pic.twitter.com/ZOvGXp60lA— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) November 12, 2021
Injury report: Browns - Questionable: cornerback Greedy Williams (shoulder). Out: defensive end Takkarist McKinley (groin), running back Nick Chubb (COVID-19), running back Demetric Felton (COVID-19) and running back John Kelly (COVID-19).
Patriots - Questionable: punter Jake Bailey (knee), linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (ribs), kicker Nick Folk (knee), running back Damien Harris (concussion), wide receiver N’Keal Harry (knee), linebacker Dont’a Hightower (ankle), guard Shaq Mason (abdomen), cornerback Jalen Mills (thigh), wide receiver Gunner Olszewski (concussion), tight end Jonnu Smith (shoulder), running back Rhamondre Stevenson (concussion) and linebacker Kyle Van Noy (groin). Doubtful: linebacker Jamie Collins (ankle).
The line: Browns +2.5
A Few Things to Watch For
D’Ernest Johnson - The Sequel: The Browns will be without running back Nick Chubb on Sunday after he was placed on the COVID-19 list along with fellow running backs Demetric Felton and John Kelly. That leaves D’Ernest Johnson as the lone healthy running back on the roster, pending the gameday call-up from the practice squad.
The last time the Browns found themselves in this situation was just two weeks ago against the Denver Broncos and Johnson responded by rushing for 146 yards and a touchdown.
The Patriots are 15th in the league in rushing yards allowed, but are Top 10 in yards per carry and tied for third in rushing touchdowns allowed, so that kind of day may be a bit harder for Johnson to achieve this time around.
But if he can get the yards when the Browns need them the way that Chubb does, then Johnson’s role as super-sub could contribute to the Browns coming home winners.
The secondary steps up: It may have taken a while, but Cleveland’s secondary made an impact in the win against the Bengals.
Starting with cornerback Denzel Ward’s 99-yard interception, to safety John Johnson III’s interception and forced fumble, and cornerback Troy Hill’s two sacks, and everyone contributing to make sure Cincinnati wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase did not impact the game, the secondary finally played the way that everyone has been waiting for.
Most forced incompletions among CBs:— PFF CLE Browns (@PFF_Browns) November 12, 2021
T-5. Denzel Ward- 5
T-5. Greg Newsome II- 5
The #Browns are the only team with two in the top-five ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/G7ZdCkEdrp
New England rookie quarterback Mac Jones may not be the most imposing quarterback the Browns will play this year, and the Patriots don’t have a wide receiver on par with Chase, but Jones has been finding a way to get the job done, especially when he concentrates on getting rid of the ball early.
If the pass rush can’t get to Jones in time, it will be up to the secondary to continue their run of recent quality play.
The rise of DPJ: The Browns offense looked like its old self against the Bengals, thanks in part to the return of wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones.
DPJ only caught two passes, but one was a 60-yard touchdown on a deep pass from quarterback Baker Mayfield, the type of play that has been missing from the offense through the first half of the season.
.@dpeoplesjones going DEEP!— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) November 7, 2021
: #CLEvsCIN on CBS
: Browns mobile app pic.twitter.com/LoJRYa2uHw
Peoples-Jones has receptions of 42 yards, 57 yards and 60 yards in his past three games, and averaged 23.4 yards per catch in the same time span. It is not always about the number of opportunities but rather what you do with those opportunities that matter, and DPJ is showing that he can be the deep threat at wide receiver that the Browns have been looking for all season.
Baker vs. man coverage: On defense, the Patriots have played man coverage at the fifth-highest rate in the league this season and produced a league-high nine interceptions, according to ESPN.
On the opposite side, quarterback Baker Mayfield has struggled when throwing against man coverage this year as he is ahead of just Zach Wilson of the New York Jets in ESPN’s QBR rankings when facing man coverage, which is not the type of company you want to keep.
If the Patriots stick to what has been working for them on defense, Mayfield is going to have to find a way to make them pay for it if the Browns have a chance at winning.
Sack record looming: Defensive end Myles Garrett is just two sacks away from tying defensive end Reggie Camp’s single-season franchise record for sacks with 14, which has stood since 1984. In addition, he leads the league in sacks with 12, tackles for loss with 12 and in sack yards with 66, according to ESPN.
New England quarterback Mac Jones has been sacked 17 times overall, and has been sacked at least twice in five games this season, so Garrett just might be able to bump Camp from the top of the franchise list on Sunday.
A final quote
Defensive end Myles Garrett (via a team-provided transcript):
“If I tackled a man or I sacked him and I let him grab me, honestly, that is on me. I am not saying it is on (Carolina defensive end) Brian (Burns). He did not expect that. Now, we have all seen it. Now I know to get my behind up and get out of the way.”
These are just a few things to keep an eye on; now it is time to have your say. What are you looking for from the Browns in Sunday’s game against the Patriots?