On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the New England Patriots in Week 10. Below, we analyze a few advantages, disadvantages, or general thoughts about the two teams before getting to our predictions for the game.
Battle of the Backup Running Backs
- Much has been made this week about the Cleveland Browns being without Nick Chubb, who has COVID-19. Kareem Hunt is still not ready to come back from his calf injury, and rookie Demetric Felton also has COVID-19. What about John Kelly from the practice squad, who looked good during the preseason? No, he also has COVID-19.
- This is pretty close to the wide receiver situation the Browns faced a year ago. However, I think we’d all agree that it’s much easier to plug in a running back off the street than it is to plug in an entire group of wide receivers. And, fortunately for the Browns’ case, they do have one of their running backs available still: D’Ernest Johnson. Johnson was treated as a bellcow running back a few weeks ago against the Broncos, and he came through with a 22-carry, 146-yard effort.
- The slight concern has to do with who the backup running back will be to give Johnson a breather. The Browns called Brian Hill up from the practice squad. He was a fifth-round pick by the Falcons in 2017. I feel like I always at least have heard of backup running backs by name in the NFL, but for some reason, I had never heard of Hill and was surprised to see that in three seasons with the Falcons, he totaled nearly 1,000 yards rushing and averaged 4.7 YPC. In 2020, he also caught 25 passes for 199 yards, so he presents a threat as a receiver too. Johnny Stanton is also being called up and could be used in short yardage situations.
- What about the Patriots’ running back situation? They are facing the same challenge as their starter, Damien Harris, has been ruled out with a concussion. Harris had 133 carries for 547 yards (4.1 YPC) and 7 touchdowns this season. The player with the next most carries is rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, who has 35 carries for 136 yards (3.9 YPC) and 1 touchdown. Stevenson appears to have just cleared the concussion protocol himself, but I don’t know if Bill Belichick will thrust him in as the lead ballcarrier. Veteran Brandon Bolden could see increased action on the ground, although he has been the receiving back this year.
Being on Guard Against New England
- The Browns’ win over the Bengals was great last week. The front office just re-committed to the team’s two offensive guards, Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller, while shipping Odell Beckham out of the door. And the defense has been playing very well.
- Statistically, the Browns rank 3rd in the NFL in yards allowed, 3rd in rushing yards allowed, 9th in passing yards allowed, 3rd in sacks/pass attempt, and 5th in number of first downs allowed per game. For as good as they’ve been, they really aren’t getting a lot of credit. The big thing that had been lacking was turnover generation, and they finally got that against Joe Burrow and the Bengals last week. Mac Jones has had his fair share of turnovers, so the defense should continue to maintain their aggressiveness.
- The Patriots, meanwhile, are at their best with turnover generations on defense. Our Patriots’ affiliate noted that the defense plays very structurally sound, and that they mix things up defensively by “showing blitz before backing out, faking or bringing overload pressure, moving between man and zone, and so forth.”
- New England’s five wins have included four victories over the Jets, Texans, Jets, and Panthers. I know it’s not a team’s fault who they play, but those are some of the worst teams in the league. The thing the Browns need to be on guard with, though, is that it’s allowed this Patriots team to build some momentum, get the defense into a groove, and get more valuable reps for Jones under center. While I think Cleveland has the much better roster right now, discipline will be key here.
- It’ll be pleasant weather in Foxborough, with a game time temperature of 50 degrees and 9 miles per hour wind.
- Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah returns this week. We’ll see how many reps the coaching staff works him in for, but prior to his injury, he had become the team’s top linebacker.
- Baker Mayfield and Myles Garrett were both battling foot injuries this week, but are working through them.
- According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 2.5-point underdogs against the Patriots on Sunday.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “I think the Patriots have been playing well this past month, but I think the lesser competition has raised their hype a bit too much. The Browns’ defense matches up well at stopping New England, and I think we’ll see the Browns’ offense work the field position game to set up their scores throughout the game.” Browns 27, Patriots 17
Matt Wood: “The Browns are back. That’s all I got to say.” Browns 45, Patriots 17
rufio: “Mac Jones should be suspended this week, but instead he gets to be fodder for some Myles Garrett sacks. JOK returns and despite giving up a few long drives, our defense holds in the red zone when it matters most.
On offense, no Chubb and no Felton means that D’Ernest Johnson gets another chance to shine, but Baker can make a defense pay for overplaying the run. This is schematically a tough matchup for our zone running game, so look for Bill Callahan and company to dial up a few more gap-blocked plays with pulling guards (and Duo to a 2TE side).
I agree with Wood: the Browns are back.” Browns 31, Patriots 17
Barry Shuck: “I honestly don’t think the Patriots are that good despite owning a 5-4-0 record. Who have they beaten? The Jets twice, Texans, Panthers (last in the NFL in passing) and yes the win over the Chargers was a plum. The rest are all bad to medium clubs. The only good about New England is their pass defense is ranked second. I believe the Browns will run D’Ernest Johnson hard and often as he is ready to show he is not a “one hit wonder.”” Browns 31, Patriots 17
Thomas Moore: “The offense rediscovered its mojo last week as Baker Mayfield did not have to worry about feeding the ball to a wide receiver with diminishing skills. Baker will be tested this week, however, as the Patriots like to play man coverage and Mayfield has struggled (if we are being kind) when throwing against man coverage this year. No Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt hurts, but at D’Ernest Johnson showed what he is capable of a few weeks ago against Denver, so the running game should be in good hands.
Defensively, the Browns should be able to control New England’s running game, meaning the game could come down to how well rookie quarterback Mac Jones can handle the pressure. The last time the Browns faced a rookie quarterback they made life miserable for Justin Fields, so even if they don’t rack up the same sack numbers, bringing the same level of intensity should be enough to deal with Jones.” Browns 28, Patriots 10
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.