This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the New England Patriots in Week 6. Below, we analyze a few advantages, disadvantages, or general thoughts about the two teams before getting to our predictions for the game.
The Two Great Unknowns
- The Browns scored on their opening possession against the Patriots last year to go up 7-0. New England tied it up with 0:26 left in the first quarter. The final score? 45-7 Patriots. Mac Jones, a rookie at the time, was 19-of-23 for 198 yards and 3 touchdowns. But if you remember that game, the throws he made were freaking outstanding — the kind you could only watch and think, “Damn, he’s making every big throw and we can’t stop him.” But the first big question of the week is, “Are we even going to face Jones?” The second-year quarterback has missed the last two games with an ankle injury, giving way to Brian Hoyer and then rookie Bailey Zappe.
- In two games, Zappe hasn’t had the ball in his hand a lot, but has been pretty effective. In last week’s 29-0 win over the Lions, Zappe was 17-of-21 for 188 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. Sound familiar? Bill Belichick often knows how to get his rookies to play efficient. My assumption is that the Browns will face Zappe. Despite his solid performance against Detroit, he’s still a rookie, and any defense should be salivating at that opportunity. At the same time, if Jones does start, he got off to a very shaky start to the 2022 campaign. The Browns had to prepare for the possibility of both quarterbacks this week, while they also try to solve all of their defensive issues.
- That leads to the other great unknown for the Browns this week: what is the approach the team is taking to improve their run defense? They have been picked apart in back-to-back weeks, so much that you’d almost rather have the blown coverages back from the first two weeks (not really, but you get the point). Jadeveon Clowney is ruled out this week, so that is already a step back defensively, Do we see Deion Jones play at linebacker? Does Cleveland stack the box for the run more? One thing is for sure: Bill Belichick is already good at exposing weaknesses, and he’s had two teams in a row expose it on tape for us in a major way. Our best chance is if his quarterback situation handicaps his odds of executing that gameplan.
Three Things to Improve This Week
- Besides the run defense, let’s talk about five things that need to improve this week for Cleveland in order to win:
- Getting Cade York back on track: The rookie kicker was a hero to begin the season. Before the season, I thought he could be the difference maker in four or five of Cleveland’s games, but I was expecting it be for the winning side. Instead, I view him as sort of being 1-2: he got us the Week 1 win, but the missed extra point against the Jets cost us, as did the two missed field goals last week.
- Improving the screen game: Something about Kevin Stefanski’s screen game has gotten a tad predictable. I don’t feel it’s the timing of when the screen passes are called, but these defensive ends have been getting disciplined at the right time to get in the way of the pass. Meanwhile, we see the Chargers throw the screen to Ekeler last week for a touchdown as seven Browns defenders blindly think they’re about to get a sack on the quarterback.
- Securing Some Big Plays for Garrett: I am not one of the people who complain about Myles Garrett; I know the type of impact he’s having. With that said, we desperately need him to deliver the game-changing, drive-ending type of play. This is a team-wide thing; if he’s getting double-teamed, then Joe Woods has to come up with some type of strategy to free up someone else to make that impact. Or, if Garrett’s being double teamed, throw a swerve at the opposition by lining Garrett up inside or having him stunt more.
- This is probably the Browns’ most winnable game until Deshaun Watson returns. With as well as the offense has played, Cleveland deserves a win like this for that side of the ball.
- Can we incorporate a little bit of the wide receiver end around this week?
- Greedy Williams returns this week and could be the third cornerback, as Denzel Ward is out with a concussion.
- According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 2.5 point favorites against the Patriots.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “I don’t have faith that the defense will have their problems solved, but at some point, you get a tad lucky? Call it a blind squirrel finding a nut. I see the Patriots’ quarterback being off this week, while Cleveland’s offense is a well-oiled machine, and the Browns will pull off a refreshing victory that goes against the assumption that Belichick will easily dissect Cleveland’s weaknesses. He might gameplan it, but his players won’t execute it well enough.” Browns 27, Patriots 13
Barry Shuck: “From here on it is going to be difficult to pick the Browns doing anything positive. And even though the Chargers loss was not pretty to which they gained all those yards despite being the worst rushing team, one thing that came out of the LA debacle was that these Browns can stay with the better teams. The Chargers were the best passing club and are a very good team. Cleveland had multiple instances where they should have beaten them and in the end only lost by two. However, that “should have won” argument is getting stale this year. Had the Jets game won, Falcons are a worse ballclub, gave the Chargers the win......stop, please. The Browns defense has lots of issues and New England has found its groove especially running the ball. As DBN explored this week, Cleveland is not a run-stopping team whatsoever and the Pats should put up big numbers in this aspect. And now it looks like we can’t even make 3-pointers either.” Patriots 34, Browns 21
rufio: “This Browns roster is more talented than most, but we aren’t in a position to utilize all of that talent. Sometimes we are doing that to ourselves (scheme choices, particularly on defense), other times we lack the key personnel to unlock the talent on the team (particularly on offense, at quarterback).
I wish I could fully agree with EZ about Jacoby. He is expected to be a veteran who can make a throw here or there, but is mostly boring, takes care of the ball, and makes 1-2 first downs with his arm or his legs in key spots. He’s done that brilliantly at times. But in the Browns’ past two games he has thrown critical fourth quarter interceptions that have really undermined his ability to play his role. Simply put, he cannot afford to make mistakes, and he’s making too many of them late in games.
The last time these two teams met, the Patriots put on an absolute coaching clinic. The Patriots were able to completely neutralize the Browns’ biggest strength on defense (the DEs, led by Myles Garrett). The Pats have a full arsenal of draws, screens, play action passes, and other plays that discourage a full-speed pass rush from the edge, and they will use every trick in the book to slow Myles down. They know they can’t block him–as does every NFL team–but the Pats are equipped to play around him. By my very unofficial count, the Pats gave Myles one true pass rushing opportunity before the previous game got out of hand. One.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots’ ability to two-gap is a horrible matchup for the Browns Zone scheme. We’ll likely lean more on our gap schemes, which limits the diversity we have on the ground. I expect a better coaching performance this go around, but not much better.” Patriots 35, Browns 24
Jared Mueller: “The Cleveland Browns are more talented than the New England Patriots. The Patriots are more disciplined and sound than the Browns. Both teams run the ball very well and struggle to stop the run. Unfortunately, Cleveland’s run defense is just terrible and adding Deion Jones and a practice squad defensive tackle, who might not even play, is not enough to change that in one week.
The biggest difference in the game is Amari Cooper and David Njoku as weapons for Jacoby Brissett while either Mac Jones (returning from injury) or Bailey Zappe are just hoping they can get the ball to Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne or Hunter Henry enough to make a difference in the aggregate.
Based on the two moves made this week, Browns players know they are playing for their jobs this week and it is just enough to get them a victory.” Browns 14, Patriots 13
Ezweav: “I usually have some level of cautious optimism but I can’t imagine anything other than complete annihilation. We have a glaring defensive deficiency and we’re going up against the greatest coach of all time. Jacoby Brissett has been absolutely sensational for the role he is intended to play but we’re not matching frames with them this week.
Everyone expects Belichick to ram us with the run, which figures to have a 1000% probability of success. Knowing Hoodie, whoever the quarterback is will toss for about 400 yards against us as we desperately sell out to stop the run (which we’ll be moderately successful at whenever the Patriots feel like taking a break from destroying us in the air). Myles and Clowney will be neutralized by scheme and our LB’s will be hopelessly overmatched.” Patriots 41, Browns 13
Matt Wood: “The Browns always do what they shouldn’t. The dirty secret is the Browns should be 5-0, but they aren’t. The Pats are not good. Even when Max Jones played they were dog water.
So I think the Browns bow up. I think they show a pulse on defense and they continue to ride the guy who COULD be in the MVP discussion in Nick Chubb. I also think we see some more Chubb and Hunt together on the field as Stefanski may look to lessen the burden on Jacoby. Browns do enough in a win.” Browns 29, Patriots 20
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.