The Browns are coming off a disappointing loss to the Los Angeles Chargers that saw the team blow an early 14-0 lead and get beaten up for the second consecutive week by the opposition’s running attack. The Patriots, meanwhile, enter the game off the high of a shutout victory over the Detroit Lions.
Cleveland has already lost two home games to AFC opponents, so if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive they need to figure things out and break their current two-game losing streak.
Here is everything you need to know as the Browns take the field against the Patriots.
Records: Cleveland is 2-3. New England is 2-3.
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Stadium: FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland
Announcers: Kevin Harland and Trent Green
Radio: ESPN 850, 92.3 The Fan, 98.5 WNCX
Announcers: Jim Donovan, Nathan Zegura, Jerod Cherry (sidelines)
Last meeting: The Patriots won the last game between the two teams, 45-7, in Week 10 of the 2021 season.
All-time series: New England leads the all-time regular season series, 13-12. The teams have split the last four meetings in Cleveland.
Weather: 61 degrees and mostly sunny with no chance of precipitation. Winds from the SW at 14 mph. (weather.com)
Uniform: The Browns are back to their classic look of brown jerseys and white pants
Injury report: Browns – Out: defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (ankle, knee, elbow), cornerback Denzel Ward (concussion) and offensive tackle Joe Haeg (concussion). Patriots - Questionable: quarterback Mac Jones (ankle), running back Damien Harris (hamstring), wide receiver Jakobi Meyers (knee), wide Nelson Agholor (hamstring), tight end Jonnu Smith (ankle), defensive lineman Lawrence Guy (shoulder), defensive lineman Christian Barmore (knee) and linebacker LB Raekwon McMillan (thumb). Out: linebacker Josh Uche (hamstring).
The line: Browns -2.5 (Draft Kings)
A Few Things to Watch
Is the run defense ready?: It has been a rough couple of weeks for Cleveland’s run defense, which gave up 202 rushing yards to the Atlanta Falcons – including a 10-play touchdown drive that was all runs – and 238 rushing yards to the Los Angeles Chargers, which was just a few yards off the Chargers season total heading into the game.
play a clean game for 60 minutes pic.twitter.com/338B2SmZFs— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) October 12, 2022
The Patriots present another challenge as running back Rhamondre Stevenson ran for 161 yards against the Detroit Lions last week and the Patriots are the No. 4 rushing team in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Browns spent the week working on their tackling skills and talking, again, about how they are going to fix the latest problem plaguing the defense. We’ll know on Sunday if that extra attention paid off.
Battle of the backups: The Browns have found a reasonable level of stability with quarterback Jacoby Brissett through the first five weeks of the season. The good news is the Browns are sixth in the league in scoring and the running game is the envy of the NFL. The bad news is Brissett has struggled late in all three of Cleveland’s losses.
Meanwhile, in New England, the Patriots are down to their third starting quarterback of the season in rookie Bailey Zappe, who is likely in line to start on Sunday as quarterback Mac Jones is questionable for the game with an ankle injury.
one day and one play at a time pic.twitter.com/UiXOk7hUKa— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) October 12, 2022
Zappe made his first start last week against the Detroit Lions but it was not the overwhelming performance that some have made it out to be as New England were just three-of-nine on third down and zero-for-four in the red zone.
It is a smaller sample size, but Zappe has avoided the big mistake in his seven quarters of play that have plagued Brissett as the rookie only has one interception and is completing 75 percent of his passes.
This game might come down to which quarterback avoids the killer mistake, which might favor the Browns even given Brissett’s struggles as the defense should be able to handle a fourth-round rookie making his first career road start.
The life of a kicker: It was a rough day for rookie kicker Cade York against the Chargers as he missed two field goals, including a 54-yarder at the end of the game that would have sealed an improbable comeback victory for the Browns.
That of course led to an increase in agita among a fan base that believes a kicker should never miss a kick, especially one who routinely makes fields from 60-plus yards in warmups.
Kickers, much like defensive backs, need to have a short memory and York said he is focusing on the next kick (quote via The Beacon Journal):
“I mean yeah, it’s definitely a little more mentally challenging. Like I said earlier in the season, people are going to love you, they’re going to hate you. I’m not really looking at it, but I’m sure I’m getting lots of hate. So just using it as motivation, and kind of having a cold attitude about everybody else. Just going out there and doing what I need to do.”
The two misses against the Chargers were the first field goals that York has missed this season he is eight-of-10, and he has converted 13-of-15 on extra points. While that may not be what some fans want, it is interesting to look back at the career of Phil Dawson, one of the most popular Browns players of the past two decades, who only converted 66.7 percent of his field goals as a rookie.
The Browns did not move on from Dawson after some struggles as a rookie and there is no need to entertain talk of them moving on from York the first time he struggles. But given the way Cleveland’s games have gone this season, York should have a chance to erase the memory of those missed kicks as early as Sunday’s game against the Patriots.
Where is Judon?: When the Browns are on offense they need to keep an eye on New England linebacker Matthew Judon, who is tied for the league lead with six sacks and has posted a sack in every game so far this season, including two last week against the Lions which earned him AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
The Browns offensive line has done a good job of protecting Brissett, he has only been sacked five times, and they will need to be sure to account for Judon, according to offensive line coach Bill Callahan (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“We have to account for him and everybody else up front. They are extremely talented up on the defensive line. You are going to be challenged by not only their base fronts but their sub-fronts where they really excel and they create production and sacks. They are a handful, not only with the multiple personnel that they bring in the game and the alignments but they are really sound fundamentally. They are as good as any team in the NFL when it comes to fundamental technique. A lot of respect for what they do and how they do it.”
A Final Quote
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods on the defense’s tackling issues (quote via clevelandbrowns.com):
“I think we have to understand that you have to have a tackling plan and understand what type of tackle you need to make. Do I have the guy in the hole, and he has nowhere to go? Or is he in the open field, and I’ve got to put myself in position and get the guy on the ground. I believed it helped them. We’ll see.”
Those 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?