The last time the Patriots met the Cleveland Browns and Kevin Stefanski it was an absolute blowout. Rookie duo Mac Jones and Rhamondre Stevenson led the charge en route to a 45-7 blowout, in a game where Cleveland only scored on their opening drive. Around a year later, things shift to the bank of Lake Erie at First Energy Stadium with old friend Jacoby Brissett under center for the Browns. Is another blowout in order, or will the 2-3 AFC North team be up to the challenge?
Date: Sunday, October 16th
Start Time: 1:00 EST
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Stadium: First Energy Stadium
TV Info: CBS (Kevin Harlan and Trent Green on the call)
Uniform Info: White Jerseys, Blue Pants
Three weeks in a row now will the Patriots matchup against the worst DVOA run defense in the league when they hit the field this Sunday. Two weeks ago, the Browns got gashed repeatedly on the ground by a combined Falcons running attack of Tyler Allgeier, Caleb Huntley, and Patriots legend Cordarrelle Patterson. Then last week, Austin Ekeler went nuclear on the ground, going for 173 yards and a rushing score on just 16 carries. Joshua Kelley also ran for 49 yards on 10 carries as well. In short, this unit has been trending in the wrong direction, and things won’t be much better this weekend going against Rhamondre Stevenson.
Despite some clear star power in the front seven with Myles Garrett, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and Jadeveon Clowney, who is confirmed to be out for this week, the pass rush is level with the run defense for Cleveland. The Browns are one of nine teams yet to record 10 sacks on the season, while also ranking bottom 10 in both pressures and pressure percentage so far in 2022. Not to mention Garrett is not even a month removed from being involved in a notable car accident as well. Browns are going to need someone to step up in that front seven group and quickly.
As for the secondary, the Browns will be without their top piece on the proverbial chess board in Denzel Ward. The Pro Bowler from a season ago is still in concussion protocol after last week. However, Ward has not had a good start to his year whatsoever after getting a new 20 million-dollar-a-year contract in April. Safety Grant Delpit is the only other defensive back for the Browns with a pick and more than two pass breakups. His running mate at safety and Boston College legend John Johnson is no slouch either.
The Cleveland Offense in its current state runs through three guys, Amari Cooper, David Njoku, and Nick Chubb. After committing grand theft on the Cowboys to get the former (just a fifth and sixth-rounder), He has filled the void left in the wake of the OBJ and Juice Landry departures and then some. Last week he gave former Patriot J.C. Jackson the blues on the outside, going for 76 total yards and a score on a route running masterclass.
Moving on to Njoku, he has at long last become a reliable and dependable security blanket for the Browns. It felt like the Browns/Baker Mayfield didn’t give him the best chance to succeed outside of his second year in the league, but Njoku has been a force so far in 2022. Three weeks in a row now has he gone over 70 receiving yards and five receptions. The Patriots would be wise to bring what they did to T.J. Hockenson into the game plan against him. Bill Belichick said Njoku is “Probably the second-best tight end in Browns history”, so that may be an indicator of how they’ll attack him.
Through five weeks, it would be hard to say that there is a better running back in Football than Nick Chubb, save for perhaps Saquon Barkley. You want to talk about someone who runs angry but also has top-tier elusiveness and big play potential, you have that in Chubb. No back has had more double-digit yard gains, or just outright yards this year. 415 yards AFTER contact (70 percent of his yardage, which would outright rank fourth in the league on its own) so far is also preposterously good. Jacoby Brissett play action ability, as seen below with Taylor Kyles’ analysis, has been great this year, but the Patriots might need to sell out for the run a good bit. They cannot let Chubb take this game over.
The Nasty Man
You can’t talk about this 2022 Browns team without Deshaun Watson. He’s a black eye on not just the team, but the league\ as well for the foreseeable future, perhaps for the rest of his career even. Not going to get in too deep with his whole situation other than another woman came forward just this week, but I will say this. The fact that he is playing at all this year is complete bullshit. Not only that but the fact that the Browns felt comfortable enough to not only mortgage the future of their draft capital to get him. Then immediately give him a FULLY GUARANTEED five-year deal worth nearly a quarter of a billion dollars, with at the time 23 civil cases of sexual misconduct against him being beyond tone deaf. On brand however for a team with a second-rate ownership group though.
Waston also getting less than double the games DeAndre Hopkins got for PEDs, or six fewer games than Calvin Ridley got for gambling on his own team while he was on leave is equally as garbage. Yes, Watson does have a right to negotiate his suspension down as a part of the CBA, as does every player, but this is the same league that threw in the kitchen sink in federal court to suspend Tom Brady multiple games over PSI in-game balls. Roger Goodell and the NFL continue to do themselves no favors as it relates to the image that they care about women’s related issues in and around the league, and that will sadly continue I’d bet.
New England Patriots
Anytime you blank an opponent in the NFL as a defense is a cause for optimism. Especially considering the Lions were the NFL’s best offense last week. Now, they rank fourth, with Cleveland sitting right behind them in the yards per game department. With that said, their run defense is going to get put to the biggest test of the season so far. The last time the Patriots played the Browns they were without both Chubb and Hunt, and both have had good games against New England in the past. If they catch New England in some light fronts, expect Cleveland to pound the rock with regularity. Especially if Christian Barmore, who was just added to the injury report with a knee issue on Friday, is out.
Matt “Scout Team Myles Garrett” Judon and co. are going to have their hands full upfront, against a Browns' offensive line that has allowed a league-low five sacks all season. Jedrick Willis and Jack Conklin are as good a tackle duo as you will find in the league, and Joel Bitonio at guard is no slouch either. Pressure applied to Jacoby Brissett will be coming at a premium this Sunday, and the Patriots need to make the most of it.
As far as coverage goes, things should be like last week with the roles of Amon-Ra St. Brown and T.J. Hockenson being played by Cooper and Njoku. The added twist being Kareem Hunt needs to be treated as a receiver. His 16 targets and 14 catches rank fourth on the Browns, with Cooper, Njoku, and Donovan Peoples-Jones ahead. No Jonathan Jones this week, which likely could mean Jack Jones could draw Cooper regularly, in what would be a massive test for him. If you remember from last year's game against the Cowboys. Jon Jones was already out for the year, and Jalen Mills, who is good to go as of Saturday, drew CeeDee Lamb, with J.C. Jackson drawing Cooper. If Jack Jones does get Cooper, however, that becomes the biggest endorsement of how this coaching staff feels about him.
As of Friday, it’s unclear if Mac Jones will make his return, but he is officially questionable after being doubtful the last two weeks. Regardless, Bailey Zappe still gives the Patriots a clear shot at winning two in a row for the first time this season should he suit up. Either way, a real concern with the Patriots' offense is still the red zone production so far. Just four teams are worse than them in red zone offense, however, the Cleveland defense enters this weekend as the No. 19 red zone defense. Furthermore, the Patriots, regardless of it being Raichu or McCorkle under center, should have their chances down the stretch. The Browns, rank as the third-worst fourth-quarter defense in the league, surrendering 10.6 ppg.
Rhamondre Stevenson will now be leaned on more than ever now in the run game with Damien Harris dealing with a hamstring issue. He went ballistic a week ago and could very well likely do so again this weekend against a porous Browns run defense. Behind him will be rookies Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris, the latter of which coming up from the practice squad after not making the initial 53-man roster. They probably will see some action, but Stevenson is the workhorse. On the topic, Stevenson was asked this week about not having a fullback earlier this week and gave some good insight into why he prefers not having one.
Outside of Tyquan Thornton potentially getting a progressively increased role as we move along, starting this weekend, this should be another solid week for these pass catchers. Jakobi Meyers’ red-hot start to the year has been a big plus, and Bill Belichick even went into detail comparing his rise to Julian Edelman’s on Friday. PFF’s numbers also concur that Meyers has made a big jump, grading him as the No. 5 wide receiver in Football as of Monday. Without Ward on the other side, the North Carolina State product could be in for another productive day.
Points Spread: NE +2.5 (-106) | CLE -2.5 (-114)
Moneyline: NE (+122) | CLE (-144)
Over/Under: O 43.5 (-106) | U 43.5 (-114)
This is the Browns' fourth home game of the season this weekend, and they haven’t been a good home ATS team in 2022. Their only cover was against a Mitch Trubisky-led Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday Night Football. Last year the Browns were not a good home ATS team either, going 3-6 for the season. Meanwhile, the Patriots are 3-3 as a road dog since 2021, and 6-5-1 on the road ATS in general. Combine that with Cleveland’s struggles in the fourth quarter, Patriots all around is the play for this game.
Under Stefanski, Browns games have gone over in Cleveland in 11 out of 21 games, but the over has hit in every home game this year so far. The numbers effectively flip with the Patriots on the road in that same time frame, with the under-hitting in 12 out of 20 games. At 43.5 however, I would lean with the over for the Browns' struggles on defense in the fourth quarter if nothing else.
The biggest knock I can put on the Browns as constructed is that their two wins came against teams starting Baker Mayfield and Mitch Trubisky, winning by a combined 14 points. 12 of which come from the Steeler game might I add. On the other hand, all three of their losses were all winnable games, losing by a grand total of six points combined in those games. Key mistakes are also littered in those games. Blowing a 13-point lead in under 90 seconds to the Jets. Going 5-14 on third down along with multiple turnovers against the Falcons. Then finally getting shutout in the fourth quarter against the Chargers in a game that they all but handed to the Browns. Mainly by going for it on 4th and 1 on their own 46 with just over a minute left.
Call me controversial if you will but making key critical errors consistently will not win you many games in the NFL. The Patriots are worse in turnover differential to this point, albeit slightly, but have been great at both controlling the ball on offense and getting takeaways on defense as we’ve moved along. Browns should put up a good effort, as they’ve had all year, but without Clowney, Ward, and then with Garrett at well under 100 percent on defense, that becomes a lot to overcome. Chubb should have a big day, but I think the Patriots roll heading into a Monday Night Football tilt against the Chicago Bears.
Final Score: New England Patriots 27, Cleveland Browns 21