Game #13 – Browns @ Patriots Preview
After a terrible performance at home against a bad team, the Browns now head out to Foxboro to play the 9 – 3 Patriots. Even with a healthy, competent starting quarterback – the Browns would have a less-than-favorable chance at victory. That equation does not exist however, so the visitors will need some kind of miracle against the playoff-bound Patriots. However, three years ago Colt McCoy and Peyton Hillis somehow defeated a 14 – 2 Patriots club by a sizeable margin. The odds are hugely on the side of the home team, but this is still the NFL – where anything can happen on a weekly basis.
Offense: Now that Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden have both sustained concussions, the quarterback situation for the Browns is completely up in the air. Assuming neither are able to play, the team has to decide between Alex Tanney (who has never played in a regular season game) and Caleb Haine (a subpar career backup). Neither really gives me confidence, even when facing a mediocre defense. Case Keenum passed for 272 yards last week but could not find the end zone and was intercepted once. I would be ecstatic for at least one passing touchdown and no turnovers this week, but I know that is not realistic. The signal caller will likely put up just over 200 yards and may throw for a touchdown, but he will also turn it over at least twice. Since it won’t be Brandon Weeden, the new quarterback may only throw interceptions and not fumble it as well.
With an inexperienced guy at the helm of the offense, the position that will suffer greatly is the running back. The defense will likely load the box (the space between the tackles) with additional defenders to force the Browns to throw the ball – constraining the running game. It’s not like Willis McGahee and Chris Ogbonnaya have been lighting it up when given opportunities to carry the football, either. I would expect this duo to be stopped quickly on running plays and after the team gets down a few scores, the Browns will likely rely on the pass. I could see Ogbonnaya and Fozzy Whittaker collecting a couple of receptions, especially during blitz attempts. The three backs will combine for fewer than 100 yards on the ground. However, I envision anywhere from six to twelve receptions – ranging from fifty to 125 yards. Again, they can ill-afford to give the ball to the opponent; the team is not good enough to overcome those.
One would expect that Josh Gordon would see a fair amount of double coverage on Sunday. The wide out has been torching defenses all season long and has the second-most receiving yards in the league. The dominance of Andre Johnson last week gives me hope the Baylor star can still perform. Johnson hauled in eight grabs for 121 yards against the Patriots; even with a tough matchup (Aqib Talib), Gordon can still fare well. However, I have no faith in the remaining wide outs. Davone Bess and Greg Little do not get involved in games, regardless of the quarterback. Tanney or Haine would not provide the duo with opportunities (I am pulling for a shorter score like last week, however). That leaves Jordan Cameron, who can become a security blanket for this office. I envision the tight end getting some chances to catch and run against a Dont’a Hightower or Brandon Spikes. Cameron will not have great numbers, but perhaps he can move the chains for the Browns.
The offensive line will once again have their hands full with the likes of Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, and (to a lesser extent) Joe Vellano. The visiting guys upfront have improved over the past few weeks but still succumb to errors. Should this occur at Foxboro; you can bet that the home squad will definitely take advantage. Jones will likely come off the edge frequently, and unless Mitchell Schwartz improves greatly, it will be a long day for the former California lineman. Up the middle, Alex Mack and Shawn Lauvao will have to keep the signal caller upright, and both have had trouble preventing defenders from getting past them. All that said, the offensive line will likely play poorly via sacks and fumbles lost. The only way this unit’s deficiencies can be masked is by someone who can release the football quickly, and I do not see that happening.
Defense: Employing multiple running backs has been a staple for the competitors; no matter who gets the bulk of carries, the Browns will face an efficient (but not high-output) group. LeGarrette Blount is averaging 4.4 yards per carry, while Shane Vereen’s average is 5.1 and Stevan Ridley has a 4.3 ypc total. Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin will limit the total rushing yardage, but it will be up to the defense to keep the rushers in check during critical situations (i.e. third down and short or goal line plays). With Desmond Bryant heading to the IR, that paves the way for Billy Winn and John Hughes to hopefully pick up where he left off. The defensive line will do an admirable job; they will not get a lot of tackles but they will not be run upon easily.
The game plan should be simple for the linebackers – either get to Tom Brady or suffer the consequences. With little-to-no pressure, the quarterback has proven time after time that he can dissect defenses with ease. Sack artist J.J. Watt could not take down the Patriots’ signal caller last week, so the struggling Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger will likely be invisible in passing situations. Likewise, Jabaal Sheard will more than likely have his issues getting into the offensive backfield as well. Most of this won’t be his fault, as the opponent is tremendous in quick plays with solid blocking upfront. I have nightmares thinking about Darius Eubanks (or possibly Tashaun Gipson) attempting to guard Rob Gronkowski in open field. The best tight end in football (in my opinion) excels no matter who defends him – he is coming off a game with six catches, 127 yards, and a score. I know D’Qwell Jackson will do a good job against the run in the middle of the field, but I have faith that Belichick will find alternatives to limit the production of the middle linebacker.
The names of the Patriots’ wide receiving corps change over the years, but the production does not. The 2013 version primarily features Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. This seems like an easy task, but with last week’s issues with Ace Sanders and Cecil Shorts III, I am not confident that Joe Haden and Buster Skrine can limit these options. The duo will run a lot of shorter routes, with a potential to escape tackles and turn it into a huge gainer. I believe at least one of those guys will breeze by Skrine and create a few thirty-yard plays from five-yard hitches. Produciton could be more prevalent in the middle of the field, with Gronkowski and the multiple running backs getting open. There’s a potential that T.J. Ward’s liabilities in coverage could pave the way for Leon McFadden to see some snaps. It may not matter much, as the rookie has never faced a tremendous group like this on Sunday.
Special Teams: Much like many contests in the NFL, the special teams appear to be relatively even between the two teams. I would give the kicking edge to Stephen Gostkowski (as Cundiff has missed a kick in the past two games), but the punting and return games could be both hit-and-miss. Jordan Poyer’s nice returns last week were intriguing and I cannot wait to see the former Oregon State athlete more chances. However, this part of the game will not dictate who wins – the disparity in offenses should be enough for the home team.
Coaching: Facing the “genius” in Bill Belichick, and the Browns’ coaching staff will have a tall order. The veteran leader has been great at adapting both his offenses and defenses over the years. Chud will have to call a perfect game with a reserve signal caller on the road, and that still might not be enough. The defense was finally able to notch a few sacks last week – Horton can make it difficult for Brady by finding ways to get around the offensive line. However, I am realistic that the defenders will not put the opponent on his back.
Prediction (My Record: 6 – 6): I am glad I will be out of the country and will “miss” this contest. I would be surprised if the Browns keep it close – especially after the first quarter. Brady and the offense will have their way with defenders, and the home team will shut down the Browns’ offense. Ryan Mallett might actually see playing time in this game, and the Patriots earn a 38 – 10 victory.