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Cleveland Browns vs New England Patriots: Week Fourteen Preview
For any NFL team, traveling to Foxboro to play against the New England Patriots is a difficult task. For the Cleveland Browns this is compounded by an uncertain situation at the quarterback position. Brandon Weeden has not been cleared to practice yet and Jason Campbell has only been cleared to start practicing Thursday, both players were in the league’s concussion program. If Campbell is unable to go, that means that either Caleb Hanie or Alex Tanney could be under center for the Browns (4-8) when they take the field at Gillette Stadium to take on the Patriots (9-3). Whether coach Chudzinski names Campbell, Hanie or Tanney the starter, Sunday’s game will be a challenge for the struggling Browns – losers of three in a row and six of their last seven. Here are this week’s keys to the game for the Cleveland Browns as they take on the first place Patriots.
Step It Up
Josh Gordon has been playing out of his mind lately. However Gordon will face a stiff test this week in the form of Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib. Talib has struggled in his last three games, allowing 14 catches for 195 yards and a touchdown in that span, but on the season quarterbacks have a QB rating of just 55.6 when throwing into his coverage. Talib has also only allowed two touchdowns all season to go with four interceptions and seven passes defensed (broken up).
This isn’t about Gordon vs. Talib though.
Another Browns receiver is going to have to step up this Sunday. Whether that’s Greg Little, Davone Bess, or even Josh Cooper (assuming he gets in the game) or somebody else is irrelevant. But that somebody should be whoever is being guarded by Kyle Arrington. Arrington has allowed 39 receptions, 518 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 66 passes into his coverage. Quarterbacks have a QB rating of 103 when throwing at Arrington. It’s safe to say he won’t see a lot of one-on-one with Gordon (although if he does, just throw it) but Little could see a lot of one-on-one matchups with Arrington as the Patriots might give Talib safety help over the top with Gordon.
Simply put if Gordon is left with a solo matchup against anybody, whoever is under center for Cleveland should look his way. Since Gordon is coming off of two historically good weeks it’s likely Talib won’t be left on an island, so another Browns receiver must step up.
Bring Back the Pressure
Over the last three weeks the Browns haven’t been able to generate much pressure on the quarterback. They’ve only managed two sacks, eight hits and 22 hurries in three games; going against Tom Brady that has to change.
Statistically, the Browns and Patriots offensive lines are similar (ranked 16th and 15th in pass blocking efficiency respectively) but the big challenge here will be the man under center. Brady gets rid of the ball quickly, taking an average of only 2.5 seconds to throw this season. His numbers this season aren’t gaudy, but he’s been efficient and has thrown for 1,443 yards, ten touchdowns and just two interceptions in his last four games.
However in their three losses this season, Brady has looked average, and part of that has to do with the defense applying pressure.
In the Patriots three losses (to Cincinnati, the Jets and Carolina) Brady is a combined 13/35 (37.1%) for 151 yards and no touchdowns while under pressure. He has been sacked ten times in these three games and had an additional 44 QB pressures. Brady hasn’t thrown any interceptions in these three losses while under pressure, but he hasn’t made any plays either. The Browns defense was dealt a major blow with the loss of Desmond Bryant for the season (irregular heartbeat) so it’ll be up to the rest of the Browns defense to get to Brady, early and often. If they fail, odds are the game will be lost.
Football Outsiders ranks the Browns last in the league when it comes to covering opposing tight ends. That’s not good news for a defense going against one of the best tight ends in the league in Rob Gronkowski. Gronk, who has only played in six games this season, has 37 receptions for 560 yards and four touchdowns this year – one each in his last four games. The 6’6” Gronkowski is a matchup nightmare for any defense, let alone one as bad against tight ends as the Browns are. Ray Horton will have to get creative in order to shut down the big tight end.
Keep It Close
The Patriots haven’t been steamrolling teams like we’ve seen them do in the past, with six of their games coming down to three points or less (5-1 in those games). These Patriots have had some nail bitters this year, with close wins to teams like Buffalo (4-8), the Jets (5-7) and last week Houston (2-10). They’ve also lost to the Jets 30-27 in overtime. If the Browns are able to keep this game close and force a late game turnover, they could possible upset the Patriots. It’ll probably take a little bit of luck, but we only have to look back at the last time these two teams met when the Browns knocked off the Patriots by a score of 34-14 in 2010 to see that an upset isn’t impossible here.
While an upset isn’t impossible, it sure isn’t likely. The Browns have been playing poor football lately. Even record setting performances by Gordon hasn’t been enough to win, so a road game against New England is as close to a death sentence as there is. The only wild card could be if the Browns start Alex Tanney as there is no NFL tape on him to use in order to prepare (aside from this), but to say that’s a stretch is an understatement. This is the kind of game we’ve seen the Browns win before, but that won’t happen this week. New England wins by a score of 30-17.
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