Sunday afternoon, the 7-0 New England Patriots will face off against the 2-4 Cleveland Browns. While the Browns win-loss record has not lived up to their preseason hype, they are the most talented team, on paper, New England will play so far. Cleveland has talent on both sides of the football that will force the Patriots to key on and scheme against in order to have success.
Patriots Key Offensive Matchups
Despite what the scoreboard has indicated, the Patriots offense has struggled in recent weeks. The majority of these struggles are due to poor run blocking, inconsistent pass protection, and injuries to their receiving core. The team recently addressed their receiving core by acquiring the 6-2, 210 pound Mohamed Sanu from the Atlanta Falcons via trade. Sanu will be heavily featured in the Patriots passing game as they will integrate him with slants, ins, and vertical routes. However, in order for the Patriots and Tom Brady to have the ability to integrate Sanu within their passing game, they will need to neutralize All-Pro defensive end, Myles Garrett.
The former 2017 first overall draft pick is an absolute unblockable menace when rushing the passer. Through just six games, Garrett is currently tied for the league lead in sacks with nine. The Patriots offensive line has struggled to block their opponent’s pass rush all season and they have yet to face a talent remotely comparable to Garrett’s. New England’s game plan for neutralizing Garrett will not feature a specific scheme to stop him, but rather an offensive philosophy to take the Browns tenth ranked pass rush out of the game as a whole. The Patriots passing game will rely heavily on short routes and quick reads designed to get the football out of Brady’s hands as quickly as possible. Josh McDaniels will limit deep play calls and other slow developing plays that would give Garrett time to rush. We have seen the Patriots quick passing offense be extremely effective for neutralizing great pass rushers, with an example being J.J. Watt.
Additionally, New England’s offense will feature a heavy dose of running back, Sony Michel, for a plethora of reasons. First, the consensus for Sunday’s game is that it will take place during a heavy rainstorm which may affect the passing game. Also, New England’s coaching staff is determined to fix their 22nd ranked rushing attack. While the offensive line has struggled to open up big holes along with Michel struggling to create his own space, the coaches seem adamant to keep handing the football off. A strong rushing performance will benefit the Patriots greatly during this game as it would take pressure off the passing game as well as help neutralize the Browns pass rush.
Patriots Key Defensive Matchups
First and foremost, New England’s top defensive priority will be how they choose to matchup against Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. The two All-Pro wideouts are the most talented receiving duo the Patriots have faced all season and it will be interesting to see how Bill Belichick chooses to defend them. In the past when New England has faced an offense with two dynamic receiving threats, they have assigned their number one corner to shadow the offense’s number two receiver. Then they will then put double, or bracket coverage, on the offense’s number one receiver. While many would agree that Beckham is the clear number one, more talented receiver, Landry and Beckham have very close statistics this season. Through six games, Beckham has tallied 29 receptions for 436 yards and one touchdown. Through as many games, Landry has recorded 25 receptions for 439 yards. The Patriots will most likely have number one corner, Stephon Gilmore, shadow Landry all afternoon while double covering Beckham.
Secondly, New England needs to bottle up running back, Nick Chubb. In six games, the second year back has racked up 114 rush attempts for 607 yards and six touchdowns. While Chubb’s overall rushing yardage ranks fourth in the league, he is also averaging 101.2 rushing yards per game and 5.3 yards per attempt. Furthermore, Chubb is having a better statistical season than other notable runners such as, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, Le’Veon Bell, and Todd Gurley. These are not fake stats either, as Cleveland has played just one defense ranked outside of the league’s top 15 rushing defenses. Also, despite the Patriots defense currently ranked second against the run, Chubb put up 165 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the Baltimore Ravens third ranked rushing defense.
Cleveland is coming off a bye week and should be fully rested for Sunday’s matchup. Given the Browns rest, strong rushing attack, and the weather forecast this Sunday, I fully expect Cleveland to rely heavily on running the football. New England’s defensive linemen and linebackers need to be ready to play their ambushing downhill style in order for the Patriots to succeed.
Rian Queen is a Contributor for the Unwrapped Sports Network website. Follow him @takes_boston on Twitter.