The New England Patriots might as well be in the NFC as the Cleveland Browns have played them on a clockwork every three-year schedule without much of extra games mixed in.1 The Patriots era of dominance has been during the Browns era of… non-dominance; meaning the teams rarely finish in the same place within their respective divisions. So, 2016 (NE 33-10), 2013 (NE 27-26), 2010 (CLE 34-14), 2007 (NE 34-17), and 2004 (NE 42-15) all were on this three-year beat. The last season where the teams were playing each other outside this realm was in 2003; when the Browns won a thrilling game, 9-3.2
The Patriots though are working on a short week and going against a Browns team, who had a bye week. So, maybe there is a chance?
Here we go.
Bode: No doubt here. 2010 the Browns jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but the Patriots were outplaying them over the next couple of quarters. With the score 17-7, the Browns went directly at the Pats. Five straight runs from Peyton Hillis before a sixth run by Mike Bell. A few plays later the Browns are 1st and 15 on the 16 yard line… Colt McCoy drops back all the way to the 26, then takes off running, surrounded by Patriot players multiple times, and just inches the ball over the goal line to ice the game.
Suek: See Bode above. I will also add the first three quarters of the October 9, 2016 match-up. The Browns had a 19-3 lead and were dominating in all facets, with (now Patriots WR) Josh Gordon totaling seven catches for 151 yards and a touchdown. I don’t want to talk about what happened in the final 61 seconds…
Gilbert: This is easy. The 2010 Browns 34-14 victory over the Patriots is my favorite memory. I was there at that game. Cleveland football was actually fun to watch that day.
Poloha: I agree with everything said above. Peyton Hillis, man.
Bode: Hue Jackson admitted he made a promise to Joel Bitonio over the 2018 offseason that he would not force him to move to left tackle unless absolutely necessary, which serves as confirmation Bitonio prefers to stay inside. Well, the Browns need him to anyway. Flipping spots with Greg Robinson– who has a good skillset for a guard– could allow Kitchens to focus help blockers to the right-side where it is also needed.
Suek: The change needs to be made on the right side of the line by replacing Eric Kush with Wyatt Teller and, possibly, Chris Hubbard with Justin McCray. Their performance has been detrimental to the success of the offense thus far. Outside of a marquee trade, I would leave Greg Robinson at left tackle.
Gilbert: I think Wyatt Teller moving into the right guard spot for Eric Kush would be the most sensible, best and quickest impact change for the Browns. Kush is the weakest link on the offensive line and replacing him with a young talented lineman in Teller should be a boost to the overall offensive line play.
Poloha: Whichever one actually helps the offensive line and allows Baker Mayfield to be comfortable in the pocket. I don’t know enough about each lineman, but I prefer whichever one gives the Browns the best chance to win.
Gerbs: Um wait didn’t we trade for Trent Williams? Oh, Steve was wrong? Gotcha. For some reason, Greg Robinson is the scapegoat of the offensive line play despite being adequate by analytics standards. Kush is the issue, with Hubbard not far behind, so anything to capitalize on fixing those would be great. Would rather leave the left side alone, except maybe swap like Bode mentions above.
Bode: At 2-4, this game feels like a Kitchens-sink game. I fully expect lots of misdirection and trickery to be at the forefront whether they are done with Jarvis Landry throwing passes or fake punts or perhaps dropping Myles Garrett into short slant coverage on a third-and-short– where his pass-rushing would be muted against Brady.
Suek: Kitchens should absolutely utilize more pre-snap motion in order for Baker to better identify defensive coverages, especially in the case of a possible disguise. I fully expect some trickery, but I am also in the thinking that the game should funnel through running back Nick Chubb and via play action in the passing game.
Gilbert: I need to see the creativity we saw glimpses of in the Ravens game. I want to see pre-snap motion, unique formations and creative play calling that puts the defense in a numbers disadvantage and has the defense wondering where the ball is going. The play calling disguise needs to be there for the rest of this season.
Poloha: I’m fine with any tricks as long as there are in fact tricks. I want 2018 Freddie back. Maybe the bye week and two weeks to prepare for the Patriots gave the coaching staff an opportunity to draw up some creative plays. At least we can hope.
Gerbs: 12 personnel, a few tricks, utilize the speed at wide receiver, and hey how about everyone’s favorite trick: playing your best players? Guys like Rashard Higgins and Genard Avery can have an immediate impact on the game and help fix some of the issues we have seen on both sides of the ball.
Bode: Cover-0 is a defense with no safety help– so it is entirely focused on every defensive player being in man coverage on an island. PFF broke down the Patriots Cover-0 usage in detail this past offseason. The defense is reliant on the pass rush getting to the quarterback because no NFL defender can stay with the receivers for extended periods of time. The Browns using more 12 personnel (1 running back and two tight ends) could be a way to help counter its effectiveness.
Suek: I spoke about the Patriots utilization of Cover-0 (“zero blitz”) in Week 8’s Deep Coverage. Cover-0 is vulnerable to slant and crossing routes, as there is no safety help in the middle of the field. It puts an emphasis on one-on-one match-ups, wherein the Browns have two outstanding playmakers in Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry. If Baker is given just enough time and is accurate with the football, the potential for big plays and YAC is there.
Gilbert: QUICK ROUTES. Slants, comebacks, and screens are some routes the Browns can run to get the ball out quickly. Trust the playmakers we have on offense to catch the ball and then make the play. The Browns can’t put the stress on this offensive line to hold up against this defense.
Poloha: The Browns just shouldn’t go empty. It’s as simple as that. Don’t put Baker in a bad position from the start. Keep Nick Chubb in the backfield.
Gerbs: Don’t let the ghosts get you. The way to beat Cover-0 is the way Cleveland plays offense best: quick hits to their wideouts, getting Nick Chubb in space, and getting the ball out of Mayfield’s hands fast. It should be a match made in heaven.
Bode: Chubb better play well because the Browns winning will rely on it. New England is ranked No. 8 in the NFL in rush defense efficiency by Football Outsiders, but their pass defense is No. 1. Oddly, the Patriots don’t often stuff opposing run games (0 yards or less on a run) but rather depend on limiting second-level success and making good open-field tackles (and they have probably the best tackling secondary in the NFL, which helps).
Suek: The Patriots defense has only faced 126 rush attempts, which are the lowest in the league (mainly as a result of the game script). Chubb will be the best running back the team has faced to-date. His success is predicated on the success of the passing game and the Browns being unpredictable from a play-calling perspective.
Gilbert: Chubb can run against and be successful against any defense in the league. He has the talent to break tackles and find the small holes. Feed the Chubb.
Poloha: He’s going to have to if the Browns want to pull off the big upset and get back in the win column. Allow Nick Chubb to get his groove and that will not only open the field for Baker, but allow the play-action game to work as well.
Gerbs: As I mentioned in the previous answer, getting Chubb in space is where he does work. New England has a good run defense because they force so many turnovers, you have to pass to get on the scoreboard. Using Chubb as a bellcow back is exactly what Cleveland should do.
Bode: Tom Brady does the plug-n-play at wide receiver as well as any quarterback in the NFL. Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon have dropped in with some good games and now both are gone. Pop in Sanu and expect him to be a threat if open. While Julian Edelman and James White get the most targets, Brady will throw it anywhere on the width of the field. Forcing him to go deep is probably the best bet to create mistakes.
Suek: The Patriots offense focuses on quick to intermediate routes, with the occasional big-time throw downfield. Browns’ defense should focus on keeping receivers in front of them and to limit YAC, including running back James White out of the backfield. Also, in regards to Sanu:
— PFF NE Patriots (@PFF_Patriots) October 22, 2019
Gilbert: The Browns need to pressure Tom Brady. Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon need to win their pass-rushing battles. The defense needs to pressure Brady without having to send a blitz. If you have to blitz to gain pressure, Brady will kill you.
Poloha: Getting both Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams back will certainly help the secondary, but the Browns’ front-four must annoy Tom Brady in the pocket. It goes hand in hand. Both of those things must happen if Cleveland wants to beat the Patriots in Foxborough.
Gerbs: The return to health of Greedy and Ward comes at a great time for Cleveland. The added help in the secondary, allowing for more/better coverage on wideouts, could be what has been keeping the pass rush tame, outside of course of sack leader Myles Garrett.
Bode: Red zone efficiency, both offense and defense. The Patriots have one of the best NFL defenses, so the Browns need touchdowns if they manage to get into the redzone. Limiting the Patriots on their chances could also be needed to pull out a victory.
Suek: Discipline. Protect the football and limit penalties. Enough with the self-inflicted wounds, especially against a Patriots team that leads the league in turnover differential (+14).
Gilbert: Mayfield and offense needs to move the ball against the best defense in the league. They need to have the ability to keep the chains moving and keep Brady off the field. Limit the mistakes and turnovers. If the Browns can do that, they can wear the defense down and score some points versus this talented defense. Cleveland needs to control the ball with quick passing and running the ball.
Poloha: Discipline, turnovers, and doing their best to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. It sounds so cliche, but the Browns must stop shooting themselves in the foot. They will have to play a near-perfect game to beat the Patriots, but it’s not impossible.
Gerbs: I’m not sure which coach or player said it this week during a presser, but the quote was along the lines of “New England isn’t going to beat itself, we need to do the same.” Stop trying to do too much, play in your gameplan, have some discipline and it will all work out. I said after the Baltimore victory: if this is how they execute, they can beat anybody.