No matter how optimistic about the season, few Browns fans looked at Week 8 and predicted a win. With the season in flux, @New England this week is dispiriting. In need of a confidence boost off the bye week, no game has seemed more like a loss going in.
The Patriots have been surgical this season; only one game they’ve played has finished within two touchdowns. The defense has given up three touchdowns all year. They’ve scored at least 30 each week, save for Week 4 against Buffalo, the third-ranked D in the league. Average for most of the regular season last year, this squad is hell bent on making a statement in 2019.
For the Browns to have any shot, they must pressure Tom Brady without blitzing. Cleveland’s front four was built for this situation. According to football outsiders, the defense ranks fifth in the league in adjusted sack rate, at 8.5%, and ninth in sacks with 19. The Pats’ starting center, David Andrews, and left tackle, Isaiah Wynn, are on injured reserve. Rob Gronkowski, known for spectacular catches and violent collisions with defensive backs, was an exceptional blocker, but retired before the season.
Though sporadic to this point in the season, the defensive line must dominate on Sunday. The few occasions during his career when Brady has struggled have all occurred when he’s faced heavy pressure. Myles Garrett, Sheldon Richardson, Larry Ogunjobi, and Olivier Vernon must apply heat. If the Browns have to blitz, Brady will slice the secondary apart. Sending extra defenders will allow him to exploit mismatches the blitz creates.
Still, Brady will be hard to bring down. Eighth in the league in shortest time to throw, at 2.58 seconds according to Next Gen stats, Brady is used to throwing quick. His receivers will run quick routes, designed to get them in space. James White will be active in the passing game. Brady uses his running backs as well as any quarterback in the game’s history. Will Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams return this week? They need their speed and coverage skills to contend with this offense.
New England’s first drive on Monday Night against the Jets was a masterpiece, lasting 16 plays and including everyone on offense. The Browns defense cannot be passive. If they cannot make Tom Brady uncomfortable, game over.
Offensively Baker Mayfield is in for a struggle. The New England defense is historic. First in points allowed, yards, and turnovers forced, it’s hard to foresee any success from the offense. To hang with the champs, the Browns cannot turn it over. As bad as the offense has been, turnovers have proved to be the biggest issue. They moved the ball at will against Seattle, only to give the ball to the Seahawks four times. Threatening to get back into the game against the Niners, Antonio Callaway dropped a sure touchdown that was picked off. The Titan game came unglued when Mayfield threw three picks in the fourth quarter. If they can hold on to the ball, the offense has shown potential.
While watching the Pats offense, Baker Mayfield should study Brady’s footwork in the pocket. Never hurried, even in the face of pressure, his movement to create extra tenths of seconds to throw is doctorate level stuff. He’s the best in the game’s history at avoiding the rush and stepping up to find receivers. Pocket presence separates the bad quarterbacks from the good. Above all else, Baker must improve in this area if the Browns are to turn this season around.
The only chance the Browns have Sunday is for a low-scoring affair. Chew clock with Nick Chubb, avoid turnovers, and pressure Brady all afternoon. An 80s throwback game is their path to victory.
The Whip Around
1. Pete Carroll’s risk averse way of coaching is doing his team zero favors. Settling for field goals and punting on the defense’s side of the field is playing into his opponents’ hands. The best weapon in the league and MVP to this point, Russell Wilson, is Seattle’s path to victories. Their defense is below average. It cannot withstand the pressure Carroll’s decisions are putting on them. Give it to Russ instead.
2. What’s wrong with the Eagles? An embarrassing beat down at the hands of an average Cowboys team should have alarms sounding in Philadelphia. Although they’re still missing DeSean Jackson, the offense needs to chuck it. 12th in the league in run percentage, this is way too high for a Carson Wentz led team, regardless of wide receiver injuries. Jordan Howard is average, and Miles Sanders is an inconsistent rookie. Put the game in the hands of your former MVP candidate.
3. Aaron Rodgers is heating up. Accounting for five touchdowns against the Raiders, Rodgers’ slow start to the season is history. Able to rely on a strong defense and a stout running game, the Pack looks like a contender. NFC teams would be wise to wrestle home field advantage away from the Packers. January games in Green Bay against that defense won’t end well.
4. While hoping to tread water in Drew Brees’ absence, the Saints have been one-legged skiing. Teddy Bridgewater has been what the doctor ordered, completing almost 68% of his passes while throwing only two picks. Another team historically defensively challenged, New Orleans is dominating games on both sides of the ball unlike anyone outside of New England. The culture Sean Payton has built in Louisiana, for a franchise as bad as any in the league before they hired him, is awe-inspiring. After last year’s gruesome ending, a Saints Super Bowl title would be the icing on the cake.
5. Though Jared Goff has struggled, don’t forget about the Rams. With last week’s trade for Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles pairs the game’s best corner with Aaron Donald. With Dante Fowler Jr. submitting three sacks on Sunday, no team possesses star power on defense like L.A. Can Sean McVay devise a scheme to limit Goff’s errors? Will he survive relying on his defense to win games?
6. Andy Dalton with the toss of the year. Nice look, Red Rocket.
7. Kirk Cousins is a dark horse MVP candidate? Things are trending upward in Minnesota again, what with the QB playing nice with wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs again after some passive aggressive comments from each earlier in the season. Washington is in town for a hum drum Thursday Night game, cementing another week of harmony in the Land of the Lakes. The rubber hits the road after, with games against Kansas City, Dallas, Denver, and Seattle on the horizon. Will things look as rosy in a month?
8. Chicago has a Mitchell Trubisky problem. Strong defensively with perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Khalil Mack and Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara at the corners, the offense remains in neutral. Though short on talent around him, Trubisky is struggling, missing receivers and looking lost in Matt Nagy’s offense. How long will the Bears remain patient with him? A team built to win now and coming off an NFC North title a year ago, Chicago wants to avoid getting on the QB merry-go-round again, but may have no choice.
9. Eric Ebron’s stunning touchdown catch was so spectacular it never crossed announcer Greg Gumbel or Trent Green’s mind that he got both feet down in bounds. A beauty.
10. If Washington plays Dwayne Haskins again this year, he should sue for malpractice. Star left tackle Trent Williams demanded a trade during mini-camp and has yet to show up to the team. 34-year-old Adrian Peterson is their best offensive player, and he’s hurt. At least Miami has admitted they’re tanking.
Ownership in Washington is clueless. Ineptitude of this magnitude funnels from the top. Twenty years of horrible coaching hires and free agent signings litter Dan Snyder’s tenure as owner. He’s sued season ticket holders and demanded a newspaper to fire a writer he didn’t like. If not for the Browns, his team would’ve been the laughingstock of the NFL during the last decade. Shame on Snyder for destroying a once proud franchise.