Curran's Patriots-Browns preview
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
If the Patriots are efficient on offense, they will murder Cleveland. But early-game flatness has been an issue the last three games. Outstanding as the Patriots have been adjusting, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels needs to find a way to get the offense hitting on one thing early and pounding it. The Patriots seem as if they’re sliding back toward the “probe-to-find-the-matchup” offense that marked prior seasons’ early inefficiencies and resulted in some wasted possessions. The Browns are stiff against the run but will be missing defensive end Desmond Bryant who went on IR with an irregular heartbeat this week. The Browns also cover well at the linebacker level with D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson. Their edge rusher, Paul Kruger, was very good with the Ravens last year and Joe Haden is a solid corner. What defensive coordinator Ray Horton has his group do is try to limit big plays so the Patriots will have to find the weak spot. That means more probing this week. Third-down efficiency in the first half is a big stat to watch. When teams get in the red zone against Cleveland, they get touchdowns quite often.
WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL
Jason Campbell, coming back from a concussion, can be a dangerous quarterback and doesn’t mind going downfield. Understandable, because wideout Josh Gordon is tearing it up with 498 yards receiving over the last two games. He’s big. He’s fast. He’s a handful and demands special attention. Tight end Jordan Cameron is a big concern as well. If the Patriots have to keep their safeties back to guard against Gordon’s downfield explosiveness, the underneath is where Cameron can chew up the Patriots linebackers. Cameron has 64 catches for 704 yards. Davone Bess is slowing down out of the slot but can still be a headache (40 catches). The Browns’ running game is not imposing. Willis McGahee is the lead back and averaging 2.8 per carry. Backup Chris Ogbonnaya is used sparingly but can tear off yards. The Patriots run defense was troublingly bad last week against the Texans.
THE KICKING GAME
Browns punter Sean Lanning has a sore leg and is on the injury report. No wonder. He’s punted 65 times this year. His net of 37.2 isn’t great. Billy Cundiff is a middling kicker – 15 for 20, 8 for 11 beyond 40 yards. The Browns have been mining for a punt returner since lead guy Travis Benjamin went down with an ACL injury. Jordan Poyer had a 38-yarder last week. The Patriots special teams group of Ryan Allen, Steve Gostkowski and punt returner Julian Edelman has had a very good 2013.
PATRIOTS SICK BAY
OUT: Marcus Cannon, T; Aaron Dobson, WR; QUESTONABLE: Kyle Arrington, CB; Marquice Cole, CB; Alfonzo Dennard, CB; Steve Gregory, S; Rob Gronkowski, TE; Michael Hoomanawanui, TE; Brandon Spikes, LB; Will Svitek, T; Aqib Talib, CB; Kenbrell Thompkins, WR. PROBABLE: Danny Amendola, WR; Brandon Bolden, RB; Tom Brady, QB; Matt Slater, WR; Shane Vereen, RB.
BROWNS SICK BAY
OUT: Brandon Weeden, QB. QUESTIONABLE: Tank Carder, LB; Marqueis Gray, TE; Craig Robertson, LB. PROBABLE: Jason Campbell, QB; Paul Kruger, LB; Spencer Lanning, P; Willis McGahee, RB; Mitchell Swartz, T.
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
Remember last year when Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton took a victory lap after the Cardinals beat the Patriots at Gillette? Well, Horton is with the Browns now. And I’m betting the Patriots remember Ray Horton too.
PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP …
Josh Gordon. Sometimes it’s hard for me to pin it down to one guy. Not this week. You put two safeties deep, Aqib Talib on Gordon and make Jason Campbell go somewhere else with the ball or risk the turnover.
BROWNS GOTTA STOP …
Rob Gronkowski. He’s averaging six catches and 90 yards per game since his return. The offense is, at times, revolving around him. And when it’s not Gronk-centric – it’s just a matter of time before it becomes that way. Cleveland’s awful in the red zone. Bad recipe for them.
DON'T BE SURPRISED IF …
The Patriots stub their toe and lose this one. Sorry. Got no solid, airtight logic here. And not saying it’s LIKELY. Just saying that – after last week’s narrow win for the Patriots at Houston and the fact that Jason Campbell, once every few weeks, plays with aptitude it is not beyond the realm of possibility.
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
“He can attack all three levels of the defense. He can run through them, he can take the short plays, catch-and-run plays, crossing patterns, look patterns, plays like that, quick three-step drops and break tackles. He’s very good on the intermediate routes, the in-cuts, the crossing routes, comebacks, stop-routes, things like that that attack the middle levels of the defense. He’s a complete player that can run fast, catch, big target and make a lot of yards on his own after the catch with his speed, size and running ability.” – Bill Belichick, on Josh Gordon
THAT SUMS IT UP BROWNS STYLE
“I understand that. I'm going to step up to the plate and handle that task.” – Leon McFadden, rookie corner, on being targeted by Tom Brady on Sunday.
THE WINNER IS...
Patriots 31, Browns 23