FOXBORO — Browns coach Freddie Kitchens understands what kind of run the Patriots are on. Not only do they have a case as the longest-running dynasty in the history of pro football. They're also currently in the middle of one of the most impressive seasons ever cobbled together.
Bill Belichick's club has a +175 point differential, which is the best ever through seven games in the Super Bowl era. His team leads the league in turnover differential, interceptions and total turnovers. The Patriots also lead the league in yards allowed per game, points allowed per game, quarterback rating allowed and third-down defense.
But Kitchens said on Wednesday that he won't have to point those things out to his team before their Week 8 game at Gillette Stadium. His players probably already know just how good the Patriots have been.
"I think they have television sets. Guys these days are all on the internet. They're well aware," Kitchens said. "I'm not gonna try to fool them to think that we're going in to play a normal team. We're not going in to play a normal team. We're going in to play the New England Patriots.
"They do a good job coaching. They do a good job playing. They do a good job doing their job. Any time that happens . . . they're not going to beat themselves. It's very difficult to play against teams like that because mistakes are going to be very limited. You have to make sure you don't beat yourself and make them beat you."
The Browns have had their share of issues limiting mistakes this season. They have the fifth-worst turnover differential in the league at -6, and they lead the league in interceptions thrown with 11.
And after a rookie season in which Baker Mayfield broke the single-season rookie record for most passing touchdowns, completed 63.8 percent of his passes and had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of nearly 2-to-1 (27-to-14), his efficiency has fallen off drastically. He has the third-worst rating (66.0) in the league ahead of only his fellow 2018 draft classmates Sam Darnold (64.7) and Josh Rosen (52.0). and his completion percentage is down to 56.6 percent.
"I think he would be the first to tell you it's not good enough," Kitchens said. "But overall as a team we've not played good enough. We expect more of ourselves. As long as we just keep getting better each and every week, we'll see where we are at the end."
The end could be coming sooner than expected in Cleveland. Figuratively, at least. They'll play 10 more games no matter what. But if they lose on Sunday and fall to 2-5, that would put them three games behind the Ravens (on a bye in Week 8) and facing an uphill climb to get back into playoff contention.
Kitchens, who was given the head coaching reins in Cleveland due in large part for his work with Mayfield as a first-year player, knows getting to 3-4 won't be easy after what he saw the Patriots do to Darnold on Monday night.
"Unbelievable," he said. "They kept the pressure on all night. They were able to have success early. What they did — any time you get a shutout in this league it's pretty remarkable.
"I think you just have to study film with him, you see what they're gonna do or what you think they're going to do. But you have to have a base of understanding of your process. Sometimes you just go play the game and you go with what you see, make sure your eyes are in the right spot and make sure you know how to react to what they do. That's the best-case scenario."
Where the Patriots have been so effective lately is going against young quarterbacks and forcing them not to trust what they see. Belichick will show all-out blitzes and then rush only three or four. He'll show a single-high safety coverage and then turn it into a two-high look — sometimes toggling back and forth between the two pre-snap. It causes confusion. It forces hesitation.
The result has been 20 straight victories against first- and second-year quarterbacks and a historic start to 2019. Kitchens is just hoping this Sunday that Mayfield doesn't become No. 21.
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