This week, we look at one of the more interesting match-ups for the upcoming Patriots vs. Browns bout. Not a lot has gone well for the Browns this season, as they are the only team left without a win in the NFL. Other than the emergence of their running game, not much else has gone Cleveland's way. But a player who has taken a step forward this season is the former quarterback-turned-wide receiver Terrelle Pryor. Not only has he stepped up with the losses of Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon, but he has turned into a threat at the wide receiver position that opposing teams have to plan around.
Over the past two games, Pryor has 13 receptions for 190 yards and a touchdown on 22 targets. As Bill Belichick pointed out earlier in the week when talking about Pryor, "As you know, (he’s) very fast. … He has got tremendous speed and good size, a hard guy to tackle, a very explosive player and versatile." And of course, Belichick isn't wrong. Pryor has a 4.33 40 yard dash time and has proven to be a "Swiss army knife" type of player for the Browns. Because of his speed, not to mention his experience from being a quarterback at Ohio State, he is used as an outside and slot wide receiver, wildcat player and also as the occasional quarterback as well.
Going up against one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL in Josh Norman, Pryor was able to corral five receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown in week four. While they compare nothing to the eight reception, 144 yards he had in week three, Pryor was able to give Norman fits and even scoring a touchdown on him. Considering the Browns don't employ many other wide receivers at the moment that present the challenge as Pryor (Coleman out with an injury and Gordon still suspended), the Patriots will likely be able to focus on him heavily and provide adequate coverage. But in order for that to happen, it likely won't come down to just one player on defense.
While we saw Logan Ryan line up against the top wide receiver in the past two games (Robert Woods in week four, DeAndre Hopkins in week three), it may not just be him on Sunday defending Pryor. Not only is Pryor's speed an issue, but his height (6'4") can also cause problems for opposing defenses. With Ryan being 5'11", it may be a bit of a mismatch in man-to-man coverage. We will likely see Matt Praticia and the Patriots defense employ safety help to help contain Pryor. And with Patrick Chung better in coverage against tight ends, it will likely be more of Devin McCourty than him helping to cover Pryor.
Ryan has been the most targeted player on the Patriots secondary this season so far (given up 25 receptions on 38 targets for 267 yards and a touchdown) compared to fellow starting outside cornerback Malcolm Butler (13 receptions on 26 targets for 221 yards), so the Browns will likely try to exploit Ryan's early-season struggles with Pryor. Hence why McCourty (one reception on two targets for 13 yards) will likely be needed to help contain Pryor. With both McCourty (5'10") and Ryan lacking in height department compared to Terrelle Pryor, the key will be to avoid letting Pryor win on high pass attempts.
A way that can happen is to play tough man-to-man coverage and trying to get him off of his route early. Jamming him at the line is a way of doing so, which Ryan has not shown an issue with being physical at the line of scrimmage in the past. With safety help, the Patriots will need to make sure that Pryor remains contained and can't break off any big plays either. We saw Ryan give up seven receptions for 89 yards to Woods in week four. Woods was able to keep the chains moving despite being contained to prevent any big plays, so that will be an area for Ryan to work on as Pryor is a lot more explosive and dangerous as a wide receiver than Woods.
Pryor has been shown to be a threat for gaining big yardage after making the catch, especially over the middle of the field. He has caused a lot of damage there, so the Patriots will need to make sure along with preventing Pryor from winning contested balls that they keep him out of the middle of the field. If the combined efforts of Ryan and McCourty can keep Pryor stuck to the sidelines, it will create less opportunities for Pryor to work his magic after the catch. It will give him less space to operate in the open field, restricting his abilities to gain yardage after the catch. He still has the ability to make sideline catches with his size and athleticism, but with double coverage on him it'll make it harder for that to happen often.
Overall, Pryor is a dangerous weapon for the Browns and will be a focal point of their offense on Sunday. The Patriots secondary, Ryan especially, has not been as strong as predicted to start the season. The Browns will try to attack that with Pryor, but if the Patriots are able to think strategically against Pryor, it shuts down a big facet of their offense. The Browns may be win-less, but still have dangerous weapons on offense to give opposing defenses fits. Pryor is one of them and the Patriots will have to make sure they shut him down.