The New England Patriots are heading towards their Week 8 game against the Cleveland Browns coming off a tumultuous few days that saw the trade acquisition of Mohamed Sanu and the de facto release of Josh Gordon. While their personnel moves took most of the headlines on this short week — the Patriots’ last game was played on Monday — the next contest will eventually come so let’s take a closer look at New England’s Week 8 opponent.
Record: 2-4 (2nd place AFC North)
Offense: 23rd (20.0 points/game)
Defense: 22nd (25.7 points/game)
Head coach: Freddie Kitchens
Coordinators: Todd Monken (OC), Steve Wilks (DC)
Games so far
Week 1 vs Tennessee Titans: L 43-13
Week 2 at New York Jets: W 23-3
Week 3 vs Los Angeles Rams: L 20-13
Week 4 at Baltimore Ravens: W 40-25
Week 5 at San Francisco 49ers: L 31-3
Week 6 vs Seattle Seahawks: L 32-28
Week 7: Bye
Cleveland has had its fair share of ups and downs through its first six games of the regular season. The team did suffer blowout losses against Tennessee and San Francisco, but also beat the AFC North-leading Ravens by 25 points on the road. Ultimately, the Browns have been wildly inconsistent but visibly talented early on. The bye week was therefore coming at an opportune time to re-group and get the season back on track.
Three storylines that describe the 2019 season
Failing to live up to the hype: After finishing the 2018 season with a 7-8-1 record — and a 5-3 mark after firing head coach Hue Jackson — there was plenty of hype surrounding the team heading into this season. Baker Mayfield was poised to make a second-year jump and reach the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks, while the offseason moves for Odell Beckham Jr, Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson were seen as the pieces that would push this team over the top and into the playoffs if not more. Needless to say that the plan has not materialized so far.
Baker Mayfield’s difficult second year: A big reason for the Browns’ struggles so far this season is the inconsistent play of the first overall pick of last year’s draft. Six games in, Mayfield leads the league with 11 interceptions while he also completed just 56.6% of his pass attempts (112 of 198) and threw a mere five touchdowns. His passer rating of 66.0 currently ranks just 30th out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks. Needless to say that he has not lived up to the lofty expectations that were bestowed upon him before the year.
The running game is an area of optimism... and concern: While the Browns’ passing game has had some major issues this year, the team’s ground game actually worked pretty well. Led by workhorse back Nick Chubb, the team is gaining 5.3 yards per carry — the second best average in the NFL. On the other side of the ball, however, the team has struggled: Cleveland’s run defense is surrendering 5.0 yards per attempt, ranking 31st in the league.
Three players to know
RB Nick Chubb: Six games into the season, Chubb is by far the most productive player in the Browns’ offense. The second-year man has carried the football 114 times for 607 yards and six scores, while also catching 20 passes for an additional 128 yards. He has been outstanding so far, and one of the few things that went right for the team offensively. Needless to say that the Patriots’ run defense has to bring its A-game on Sunday.
WR Odell Beckham Jr: While the offseason trade acquisition has not helped Baker Mayfield turn into an elite (or even average) quarterback just yet, Beckham Jr. did play some very good football through six games. Leading the Browns with 29 catches — for 436 yards and a touchdown — the former first-round selection is part of a potent receiving duo with Jarvis Landry, and will certainly be a challenge to New England’s terrific secondary.
DE Myles Garrett: The first overall selection of the 2017 draft is continuing his rise into the upper tier of defensive linemen this season. Garrett leads the Browns with 9.0 sacks and has also registered four quarterback hits and 17 hurries (per Pro Football Focus). His pass rushing abilities are on display week-in and week-out and will be a tough test for both of the Patriots’ offensive tackles, Marshall Newshouse and Marcus Cannon: Garrett lines up all over the formation.
What to watch this week
For the last two-and-a-half seasons, Jamie Collins Sr. called Cleveland his home. Now, the Patriots’ offseason signing will face the team that released him earlier this year for the first time — and he could play a big role in the Patriots’ quest to slow down a strong rushing attack and a talented but erratic quarterback. Don’t be surprised if Collins has a strong performance against his ex-club and continues to build on his Defensive Player of the Year résumé.