Five weeks in, the 2022 NFL regular season has seen two shoutouts pitched by a defense. The latest of which came courtesy of the New England Patriots, who kept the previously top-ranked scoring offense off the board in a 29-0 beatdown of the Detroit Lions.
That game was an impressive display of power on the Patriots defense’s part, and it certainly put their upcoming opponent on notice as well. The Cleveland Browns sang the unit’s praises leading up to their Week 6 clash on Sunday.
Two main areas of concern from a Browns perspective were mentioned: versatility and toughness.
“It is a huge challenge for our offense,” said head coach Kevin Stefanski. “They present issues in the run and the pass — multiple fronts and multiple coverages. Very, very versatile football players that can align really everywhere, but good players throughout that defense.”
Stefanski went on to explain that the Patriots have been good at seamlessly transition between looks and coverages, making for a challenging opponent.
“What I think is most impressive — they have always done this — is just having versatile football players that really can line up everywhere so that they can give you a look out of sub that looks like their base and they can get in base and give you a look that maybe you weren’t anticipating,” he added. “That is a credit to their coaches and a credit to their players being able to mix up their looks.”
Stefanski and the Browns got an up-front look at that defense last season, and it was not a pretty one from their point of view. New England gave up just 217 yards and one touchdown in a 45-7 thrashing.
Of course, context is important. Cleveland, after all, was missing two of its most valuable players: Nick Chubb was out with Covid-19, while fellow running back Kareem Hunt had been placed on injured reserve due to a calf issue. Without them, the Browns were missing two players who currently rank first and second on the team’s roster in yards from scrimmage.
Both will be ready to play on Sunday against the Patriots, changing the outlook drastically from last year’s matchup. That said, Chubb himself knows that he and the Browns offense will be in for a tough test.
“They are very disciplined,” he said. “The guys up front stay in their gaps. A lot of two-gapping. They set the edge. Everyone is in the place they need to be. They don’t mess up at all. They are a very disciplined team. Very smart, tough, big and physical. It will be a great challenge.”
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who will start in place of a still-suspended Deshaun Watson (who himself was brought aboard to replace last year’s starter Baker Mayfield), echoed Chubb’s remarks.
“Tough. Smart. Fast. Guys who know what they are doing. Guys you won’t find them misaligned much. You won’t find them beating themselves on defense,” said the former Patriots third-round draft pick.
“I think [Patriots head coach Bill Belichick] has kept some of the core veteran guys who understand his mindset and his system to the point where they are kind of extensions of him on the field. I think that is pretty much what it is — a tough, sound group of guys.”