By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots return home on Sunday to take on the Cleveland Browns in Foxboro. Game time is scheduled for 1 p.m. and will be carried by CBS.
The Patriots (9-3) came from behind and held on for a win on the road against the Houston Texans 34-31 on Sunday. Tom Brady ignited the offense in the second half scoring 27 points and passed for 371 yards.
The Browns (4-8) lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars 32-28 on a touchdown pass with just 40 seconds left in the game. The loss was the Browns seventh in their last eight games. Brandon Weeden threw for 370 yards and 3 touchdowns in the loss.
Here are five first impressions of the Cleveland Browns:
1) QB Carousel Has Hurt The Offense: Due to injuries, the Browns have been forced to rotate through three different QBs in 2013. Brandon Weeden started the first two games before getting hurt. Former Patriots back-up Brian Hoyer then started the next three games and won all three before going down late in the game against Buffalo. The team then brought in Jason Campbell but has now gone back to Weeden.
Nothing can hurt a young team more than having a QB change multiple times during the season. New head coach Rob Chudzinski and Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner know this but seemed to have settled in with Weeden after Campbell went down with a concussion against the Steelers. Weeden responded with a big day throwing for 370 yards against the Jaguars.
But now Weeden has suffered a concussion against the Jags and Campbell who can resume activities but hasn’t been cleared to practice yet leaves the Browns in a quandary as to who will be behind center on Sunday.
2) Josh Gordon Is The Hottest Receiver in the NFL: Two weeks ago in Pittsburgh, second year WR Josh Gordon set a franchise record with 237 receiving yards on 14 catches in the loss to the Steelers. Gordon followed that up with a 10 catch 261-yard effort against Jacksonville last week including a 95 yard touchdown with just under 4 minutes remaining that gave the Browns the lead.
The tall, 6’3, 225 pounds speedy Gordon has 64 catches for 1249 yards, good for an outstanding 19.5 yards per catch average despite missing the first two games of the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
He’s a big play threat every time he touches the ball and combined with Davone Bess and TE Jordan Cameron, gives Cleveland some very good options in the passing game. Gordon will definitely be a focus of the Patriots defense this week as they’ve had trouble sustaining drives and will look to break the big play.
3) Browns Defense Among The Top In Yardage Allowed: Cleveland, under new Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton has the Browns ranked among the NFL’s top ten in both rushing (6th) and passing (5th) defense in terms of yards allowed. Horton likes to play fast and aggressive. Pats fans will remember the early 2012 home loss to Arizona where he engineered a solid game plan to slow the Patriots offense down.
The strength of the defense is a deep defensive line and a talented secondary that features CB Joe Haden, one of the premiere cover corners in the league. Haden always draws the top receiving threat of the opposition so it should be interesting to see whom the Browns decide to match him up with.
Much like the Texans, the Browns defense is a top unit in terms of yardage but not in points allowed. Although ranked #4 in yards, the Browns defense is currently tied for 19th allowing 297 points. Much of that has to do with a lack of turnovers and some struggles in the red zone.
4) Browns Have Had Trouble Running The Ball: Cleveland made a big trade near the deadline and shipped RB Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for Indy’s first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. They signed veteran RB Willis McGahee but the team has continued to struggle on the ground averaging only 82.9 yards per game… until now.
Cleveland as a team has only 2 rushing touchdowns and has averaged 3.7 yards per rush and McGahee is gaining a paltry 2.8 yards per pop, numbers which is just not getting it done. But given the Patriots struggles in stopping the run, Sunday should be an interesting matchup.
One player to keep an eye on in Cleveland’s rushing attack will be Chris Ogbonnaya who in limited carries has an impressive 5.7 yard average but is mainly used out of the backfield in the passing game, with 38 catches.
5) Lombardi Building A Solid Team: Forget about Cleveland’s 4-8 record, the team is much better than they were a year ago. Much of their struggles have been due to their injury problems at the quarterback position but GM Michael Lombardi has done a very good job at assembling talent for the team.
The Browns may still draft a QB in the spring but one player Lombardi always liked was Brian Hoyer when he was a back-up with New England. Hoyer had the Browns headed in the right direction until he went down with a torn ACL against Buffalo.
But it is on defense that Lombardi is making big strides. Dipping into the free agency pool, the Browns signed Paul Kruger from the Super Bowl champion Ravens, and Desmond Bryant from the Raiders.
During the 2013 NFL Draft with the #6 pick, the Browns selected Barkevious Mingo who has played very well and leads the team in sacks. Armonty Bryant, who although was only a 7th round pick, has earned a spot and is playing the linebacker position at a high level.
Lombardi has helped the Browns turn the corner and although the familiar refrain of “wait until next year” remains, Cleveland is definitely on the rise.