We are 24 hours away from the New England Patriots facing off with the Cleveland Browns, and despite the Browns bad record, they will bring a lot of solid players to the game, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The recently explosive Patriots offense will be in for a tough challenge tomorrow, being matched up with the NFL’s fourth best defensive unit.
Here are four players to keep eye on, as this contest unfolds.
1. Joe Haden
In terms of cornerbacks, they don’t get much better than Joe Haden. Because his team hasn’t done very well throughout his young career, Haden hasn’t received much national praise. But he really deserves it. Haden leads the Browns in interceptions, having picked off four passes thus far, and he is second in passes defended, as his 17 sits one behind fellow defensive back Buster Skrine’s 18. Haden’s forte is to shadow the oppositions best receiver, and lock him up in tight man to man coverage. We have seen him do it countless times over the last few years, and it will be interesting to see who he matches up with, against the versatile New England passing game.
2. Aqib Talib
Talib has been dealing with a hip injury as of late, but he played ever snap last week in Houston, which is a great sign moving forward for him, and the Pats. Like Haden, Talib is one of the NFL’s best cover corners, although Talib’s size is really what sets him apart. He uses his big frame (6’1 205 pounds) to disrupt receivers routes, and his aggressiveness in coverage pays off big time for the Patriots. He will most likely be matched up with one of the hottest receivers in the game in Josh Gordon. This matchup should be a great one, and whoever wins it will have a very good shot at winning this football game.
. Josh Gordon
Speaking of Mr. Gordon, how about we run off some of his impressive statistics over the last few games? Gordon’s last three games have seen him catch 29 balls for 623 yards, and four touchdowns. Those numbers are usually what you only find when you turn on the Xbox, and play a game of Madden. But Gordon has come into his own this year, proving that he is one of, if not the most explosive receiver in the league. As I mentioned before, Gordon will probably be matched up with Aqib Talib for the majority of the contest, which will make that outside battle huge. I think that Gordon will be able to beat Talib a few times tomorrow, because of how aggressive Talib can be. But at the same time, Talib’s “hands on” tactic has slowed down a lot of very good wideouts, namely Julio Jones back in week four, and tight end Jimmy Graham a few weeks later. No matter what happens, it should be a terrific “game within a game” to keep an eye on, as two of the best go at it head to head.
4. Running Back’s For New England
The running back situation for the Patriots has been one of the hottest topics in Foxboro over the last few weeks, largely surrounding top back Stevan Ridley’s recent fumbling problems. After he fumbled two weeks ago against Denver, he was benched for the remainder of that game, and then was declared a healthy scratch a week later in Houston. Ridley is definitely the Pats best running back, but Bill Belichick can’t afford to put him out there if he is just going to put the football on the ground. Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount took most of Ridley’s carries last week, totaling 88 yards against the Texans defensive front. It will be interesting to see what the Patriots do regarding who plays versus Cleveland, because the longer Ridley is out, the less chance he has of playing come playoff time.