After two consecutive nail biting victories, the New England Patriots will take on the Cleveland Browns on Sunday in Foxboro. The Patriots have amassed nine wins and have put themselves in position to bring home their 11th AFC East crown in thirteen seasons and their fifth consecutive one. With a win tomorrow against the Browns and a Miami loss in Pittsburgh, the Patriots will be AFC East champions again.
But the Patriots aren’t focused on their chances of winning the division on Sunday, they are concerned with beating the Cleveland Browns. Despite the Brown’s 4-8 record, they are not a team that should be overlooked. They have played in many close games and have a number of bright spots the Patriots will have to be aware of. As these teams get set to clash on Sunday, let’s take a look at the key questions for this matchup.
1. Can the Patriots contain Josh Gordon?
Contain, not stop, is the goal with the Browns’ Josh Gordon. The latter doesn’t seem possible with one of the most talented young receives in the game. Gordon is coming off two consecutive monster games. Last week against the Jaguars, Gordon had 10 receptions for 261 yards and 2 TDs. The week before against the Steelers, Gordon had 14 receptions for 237 yards and a touchdown. Those are Megatron like numbers and the Patriots will need everything they can get from cornerback Aqib Talib to slow Gordon down. It will be interesting to see if Gordon and quarterback Jason Campbell will be on the same page as the last two games the Browns had Brandon Weeden under center.
2. Can Tom Brady and the Patriots offense get on track early?
Say what you want about the Browns, but they are a good defensive team. While they have struggled a bit lately, they rank 5th in the league in both passing and rushing yards allowed. It was just a few years ago that a Browns defense dominated a Tom Brady led offense and don’t think for a second that the Patriots quarterback has forgotten. The Patriots have struggled to put points up early over the past few games and that’s something they will be looking to improve upon on tomorrow. But whether they can achieve that goal against a formidable defense like Cleveland’s is another question altogether. If the Patriots are going to be successful offensively tomorrow, they will have to account for the Browns’ playmakers on defense, including cornerback Joe Haden who is one of the best in the NFL at his position.
3. Will Stevan Ridley be activate?
The Patriots embattled running back watched last week’s game from the sidelines as a healthy inactive. While Bill Belichick swears he is not trying to send Ridley a message after he fumbled in three straight games, the evidence clearly points to the contrary. If Ridley is again inactive for the Patriots tomorrow, it may be that Belichick is imposing a solution, not trying to send a message. If he’s inactive again, it could mean that Ridley’s season in pads is over.
4. Can the Patriots keep Tom Brady safe in the pocket?
The last time Cleveland beat New England they did so by getting consistent pressure on Tom Brady. Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton will be trying to replicate the success the team had getting to Brady a few years ago and he has the personnel to do it against a depleted Patriots offensive line. With Marcus Cannon out again, the Patriots will rely on Will Svitek in pass protection for another week. Two players you probably haven’t heard of will try their best to disrupt Brady’s rhythm. Browns nose tackle Phil Taylor is excellent at pushing the pocket and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson will do his best to bottle up the run and make the Patriots one dimensional. If the Browns are able to do that, it could be a long day for the Patriots offense.
It will be another close one as the Browns match up well against the Patriots. Expect the Patriots to come out pass heavy and rely on situational running against a strong Browns front seven. Look for a big game from Shane Vereen as Tom Brady will be looking to get rid of the ball quickly to neutralize the Browns’ pass rush. While Josh Gordon will have another big game, enough rust will show in quarterback Jason Campbell for the Patriots to take advantage.
Patriots 24 – Browns 17