W2W4: New England Patriots (3-1) at Cleveland Browns (0-4)
By Hal Bent
New England Patriots Rushing Offense vs Cleveland Browns Rushing Defense
LeGarrette Blount has been the MVP of the Patriots’ offense through the first four weeks of the season with Tom Brady out due to suspension. With Brady back, Blount is expected to see his workload lessen. However, if Brady can get the offense out to some leads, Blount should still have opportunities to wear down defenses and churn the clock in the second half of games.
Last week Matt Jones led a Washington rushing attack with 117 yards on the ground on 22 carries. The Browns allowed 145 yards total on the ground against Washington, 115 yards rushing the week prior to the Dolphins, 80 yards to the Ravens in week two, and 133 yards to the Eagles in week one.
Demario Davis was brought in from New York to help in the running game but his impact has been minimal this year. Not having the Jets dynamic defensive line in front of him seems to limit his effectiveness. On the Cleveland defensive line, the Browns lean on the gigantic frame of former first round draft pick Danny Shelton. Shelton has size and is strong and can clog rushing lanes and tie up blockers to let his linebackers and strong safety Derrick Kindred to clean up the running backs.
Alongside Shelton, the Browns lack impact players at the defensive end positions. Jamie Meder and Xavier Cooper are young players still trying to make their way in the NFL. The Browns need Carl Nassib (aka Crazy Carl from Penn State) to use his athleticism and length to make an impact. Unfortunately, the rookie broke his hand in week two and is questionable to play and even if he returns may be limited.
The Patriots pulled the plug on the Jonathan Cooper experiment as the former Arizona first round draft pick was released this week. That leaves guards Shaq Mason and rookie Joe Thuney as the presumptive starters alongside center David Andrews. The three youngsters had a rough game against Buffalo and need to bounce back this week to make space for the running game.
Left tackle Nate Solder has been fantastic in the running game mauling defensive ends so far in the first quarter of the season. Marcus Cannon has shown improvement with his biggest backer–offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia–back in the fold. Cannon is questionable with a calf injury this week. If he cannot go then Cameron Fleming is next in line at right tackle. Fleming is an excellent run blocker (better than Cannon) but is behind him due to spotty pass blocking.
So far, the Browns have failed to stop anyone in the rushing game and with LeGarrette Blount running as well as he ever has in New England, there is little reason to expect them to stop the Patriots on the ground this week.