New England Patriots Rushing Defense vs Cleveland Browns Rushing Offense
One sign of trouble last week in the New England rushing defense against Buffalo was the lack of containment on the edge. No matter how disappointing Chandler Jones could be disappearing as a pass rusher in big games, he was always an underrated run defender (and looked great in the role on Thursday night with Arizona). The return of defensive end Rob Ninkovich from suspension should go a long way in run defense this week.
The Patriots will be without linebacker Shea McClellin who has been solid in run defense so far in 2016. Keeping defensive ends Chris Long and Trey Flowers on the field to rush the passer only should help keep them fresh and improve the pass rush and also help out against the run with them on sidelines. Both can be undisciplined and in the backfield after the running back runs through where they were supposed to be setting the edge.
In 2016 no team has figured out how to slow down the Cleveland run game. The Browns let two of their best offensive linemen go in free agency as center Alex Mack and promising right tackle Mitchell Schwartz found greener pastures. However, Cameron Erving (when healthy) and right tackle Austin Pasztor–while weak in pass protection–have been excellent making space for the running backs.
Both running back Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson have been anchoring the top running game in the NFL. The Browns are tops in the NFL with 597 yards on the ground in four games. They averaged 5.7 yards per rush so far and have rushed for 120, 145 169, and 163 total yards rushing week-by-week.
Crowell is the power back who runs over defenders. He has 394 yards on 61 attempts for a ridiculous 6.5 yards per rush. Johnson is the third down back who is a weapon in the passing game but also a weapon running the ball. Johnson is quick and shifty and has 148 yards so far on just 24 carries for a 6.2 rushing average.
After New England struggled with the read-option and Wildcat formations against Buffalo last week the Browns should be tempted to put those into the playbook this week. Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor has already run the read-option for Cleveland and his experience at quarterback makes him a running threat.
New England will be game planning to stop the Browns rushing attack, but their plan did not work well against the Bills last week. The Patriots will have a tough matchup against the best rushing attack in the NFL.