The Patriots defense will see many similarities to the team’s offense when they face the Browns.
Even though it’s been 26 years since New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick last coached the Cleveland Browns, he’s going to see a familiar blueprint with their offense. Both the Pats and Browns have built their offenses on the two-tight end scheme, a patented Belichick stable dating back to his days in Cleveland.
Extra blockers can be great, especially for young quarterbacks like Mac Jones. Baker Mayfield no longer qualifies as a youngster at age 26 (compared to 23 for Jones), but nevertheless, the Browns want to keep things simple for the former No. 1 overall pick, who seems to thrive in a run-first environment.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt are advocates of ball-control and cold weather football, which fit right in with Josh McDaniels’ concepts.
Jones has been the perfect pupil for the Patriots scheme so far. He has had only one interception in the past three games, and a total of seven in nine games this season. Frankly, this is outstanding for a rookie quarterback. Supposed NFL-ready star quarterbacks like Trevor Lawrence of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Zach Wilson of the New York Jets already have nine INTs.
As for the Cleveland Browns, Stefanski and Van Pelt have managed to tame Mayfield’s former erratic tendencies. Back in 2019, in the pre-Stefanski-era, Mayfield threw a total of 22 picks. This year, however, Mayfield has only three interceptions in nine games. The major takeaway is that quarterbacks can be developed with coaching, schemes and the surrounding talent making all the difference.
However, the Browns were forced to conclude that they could not get Mayfield on the same planet with wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., never mind the same page. Beckham’s talents were more suitable for a warm-weather downfield passing team, and that just isn’t what the Browns were ever going to be.
For Cleveland, the grand plan really starts with the offensive line.
Battling the Browns’ Stacked Offensive Line
The Browns may have had the strongest offensive line in the NFL at the beginning of the season, but this is probably no longer true due to injuries to Pro Bowl right tackle Jack Conklin, who will be out of the lineup, and left tackle Jedrick Wills, who will play, but is not 100% healthy. Top utility player Chris Hubbard, who can play all five positions on the offensive line, also is on IR after surgery to repair a torn triceps. The third stringer is Blake Hance, who, like Hubbard, can play all five positions on the line, but is a natural guard playing right tackle. It’s impressive he can do that, but the bottom line is that Conklin is much better.
Matt Judon will lead the charge against Hance. Judon has made a career of beating up on the Browns while playing for the Baltimore Ravens. He has only one career sack versus Cleveland, but nine career quarterback hits and eight tackles for loss in only 10 games is impressive. Look for another big day for Judon on Sunday.
On the other side, Deatrich Wise, Jr. and the right side of the defense will be working against 2020 first-round draft pick Jedrick Wills at left tackle. The Browns regard Wills as a premium young talent, but he has been in and out of the lineup with a sprained left ankle. He’s healthy enough to play, but perhaps not healthy enough to fully execute the zone blocking schemes that offensive line coach Bill Callahan had hoped to use. By the way, that’s the same Bill Callahan who was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders for their last trip to the Super Bowl after the 2002 season.
Center JC Tretter has not missed a snap since 2016 and plays at a very high level, while also attending to his duties as President of the NFL Players Association. Left guard Joel Bitonio has not missed a single snap since 2015 and is a three-time Pro Bowler. Right guard Wyatt Teller is just as good and has become famous for his uncanny ability to pancake block opposing defensive linemen without appearing to make much of an effort. Both Bitonio and Teller received contract extensions this week. It didn’t take the Browns long to figure out where they wanted to invest the money they saved from OBJ’s contract, apparently.
Overall, the offensive line has allowed 25 sacks in nine games this season, compared to 26 sacks in 16 games last season. In many cases, this has been due to weakness from the outside of the line. In some cases, however, it has been Mayfield’s fault for holding onto the ball far too long. Thus, there may be an opportunity for Patriots’ pass rushers to add to their sack totals.