FOXBORO — Given what’s transpired over the first half of the season, the Browns game might not be what was expected early on.
This was supposed to be a showdown that pitted a perennial AFC frontrunner against an up-and-comer looking to take down the defending Super Bowl champions.
On paper, it’s not. Only one team has held its end of the bargain.
The Patriots enter the contest unbeaten and rolling at 7-0, coming off Monday night’s laugher with the Jets.
The Browns? They’ve failed to live up to expectations. They’re fighting for their playoff lives, coming off a bye at 2-4.
At the moment, they look like one more cream puff on the Patriots list of soft opponents.
The better game, at least the one that will be more highly anticipated, arrives the following week, when the Patriots travel to Baltimore, and try to tame Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Does that make the Browns a trap game?
In theory, perhaps, but not on Bill Belichick’s watch. The Patriots are well aware the Browns have had extra time to prepare, and are a desperate team in dire need of a victory. They know a Browns victory would help revive their season.
And, given the talent on the Browns roster, they’re not about to look past Freddie Kitchens team, paper tiger or not.
During the week, when Belichick boasted about this opponent, and what they were capable of doing offensively, it was legitimate. This will be the biggest challenge yet for the Patriots shutdown defense.
With Nick Chubb, the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher, the Browns are capable of running the football. With Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway at receiver and Rickey Seals-Jones and Demetrius Harris at tight end, they have an explosive group capable of making big plays every down.
“It’s an offense that you have to be ready to go. They have a ton of big plays in the pass game and running game, so it’s a true ‘do your job’ game for us defensively,” said defensive captain Devin McCourty. “Between the front, the linebackers and the secondary, is each one of us doing what we’re supposed to do on every defensive call.”
To date, however, the Browns offense has been inconsistent largely because of poor offensive line play, and a mistake-prone Baker Mayfield. The second-year quarterback has thrown 5 touchdown passes, but has also delivered 11 interceptions. Not the ratio you’re looking for.
Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens said during a conference call Wednesday everybody needed to step up their game, including Mayfield.
“I think he would be the first to tell you it’s not good enough,” said Kitchens, “but overall as a team, we haven’t played good enough. We expect a lot more out of ourselves.”
The Browns appeared to break out of it Week 4, with a 40-25 blowout of the Ravens, but have lost two straight since to the Niners and Seahawks. The fact they’re among the league leaders in penalties (59 in six games) hasn’t helped their cause.
What makes the Browns dangerous is the ability of their receivers to get open and create separation against man coverage. They’re all burners. Kitchens will draw up plays and do a few things to get the ball in OBJ’s hands, using him on end-arounds to take advantage of his speed.
“He’s a good player. They use him a lot of different ways and he’s one of the many weapons they have,” said Belichick. “It’s hard to just key on one guy because they have so many guys who can get you.”
On the flipside, the Browns have a few disruptive players on the defensive side who could make Tom Brady’s life miserable, namely edge rushers Miles Garrett and Olivier Vernon. The Patriots offensive line, which has struggled at times to contain the pass rush, will have to make sure Brady has time to deliver the football.
The Patriots quarterback helps the cause with his quick release, and receivers who break free on short routes. A trade with the Atlanta Falcons brought Mohamed Sanu to Foxboro on Monday, and the 6-foot-2, 210-pound wideout should add to the mix and get open.
“We got another guy, we’ve got to get him up to speed,” receiver Phillip Dorsett said of Sanu. “It’s not going to be easy, but he’s up for the challenge.”
The Patriots are on a short week, while the Browns have had an extra week to prepare. They understand that part of the equation. They also know the Browns aren’t as bad as their record would indicate, so they won’t underestimate them.
“We know they’re going to come out and play hard. They’re a good team. Their record doesn’t match their talent, so they’re looking to get on track,” said Dorsett. “We know what we’re gonna get. They have talent across the board. They’re going to play hard, and we’re gonna play hard, too.”
Asked if this was the most talented 2-4 team he’s seen, top to bottom, James White said every team in the NFL is talented.
“Anybody can get beat on any given Sunday if you’re not prepared,” said the Patriots running back. “But, these guys have a lot of great players on their team. Like I said, they’re going to come out ready to go coming off a bye week, so they’ll be refreshed. So, they’re going to give their best shot.”
PREDICTION: PATRIOTS 31, BROWNS 17
The post Bill Belichick won’t let Patriots look past bumbling Browns appeared first on Boston Herald.