By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The football season rolls on for the undefeated New England Patriots. Will this finally be the weekend they falter?
Welllllllll … probably not.
While this visit from the Cleveland Browns looked like it would be one of the juicier matchups of 2019 when the schedule came out, it’s lost quite a bit of luster as Freddie Kitchens, Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. have gotten off to a stupendously disappointing 2-4 start to the season.
Nevertheless, it’s the NFL, and any team can win on any given Sunday, and all of that. So, keeping that possibility alive, here are the four areas to watch once this game kicks off in the late-afternoon window on Sunday.
OK, so the challenge this season has been envisioning how the Patriots could potentially lose each week. Some weeks, it’s a steeper challenge than others.
Theoretically, then, if the Patriots are to lose this week, it will likely be due to some monster games by some of the Browns’ most talented players.
You might as well start on defense, where Myles Garrett is as frightening a player as you’ll ever see. He’s 6-foot-4, 272 pounds, and he can do what appear to be 36-inch box jumps while holding 40-pound dumbbells.
Totally normal human being Myles Garrett effortlessly doing box jumps with 40lb dumbbells.
If I tried this there’s an 80% chance I’d rip both arms completely off my body. pic.twitter.com/F96r6gDWxs
— Nicholas A. Kovach (@TheKovach) July 2, 2019
Garrett has nine sacks this year, tied for the league lead. He ended the season for Jets backup Trevor Siemian on Monday Night Football back in Week 2, when he had three sacks, two more QB hits, and two roughing the passer penalties. He is, to say the least, a disruptor.
Offensively, Nick Chubb is the Browns’ top producer, with his 607 yards and six touchdowns on the ground plus 20 receptions for 128 yards. He’s averaging 5.3 yards per carry, and if the Browns want to sustain some lasting possessions, they’re going to need Chubb to have a big game.
Then there is, of course, Odell Beckham Jr., who leads the team with 439 receiving yards but has yet to reach the end zone. Jarvis Landry is just three yards behind Beckham, and he has a receiving touchdown to his name. Tight end Ricky Seals-Jones is the only Brown with two touchdown receptions.
They’ll all be looking for passes from Baker Mayfield, who … has not delivered on his grandiose offseason promises thus far. He’s a 56.6 percent passer with five touchdowns and a league-leading 11 interceptions thus far.
Will The Browns Goof This One?
If you’ve noticed, the Patriots’ have a pretty aggressive front seven. They’ve tallied 26 sacks, which is second in the NFL, and they’ve certainly played a significant role in forcing some rushed throws from quarterbacks (see: Darnold, Sam) to contribute to the Patriots’ league-leading 18 interceptions.
So it’s not the best week for Freddie Kitchens to be playing musical chairs on his O-line, but that’s what he’s felt compelled to do. We’ll see how that works out.
Kitchens has been … unimpressive through the first six games of his coaching career, and it’s probably no coincidence that the Browns commit the most penalties in the NFL at 9.5 per game. Penalties against the Patriots, at Gillette? That’s a recipe for disaster.
The Browns are also not at all careful with the football, as evidenced by the aforementioned 11 picks plus three lost fumbles. Their 14 total giveaways ranks tied for third-most in the NFL. Turning the football over in New England is another way to ensure that you have a very bad Sunday.
Kitchens has instilled some doubt with his play-calling and decision-making, so when you envision him on the opposite sideline as Bill Belichick, you can’t help but consider that one of the biggest coaching mismatches in history.
Mayfield is not having the sophomore season he hoped to have, and the history of first- and second-year QBs playing at Gillette since 2001 is nothing short of grisly.
The full list of rookies and second-year QBs to face the Patriots at Gillette since 2001 (regular season and playoffs). 😬😬😬😬😬😬 pic.twitter.com/uLNKBppweh
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) October 25, 2019
Long story short: This game has some BIG YIKES potential for the Browns.
From a Patriots perspective, it’ll be interesting to see if and how Mohamed Sanu can inject a little bit of energy into a Patriots offense that is more than functional but not quite clicking on all cylinders.
Tom Brady said Friday that Sanu brings “the juice,” and Sanu clarified later, saying he brings “the juice and the squeeze.”
“I mean, you just gotta see,” Sanu said. “It’s not something that you explain. You either got it, or you don’t.”
Cleveland’s had a pretty stingy pass defense, as they’ve allowed just 219 passing yards per game (sixth in the NFL). They have, however, allowed 14 passing touchdowns, which is tied for sixth-most.
Sanu is coming off a very quiet game, when he caught just one pass for three yards against the Rams, so he’ll be a little extra excited to make the most of his Patriots debut.
(Don’t forge t– Sanu can chuck it, too. Will Bill dip into the toolbox for a trick play in Game 1?)
Will History Continue?
People can downplay and diminish what the Patriots’ defense has done all year based on the lack of quality competition all they want, but if yet another week goes by with the Patriots’ D refusing to allow another touchdown, then the absurdity of this season will only grow. (Plus, the 2000 Ravens and ’85 Bears faced some bad teams and QBs, too. There are receipts!)
If you look at total points allowed — that is, not just the points allowed by the defense, but the points allowed when the offense or special teams are on the field — the Patriots have given up 48 points this year. The 2000 Ravens, aka the team that allowed the fewest points in NFL history, allowed 75 points through seven games.
The Ravens then gave up 14 points in Week 8 (seven by the defense, seven on a pick-six on a Tony Banks pass intended for Ben Coates), bringing their season total for points allowed to 89.
So the Patriots already have a 27-point lead over the 2000 Ravens, if you want to phrase it as such, and they’ll add to that lead if they can hold the Browns to anything less than 14 points. The Browns are the second-best scoring offense the Patriots have faced … but that’s not saying much. The Browns rank 23rd in points scored.
Maybe that interests you, maybe that doesn’t. But in a game that has real potential to get out of hand, it may be the most fascinating thing to monitor come, say, 6:15 p.m. on Sunday.