Browns Preview: Game 5 (New England)

Opponent Preview

As much as I detest saying this, if the Patriots have a good record, Bill Belicheat ought to receive serious consideration for crook coach of the year.

The Patriots are 21st in the NFL in scoring after four games (20.3 per game), but consider who they’re doing it with:

  • At quarterback for the first two games, they had Jimmy Garoppolo, who had thrown a whopping 31 passes in the previous two years. Garoppolo looked like a Pro Bowl player.
  • When Garoppolo went down, they went with rookie Jacoby Brissett, a third-round pick.He hasn’t exactly played well, but his big problem has been failure to get rid of the ball (six sacks on 55 pass attempts.

One of the backs the Patriots were hoping to use (Dion Lewis) is still recovering from a knee injury. The other, LeGarrette Blount, was cut by the Bucs in 2012 and the Steelers in mid-2014. Anyone could have had him, but he has 466 carries, 2,108 yards and 20 TDs for New England in the last four years.

With Rob Gronkowski limited by injury to 53 snaps so far, the leading receivers are:

  • 30-year-old Julian Edelman (19-27, 196 yards, 0 TDs), a converted QB from Kent State,
  • 29-year-old TE Martellus Bennett (15-20 for 247 yards and 1 TD), who has played for Dallas, the Giants and Chicago.
  • RB James White (13-18 for 102 yards; 0 TDs), a #4 pick in 2014, who is 5’9″ and 240 pounds.

The other receivers include well-traveled Danny Amendola (9-12, for 119 yards and 2 TDs), Buffalo castoff Chris Hogan (8-15 for 122 yards and a TD) and rookie Malcolm Mitchell (4-9 for 75 yards). None terribly impressive… but remember who’s been throwing to them.

Last but not least, two starting linemen in 2015– G Tre’ Jackson and T Sebastian Vollmer– are both on injured reserve. Vollmer is likely to miss the full season.

They’re only 21st in points… but given all that, it is astonishing that they aren’t 31st. Some teams would be 0-4 and whining about their rotten luck. With the Patriots, it’s just “Next man up.” If you’re on the team, you get practice time, individual coaching and prep work. You’re expected to be ready to play if they need you– and when you get your chance, you’d better play well.

The defense, by the way, has allowed 15.3 points per game. They’re fourth in the NFL. The team leader in sacks is some guy named Jabaal Sheard.The top run-stuffer, Alan Branch, was let go by the Cardinals. The Saints donated Rob Ninkovich many years ago; Chris Long was considered expendable by the Rams.

Many of the players are high picks– but New England rarely misses on their defensive picks. A year ago, for example, they needed help on run defense. They chose Malcolm Brown with the 32nd pick. Brown had an excellent rookie season, and many people are comparing him to five-time Pro Bowl player Vince Wilfork.

Other players– drafted as many as 20 picks higher— are still classified a “prospects” who will hopefully “make progress” this year.

Much as I dislike his ethics (or the lack thereof), you gotta admire Belicheat’s work product. It really seems like you could drop him anywhere and have a contender in 2-3 years., depending largely on how many draft picks he inherited.

Opponent Preview

The Browns are close to a mirror image of the Patriots. When Nate Orchard got hurt, they signed Cam Johnson off Arizona’s practice squad. When Cam Erving gets hurt, their sign Austin Reiter. While their production has been pretty good. I know exactly what Belicheat would say about that– it used to be an ongoing issue between him and the Boston media

“Why have someone on your practice squad,” he’d say, when asked if he was really going to start Jabronie Jones from East Oshkosh, rather than sign some big name guy who’d been cut, “if you aren’t planning to play them?”

Like any intelligent front office executive, Belicheat doesn’t consider time– work in practice or snaps in games– to be a free resource. He sees playing time as an opportunity to develop a player who could (if things go well) become a productive member of the roster. You would never– ever– see the Patriots limping through a season with Willis McGahee (as the Browns did in 2013). Every injury is an opportunity to develop and audition a permanent solution.

The Browns, conversely, are typically thinking short term. Here is an issue that doesn’t interest fans and media– but a rebuilding team’s GM should be very worried about. At the end of the season, the following Browns will become unrestricted free agents:

  • DE Stephen Paea
  • P Britton Colquitt
  • T Austin Pasztor
  • WR Terrelle Pryor
  • CB Jamar Taylor
  • LB Corey Lemonier
  • FS Jordan Poyer

At the present time, all seven of those players are starters. In several cases, the Browns cut ties to veterans (John Hughes, Tashaun Gipson, K’Waun Williams) because they felt more comfortable with those players.

If Sash-O Marx has made overtures to them, word hasn’t trickled out yet. If he expects to keep them off the open market by signing them at the end of the season, he’s likely to be disappointed. In terms of the things that matter to players and their agents– winning, stability, consideration of the impact moves have on players’ careers– the Browns are the worst franchise in the NFL.

Dumping players like Paul Kruger and Donte Whitner in the way they did makes both the players, their friends around the league– and most importantly (they never retire) their agents– angry. If you offer a big contract, but the player knows he’s likely to be cut long before it ends, they won’t sign.

Issue #2 is the amount of production from the draft class.The Marx Brothers assured everyone that their Super-Secret plan to rebuild would be based on accumulating lots of draft picks– then turning them into stars. So far, that’e not working out at all well. Here’s the playing time (with kicking teams snaps excluded) through the first four games:

Round & Pick Player Snaps
1-15 Corey Coleman, WR 100 (51%)
2-32 Emmanuel Ogbah, DE 173 (79%)
3-65 Carl Nassib, DE 88 (40.2%)
3-76 Shon Coleman, T
3-93 Cody Kessler, QB 68 (34.7%)
4-99 Joe Schobert, OLB 72 (38.9%)
4-114 Ricardo Louis, WR 55 (28.1%)
4-129 Derrick Kindred, FS 151 (68.9%)
4-138 Seth DeValve, TE 11 (5.6%)
5-154 Jordan Payton, WR 3 (1.5%)
5-168 Spencer Drango, T 5 (2.6%)
5-172 Rashard Higgins, WR 26 (13.3%)
5-173 Trey Caldwell, CB
7-250 Scooby Wright, LB

Of the 14 picks, only three– Coleman, Ogbah and Kindred– have played even half the snaps. Coleman has played well, but he probably won’t be back until game 6-8. And a receiver with a hand injury isn;t a trivial thing.

The Browns have been telling people how thrilled they are with Ogbah (13 tackles, two passes knocked down) and Kindred (19 tackles, two knockdowns). But one does not hear similar things from other teams; they reality is that both have no sacks, no interceptions and no forced or recovered fumbles. Ogbah has a stuff and two QB hits… but given where he was taken (second pick in the second round), that’s not a high return.

One of the players taken behind him (LB Myles Jack)– who dropped due to injury concerns– is, well, let me quote one of the more unfortunate headlines this year: “Jack Off To a Great Start”.

Carl Nassib looked like a good player until he got hurt. He’ll be out for a while– and defensive linemen need their hands too. Cody “Trust Me” Kessler has limited skills, but he is at least holding the fort. He could have led the Browns to wins in either of the last two games.

There’s no doubt about who the biggest bust of the draft is. #3 pick Shon Coleman will turn 25 on November 25th. He was taken to replace Mitchsell Schwartz, and chosen in the third round. The Browns needed him to start– they’ve stuiggled partly because Pasztor isn’t fast enough to beat high-quality edge rushers. But it isn’t just that he hasn’t played a snap. When the Browns needed a lineman in the Washington game, they had to turn to #5 pick Spencer Drango.

Pasztor could contribute as a guard. He had to replace Joel Bitonio .in the last four games of 2015, and the dropoff wasn’t significant. If Coleman were living up to expectations at right tackle, Pasztor would be able to step in at right guard.. Since he can’t, the Browns have a problem on the right side.

Ricardo Louis, a #4 pick, is 6-9 for 68 yards. #5 pick Jordan Payton and Rashard Higgins haven’t been targeted. Nor has “undrafted free agent turned #4 pick” Seth DeValve, who is also hurt.

Worst of all, the Browns– unlike the Patriots– aren’t hoping to win a Super Bowl. This is a rebuilding team that currently owns the worst record in the NFL. Both the offense and defense are 27th in points.

If you don’t have any talent– and you aren’t expecting to win anything– it eliminates the natural barriers to giving rookies playing time.

But we still have to wonder how much playing time the so-called future of the team will get– and wonder whether many of the people who are playing will stay with the team.

Game Preview

Tom Brady will be active for this game. Since Brady believes that he did nothing wrong and was unjustly suspended, he should be in a foul mood.

Also, the last time the Browns and Patriots played, the Browns were leading 26-14 with 2:39 left. Ray Horton’s defense played surprisingly well (the Patriots had a bunch of people hurt, but still…).

But thanks to some astonishingly poor decision-making by the Browns (who kept letting Brady throw passes to the sidelines, so the receivers could step out and stop the clock), and some clutch plays by Leon McFadden (who alternated between being torches– and committing penalties to prevent big plays– the Patriots moved 142 yards in 120 seconds, scoring 13 points to win it.

Belicheat will lose no opportunity to remind his defense what happened in 2013. And he has much, much better players this time.

The game will serve as an acid test for my skepticism about the Browns. New England has allowed 4.4 yards per rush (much of it to quarterbacks), and 92, 70, 109 and 134 rushing yards in four games. If the Browns run for 150 yards and average 5 yards a carry, that is very strong evidence that their running game is, in fact, improved.

New England has allowed 5 TD passes, but only two have been for more than 10 yards. They have allowed only 6.8 yards per pass, intercepted three passes and sacked the quarterback seven times. If Kessler can solve this defense, it would be strong evidence that he is a star in the making.

If the people telling me I am wrong are correct, I will have a considerable amount of egg on my face at the end of the game– enough to help make french toast at next week’s fundraiser at my wife’s church.

Game Prediction

This won’t be the Boston-Cleveland encounter that anyone in either city cares about. But unless Brady is rusty, this is likely to be an appetizer for the Evil Empire’s double-header sweep: New England 28, Cleveland 6.


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