The New England Patriots played their most complete game of the 2022 NFL season last week defeating the Detroit Lions at home 29-0. This week they head to FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, OH to face off against a star-studded Cleveland Browns defense.
New England catches a break this week with star cornerback Denzel Ward and former number one overall pick Jadeveon Clowney both ruled out prior to the weekend. Regardless, Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods will have some tricks up his sleeve for rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe.
Last Week Recap:
The Patriots’ offense woke up last week behind Rhamondre Stevenson and the running game. Despite losing Damien Harris to an injury (expected to keep him out several weeks), ‘Mondre led the way with 25 rushes for 161 yards and a 6.4 yards per rush average (all statistics from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted). The offensive line was dominant with solid run blocking across the line.
Rookie fourth-round draft pick Bailey Zappe had his first career NFL start and Zappe was happy to see wide receiver Jakobi Meyers back in the line-up. Meyers led the way with seven receptions for 111 yards. Zappe was solid completing 17 of 21 for 188 yards and a touchdown. He did throw an interception, but that was on Nelson Agholor.
Mid-second quarter, with the Patriots only ahead by a 6-0 margin over the Lions, Zappe fired a strike over the middle to Agholor running a slant near midfield. The pass hit Agholor between the numbers and should have been a 14-yard gain but Agholor bobbled the pass and then the ball popped it up into the air on a second bobble by Agholor. The ball hung in the air long enough for Lions safety DeShon Elliott to dive and just manage to pick it off before it hit the turf.
Last week the Browns lost their second game in a row after a 2-1 start. At home against the Los Angeles Chargers they lost 30-28 despite the best efforts of Chargers’ head coach Brandon Staley to hand them the victory.
Despite rushing for over 200 yards, the game came down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter. After Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett threw an interception in the end zone with under three minutes to play, the much-maligned Browns defense made a stop on third-and-three right after the two-minute warning.
Instead of punting on fourth-and-two from their own 45-yard line to pin the Browns deep and make them drive the entire field with no timeouts, Staley had his team go for it and the Chargers could not convert.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, the offense could only move the ball ten yards and kicker Cade York had a chance to kick a game-winning 53-yard field goal pushing it wide right. It was another head-scratching performance by the Browns after losing the week prior to the Atlanta Falcons.
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Patriots Offense vs Browns’ Defense:
New England has been an entirely different offense with Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer out and rookie Bailey Zappe at quarterback. New England has been able to get the running game going early and often the past two weeks and leaned on the play-action passing game with Zappe under center more rather than in shotgun.
The Patriots will try to continue their impressive job running the ball in week six on the road in Cleveland. So far in 2022, the Patriots have increased their rushing yards each week (78, 124, 145, 167, and 188 yards. This week they face a Cleveland Browns defense that is 30th in rushing yards allowed per attempt (5.3) and allowed eight rushing touchdowns in five games.
A key again this week for Zappe and the offense will be getting into third-and-short situations. The Browns have actually been solid on third down allowing just 19 of 54 third-down conversions (35.2%) which is 12th in the NFL. Cleveland has also only allowed one fourth down conversion on three attempts in 2022.
With three different quarterbacks, the Patriots are just 23rd in the NFL through five games converting only 43.9% of their third downs. How they perform on third down with Zappe at quarterback will be important for the offense on the road on Sunday afternoon.
Three Matchups to Watch:
Ts Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn vs DEs Myles Garrett and Alex Wright
First things first, the Patriots catch a huge break with edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney ruled out on Sunday. With a rookie quarterback making his first career start on the road, having Cleveland without one-half of their pass-rushing duo. Granted, Myles Garrett is no easy task to face, but at least without Clowney playing the Patriots don’t have to try and block two disruptive pass rushers
The depth behind Clowney in Cleveland is concerning. Rookie third-round draft pick Alex Wright is likely to step in, but he was picked in the third round as a developmental prospect. However, veteran journeyman Isaac Rochell is a great story as the former seventh-round pick of the Chargers continues to earn playing time after being cast off by the Colts.
The Browns expected to have former Patriots edge rusher Chase Winovich as the depth rusher this year, but he is on injured reserve with a hamstring injury and misses his “revenge game”.
Wright has good size and athleticism but is very raw. While Cleveland will likely put Garrett across from the struggling Isaiah Wynn as much as possible, letting Trent Brown go up against a raw rookie who is still trying to build NFL strength and was manhandled on college tape by the Georgia tight ends is scary.
While Brown has done well after moving to left tackle this summer, former left tackle Wynn has struggled on the right side. Wynn looks like an offensive lineman who is thinking about foot and hand placement on each snap and is not comfortable playing backward after being at left tackle or left guard when healthy in New England for the past four seasons.
New England is going to have to lean on the tight ends and running backs to help out Wynn against Garrett. There are few tackles in the NFL capable of matching up with Garrett and Bill Belichick will devise ways to help out his struggling tackle.
WRs Jakobi Meyers and DeVante Parker vs CBs Greedy Williams, Martin “M.J.” Emerson and Greg Newsome
Speaking of lucky breaks, the Patriots rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe does not have to worry about cornerback Denzel Ward on Sunday afternoon. Ward is out injured and the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback has lived up to his reputation coming out of Ohio State as the fourth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Cleveland will get cornerback Greedy Williams back for the first time in 2022 after missing the first five games on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. Williams, when healthy, has been a solid cornerback. However, he missed a quarter of his rookie season in 2019, all of 2020, and now five games in 2022.
Williams will likely be eased back into action in his first game meaning more action for rookie Martin Emerson. “M.J.” as Emerson is often referred to, has held up well as a rookie. He broke up the fourth-and-two pass in coverage of Mike Williams late in the fourth quarter last week to give Cleveland a chance to win. Emerson is big and physical and likely will see plenty of New England’s big and physical wideout DaVante Parker on Sunday.
Parker was shut out without a single target last week, his second game without a reception in 2022. After a rough start to the season, Parker had a huge game in week three against Baltimore finally showing chemistry with Mac Jones with five catches for 145 yards. He caught a touchdown in week four from rookie Bailey Zappe but was invisible last week.
Second-year cornerback Greg Newsome, picked in the first round out of Northwestern in the 2021 NFL Draft, has bounced between the slot and the outside this season. However, wherever he plays, he will be out on the field for most every snap. He’s likely to get the assignment to try and lock-down Jakobi Meyers.
Meyers missed two games with a knee injury but bounced back with an impressive performance against the Lions last week. In his first game with Zappe, Meyers looked just like he did catching passes from Tom Brady, Cam Newton and Mac Jones. The former undrafted free agent was the top target and had seven catches for 111 yards and a touchdown.
Meyers is long and stronger than he looks, but is more quick than fast. Meyers is a different receiver than former slot receiver Julian Edelman but has learned from him to win routes with balance, vision, intelligence and short-area quickness. Week after week, year after year, Meyers just finds a way to get open and be a favorite of his quarterback, no matter who is in the pocket.
TE Hunter Henry vs SS Grant Delpit
If you’re still reading, first off, a huge thank you. Second, I know what you are thinking: Who the heck is Grant Delpit?
Not a household name around the NFL, he is well known in the Bayou. Delpit was a standout at LSU and a 2020 second-round draft pick. He missed his rookie season with an Achilles injury, but was a two-time first-team All-American at LSU and won the 2019 Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. He is long, strong, physical, and willing to throw his body around in the running game.
If there is one weakness in his game, it can be when he is put in pass coverage. Delpit had some struggles earlier this season giving up big plays when cornerbacks passed coverage to him deep. Since then, Cleveland has moved him closer to the line of scrimmage where his heavy hitting in the middle of the field and size and length can help out in pass coverage.
He gets a solid test this week with veteran tight end Hunter Henry. Henry has just nine receptions for 95 yards in 2022 but has been called on to provide pass blocking more than usual. With Jonnu Smith banged up, Henry will have another big role again after playing all but one snap last week.
Henry got back in the offense serving as a safety valve for Zappe and the rookie appreciated it, feeding Henry four receptions on five targets. Henry converted first downs on all four catches and had a long of 29 yards. His only incompletion was a pass thrown behind him that should have been a touchdown on the opening drive of the game.
While Delpit may not cover Henry in man coverage, he’ll have a big role in the defense when Cleveland is in zone coverage. If the Patriots can incorporate Henry again to extend drives and help out his rookie quarterback, it could be a long day for the Cleveland defense.
Patriots Score Prediction:
New England 20 – Cleveland 17
The New England offense has a tough match-up with All-Pro defensive end, Myles Garrett, bringing the heat from the edge. The pressure is on left tackle Trent Brown and struggling right tackle Isaiah Wynn to protect rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe even with Jadeveon Clowney out injured.
With Cleveland geared up to stop Rhamondre Stevenson and the New England rushing offense, the Patriots will have chances to make plays in the passing game. Although Cleveland should get a boost with cornerback Greedy Williams returning to the line-up, the secondary will miss Denzel Ward.
I’m counting on Zappe to make a few plays down the field, possibly incorporating tight end Hunter Henry with some vertical seam routes. With extra attention on Jakobi Meyers, the pressure is on veteran DeVante Parker (or Kendrick Bourne) to step up with a chunk play or two to help the offense score just enough to edge the Browns.
– Hal Bent has covered the New England Patriots for the past five years at FullPressCoverage.com and can be found at @Halbent01 on Twitter and manning the @FPC_Patriots account each game day providing game updates, instant analysis, complaining about uncalled holding penalties and calling out Steve Belichick for playing too much zone coverage in crucial situations.
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