Cleveland Browns (5-4, 5-4 ATS) at New England Patriots (5-4, 5-4), 1 p.m.
Brolley’s Browns Stats and Trends
The Browns are 5-1 ATS in their last six road games.
Cleveland is 6-1 toward overs in its last seven games as an underdog.
This backfield could be back on the shoulders of D’Ernest Johnson for the second time this season with Nick Chubb, Demetric Felton, and John Kelly each testing positive for COVID. Chubb is vaccinated so he has an outside shot to play this week if he can have two negative tests 24 hours apart before Sunday. Johnson stepped into a bell-cow role and produced 22/146/1 rushing and 2/22 receiving on three targets in a Week 7 victory over the Broncos. The Patriots are giving up the 11th-most rushing yards per game (94.7) and 4.3 YPC to RBs this season.
Baker Mayfield is coming off his best fantasy performance since Week 5, and it came in his first game in the post-Odell Beckham era. He completed 14/21 passes for 218 yards (10.4 YPA) and two touchdowns in their blowout victory over the Bengals. The Browns averaged 7.8 yards per play in the dominant win. The Patriots limited Sam Darnold to just 5.2 YPA while intercepting him three times last week.
Jarvis Landry has been a bit off since returning to the lineup off of his knee injury, posting 13/113/0 receiving on 23 targets, but he’s at least seen 24% of the targets or better in each contest. Keenan Allen posted 6/77/1 receiving on 11 targets in this matchup two weeks ago.
Donovan Peoples-Jones returned to the lineup after a two-week absence for a groin injury, and he immediately posted more FP (16.6) than Beckham posted at any point to open the year. DPJ actually finished third in routes behind Anthony Schwartz (16 to 15), but he still hung 2/86/1 receiving on three targets against the Bengals thanks to a 60-yard touchdown. DPJ now has 12+ FP in each of his last three healthy contests. The Patriots are giving up a solid 13.2 YPR to WRs this season.
Brolley’s Patriots Stats and Trends
The Patriots are 4-1 toward overs in their last five games.
Both Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson left Week 9 in the fourth quarter with head injuries, and they’re both concussion protocol this week. Harris found the end zone and he reached double-digit FP for the fifth consecutive game on his way to 15/30/1 rushing and 1/3 receiving on a 39% snap share. Stevenson turned in season-bests in touches (12) and scrimmage yards (106) on a 27% snap share before leaving early. J. J. Taylor and Brandon Bolden would see bigger roles this week if Harris and/or Stevenson miss action. Bolden led them in snaps at 47% and chipped in 8/54 rushing and 2/27 receiving with Taylor inactive last week. The Patriots are giving up the eighth-fewest FPG (21.0) to RBs this season.
Mac Jones served as a game manager in a lopsided victory over the hopeless Sam Darnold-led Panthers, completing 12/18 passes for 139 yards, one TD, and one INT. Jones has reached 18+ FP just once in his first nine games, and the Browns have held three consecutive QBs under 15 FP after picking Joe Burrow off twice and holding him to 282 scoreless yards.
Jakobi Meyers had his first game without 4+ catches last week as he managed just an eight-yard catch on four targets. He’s now scored fewer than 10 FP in each of New England’s five wins and he’s scored 10+ FP in all four of New England’s losses. The Patriots enter this week as less than field-goal home favorites.
Hunter Henry has scored in five of his last six games, but he hasn’t had more than two catches and 10 FP in four straight games. Jonnu Smith ran just four routes last week as his shoulder injury flared up, and Henry could get a small bump in usage if he’s out or limited this week. The Browns limited C.J. Uzomah to 4/24 receiving last week.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 30.5 (29th)
Plays per game: 65.9 (21st)
Pass: 53.5% (31th) | Run: 46.5% (2nd)
Pace: 28.7 (23rd)
Plays per game: 66.7 (17th)
Pass: 58.5% (23rd) | Run: 41.5% (10th)
This is the third-worst game on the slate from a combined pace / play perspective between these two slow, low-volume offenses. Both of these offenses rely heavily on the run game to sustain drives, but with both backfields in flux for different reasons, we could see both the Browns and Patriots go a bit more pass-heavy than usual here. Especially the Patriots. This Cleveland front-seven has been strong against enemy ground games – they’re allowing just 3.61 YPC (fourth-fewest) and 74.2 YPG (fifth-fewest) – and we’ve seen New England shift their game-plan in similar spots before. In back-to-back games against the Saints and Buccaneers elite run defenses back in Weeks 4-5, Mac Jones dropped back to pass 53 and 44 times as they abandoned the run game. Now, I don’t think we’ll see such a drastic shift in philosophy here considering that the Patriots are slight favorites (-2), but we should see a big rebound in Jones’ passing volume after he threw it a season-low 18 times last week.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
Let’s begin with two examples of Baker Mayfield connecting with Donovan People-Jones from last week. The first is at 10:18 of the second quarter. DPJ looks like DK Metcalf in comparison to Eli Apple on this corner-to-skinny post combo where Mayfield hits him stride for a 60-yard TD against Cover 4. Not the coverage scheme the Browns will see this week, but it speaks to the presence of Peoples-Jones. The second play is against Cover 1, located at 6:49 of the final quarter. On 3rd-and-9, please feast your eyes on how DPJ obliterates the outside leverage attempt by Chidobe Awuzie. With only the single-high safety in the middle of the field to assist Awuzie, he must force Peoples-Jones away from the sideline, toward his left shoulder. But DPJ had other plans, tossing Awuzie aside before collecting the 27-yard toss from Mayfield.
A recurring theme from each of the upsets from last week, Cleveland routed Cincy by putting consistent pressure on Joe Burrow. A total of 25 QB pressures and six sacks, to be precise. It’s no surprise to see Myles Garrett collect five pressures, two sacks, and a hit. But Troy Hill got home on Burrow four times, including two sacks, and another hit. Zone-phenomenon Greg Newsome II also deflected away three of the 9 targets into his coverage. The Browns put plenty of information on tape that the Patriots must account for this week. And, unlike New England’s, Cleveland’s defense is actually legitimately elite.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
NOTE: Nick Chubb will not play this weekend. It’s D’Ernest Goes to Your Starting Lineup time.
We’re at the mercy of COVID-19 for this game, at least in regards to the Browns’ RBs. Virtually their entire active RB room — with the exception of D’Ernest Johnson — tested positive for COVID this week, and though Nick Chubb (among others) are vaccinated, it could be a stretch to get them ready to go for this weekend.
Browns’ RBs Nick Chubb and Demetric Felton tested positive for COVID-19, sources tell ESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 9, 2021
Both players are vaccinated, thus their status for Sunday’s game against New England remains in question. Each player would need two negative tests 24 hours apart to play.
#Browns OC Alex Van Pelt said there's still a chance Nick Chubb plays Sunday.— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) November 11, 2021
The advice goes without saying — if Chubb plays, you play him. If not, firing up Johnson, given his heroic performance a couple of weeks back, is advisable.
Here were the Browns’ WR routes run in the first post Odell Beckham game: Jarvis Landry (20 of 24 dropbacks), Anthony Schwartz (17), Donovan Peoples-Jones (16), Demetric Felton (4), Rashard Higgins (1).
I’m not too enthused by any of Baker Mayfield’s weapons here, given Landry (knee) is dinged up and Baker is coming off a season-low 21 pass attempts. My favorite Browns receiver to play is actually DPJ, because he only needs one play to come through for fantasy.
Here’s an interesting perspective, by the way — the Pats faced a similar, but less effective, offense against the Panthers last week. Can they shut down a better team?
Love this matchup for the #Patriots defense this week because it's basically the same game plan as last week, but better competition with Cleveland. Similar run emphasis with heavy play-action sequencing on early-downs. Can they stop it against the best?— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) November 11, 2021
The Patriots have some issues of their own in the backfield, with both Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson in concussion protocol. As of now, there appears to be more optimism Stevenson will play than Harris. If that’s the case, Stevenson projects as a high-end RB2. He really looked good last week.
By the way, this game is really important from a playoff perspective.