The undefeated Patriots look to continue on the path to perfection when they host the Cleveland Browns this Sunday at Gillette Stadium. The Browns are a surprising 2-2 this season and they welcome former offensive coordinator Romeo Crennel back to New England for the first time since he left to become the head coach in Cleveland.
Some of Cleveland's young talent is finally beginning to make its mark on the field with more consistency. Former first-round picks Kellen Winslow (20 catches, 367 yards, one touchdown) and Braylon Edwards (18 catches, 375 yards and four touchdowns) have developed into consistent playmakers and big-play targets for the passing game. This year's top pick, left tackle Joe Thomas, is off to a nice start to his career. And on the defensive side of the ball, second-year linebackers D'Qwell Jackson and Kamerion Wimbley are proving to be productive players in Crennel's preferred 3-4 front.
The quarterback position is in a transition phase at this point in Cleveland. Charlie Frye became the first passer to start for a team on opening day only to be traded later that week. Now Derek Anderson is holding down the fort, including a pair of wins, while first-round rookie Brady Quinn works into the system after an extended training camp contract holdout.
Anderson has completed only 52 percent of his passes in three starts but has hit for 964 yards and a respectable 88.4 passer rating. He'll be facing a Patriots pass defense that is coming off an impressive outing against the high-powered Bengals passing attack.
Cleveland brought in veteran running back Jamal Lewis after he got his release from the Ravens this winter, but he's continued to show only slight flashes of his once highly productive ways. He had 200-plus yards in the track meet win over the Bengals, but has averaged well-below 4.0 yards a carry in the team's other three games. New England leads the NFL in rush defense, so it should be another tough day for Lewis on the ground this Sunday.
Defensively, the Browns have struggled in the early weeks. The unit combines developing young talent with aging veterans. The mix hasn't worked as Cleveland has allowed opponents to average 5.0 yards per carry on the ground while opposing quarterbacks have thrown for a 101.2 passer rating. This isn't good news for the Browns with the red-hot Tom Brady on deck. Brady and Co. are near the top of the NFL standings in every offensive category and proved last week against the Bengals they have the ability to either run or pass with success, racking up 404 yards of total offense.
The problems for Cleveland on defense lie with an aging defensive line and a questionable secondary. Nose tackle Ted Washington and defensive end Orpheus Roye bring a combined 29 years of experience, but there isn't much more than that on the depth chart. There is little potential on the front that includes mainly free-agent and waiver players like former New England backup Ethan Kelley. Look for Sammy Morris and the Patriots ground game to test the interior of the Browns defensive line early in this game.
Former undrafted free-agent cornerback Leigh Bodden leads a secondary that's relatively young and certainly unproven. Bodden has two of Cleveland's three interceptions for the season, but rookie second-round pick Eric Wright has struggled at times at the other corner spot. With question marks in the defensive backfield, Randy Moss has to be licking his chops. Moss has scored seven touchdowns and eclipsed the 100-yard mark in each of his first four games and could be well on his way to five when he goes up against an undermanned Browns secondary.
Cleveland may be 2-2 but it is running into a buzz saw this Sunday. The Patriots have beaten their first four opponents by 24, 24, 31 and 21 points. The Browns will have to play their best game of the season to stay competitive against New England and even if they do that, it will be hard for Cleveland to walk out of Foxborough with a victory.
Over/ Under: Pats vs Browns
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