Tom Brady’s return has most of the NFL galaxy predicting a fifth-straight defeat for the Cleveland Browns this week.
Things may not be as straight forward as all that mentioned above, even with Tom Brady back under center for the New England Patriots. Not if the Browns can establish their league-leading ground game at FirstEnergy Stadium this Sunday.
Not if coordinator Ray Horton can craft a scheme to let a sneaky defense catch a rusty Brady cold. He managed the trick for the Arizona Cardinals in 2012, even though he had greater talent at his disposal. Yet Horton isn’t completely shorn of players who could wreck New England’s offense. Cornerback Joe Haden is one of the NFL‘s best, while edge-rusher Cam Thomas has been making waves in recent weeks.
Thomas had two sacks and forced a fumble against the Redskins last week. He’ll be crucial to Horton’s plan for pressuring Brady.
Yet what could really decide this game is how effectively the Browns can attack the Pats’ defense. There are certainly ample weapons at rookie quarterback Cody Kessler’s disposal. Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor and running back Duke Johnson are the obvious matchup nightmares for the Patriots.
Expect Pats head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to ensure Pryor draws a crowd wherever he lines up. But Johnson may prove tricker to track. He’s one of the best pass-catching running backs in football, and a player New England’s beefy linebackers will struggle to stay with in space.
Getting tight end Gary Barnidge involved will also take advantage of any weaknesses in underneath coverage. However, the easiest way to help Kessler settle will be to turn running back Isaiah Crowell loose.
He’s averaging 6.5 yards per carry and ripping off some huge runs. Most of the best come behind left tackle Joe Thomas. If he knocks open enough holes for Crowell, New England’s 15th-ranked rush defense will struggle to keep pace.
Date: Sunday, October 9
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Cleveland, OH
Location: FirstEnergy Stadium
Live Stream: Watch NFL Online
Keeping Brady under wraps is a tall order for any team. He’s back to direct an offense still loaded with game-winners, particularly tenacious wide receiver Julian Edelman.