The Patriots will put a three-game winning streak on the line this weekend as the Browns come to Gillette Stadium.
Both teams are 5-4, but this game shouldn’t be as easy as the Patriots’ victory last week against the Panthers.
The Browns are somewhat of a roller-coaster, with Odell Beckham Jr. leaving the team and the running back room hurting because of injuries and COVID-19.
Cleveland still boasts a bevy of talent on both sides of the ball, including one of the most destructive defensive forces in football.
The incomparable edge rusher missed practice Wednesday with a foot injury, but that might not be enough to keep him off the field Sunday. He doesn’t need to practice during the week to dominate on the weekends.
His 48 pressures are tied for second in the NFL behind Las Vegas defensive end Maxx Crosby’s 50, according to Pro Football Focus. Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon is third with 44 pressures.
Garrett, the former No. 1 pick, boasts the league’s best pass-rush win rate at 28 percent, and he also leads the NFL with 12 sacks.
Garrett’s combination of size, strength, technique and explosiveness off the edge would be a problem for whomever he lines up across from Sunday.
The Browns other defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney, also is a terrific athlete.
Johnson will take the reins this week.
Kareem Hunt is on IR (calf) and Nick Chubb and Demetric Felton are out because of COVID-19 protocols.
Johnson, an undrafted free agent has opened eyes this season.
With Chubb and Hunt out in Week 7, Johnson lit up the Broncos for 146 rushing yards and added 22 more as a receiver, leading the Browns to a gutsy win.
PFF ranks Johnson as one of the NFL’s most elusive runners despite his limited playing time behind Chubb — the man with PFF’s highest elusive rating — and Hunt. He runs hard and has a knack for slipping through small creases for big gains.
His success will largely depend on the offensive line, which is one of the best in the league at run blocking.
The Patriots have done an excellent job at limiting chunk plays in the passing game during their three-week stretch, and their switch to zone defense might be part of the reason.
This week’s candidate for the Bill Belichick “don’t let him beat you deep” attention will be Peoples-Jones now that Beckham has joined the Rams.
The second-year wideout is among the league’s leaders in average depth of target (aDoT) according to Pro Football Reference, with his targets traveling nearly 18 yards on average. Though he only has 15 catches, he’s second on the Browns in receiving yards (314), behind tight end David Njoku‘s 341.
Peoples-Jones caught a 66-yard bomb from Baker Mayfield last week against the Bengals.
Peoples-Jones has six of Cleveland’s 27 catches of more than 20 yards.
The rookie linebacker out of Notre Dame missed the last three weeks with a high ankle sprain, but Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods told reporters he’s optimistic Owusu-Koramoah can play Sunday.
Though listed as a linebacker, the man known as “JOK” can play just about anywhere, from edge-rushing outside linebacker to slot cornerback, thanks to his exceptional athleticism.
Owusu-Koramoah has good instincts and explodes into ball carriers as if he’s shot out of a cannon. He’s difficult for offensive linemen to get a body on at the second level of the defense, darting around blockers to make plays in the run game.
But he also owns PFF’s ninth-best coverage grade at his position as a rookie, painting a picture of the total package at linebacker.
Owusu-Koramoah, a first-round talent, fell to to the 20th pick of the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. That could be the AFC North’s problem for many years to come.