RUNNING BACKS- In addition to having their top running backs sidelined for this week, both teams are also relying on the lower part of their running back depth charts. Entering the season the Patriots were absolutely stacked at the position and traded Sony Michel to the Rams. Unfortunately, veteran running back, James White, went down with an injury early in week 3 and the running back room got a little less crowded. As of right now, it looks like rookie Rhamondre Stevenson will suit up for the Patriots after spending the past week on concussion protocol. Of course, I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see Stevenson scratched from the lineup. The other key cog missing from the Browns' running back room is speedster Kareem Hunt. Hunt has been sidelined with a strained calf muscle for the past month. While he was eligible to return this week, his body was not. Like most Patriots fans, I'm not sad to see him out for this week.
TIGHT ENDS- The Patriots defense struggled against tight ends during weeks 5 and 6. Was it the matchups? Was it the defense in general? Was it just good play calling and execution by their opponents (Texans and Cowboys)? In general the Patriots have played well against opponents tight ends. If you have a choice of playing your most productive tight end against the Patriots in fantasy football or a lesser tight end against someone else, you'll usually be advised to start your less productive player. While fantasy stats can be pretty bizarre, the fact that the Patriots defense is the best against tight ends is something. According to CBS Fantasy Football, the Patriots defense has allowed a total of 32 fantasy points in 9 games. 25 of those points came against the Texans and Cowboys. The Browns are not lacking when it comes to tight ends. David Njoku and Austin Hooper are both good sized (6'4" and 6'5"), solid players. With an assumed reliance on the passing game and one less diva to throw the ball to, they should both see even more targets. Not having to worry so much about the running game, should make stopping the tight ends a bit easier.
The Browns' defense has been in the middle of the pack when it comes to defending tight ends. Maybe this will be the day that both Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry show consistency in the same game. Since Smith has been nursing a shoulder injury this week, he might not play much of a role in today's game plan. As an individual, I think Hunter Henry will have the best game of all of the tight ends. As a group, I'm going to give a slight nod to the Browns.
QUARTERBACKS- In 8 games and 225 attempts Baker Mayfield has been sacked 24 times and has thrown 3 interceptions. In 9 games and 300 attempts Mac Jones has been sacked 17 times and has thrown 7 interceptions. Protecting the ball and protecting the quarterback are consistently keys to both winning and longevity in the NFL. While the Patriots have gotten better at protecting Mac as the season has continued on (4 sacks in last 3 games), the Browns are trendinding downward (11 sacks in last 3 games).
Another important statistic to look at is 3rd down completions. As a rookie Mac has a decent 62.3% completion rate on third downs. Baker has been struggling on 3rd down with a completion rating of 53.8%. Since not all 3rd downs are created equal, this discrepancy in completions may not be as a big a deal as it looks on paper. Of course based on who both teams had in the backfield for the first half of the season, I'd imagine that the plays Baker was being asked to make were easier.