NFL

4 Browns players to watch against the Patriots in Week 10

The Patriots could face one of the best defensive players in the league in Myles Garrett and will need to contain a few underrated offensive playmakers on Sunday.

Myles Garrett Browns
Myles Garrett. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Patriots will put a three-game win streak on the line this weekend as the Cleveland Browns come to Gillette Stadium, a place New England has only won one game in this season.

Both teams come in with 5-4 records, but don’t expect this one to be as easy as last week’s victory against the free-falling Carolina Panthers (who held the same record as the Patriots entering their Week 9 matchup).

The Browns are somewhat of a roller-coaster themselves at the moment, with Odell Beckham Jr. officially leaving the team this week and the running back room currently in turmoil due to injuries and COVID-19.

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But Cleveland still boasts a bevy of talent on both sides of the ball, including one of the most destructive defensive forces in football.

Cleveland Browns’ Myles Garrett (95) rushes during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Myles Garrett

The incomparable edge rusher missed practice on Wednesday with a foot injury, but missing practice might not be enough to keep him off the field Sunday. He’s in that rare category of player who doesn’t need to practice during the week to dominate on the weekends.

His 48 pressures tie him for second in the NFL behind only the Raiders’ Maxx Crosby’s 50 according to Pro Football Focus. Garrett also sits one spot ahead of Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon (44 pressures) on that list.

But the former No. 1 pick actually boasts the league’s best pass-rush win rate at 28 percent, and he also leads the NFL with 14 sacks.

Assuming he plays, Garrett’s absurd combination of size, strength, technique and explosiveness off the edge would be a problem for whomever he lines up across from on Sunday. Perhaps unfortunately for the Patriots, he almost exclusively plays over the left tackle, meaning Isaiah Wynn will need a ton of help on the edge to contain him.

Without Garrett in the lineup, things would get a bit easier. While Jadeveon Clowney is a freak athlete in his own right, he’s still not quite as terrifying as Garrett, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

Cleveland Browns running back D’Ernest Johnson (30) leaps into the end zone for a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers during an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Cleveland. The Steelers won the game 15-10. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

D’Ernest Johnson

Johnson might have to take the reins this week with Kareem Hunt (calf/IR) out for sure and Nick Chubb and Demetric Felton (COVID-19) in doubt for this weekend. (Both are vaccinated, leaving the door open for them to return if they can test negative twice within a 24-hour period before Sunday’s game.)

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But the Patriots would be unwise to take any plays off against the former undrafted free agent, who has opened eyes this season.

With both Chubb and Hunt out in Week 7, Johnson lit up the Denver 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 doesn’t have special physical skills, but he runs hard and has a knack for slipping through small creases for bigger gains.

Still, his success will largely be dependent on the Browns’ offensive line, which is one of the best in the league when it comes to running the football. If the Patriots can stay sound in their assignments, they should be able to contain Johnson.

Cleveland Browns’ Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) makes a touchdown reception abasing Cincinnati Bengals’ Eli Apple (20) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

Donovan Peoples-Jones

The Patriots have done an excellent job at limiting chunk plays in the passing game during their dominating three-week stretch, and their switch to zone defense might be part of the reason for that.

This week’s candidate for the Bill Belichick “don’t let him beat you deep” attention will be Peoples-Jones now that Beckham will be joining the Los Angeles Rams.

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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 down the field on average. Though he only has 15 catches on the year, he’s second on the Browns in receiving yards (314), behind only tight end David Njoku ‘s 341.

He also blew the top off the Bengals’ defense last week on this 66-yard bomb from Baker Mayfield.

Peoples-Jones has six of Cleveland’s 27 catches of more than 20 yards this season, so the Patriots can’t afford to fall asleep at the wheel when he’s running down the field.

Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, right, makes a tackle on Los Angeles Chargers running back Joshua Kelley (27) during the first half of an NFL football game Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. Browns rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was released from a Los Angeles-area hospital and cleared to travel after being treated and evaluated for a bruised throat. Owusu-Koramoah got hurt in the second half of Sunday’s 47-42 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull )

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

The rookie linebacker out of Notre Dame has missed the last three weeks with a high ankle sprain that landed him on IR. But Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods has told reporters he’s optimistic Owusu-Koramoah can play against New England on Sunday.

If he does, the Patriots will get an up-close-and-personal look at one of the best young linebackers in football.

Though listed as a linebacker, the man more conveniently 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 for a rookie and explodes into tackle ball-carriers like he’s been 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.

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But the young linebacker also owns PFF’s ninth-best coverage grade at his position as a rookie, painting a picture of the total package at linebacker.

The NFL made the mistake of allowing Owusu-Koramoah, a first-round talent, to fall 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. On Sunday, the Patriots will have to deal with him.

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