Patriots

Why Sunday’s Patriots-Browns game might be determined in the trenches

Both teams are missing their top rushers and lack top-end talent at receiver, making the battle in the trenches all the more interesting.

The Patriots' offensive line will have a tough task to keep Mac Jones up when they face the Browns defensive line on Sunday. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Sunday’s Week 10 matchup between the Browns and Patriots could very well come down to the big men on each side.

That especially might be the case after injuries and COVID-19 affected both teams’ backfields this week. For the Browns, they’ll be without their top two running backs as Nick Chubb remains on the COVID-reserve list and Kareem Hunt is still on injured reserve. Chubb’s second in the league in rushing yards per game while Hunt’s added 87 rushing and receiving yards per game this season.

Meanwhile, the Patriots will be without their leading rusher, Damien Harris, and Rhamondre Stevenson, their No. 2 back, is still questionable to play due to a concussion.

With both teams already lacking top-end talent at receivers and having middle-of-the-pack quarterback play, it’s time for the lines to shine.

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The Browns enter Sunday’s game boasting one of the league’s best offensive lines. As a unit, their team pass block win rate (which determines how many of their blocks are longer than 2.5 seconds) is the best in the league at 55 percent.

A lot of the Browns’ pass blocking success comes from the interior. Starting left guard Joel Bitonio has the best pass block win rate for guards in the league (97 percent) while starting right guard Wyatt Teller is ninth (95 percent). Starting center JC Tretter ranks fifth among players in his position for pass block win rate (96 percent).

Cleveland isn’t as strong at tackle in terms of pass block win rate, especially with Jack Conklin out. Conklin, the Browns’ starting right tackle, ranks fifth among tackles in pass block win rate (and first among tackles run block win rate). Without Conklin, the Browns don’t have a starting tackle who rank in the top 10 in pass or run block win rate.

The Browns’ strong pass block win rate doesn’t bode well for the Patriots pass rush. New England’s pass rush win rate (which determines how often pass rushers shed their block in 2.5 seconds less) is 25th in the league at 38 percent.

The Patriots don’t have anyone who ranks in the top 10 in pass rush win rate at their respective positions either. Linebacker Matt Judon is tied for third in the league in sacks with nine, but only one other Patriots player has more than one sack this season (which is Jose Uche, who has three). So, if the Patriots do have success against the Browns’ passing game, it’ll likely have to be with their secondary making plays. Luckily for New England, its defensive backs have shined since it switched to more zone coverages to help start the three-game win streak.

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New England could have more success against the Browns’ ground game, especially with Chubb and Hunt out. The Browns’ offensive line ranks ninth in run block win rate (72 percent), but with Conklin out, Tretter is the only Browns lineman who ranks in the top 10 at their respective position in that stat (coming in at ninth-best among centers).

The Patriots, meanwhile, have the eighth-best run stop win rate in the league (32 percent). Deatrich Wise is the only Patriots defensive lineman to rank in the top 10 among players at their respective position in run stop win rate (coming at eighth among edge players). But the Patriots have done better at stopping the run in recent weeks. They gave up just 78 rushing yards last week to the Panthers, who got Christian McCaffrey back for that game.

Flipping things around, the Patriots’ offensive line will have its hands full against the Browns’ pass rush. Cleveland has the best pass rush win rate in the league (55 percent) and sacks leader Myles Garrett has the best pass rush win rate in the league, too (29 percent). Not only do the Browns have the best player in terms of pass rush win rate, but they also have the second-best player in the league at that stat with Jadeveon Clowney (28 percent) sitting right behind Garrett.

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Malik McDowell also ranks seventh among defensive tackles in pass rush win rate (15 percent) to help round out the Browns’ defensive line.

The Patriots are in the middle-of-the-pack in terms of pass block win rate, sitting at 14th (60 percent). However, the pass blocking’s been better in recent weeks as they’ve allowed just four sacks in three games. That could be in part of Ted Karras becoming the team’s starting left guard. He ranks 10th among guards in pass block win rate (95 percent) and David Andrews ranks sixth among centers (95 percent).

Even though the Patriots don’t have a top 10 pass block win rate tackle, they might have reinforcement for Sunday’s game. Trent Brown was activated from IR on Saturday, making him eligible to play on Sunday. If he does play, he’ll likely start at left or right tackle.

New England’s rushing situation for Sunday’s game already didn’t look good in the head-to-head battle of its offensive line vs. Cleveland’s defensive line. The Patriots rank 25th in run block rate (68 percent) while the Browns are ninth in run stop rate (32 percent). Compound that with Harris being out and Stevenson potentially being out, the Patriots appear to likely have a tough time moving the ball on the ground in Sunday’s game.

Andrews does rank well in run block win rate (fifth among centers), and with the Browns not having a standout player in run stop win rate, maybe the Patriots could find some success running the ball in the interior. However, Brandon Bolden and J.J. Taylor, who are the other two Patriots running backs on the active roster, have primarily been used in passing situations this season.

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So, if the win rates in the trenches determine who wins Sunday, it appears the Browns have an edge. But they play the games for a reason, and with the Patriots on a three-game win streak, maybe they can use their recent fortune to win in the trenches.

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