Browns vs. Patriots: Four things to watch

Posted at 12:04 PM, Oct 09, 2016

The Browns are returning home Sunday to play the New England Patriots. If you're wondering what to watch for during the game, the Cleveland Browns have some insight:

Establish the run

Behind Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr., the Browns have found something of an offensive identity in a run game that leads the league with almost 150 yards per game. The pair find themselves ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in average yards per carry and Crowell — who has been the team’s feature back — is ranked only behind Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott in total yards.

As expected, the Browns will try and establish the run against the Patriots while ensuring they strike an offensive balance in order to keep New England at bay.

“It is just my philosophy and thought process. I think your team has to be tough. I think the only way to do that is by having the dynamic of running the ball,” head coach Hue Jackson said.

“More so than that, that is what Cleveland really and truly is all about. You think about (Pro Football Hall of Fame running back) Jim Brown and what he has meant to the organization and to pro football, you have to be able to run the football. That’s part of the tough part of this game, the nuts and bolts of the game, in my opinion, is being able to run the ball when it’s grind time.”

The Patriots, of course, will try to slow down the Browns run game with a defense that’s known to take away their opponents’ strengths.

“That will be a tremendous challenge for us on Sunday,” associate head coach - offense Pep Hamilton said Friday, “but it’s always our goal to let those guys go and make plays.”

Two of the best

The Browns will face an unusual challenge Sunday in having to prepare for arguably two of the league’s best tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. While Gronk is a household name, Bennett has quietly emerged as a threat in both New England’s pass and run games.

“They are two of the best players at their position, in my opinion, in the league. Obviously, we have to do things to try to take those guys away,” Jackson said. “It is a running set. It is a passing set. You can do a lot of different things when you have two guys like that playing tight end because you split them out and they do it all. It will be a good matchup.”

Perhaps further compounding matters is how the Browns have struggled against tight ends this season. Eagles tight end Zach Ertz caught six passes for 58 yards, Baltimore’s Dennis Pitta had nine catches for 102 yards and Washington’s Jordan Reed last weekend hauled in nine catches for 73 yards and two touchdowns.

Ball security

After committing three late turnovers in a loss to Washington last weekend, Jackson on Monday pointed to the miscues as something of a “continued learning lesson” for a young team.

“Our lesson to take away from yesterday’s game is turnovers. It is something that I have talked about since the day I walked in here,” he said.

“We have to make sure we take care of the ball, and we have to get the ball away from the other team. We didn’t do that very well as a football team yesterday. On offense, we had three consecutive turnovers in a row. I thought the first one kind of started to turn the tide a little bit.”

Brady’s return

After serving a four-game suspension, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady makes his 2016 debut at FirstEnergy Stadium.

And Brady, who enters his 17th season, has the respect of Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

“I love playing against him. He presents a unique challenge, and I think I have stated many times I believe he is the best quarterback ever, the greatest draft pick ever. I just like going against him,” Horton said Friday.

“He is a competitor, and you want to be measured against the best. It gives you a good indication of where you are. We talked about it. For our players, obviously, we have gone back and looked at the preseason game where he has played, last year’s regular season games and playoff games where he has played. I’m excited because you do, I think you love seeing great athletes at any level of any sport play, and he is one of them.”

Considered one of the greatest players of all time, Brady has won four Super Bowls with New England and passed for 4,770 yards and 36 touchdowns last season.