ReFo: Browns @ Patriots, Week 14
In a funny kind of way this game turned out exactly as expected, but it took an unusual path to get to that familiar result. The Browns haven’t beaten the Patriots in Foxboro since Bill Belichick was coaching them, and though they jumped out to a decent lead in this game and led for all but 6:08 of game time (5:47 of that coming before either side got on the scoreboard), it was the final seconds of action that snatched defeat from what had seemed assured victory not long before.
The Patriots had an ugly day for the most part, but you have to credit them for the way they were able to plug away at the deficit, putting themselves in a position to mount the comeback in a way not many teams can. In the end it was a dubious defensive pass interference call which was perhaps the game’s single most defining play, which for several reasons I think we can all agree is a shame.
But let’s take a look inside the game at who stood out either way.
Cleveland — Three Performances of Note
It wasn’t long ago that Jordan Cameron was just a guy people wanted to see get a few more targets and Josh Gordon was being talked about as a trade option for the Browns, but right now they form one of the most potent 1-2 passing combinations in the NFL. The pair was targeted 17 times in this game, and caught all but one of those passes for a total of 272 yards and two scores. Gordon also drew multiple flags against Aqib Talib who was simply overmatched in the encounter. While we can debate whether this Jordan Cameron was always there had he just been thrown the ball a little, Gordon looks to me a completely different physical specimen from his rookie season. He looks far more physically dominant and is putting that together with his talent for the game to form one of the league’s top receivers right now. His past few games have been setting franchise and all-time league marks and that’s without an All-Pro quarterback getting him the football. The Cleveland front office might have made the smartest decision of their new tenure by ignoring any trade phone calls they may have had for Gordon before the deadline.
Linebackers… Not Cornerbacks
I often wonder at times when linebackers are split out to cover running backs or tight ends how many snaps they have spent essentially playing cornerback on an island, which is what they’re being asked to do. For Craig Robertson if that answer is more than five it doesn’t show by the way he was trying to cover Shane Vereen in that exact scenario. Left totally exposed on the right side of the defense, Robertson was just blown by on Vereen’s way to a 50-yard reception and a play later was left for dead on a little circle route, again by Vereen. The only thing that might make Robertson feel better is that he won’t have the worst lowlight that gets thrown up on the Browns’ linebacker meeting room projector this week. MLB D’Qwell Jackson was pancaked by Danny Amendola, all 183lbs of him, down by the goal line as the Patriots punched the ball across the line.
The Best Pass Protector in Football
Joe Thomas, the best pass protecting LT in the game, still is. It’s been a while since I’ve said his name in any context so it’s probably worth reminding people that Thomas is still the guy who sets the standard in terms of keeping his quarterback clean. Despite the Browns dropping back from center an incredible distance most of the game, Thomas was able to see his man deep enough to provide a clean pocket for his quarterback and surrendered just two hurries from 49 pass blocking snaps. The Browns’ line as a whole did extremely well in this area in fact, combining to allow just a sack, a hit and five more hurries between the six of them (Jason Pinkston came in for LG John Greco and played 57 snaps).
New England — Three Performances of Note
Before this game, Sealver Siliga’s career was a total of 20 snaps old – four with the Broncos last year and 16 last week against Houston. The Patriots must have liked what they saw in limited action (he graded +1.2 at PFF) because he saw 53 snaps in this game, more than double his career total. He responded with some impressive play against the run, and looked like there was more to come. On a couple of occasions he had the beating of his man, tossing the blocker aside just a fraction too late to make a play on the running back coming past. This is the best I have seen any Patriots D-lineman play the run since the loss of Wilfork, and if the Patriots can start to lean on Siliga going forward then they may be able to start to readjust the rest of the defensive front to get more pass rush.
I’ve always though LeGarrette Blount was a better runner than many give him credit for. Maybe he’s got limitations, but games like this show his good side too. As part of a three-headed monster with Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, Blount was able to post 42 yards from his eight carries (5.3 per carry) and force a couple of missed tackles along the way. He also chipped in with a nice 32-yard reception. Ridley also made a couple of nice cuts running the football but wasn’t a factor in the passing game, while Vereen could only notch nine yards rushing (though one was a score) but hauled in 153 yards worth of receptions on fifteen targets. Vereen was, in fact, targeted five times more than any other Patriot, catching almost twice as many passes for more than twice as many yards.
AWOL Pass Rush
The Browns couldn’t have shown much more contempt for New England’s rush if they’d painted a target on Jason Campbell and offered to buy anybody who hit it a new car. They spent all game dropping Campbell back abnormally deep in the pocket – usually a green light for pass-rushers to shoot up field around slower offensive tackles – and let him hold the ball for plenty of time in his passes. Despite all that, the Patriots couldn’t really generate any rush to speak of. Only Rob Ninkovich managed more than two total pressures, getting a sack, a knockdown and four hurries from his day’s work, but even those plays were often slow to develop and required some help. In total, Campbell was pressured on just 10 drop-backs, while he was kept completely clean on 37. On those 37 snaps his passer rating was 120.3 and 14 points came from those throws.
– Aqib Talib gave up 141 of Josh Gordon’s 151 receiving yards, with the 80-yard touchdown a particular low moment. He was also flagged three times.
– When under pressure, Tom Brady had a passer rating of just 18.8 and a PFF grade of -5.2, but when kept clean those numbers were 112.9 and +4.1.
– Jason Campbell did not complete a pass that traveled more than 19 yards in the air despite drop-backs of 10+ yards in depth all day long.
PFF Game Ball
Catching all nine of his targets for 121 yards and a touchdown, I can’t look beyond Jordan Cameron here even in a losing effort.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam