Tale Of The Tape: Cleveland Browns At New England Patriots
- QuarterbackThe Browns continue to rack up quarterback injuries. Brandon Weeden suffered a concussion late in the Week 13 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and he will have to go through the concussion protocol before he can play against the Patriots. If Weeden or Cambell can’t go, look for Caleb Hanie, who the Browns signed on Tuesday, possibly get the start over Alex Tanney.While Tom Brady was struggling in the first half of the season, he has been on top of his game since Rob Gronkowski returned to the New England lineup. Brady has three 300-plus yard games in his last four starts and he has been distributing the ball with accuracy and confidence. Brady has completed 60.7 percent of his passes and he has a 19-8 TD-interception ratio.
- OffenseThe Cleveland running attack has been a liability for much of the season, but if running back Chris Ogbonnaya is going to have an impact, it should be against New England’s soft run defense. Wide receiver Josh Gordon is a remarkable talent who became the first player in NFL history with back-to-back 200-yard receiving games. Tight end Jordan Cameron is a fine red zone target.The return of Rob Gronkowski to the lineup has given the Patriots a much more productive offense since the tight end almost always finds a way to get open and he is an excellent runner after the catch. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are solid complementary receivers. Shane Vereen appears to be getting the bulk of the work in the New England running game since Stevan Ridley has a fumbling problem.
- DefenseThe Browns have played quite well on defense this year and they rank fourth in yards allowed. Middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson leads the Browns with 103 tackles and he has also been credited with five passes defensed. Cornerback Joe Haden has a team-high four interceptions and 21 passes defensed, but he will have some lapses in coverage.The Patriots have been hit hard by injuries to Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo that have hurt them when defending the run, but the return of cornerback Aqib Talib makes them much tougher against the pass. Defensive end Chandler Jones has a team-high 10.5 sacks and is a credible pass rusher. Linebacker Rob Ninkovich has 71 tackles, 5.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
- Special TeamsThe Browns do a solid job in their kickoff and punt coverage, and they have gotten a punt return for a touchdown from Travis Benjamin. Billy Cundiff is not the kind of kicker who is going to fearlessly make long field goals when the game is on the line.The Patriots have been quite solid in their special teams coverage this year, as they have not given up a punt return of longer than 23 yards. Edelman has a lot of quickness and needs just a crack to break a long play. Stephen Gostkowski has made 28-of-30 FG attempts, including 4-of-5 from 50-plus yards.
The Patriots have an excellent chance at winning the No. 2 seed and gaining a bye in the first round of the playoffs, but they need to win out and hope the Broncos lose if they are going to make sure the AFC playoffs run through Foxboro. Look for New England to take charge early in this game. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports contributor