Browns must find a way to stop Patriots Rhamondre Stevenson

Patriots, Rhamondre Stevenson. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Patriots, Rhamondre Stevenson. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

Rhamondre Stevenson left cleat marks all over the Detroit Lions’ defensive front last week, so will the Cleveland Browns do any better?

New England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson, a big, 229-pound, 6-foot-tall back out of Oklahoma, ran all over the Detroit Lions in Week 5 and threatens to do the same thing to the Cleveland Browns in Week 6. Stevenson gained 161 yards on 25 carries, averaging 6.4 yards per tote. He also added two receptions for 14 yards.

Stevenson is actually the second-string back, with Damien Harris as the bell cow. However, Harris pulled a hamstring against the Lions. The Patriots were already operating with their third-string quarterback, rookie Bailey Zappe since Mac Jones is out with an ankle sprain and Brian Hoyer is on IR after a concussion.

Stevenson is now in his second year, having started only two games last season and racked up 606 yards and five TDs. His career yards per carry average is 4.87, which is pretty good, especially when you take into account that many of his carries come in short-yardage situations.

New England can run behind two guys in particular who may be Asgardian refugees rather than normal homo sapiens. Trent Brown is 6-foot-8 and 370 pounds and plays tackle, and Michael Onwenu is 6-foot-3 and 350 pounds at guard. If you look at the report cards from Pro Football Focus, there are no weaknesses on the offensive line.

The Browns, for their part, tend to be enamored with mobile, lighter bodies on their defensive front who can get after Lamar Jackson. After losing starters Malik Jackson and Malik McDowell in the offseason, Cleveland’s main acquisition at defensive tackle was Taven Bryan, a lighter pass-rushing specialist at 291 pounds.

They also rotate Tommy Togiai (296 pounds) and Jordan Elliott (303 pounds) alongside Bryan. For defensive tackles, they are downright svelte. Pro Football Focus grades Togiai and Elliott among the lowest-ranked interior linemen in the NFL.

Rookie Perrion Winfrey, all 290 pounds of him, has been somewhat better but has been a disciplinary issue. The Browns seem disinclined to give him game snaps.

If Browns fans hate the two-tight-end concept as applied by their offense, they’re about to see it applied against their own defense with Hunter Henry (6-foot-5 and 250 pounds) and Jonnu Smith (6-foot-3 and 248 pounds), though Smith missed the Lions game with a sprained ankle and his availability is week-to-week.

Cleveland will be countering these tight ends with Jeremiah Owusu Koramoah, at 221 pounds, as well as Jacob Phillips at 228 pounds. This defense is giving up quite a lot of mass at the line of scrimmage.

Speaking of giving up things, the Browns gave up 7.0 yards per carry to the Los Angeles Chargers. They better figure something out versus New England.

At the beginning of the season, it was realized that the Browns were going to be without superstar-in-waiting Deshaun Watson for 11 games. There hasn’t been this much suspense since the Brits were waiting for Prince Charles to assume the throne in his seventh decade. However, lacking a top quarterback was not necessarily the kiss of death, according to many of us who felt that a Nick Chubb-led running attack might partially compensate for a deficient passing game if-and only if — they could play excellent defense.

The Patriots, who of course are coached by Bill Bellichick, the former Cleveland coach from 1990 through the 1994 season when the original Browns moved to Baltimore, demonstrated the method against Detroit, shutting out the pathetic kitties 29-0, including six stops on fourth down.

Meanwhile, for all the whining that it is impossible to win with a backup quarterback, third-stringer Zappe efficiently managed the game and racked up 29 points without really slinging the pigskin. That’s complementary football. Billy ball, as we used to call it when Bellichick was in Cleveland.

The previous week, Zappe and the Patriots took the Green Bay Packers and big bad Aaron Rodgers to overtime, so let’s please not hear about how backups cannot win in the NFL. Yes, they can, but they need a lot of help.

However, all bets are off if the team is soft against the run. In fact, the worst thing a writer can say about a defense is that they are soft against the run. Does that term apply to the Browns? Well, the numbers say they gave up 7.0 yards per carry versus the Chargers. For the season, they are currently bottom five with 138.2 yards per game and it is getting worse. Fans can construe that any way they wish.

Also, there was some flack about coach Brandon Staley acting disrespectfully toward the Browns’ defense in making the infamous fourth-and-two decision to go for the first down rather than punt late in the game. Well, that’s true. However, this defense certainly earned disrespect by giving up 7.0 yards per carry. Perhaps the comments by Myles Garrett and others weren’t complaints about the coach’s behavior (as they were generally interpreted), but simply a statement of fact, a recognition that they had failed to intimidate anyone.

On Tuesday, the players will find out that they won’t get much love and sympathy from the Browns coaching staff, either.

There need to be some major adjustments made to address the Patriots and their big offensive line and straight-ahead running back or it could be another long afternoon this Sunday. Somehow they need to devote more resources to stop the run.

Perhaps some players who have been ineffective need to be sat down. Maybe they need the formation that puts the 11 best players on the field rather than the exact formation and player group designed for the specific situation.

Who can say? But whether they used against the Chargers needs to be modified because they were unable to stop the run and it is not going to be easier versus the Patriots.