Patriots Report Card: Grading Each Position After Win Over Browns

Another big day for Bailey Zappe -- and New England's defense


Oct 18, 2022

The New England Patriots took down the Cleveland Browns 38-15 on Sunday. Here’s a closer look at how each position group fared in that Week 6 matchup:

Bailey Zappe was promising in Week 4 relief appearance. In his first NFL start, he was impressive. Sunday was yet another step forward for the fourth-round rookie.

Starting his second straight game in place of the injured Mac Jones, Zappe went 24-for-34 for 309 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions and one lost fumble, becoming the first rookie QB in the Super Bowl era to win his first two starts and post a 100-plus passer rating in both.

Zappe was not flustered by the Browns’ aggressive pass-rush plan (11-for-15, 186 yards, two touchdowns when blitzed, per Pro Football Focus, with a couple of nifty backfield escapes), and he feasted off play-action. Even with the Patriots’ run game scuffling for much of the afternoon, Zappe went 7-for-8 for 165 yards and one score on passes that featured a play-fake, averaging an eye-popping 20.6 yards per attempt on those throws.

Play-action also was a major asset for Zappe in Week 5. Against Detroit, he was 6-of-7 for 88 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Remarkably, he’s posted a perfect 158.3 passer rating on play-action passes in each of his two starts, with the Patriots utilizing it on 31.6% of his dropbacks. In Jones’ three starts, New England used play-action just 10.8% of the time, the lowest mark of any starting QB this season. With how beneficial it’s been for his replacement, the Patriots should continue to heavily feature play-action once Jones returns. (Whether that return is imminent is another question that’ll be hotly debated this week.)

The cons from Zappe’s latest outing? He was flagged for intentional grounding and delay of game, he misfired on back-to-back throws to DeVante Parker and Hunter Henry to stall one drive, and he hesitated on a goal-line pass to Henry. That delay allowed a Browns defender to force the tight end out of bounds during his route, resulting in a penalty for illegal touching that nullified a touchdown.

Rhamondre Stevenson’s 31-yard touchdown run shortly before halftime was one of the game’s most important plays, and he was a workhorse with Damien Harris (hamstring) inactive. Stevenson played 86% of offensive snaps (60 of 70) and didn’t take a play off until late in the third quarter.

But Cleveland’s run defense — the worst in the NFL by some metrics — actually succeeded in limiting the hard-charging second-year pro for most of the game. Outside of his long scoring run, Stevenson managed just 45 yards on 18 carries, an average of 2.5 yards per attempt. He also was stuffed on three goal-line carries and again on a third-and-2.

Stevenson did contribute in the passing game with four catches on five targets for 15 yards, including a 6-yarder on third-and-5 in the fourth quarter, and he punched in a garbage-time touchdown on a third-and-goal carry from the 6.

Rookies Kevin Harris (12 snaps) and Pierre Strong (four) saw most of their action in garbage time, with Harris carrying three times for 5 yards and Strong picking up 5 yards on his lone rush. The Patriots also deployed Harris and Stevenson together in an old-school goal-line pro set, which they’d previously used in their Week 2 win over the Steelers.

Key blocks from Mike Onwenu and David Andrews helped clear a massive hole for Stevenson on his 31-yard score, which broke a 3-3 tie late in the first half. Those two also were at the point of attack on Stevenson’s other TD.

The rest run game was a bit of a slog, and this was another rough outing for Isaiah Wynn, who was benched for the second time in three weeks after allowing a Myles Garrett strip-sack late in the first quarter. Wynn also had a false start earlier, upping his NFL-leading penalty count to eight on the season, and finished with an almost-impossible PFF pass-blocking grade of 5.0 (out of 100). We’ll see if this is the week Marcus Cannon finally starts over him at right tackle.

Left tackle Trent Brown also committed two penalties (one false start, one hold) and surrendered a sack to Garrett, who was by far the Browns’ most impactful defender. The rest of Cleveland’s pass rushers combined for just three QB hits and no sacks.

This easily was the best game of the season for Henry and Jonnu Smith, who were largely invisible for the opening month. Henry caught four passes for 61 yards and shook safety Grant Delpit for an easy 31-yard touchdown. It was a long-awaited return to the end zone for a player who led the Patriots with nine receiving touchdowns in 2021.

Delpit said the Browns were anticipating a run on the play since the Patriots were facing a third-and-1. He came in motion with Henry and then slipped and fell as the tight end stutter-stepped past him.

After posting a meager 4-51-0 receiving line over the first four games, Henry has eight catches for 115 yards and a touchdown over Zappe’s two starts. He also laid a key block on Stevenson’s second-quarter touchdown run. Head coach Bill Belichick said Henry’s blocking has “really improved this year.” Henry also revealed Monday that he played most of last season with a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery to repair, which could partially explain his slow start.

Smith, who missed the previous game with an ankle injury, caught just two passes in his return to the lineup, but one was a 53-yard catch-and-run that showcased his rare ability to make plays with the ball in his hands. The other was an 8-year screen on second-and-9 that set up Henry’s score.

This marked the first time Henry and Smith both surpassed 50 receiving yards in the same game since they joined the Patriots last season. It was just Smith’s second 50-plus-yard effort in a New England uniform.

There wasn’t one standout performer in this group, but Zappe was an efficient 13-for-16 when targeting his wideouts, averaging 11.2 yards per attempt on those throws.

Parker had the catch of the day, skying over cornerback Martin Emerson on the Patriots’ opening drive. He caught a couple of slants in traffic and finished with four receptions for a team-high 64 yards.

Jakobi Meyers posted a similar stat line (4-61-0) and pulled down 20- and 27-yard receptions from Zappe. Meyers also drew two defensive pass interference penalties — both on third down — but also was flagged twice himself, once for a false start and once for an illegal block in the back.

Kendrick Bourne had one third-down conversion — 17 yards on third-and-7 — before a toe injury forced him from the game after just four snaps. His absence, coupled with that of Nelson Agholor (inactive, hamstring), led to an expanded role for rookie Tyquan Thornton, who played 40 snaps and scored the first two touchdowns of his young NFL career.

The first came on a goal-line slant, with Thornton’s slick footwork at the snap allowing him to separate from cornerback Greedy Williams. On the second, he took a jet-sweep handoff and used his elite speed and a key Henry block to sprint untouched into the end zone.

Limiting arguably the NFL’s best rushing attack to 70 yards was impressive enough. The Patriots did it with one of their top D-linemen inactive (Lawrence Guy, who missed his third straight game with a shoulder injury) and another leaving with an injury before halftime (Christian Barmore). Credit Daniel Ekuale (26 snaps), Carl Davis (22) and rookie Sam Roberts (22) for stepping into larger roles in their absence and helping Davon Godchaux and Deatrich Wise bottle up Nick Chubb (12 carries, 56 yards) and Kareem Hunt (four carries, 12 yards).

Wise was a menace as a pass rusher, racking up a team- and season-high seven pressures and sacking Jacoby Brissett once while playing more than 83% of defensive snaps for the fifth time in six games. The first-year captain also swatted down a pass at the line and forced a fumble. Godchaux chipped in with a sack, as well, and provided the pressure that triggered a late-game fumble that Davis recovered.

The lone blemish for this group: a Davis encroachment penalty that gave the Browns a first down.

Matthew Judon’s sack streak ended at five games, but he brought consistent pressure on Brissett and had three run stuffs, including a tackle for loss and a stonewalled QB sneak on fourth-and-1. Anfernee Jennings and ex-Brown Mack Wilson split a sack, and Ja’Whaun Bentley drilled Brissett to help create a Jalen Mills interception. This group also had a large hand in stifling Cleveland’s Chubb-led ground game.

Kyle Dugger and Mills grabbed interceptions on ill-advised Brissett heaves, with Dugger’s coming on the second play of the game. Rookie Marcus Jones might have had another had the Patriots challenged his third-quarter pass breakup (replays revealed he might have gotten his knee down in bounds).

With starter Jonathan Jones out with an ankle injury, the Patriots rotated Mills, Marcus Jones and Jack Jones at outside cornerback, and all three provided sticky coverage throughout, teaming up to hold top Browns wideout to four catches on 12 targets for 44 yards. Jack Jones blanked Cooper on his three targets, including a long incompletion that Jones celebrated by taunting the Cleveland crowd.

Nearly every New England DB allowed one tight-coverage completion — Cooper beat slot man Myles Bryant for a touchdown on one — but little else. Six of them tallied PBUs.

Dugger was responsible for one of the only true coverage breakdowns when he lost David Njoku on a 33-yard gain, but the third-year safety was excellent otherwise, bringing his trademark physicality as a run defender and bulldozing Hunt on one especially emphatic pass rush.

Nick Folk missed his first sub-50-yard field goal since Week 1 of last season, breaking his NFL-record streak of 64 consecutive makes. Later, the Patriots botched an onside kick recovery while holding a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter, only to be bailed out because the recovering Browns player stepped out of bounds as he dove on the loose ball. There also was an early breakdown in kickoff coverage that resulted in a 27-yard return for Chester Rogers.

These types of sporadic special teams miscues have been commonplace for New England, which now likely will be without Cody Davis moving forward after the kicking-game stalwart went down with what appeared to be a serious knee injury. Jake Bailey also shanked one 35-yard punt, and Marcus Jones failed to reach the 25-yard line on either of his kickoff returns.

This was another big game for Brenden Schooler, though. The undrafted rookie had two special teams tackles (one solo) and recovered a Rogers muffed punt to help the Patriots pull away late.

Thumbnail photo via Scott Galvin/USA TODAY Sports Images
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