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New England Patriots

L-R: Browns DE Myles Garrett, Patriots LB Matthew Judon

It seems like each week, we’re talking about the Patriots facing the best pass rush they’ve faced this season. That’s once again the case this week, leading into Sunday’s meeting with the Cleveland Browns.

Cleveland’s edge rushing duo is made up of NFL sack leader Myles Garrett – who has gotten to the quarterback 12 times so far this year – and newly-signed Jadeveon Clowney. As a group, the Browns’ defense is second in the league with 27 sacks, and ranks third with 37 knockdowns. That’s all despite blitzing just 20.8 percent of the time, which ranks in the bottom third of the league.

If the Patriots want to be able to go punch-for-punch with a physical Cleveland team, they’ll have to hold off that pass rush and protect Mac Jones. At the same time, they’ll need to generate pressure of their own and make life difficult on an injured Baker Mayfield, who may not have a full-strength rushing attack to make his life easier.

Where are the most intriguing head-to-head battles in the trenches? Let’s take a look with this week’s key matchups…

  • When New England has the ball: Isaiah Wynn vs. Myles Garrett

    It feels like this caveat goes on at least one matchup each week now, but this is of course assuming that Garrett will play. The 25-year-old missed practice both Wednesday and Thursday with a foot injury.

    If he does play, he’ll be matched up against Patriots left tackle Isaiah Wynn for the majority of, if not the whole game. It’s yet another tough matchup for Wynn, who battles Brian Burns last week with mixed results.

    Wynn likely won’t be on an island – expect the Patriots to combo block Garrett and chip him with backs and tight ends in the passing game. But it’s all easier said than done against Garrett, who may be the best rusher in the game. If the Patriots can keep him quiet, it will be a major boost for the offense as a whole.

  • When Cleveland has the ball: Jedrick Wills Jr. vs. Matthew Judon

    Myles Garrett may lead the NFL in sacks, but Matthew Judon is right behind him. Judon’s nine sacks through nine games are tied for second-most in the league.

    For Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, he has a tendency to snowball, for better or for worse. If he plays well early in the game, he builds on that confidence and can really be dangerous. But if the Patriots can upset his timing early, he could get frustrated and lose focus. Nobody on the Patriots gets pressure like Judon, so it will be up to him to re-introduce himself to Mayfield as early as possible (they spent three years in the same division when Judon was with the Ravens).

    This week, Judon will face Jedrick Wills Jr., the 10th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Wills struggled with consistency at times last year. He committed a league-high 11 penalties in 15 games. He’s been better this year, committing just three penalties (one hold, two false starts) while allowing just one sack.

    Can Judon force Wills back into error-filled football? Can get get Mayfield’s attention early? If he does, it could be a long day for the Browns’ offense. Keep in mind Judon is bringing dad strength into this game – he had a daughter born on Wednesday.

  • Bonus: Christian Barmore vs. JC Tretter

    Judon has been especially effective in recent weeks as the Patriots have started running more rushing combinations with him and rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore. Barmore is really starting to come into his own, and his performance against the Panthers last week may be the best of his young career so far.

    This week, he’ll work against eight-year NFL veteran JC Tretter. Tretter is dealing with a knee injury, and was limited in practice on Wednesday before not participating on Thursday. The Patriots could look to send extra pressure his way, centered around Barmore.

    Barmore could face a new kind of test as well. Early in the season he was used almost exclusively in pass rush situations. He’s played more as the season has gone on, but the Patriots have also played more pass-heavy teams. The Browns run the ball more than almost any other team – 48.8 percent of their plays are run calls which is the third-highest rate in the NFL. How Barmore holds up against the run, or if he plays a reduced role in place of run-stopping specialists, is something to monitor.