BEREA, Ohio — Bill Belichick is known for taking away what his opposition’s offense does best.
It probably didn’t take Belichick too much time to figure out what the Browns do best–try to get the ball to Josh Gordon.
“He’s played good all year,” Belichick said earlier in the week on a conference call. “You see the same things all year. The plays he’s made the last couple weeks are the same plays he’s made all year. He’s a great player. He can attack all three levels of the defense. He can run through them, he can take the short plays, catch-and-run plays, crossing patterns, look patterns, plays like that, quick three-step drops and break tackles. He’s very good on the intermediate routes, the in-cuts, the crossing routes, comebacks, stop-routes, things like that that attack the middle levels of the defense. He’s a complete player that can run fast, catch, big target and make a lot of yards on his own after the catch with his speed, size and running ability.”
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Jason Campbell expects Belichick and the Patriots to focus on Gordon.
“What (the Patriots) try to do is take away what you do best,” Campbell said.
Gordon has 1,249 yards on the season and needs just 41 yards to surpass the best receiving yardage totals in Browns history. Gordon admitted the record will be something special, but would rather have the Browns win.
“For me to attain a record like that for an entire organization, as long as this Cleveland Brown organization has been around, it’s a big thing,” Gordon said. “But, I’d like more wins than individual records.”
The Patriots held the Saints Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham without a catch earlier this season by putting Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib on him and held the Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas to his season low of 41 yards.
“They do a great job of taking away, making you play left-handed, taking away your strengths,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “They always have. Some of that opens up other opportunities. We just have to adjust to what they’re doing. Our biggest deal is not getting the ball to Josh. We need to get first downs. We did that last week. We had 24 first downs. If you give us opportunities to run the ball, we’ll run the ball. I thought we did that last week. The No. 1 thing we have to do, I said the same exact thing the last time we spoke, we’ve got to eliminate the turnovers. If we had not turned the ball over last week we would have been in great position to win the game.”
Turner said he thinks whatever they do to Gordon, he will be up for the challenge.
“We’ve played against good corners,” Turner said. “The biggest thing is we haven’t had a team just say, ‘We’re going to go up and play man and lock down.’ We’ve seen a variety of coverages, a good mix of coverages. So I think Josh has benefitted from that because we move him around a lot and we put him in position to make plays. That’s the next step, when you get a corner that’s a top-level corner and he comes up and says, ‘Hey I’m just going to play man all day,’ then it becomes a little bit of a different type of competition.
“Well when they get up and bang you and really work over the receivers, they usually have a safety over the top,” he said. “The place they really work guys over, the backs and tight ends coming out of the backfield, they do a good job. So it does open up opportunities to run the ball if you can run the ball. It’s going to be a mix and hopefully Josh gets his opportunities and I think he will.”
Gordon said he’s up for the challenge.
“I’m pretty sure (Talib) will make some plays, but I’m definitely going to make more plays,” Gordon said. “Definitely looking forward to that challenge. I’ve never played this team. I hold this team in high regard for their past, their coaching staff and the guys they have on their team and what they’ve done. They might double team me, they might not. If they do give me that look we’re prepared for it, for the double team, we’ve been practicing for it but if they don’t and they single me up we plan to exploit it.”
Turner said he’s had some of the great receivers he’s coached, including Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin get shut down.
“I’ve been with some really good receivers who have been shut out, so if a defense wants to just completely eliminate you, I’ve seen it been done,” he said. “We work hard not to have that happen. If it was Michael Irvin, I had to hear about it for a week. So we’re going to do everything we can to get guys involved.”
During training camp, Gordon was criticized for taking plays off. However, Gordon insisted that wasn’t true.
“Apparently, what I do on the field, it’s backing itself up,” Gordon said. “So people say I’m loafing, but I feel as though I’m going 100 percent out there on the field.”
Gordon said his best time in the 40-yard dash was 4.37. Turner said Gordon’s speed is deceptive and his effort is there.
“No he can run,” he said. “He can run. I don’t think anyone ever questioned that. We sat out here, that’s why I don’t pay attention to all of the people who come in here one or two days and watch practice. We sat here in August and everyone complained that the guy (Gordon) doesn’t work hard , he doesn’t run routes, he doesn’t finish. That was the last, in that four minutes left in the (Jaguars) game, he had probably run, he had already caught nine balls for 150 yards. I didn’t see him not run a route full speed and he goes 95 yards and pulls away from some pretty fast guys.
“The play that was equally impressive was the Hail Mary,” he said. “If you put a clock on it, I’m sure the 40-yard dash time would be incredible because he was running as hard as you could run, hoping he had a chance to make a play. All this August talk is just talk. He’s a young player that’s maturing and getting a lot better and I think he can really get a lot better. We just need to keep working the way we’ve been working, the way he’s been working.”
Turner was asked to compare Gordon to some of the great receivers in the NFL.
“I wouldn’t do that to anybody,” he said. “Obviously, he’s proven he can be an elite receiver in this league in terms of production because he’s already doing that in terms of 1,200 yards in the number of games he’s played. Now I’m always telling guys, I’ve been around a lot of guys that had a great game. I’ve been around some guys that had a great year. The great ones, that you’re talking about, do it week-to-week-to-week and then they do it two years in a row, then they do it three years in row, then they do it four years in a row. Then you do it like that and people can start comparing you to some of the people you’re asking about.”
Seeing Red: Horton admitted the defense’s inability to stop the Jaguars on the game-winning drive last week was tough.
“Very disappointing, I think on everybody’s part, especially our defense,” Horton said. “To be put in a situation where the offense and Josh (Gordon) had done an outstanding job of getting us the lead with I think 3:17 left in the game, and for us to not seal the deal was very disappointing. We had jumped offsides on the play, a potential sack-fumble that was negated. They hit a pass down the sideline and then at the very end, (Jaguars) Cecil Shorts ran the double route that was completed. I think everybody was highly, highly disappointed and probably nobody more so than Joe (Haden), who took it very hard. For that, I think shows outstanding character that it means that much to him. I think, I believe if you’d ask him before, he’d love to be the guy that they throw at to make the play. As happens in this league, it didn’t happen that particular time and he’s done that obviously a lot more than he had not for this year. It’s just unfortunate that he had happened to catch it on that particular play.”
Horton felt it was a chance to show what the defense could do with the game on the line.
“Yeah, you do,” he said. “I think if you want to make a statement, I think people talk about statement games, players do it within the league about certain games are statement games, you do. You want, you relish, you should say, ‘Hey, put it on us.’ Great players would say, ‘Not only put it on us, but put it on me,’ that they throw the ball in that situation or try to, to get the sack.
“That’s how you make a name, a reputation, in this league of big-time players making big-time plays in big-time games,” he said. “I would hope most of our guys would want to be in that situation, I know I did. I wanted it to be kind of like what we talked about in the halftime of the Kansas City game, being maybe an epiphany of how good we can be. Those are kind of drives, if you will, that cement, or help, build that legacy, that legend, that ability to be mentioned as a good top defense.”
Horton also said he’s not happy with the way the Browns have played inside the 20-yard line. The Browns are near the bottom of the NFL in that department.
“It’s touchdown percentage,” he said. “No question we’re below average. We’re 28th in the league. That puts you in the bottom third, but we’re four away from 12. So that number, is it bad? It’s awful, for me, because I’m used to being one or two the last two years. OK? So, is it awful? It’s hideous to me. But how far away from average, which we don’t want to be, we’re four stops from average. We’re five away from No. 9. That category is bunched up. Those are scoring opportunities, that you allow your offense to go down and have to get seven (points) instead of 14, or three instead of seven. They’re huge swings in the game.”
Horton was asked what has happened in the Red Zone.
“What’s happened? Early in the season, I would say it was poor play,” he said. “Right now, I would say that we just haven’t made a half of a stop a game, and that’s all there is. I don’t guarantee you, I would assume if we had four more stops, there wouldn’t even be a question. You guys would go to the next area, which was third down, which I believe we’ve fixed, and if we had those two areas fixed, you guys wouldn’t even be here.
“You’d be out having lunch right now,” he said. “So, I understand there are two areas that need to be fixed. I believe we’ve fixed one of them, the third down. The red zone is four stops from being average, which we don’t want to be, so that’s why I always say the glass is half full vs. half empty. I don’t think it’s gloom and doom. That’s why I use the sisyphus thing. It’s not an uphill battle, that the rocks are going to come back and pound us on the head all the time. I don’t see us that way.
“I go back to Green Bay,” he continued. “Green Bay is the only one I can think of off the top of my head that hasn’t been a one-score game (entering the fourth quarter). The Green Bay game was either a 17 or a 16-6 (a two-score game) in the fourth quarter, when we had a turnover that was taken off the board; that’s the NFL. You better prepare yourself to come down in the fourth quarter to a drive; those swings are what put you over the top and get you wins. And I’ve been in many games that are close where you walk away winning 17-14, 14-13, and you have the same kind of numbers but you get the win and nothing else matters. Nothing else matters but winning.”
High Respect for Brady: Horton has the highest respect for QB Tom Brady, who was a sixth-round draft choice from Michigan.
“My opinion, Tom Brady is the greatest draft pick in the history of the NFL,” Horton said. “I know a lot of old names, and I wasn’t back there drafting in the old days, but when you look at what Tom Brady has done, from where he came from, I believe he’s the best draft pick in the history of football. I might go so far to say he’s the greatest player that’s ever played. That’s not just because we’re playing him, that’s my belief. The things he’s overcome, the way his will, his heart, his probably preparation for the game, I don’t know if there’s a better NFL player in the history of the game than Tom Brady.”
Horton was asked how to slow Brady down.
“To answer your question, how do you do it? It’s hard to,” he said. “You’ve got to give him different looks. You’ve got to pressure him. You’ve got to play at your best, because I’m pretty sure he’s going to prepare, and he won’t take any game, any opponent lightly. So, it’s an ultimate test for me I think as a coordinator, this one player. I think he’s everything you want in a franchise quarterback. I think his love for the game is outstanding. I think his ability to read defenses, to throw, and probably one of the best things about this guy from afar, I’ve never been on the same team, is his ability to make his teammates better.”
No Sentimental Bill: Belichick was asked if he still has any fondness for his first head coaching job with the Browns.
“I was there for five years,” he said. “It was five important years in my life, for myself, my family and all that. Obviously we’ve all moved on and I have a job to do here. That’s where my loyalty is, to Robert [Kraft] and the Patriots organization and this football team. [It’s] no different than how I feel, honestly, about the Colts or the Lions or the Broncos. I feel differently about the Jets, I wouldn’t put them in that category, but you know. It’s good experiences with all those teams and I learned from them and grew as a coach and as a person and as a family. It was for a different time in a different place. This is where we are now; try to make the most out of this one.”
McFadden Ready: With DB Chris Owens being placed on injured reserve this week, rookie DB Leon McFadden will be moving into the third cornerback role. Horton said he’s ready.
“For me, probably the biggest word to use for me is either trust or accountability,” he said. “I believe you’re accountable to your teammates and I have to be able to trust you. He has that now. He has my trust to go into a game, he’s prepared hard, he’s worked hard on the field and he’s earned his chance to play. He is one of our starters in waiting and he’ll play for us and I expect him to do well.”
QB Tom Brady will likely test McFadden early and often in the three receiver set. Brady throws to a number of receivers, including WR Julian Edelman, WR Danny Amendola, WR Aaron Dobson, WR Kembrell Thompkins, Gronkowski and RB Shane Vareen. The Patriots also signed WR Austin Collie this week. McFadden has yet to register a tackle or pass break up this season.
Kruger’s Year: LB Paul Kruger came to the Browns as their prized free agent signing after posting nine sacks for the Ravens in 2012. He also had four sacks in the playoffs, including two in the Super Bowl. However, he has just 2.5 with the Browns with four games to play.
Horton was asked to assess Kruger’s season.
“What kind of season has he had? I would believe he would say frustrating, meaning our record, first of all,” he said. “He had the majority of his sacks the last quarter of the season, plus the postseason, and he kind of helped Baltimore crash that wave to the Super Bowl. I think if you ask me to put an adjective to it, he’d say frustrating. He wants to do more. He’s doing everything that he can. Sometimes you can’t do it as one man and sometimes you just do. You ride that momentum of, ‘Wow. Everything’s clicking at the right time.’ But we’re not disappointed. I’m sure he is and I’m sure that he’s frustrated that most of our guys don’t have better numbers, but that’s individually.”
Kruger has 52 tackles, four passes broken up, in addition to the 2.5 sacks.
The Gronk: The Browns will face TE Gronkowski this week. He has all the respect from the Browns coaching staff.
“(He’s) probably the best all around tight end in the league,” Chudzinski said.
Horton said TE Rob Gronkowski has changed the position.
“He, along with Jimmy Graham, changed the position we now see as tight end,” he said. “Whether you want to call them hybrid wide receivers or hybrid tight ends, they have the ability to be in tight, to block. They have the ability to run up the field. The catch radius is unbelievable. His hands, his speed, his toughness, it’s a classic matchup of, if you put the linebacker on him, he’s probably going to out run him.
“If you put a safety on him, he’s going to out physical him,” he said. “Really, I think he changed the nature of that position. Then, you get the old Ozzie Newsome’s and Kellen Winslow’s, those were freakish guys at that time that would now fit in perfectly in today’s NFL.”
Gronkowski said he’s flattered to be called the best at his position.
“It’s an honor to have that,” he said. “I just have to keep working to get better and to to do what I can to help the team.”
Gronkowski missed most of the first half of the season after surgery to his arm, but has come back strong with 37 receptions for 560 yards, including four touchdowns.
Praise for Hoyer: Gronkowski caught passes in practice from Browns QB Brian Hoyer for three years while Hoyer was the backup QB to Tom Brady. He was asked his assessment of Hoyer.
“It’s unfortunate what happened to him,” Gronkowski said. “We knew he would be a great quarterback.”
Draft Derby: Currenty, the Browns are tied with the Jaguars, Bills and Raiders with four wins. Currently, the Texans (2-11), Redskins, Buccaneers, Falcons and Vikings have three wins. There are only five teams currently ahead of the Browns in terms of number of wins.