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How lack of running game put Browns’ ‘backs to the wall’ in loss to Patriots

Jedrick Wills Jr. had an eerily familiar bitter taste of defeat in his mouth when he departed FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday evening.

The Browns had just been dominated by the New England Patriots for the second consecutive season, losing 38-15 to extend their losing streak to three games.

“It felt the exact same way as last year,” Wills, the Browns’ starting left offensive tackle, told the Beacon Journal while he prepared to leave the home team’s locker room.

Wills explained he experienced some semblance of deja vu not only because the Browns (2-4) lost in embarrassing fashion, but also because they had their strength neutralized again.

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They entered the weekend ranked No. 1 in the NFL in rushing (192.4 yards per game), but they finished their rematch against the Patriots (3-3) with just 70 yards on 18 carries (3.9 average).

“We came out here today and ran for 70 yards and threw the ball [45] times,” Wills said. “I mean, it’s not what any team wants to do, unless you’re like the [Los Angeles] Rams. It’s tough. It definitely had all of our backs to the wall.”

The Browns couldn’t get much going on offense against the Patriots in 2021, either

Last season, the Patriots thrashed the Browns 45-7 on Nov. 14 at Gillette Stadium. As the beatdown unfolded, the Patriots reminded everyone involved why coach Bill Belichick is famous for attacking the best aspect of his opponents and thereby forcing them to stray from their comfort zone.

At first glance, the Browns compiling 20 carries for 99 yards (5 average) last season suggests they were efficient on the ground against the Patriots, despite standout running backs Nick Chubb (COVID-19) and Kareem Hunt (calf) missing the game.

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But remember, third-string running back D’Ernest Johnson had 58 yards on four carries (14.5 average) during the game’s opening series, which ended with the Browns’ lone touchdown. Belichick and Co. adjusted, and Johnson mustered just 41 yards on 15 carries (2.7 average) the rest of the day. The 2021 Browns had entered their Week 10 showdown against the Patriots with the league’s second-ranked rushing attack (160.2 yards per game).

Notice a pattern?

“Everybody knows we’re going to run the ball. They knew we were going to run the ball,” Wills said. “We just didn’t get it started, and we got behind the chains, started throwing the ball. We’re good at that, but it’s not our bread and butter.”

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