The Browns made massive waves in the offseason when they acquired Odell Beckham Jr. via trade. He announced his arrival as a Brown in similar fashion in Week 2 — in New York, naturally — when he took a pass from Baker Mayfield 89 yards for a touchdown.
That was Beckham's biggest play to date in brown and orange. He has a chance to make a massive statement Sunday.
As the Browns have struggled to a 2-4 start, Beckham has been near the center of the discussions surrounding the team. Star power attracts attention, even when you're just doing your job.
Critics have zeroed in on Beckham's two games of less than 30 receiving yards (in a win over Baltimore and loss to San Francisco) as evidence of inconsistency, while overlooking the large amount of attention Beckham has drawn from opposing defenses. That can help explain Jarvis Landry's career-high 167 receiving yards in the same win over Baltimore, all of which was racked up in less than three full quarters. It can also help explain the emergence of tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, who has filled the void left by David Njoku's injury and has become a legitimate threat in Cleveland's passing game.
Which brings us back to Sunday's meeting with New England, where Beckham could either: a) be followed by the league's best corner in Stephon Gilmore all night, b) face a frequent double-team featuring New England's No. 2 corner and a third defensive back or c) a combination of the two.
Traditional wisdom would expect option A, while conventional wisdom might lean more toward B or C. That's all part of the great chess match and mystery that has allowed Bill Belichick to rack up six Super Bowl titles as head coach of the Patriots.
The Browns will have to prepare extensively for all three scenarios.
Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Patriots Sunday by team photographer Matt Starkey
New England boasts the NFL's best defense in terms of yards, points per game and interceptions (18). Those are the three key categories for defensive success, and the interceptions difference between New England and the next-closest team is significant, with Carolina coming in at No. 2 with nine interceptions. Yes, the Patriots have intercepted their opponents twice as much as any other team in the NFL.
That means the Browns will need to scheme guys open, which might not produce a big day for Beckham statistically. He'll definitely be influencing the game outside of the numbers, though, and could be a lynchpin in getting others open.
There's an additional challenge in that, too, which illustrates the strength of a unit playing cohesive football: Of all cornerbacks with at least 25 targets in the NFL, the Patriots feature three of the top eight according to Pro Football Focus' overall coverage grades. Jonathan Jones and Jason McCourty own the second and third spots, and Gilmore — considered to be one of the two best corners in the NFL — ranks eighth.
And when Beckham does find himself lined up one-on-one with Gilmore, he'll have quite a challenge on his hands. Then again, so does every defensive back who lines up across from Beckham. These are the matchups television producers dream of.
"(Gilmore) is long. He is athletic. He can run," Browns offensive coordinator Todd Monken said Thursday. "He does a nice job staying phase. All of them, including him, do a nice job of contesting the ball when it is in the air to a receiver. I was amazed – the numbers might not be right there, but there is not as many [penalties] – You would think with as often as they play man from a defensive holding, pass interference, you would think there would be more of those, and there is not. He does a really nice job."
The Browns are going to have to play an error-free game to beat these Patriots. They'll have to rely on the ground game at least a little. And they'll need Beckham on every down, no matter whether it shows in the box score.