The New England Patriots bring their NFL best 6-1 record to Cleveland this weekend to face the Browns. Despite their record, you will not find the Pats near the top of the league in many statistical categories. They are in the middle of the pack in total offense and among the league worst in total defense, but go figure they are first in the league in the two most important categories, points scored and wins. This tells you that the Pats know how to make the most of their opportunities. It also is a reminder that as long as New England has Belichick and Brady, they will have a very good chance to win every game they play.
Fresh off a feel good bye week, the ailing Browns are still not as healthy as one would expect. Top two quarterbacks Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace are still suffering from ankle injuries and neither has practiced as of Wednesday of this week. This probably means that rookie Colt McCoy will be making his third NFL start. If this is the case, McCoy will need to come up big in order for the Browns to knock off the Pats. The Patriots come into this game with the second worst pass defense in the league giving up over 280 yards per game. They are a unit that does not often blitz, and is not the type of team to put a lot of pressure on quarterbacks. In fact, the Pats’ defense has only managed thirteen sacks on the season. This is the same amount of sacks the Browns defense has, and we have seen all year how comfortable opposing quarterbacks have looked against the Browns. The Pats defense, however, is a fundamentally sound group that is well coached, young and constantly improving. They have an all-star up front with the versitlle nose-tackle Vince Wilfork, a budding star at line-backer with Jerod Mayo and a rookie cornerback with big potential, Devin McCourtey.
As far as an offensive game plan goes for the Browns, we have all seen the low risk pattern the coaching staff seems to favor. They will run the ball often with Peyton Hillis and attempt short passes to their tight ends and running backs. McCoy will do all he can to protect the ball. Joshua Cribbs will spell McCoy in the wild cat formation predominantly during trips to the red zone. When they are on the field the Browns offense looks like they are playing to not lose the game. If McCoy is going to be a big time quarterback though, he is going to have to learn how to attack struggling defenses such as the Pats. Certainly fans would not mind seeing a bit more calculated aggression out of the Browns on offense, as the playoffs are all but out of reach, and there is very little to lose.
On defense, there is no secret to beating Tom Brady. He must be hit. If the Browns pass rush can not get to Brady, he will find open receivers all day. There is just no way to cover all the Patriots receiving options, and Brady is too good at going through his progressions and making the correct decisions. The return of All-Pro Guard Logan Mankins should help the Pats keep Brady’s jersey clean, but having just returned from a holdout this week, it would be a surprise if he is able to play for the entire game from a conditioning standpoint. Without a doubt the most important men on the field for the Browns on Sunday will be their linebackers. If Matt Roth, Scott Fujita and Marcus Benard can figure out a way to get at least three sacks on Brady, then the Browns will has a significant chance to win this game. Any less, and the Browns are going to find themselves at 2-6.
These are two teams that look at football as a battle of attrition, thus the battle for field position will be fierce. These are two coaches that hate each others’ guts, so the post game handshake will be awkward. The Browns proved last week that no game is out of reach for them. It should be entertaining, enjoy it folks.
About the Author
Written by Fran Berkman
Francis (Fran) Berkman is a graduate of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY with a BS in Human Development. He is currently working towards a master's degree in journalism at Hofstra University. He lives in Massapequa, NY.