Aaaaand, we’re back! Fresh off their Bye Week, the 2-5 Browns get back to it against another tough, tough opponent. Raise your hand if you thought this team would be 2-5 at this point. OK, OK, I see a lot of hands, including my own, raised. Now, keep your hand raised if you thought one of those wins would have been against the Saints on the road. Yeah, me either.
The Pats’ offense is still solid, even without Randy “I wouldn’t feed that [bleep] to my dogs!” Moss—its name is “Tom Brady”. Their defense, however, well, it’s not your slightly older brother’s defense that won three out of four Super Bowls. There’s some talent there, but the Viking among other teams showed there are yards to be gained out there against them: in fact, they’ve allowed 200 more total yards so far on the season than our Browns have. In fact, marinate in this stat for a moment: the Browns secondary—yes, that Browns secondary—allows 40 fewer yards per game than the Pats’ secondary does. Without further ado…
The Browns Will Win If…
Craig: …they can keep four players from murdering them in the secondary. The word of the day is YAC. Actually that isn’t really a word. I mean yards after catch. Wes Welker is a monster at that. Aaron Hernandez, Julian Edelman and Danny Woodhead scare me mightily. The Browns will need to cover well and put pressure on Tom Brady as much as humanly possible. After that, the Browns will have a chance to score. New England’s defense is 21st in the NFL giving up 22 points per game. The Browns probably won’t have the benefit of all the trick plays and defensive touchdowns that they had in New Orleans. Looks like Colt McCoy might have to try and help the Browns win one rather than just not lose it.
Scott: …they can somehow produce a turnover differential of at least +2. The Patriots have won a few games thanks to special teams and a couple more with luck. If Eric Mangini takes pride in anything, it’s having the best special teams unit on the field any given Sunday. Assuming a lack of mental mistakes within this unit – typically a safe bet – the Pats will be forced to beat the Browns on offense and defense. Now, I fully understand that there is quite a talent gap at the majority of the positions. But I also realize that if the Browns can play smart, tough football, they will be in this one until the end. They’ll need to hold on to the football, not throw the momentum-killing INT and maybe pick of an errant Brady-to-Branch attempt, and hope for a lucky bounce of the ball. Getcha sleeveless hooded sweatshirt ready.
DP: …Colt McCoy can do enough in the passing game to make the Patriots back off their rush defense. It’s probably not a secret around the league that, if given their choice, the Browns would like to play the Saints game every week: solid defense and special teams, running the ball effectively, and the occasional play in the passing game. One has to think that a guy like Bill Belichick sees that and will do everything he can to take it away. I can’t see a scenario in which the Browns “shut down” the Pats’ offense, but then again, I said the same thing about the Saints. Cleveland’s defense is going to have to get off the field on third down, and their offense is going to have to be able to move the ball and chew up clock. From there, they need to punch in touchdowns. Field goals aren’t going to cut it. Really, I’m just looking forward to the hella awkward hand-shake between Eric Mangini and Belichick. Someone might get shivved.
Rick: …they are able to play Browns football and set the pace. We saw it last season- tough defense, great special teams play, and an excellent rushing attack is the recipe for a Browns win. If the Patriots force us out of that formula, I have to say the Browns will more than likely lose, and lose big. The Browns want no part of a shootout. They simply aren’t equipped to hang with New England in that style of game.
Andrew: …they finish off their drives with TDs instead of FGs. This New England defense is not good. They give up tons of yards, particularly through the air, but they like to create turnovers and force FGs. They are the very definition of a bend but don’t break defense, and it will be up to the Browns to find a way to break them if they want to have any chance of winning. Playing at home and coming off a bye week, I fully expect the Browns’ resurgent and resilient defense to do enough to at least slow down Tom Brady and crew enough to keep the offense in the game. From there, the Browns must do a good job mixing up run plays and pass plays to keep the Pats’ defense off balance. There’s a real chance here for Colt McCoy to take a big leap and do some things to help the Browns win. A few weeks ago I thought this game looked like an unwinnable game, but the Patriots do enough bad things to allow opponents to hang around with them. Usually, New England gets a break here and there or forces a key turnover late in the game to seal the win. Hopefully the Browns at home can do enough to create some opportunities of their own to break through the Pats’ defense and come away with another huge win.
TD: …they can keep the game close into the fourth quarter. Wow…the last time I did one of these I think I made it sound like the Browns had a better chance of re-instating Art Modell as owner than of winning in New Orleans. Shows you what I know. For the Browns to even have a shot against the mighty New England Patriots, they have to keep it close into the fourth. I think we all know the Browns offense is not built to come back from a quick 14 point deficit in the first quarter, which could certainly happen. If I am Rob Ryan, I make sure that I don’t get beaten underneath by Wes Welker and scat back Danny Woodhead. I’ll take my chances against their running game and hope that Deion Branch and Brandon Tate don’t get me over the top. Tom Brady is Tom Brady, he is going to get his no doubt, but the damage must be minimized. Part of that is keeping Brady off the field, and that starts with pounding the football with Peyton Hillis. Colt McCoy has to keep playing mistake free football and hopefully get some up the seem shots with the Tight Ends Benjamin Watson and Evan Moore. Time of possession and field position are going to be extremely important if the Browns have any shot of pulling off a monster upset.
Now, for the other side of the coin. We reached out to a couple of Pats bloggers, and got a great response. Chris Warner has been a staff writer for Patriots Daily for the past three years. He currently writes the Worry Wart column, a game preview that appears every Thursday morning. Without further ado…
The Patriots Will Win If…
…they contain Peyton Hillis. If Cleveland’s offense keeps looking at second down and five or less, the Browns will have the ball all day. That’s not new for New England (their defenders spend so much time on the field you’d think they get paid by the hour). Although they’ve come up with some big plays, their “bend don’t break” defense has come awfully close to “bend AND break” a few times this season. Keeping the Browns’ offense off-balance means a lot, and stopping Hillis remains the key.
Shutting down the Browns’ ground game evokes another disconcerting aspect of New England’s defense: their heinous stats on third-down conversions. Colt McCoy could chug a few margaritas and put on a tight skirt: he’d still complete over half of his third-down passes. While Patriots rookie corner Devin McCourty has surprised, battery mate Kyle Arrington plays with a king-sized cushion. Overall, pass-rushing has been anemic. The Patriots hammered Brett Favre on Sunday (thank you, Myron Pryor), but you’d think they would have registered a sack considering Favre had the mobility of a street lamp. The Patriots need to pressure McCoy and delay his decision-making process as much as possible. Bill Belichick has a solid history of structuring successful game plans vs. rookie QBs. Nothing too weird, but enough wrinkles to help the defense make plays.
While Belichick seems to have the upper hand here, we can’t overlook his past difficulty with former assistants (see Mangini’s Jets in 2006 and Josh McDaniels’ Broncos last year). The bye week can’t hurt. It’s assumed that, along with whatever tricks Mangini may contemplate, he will stir up some exotic coverage and a slew of blitzes to keep Tom Brady on his toes. This ties into our biggest offensive point: pass blocking. New England’s front five kept the QB clean vs. Minnesota, but lately the Vikings have provided about as much pressure as a broken dorm shower. If Brady can keep the offense on the field with the short passing game and make some heady calls on the line, the visitors win.
Last, and maybe least, the Patriots will win this game if they have lived up to their words about taking one game at a time. They say they have focused on the Browns. With literally dozens of young players (24 with two years of experience or less), it might prove tempting to look ahead to the game at Pittsburgh next weekend. Cleveland flattening New Orleans two weeks ago might end up as the best thing to happen to New England in a while, because they have actual video proof of how well the Browns can play.
What say, there, fuzzy britches?