Peyton Hillis needs to be stopped. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
This is the second part. We've already talked about Colt McCoy and his tendencies on offense. Let's look even further at the Brown's offense and see how they function.
2. Peyton Hillis, 3rd Season, Running Back. Hillis has been a spark in their offense and has been the reason why the Browns have hung around in some games. He should see around 15-20 carries in the game and has been averaging 4.4 yards/carry. He is also a great receiving back, notching 27 catches and almost 200 yards on the season. He could be looking at a 20 carry, 5 reception game. It's up to the Patriots to stop him.
Hillis is the Browns' key player. While Colt McCoy may be an impact player, the Patriots know that Hillis is their primary weapon and that slowing him is their #1 goal. They have to go into this game treating Hillis like a Ray Rice or an Adrian Peterson. He is arguably more important to the Browns' offense than either of those running backs because he is really their only offensive weapon. Slow him and the Patriots should be able to build a lead that forces the ball away from Hillis and into the rookie McCoy's hands. Hopefully, that will force McCoy into mistakes that the Patriots can take advantage of and that will allow the Patriots to control the game.
Read more after the jump!
Things to know about Hillis:
He's an all-game back. He doesn't get tired and carries the load himself for the whole game. The only difference in production is that the Browns usually are behind and have to throw the ball more frequently at the ends of games, which leads to fewer touchdowns for Hillis.
He'll run on 50% of the first downs, the Browns will pass the other 50%. They're a balanced first down team.
He runs off-tackle. He's balanced between runs behind the left tackle and right tackle, but has considerably fewer runs up the middle. Moving Wilfork out to end forces Hillis to run up the middle and into Spikes and Mayo. If Hillis is able to run to the outside, that limits the production of the ILBs- so it's imperative the Patriots funnel Hillis to the inside.
Hillis is a great outlet receiver. While the Patriots have struggled all season against dump passes to running backs after the defense commits to rushing the quarterback. The defense managed to slow Ray Rice by spying him with Dane Fletcher and not allowing him to rush the quarterback. If the Patriots designated a player to watch Hillis the entire game, they'd help the defense and limit Hillis' production as a receiver. Stick him like glue, especially while the pocket's collapsing.
The Patriots need to stop the run, of course. They need to force the Colt McCoy to be the player to keep the Browns in the game, which means focusing on eliminating Peyton Hillis. In order to counter their strong running game, the Patriots should employ a lot of their base 3-4 defense, featuring:
RDE - Vince Wilfork
NT - Gerard Warren
ROLB - Jermaine Cunningham
WILB - Jerod Mayo
SILB - Brandon Spikes
LOLB - Rob Ninkovich
RCB - Devin McCourty
FS - Brandon Meriweather
LCB - Kyle Arrington
What does this defensive alignment do? It forces the Browns to line up their stud tackle, Joe Thomas, against Vince Wilfork. Thomas would be able to handle any other defensive lineman, but Wilfork should be able to neutralize his advantage. That leaves Warren and Brace/Deaderick to open lanes on above-average center Alex Mack and the rest of the weak Browns offensive line. With Thomas facing Wilfork, that means the Browns will have to employ a tight end to chip away at Cunningham, who should be coming after McCoy's blind side as much as possible. This takes away an offensive option for the Browns and allows the Patriots to dictate the Browns' offense.
Hillis isn't a strong runner up the middle and this defense forces him to run up the middle. Hopefully the Patriots figure out a way to limit Hillis' impact and force the game into Colt McCoy's hands. I think shifting the defense into focusing on Hillis is a good way to beat the Browns.
Hopefully it works.