The Browns' defense needs to be stretched. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
This is the third and final part. I've already discusses Colt McCoy and Peyton Hillis. What else is there to know about the Browns and how can the Patriots react to this information?
3. Browns Defense. Their outside linebacker core is their strongest defensive unit. They are able to generate pressure and are all talented players. They get into the backfield to sack the quarterback. They tackle the running back in the backfield. They knock down passes. They do it all. The offensive line needs to have a great game in order to limit the impact the Browns' linebackers can have on the Patriots' game plan.
They have 4 strong outside linebackers, which means that the Patriots may try to avoid hitting the quick zones to the side and may try and focus on the middle of the field. If BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead can run the ball up the middle to some success, it may cause the Browns to bring their OLBs closer to the box to make players- and that's when the Patriots need to force passes to the outside to take advantage of the Browns' scheme.
Look for Rob Gronkowski and Alge Crumpler to have prominent roles on offense as they help defend Tom Brady the entire game. Hopefully they will get involved in the passing game, but it may be important that they stay on the line and help block, depending on the success the offensive line has. The line has struggled against 3-4 teams with solid linemen, but the Browns' D-Line isn't as strong as the Chargers, Ravens, Dolphins or Jets. The O-Line may be able to handle the Browns defensive pressure, in which case the Patriots offense should move extremely well.
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Another issue the Patriots may face is in the Browns' secondary. They've done a solid job of defending passes and, since they're coached by Eric Mangini, are all extremely talented players. Safety T.J. Ward is the team's leading tackler, which usually means there's some issues in front of him, so that means that the Patriots should be able to function with passes underneath- and with receivers like Wes Welker, Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman and Deion Branch, passes underneath is how the offense functions.
The Browns' secondary is a very deep unit, which means that the Patriots won't be able to outnumber them in terms of quality receivers vs quality cornerbacks. The Browns should be able to go man for man in that sense. In order to have a productive passing game, the Patriots need to focus on creating mismatches. Look for Aaron Hernandez to have a big day as the other players get smothered by the Browns' secondary. I believe this game will depend on how well the Patriots can run the ball and can utilize their tight ends in the passing game. With Deion Branch hampered with an injury, maybe Taylor Price will finally see some game time, even though it's highly unlikely.
This game should not be taken for granted. The Browns do a great job of playing up to the level of competition. The Patriots have been playing drained the past couple weeks, so hopefully they can have a solid rebound game and put the game away early on. If I had to list three points the Patriots need to complete in order to win, they'd be:
1. Stop Peyton Hillis.
2. Establish a run game.
3. Involves the tight ends.
If the Patriots can do those three tasks, they should be able to win this game.