Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton is familiar with the New England Patriots. He’s faced them in three of the past four years, with three different teams. He’s been responsible for some the biggest frustrations over that time, including the Cardinals upset over the Patriots in 2012.
It also means that Tom Brady is familiar with Horton’s style of defense. That should help the Patriots quarterback in his adjustment back from suspension.
“They're a 3-4 base team and a 4-2-nickel team,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said about Horton’s defense on Wednesday. “Really they don't take those two inside linebackers off the field in any situation. It's just a question of how they structure the front and the coverage. I mean they play a little bit of dime but they're primarily a two-personnel grouping.
“But they use a lot of personnel, particularly in the front. They use a lot of different combinations of people with the front four or front five, however you want to look at it. The two inside linebackers are pretty constant... but the same basic alignments, again, similar to Pittsburgh. I mean they don't blitz zone as much as Pittsburgh does. I don't know if anybody does. It's not the same but it's that foundation.”
In 2012, Horton’s Cardinals defense held the Patriots to 18 points in an ugly match where they Patriots decided to punt four time around midfield. In 2013, Horton’s Browns defense took out Rob Gronkowski for the season and the Patriots had to score two touchdowns in the final 61 seconds of the game to steal a 1-point victory.
But in 2015, it appeared the Patriots cracked Horton’s Titans defense as the Patriots posted 33 points without much problem.
“Ray [Horton] is an excellent coach,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said on Tuesday. “Their whole group does a great job... It definitely has some elements of the Pittsburgh deal in it. They're disciplined. They're very rarely, if ever, out of position. They play their technique and their leverage properly. They're going to make you handle some pressure, some of which you've probably practiced, and a few of which you probably have not.
“There's always a game plan element to it. The safeties and the secondary have always been, at some point in the game, pressure guys, so we're going to have to stay on our toes and look for those kinds of things. They've got size and big guys up front. They play a lot of guys on the edge. They've got speed, they've got strength, they've got length, they've got maybe guys that are not as long but are fast on the edge that they rush. They play a lot of different rush guys out there so we're going to have to do a good job with being familiar with their guys because they're definitely not all the same.”
Brady threw for 267 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Titans last season, as the Patriots had to overcome the loss of RB LeGarrette Blount and WR Julian Edelman; WR Danny Amendola was also extremely limited that week.
The Patriots should have their fully arsenal of offensive players this week and a far better offensive line than the 2015 version, so Brady should have a comfortable time adjusting back from his suspension. Just don’t tell that to McDaniels.
“I'm not sure that we're going to play a team that plays harder than this one. They do a great job of running to the football,” McDaniels added. “Like I said, we don't know very many of these players very well. We're going to have to make sure we're doing a good job of getting familiar with the people that we're lining up against on Sunday afternoon. “
After losing to the Bills last week, the Patriots have made sure that all the players have their heads on straight. Any team can win in any week and the Browns are no different. But Brady’s familiarity with their defensive schemes should help, at least a little bit.