As we all know, our savior, Tom Brady, is back and the Patriots will look to unleash their potent offense against the not-so-lucky Cleveland Browns. The Patriots have not come close to seeing their offense at full strength, and this Sunday we will only get a piece of the potential with Rob Gronkowski still limited and Dion Lewis on the PUP list.
The Patriots have been particularly healthy on the other side of the ball, with the exception of captain Dont’a Hightower missing some time. The young, talented defense has yet to live up to the expectation of being a top five unit in the league.
In every week the defense has brought something different to the table. Opening night, the Patriots were able to squeak out a huge win against the Cardinals’ high octane offense. Then, a near second half defensive meltdown against Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins looked troubling for the secondary. Yet, the defense answered with a complete shutdown of the Texans and their three-headed monster consisting of roughly $57 million in guarantees (Osweiler, Miller, Hopkins).
The defense’s performance against Rex Ryan and the divisional rival Bills was cause for concern. The Patriots looked to be completely lost in the first half with Tyrod Taylor dissecting the secondary and Buffalo earning whatever they wanted in the run game. However, the defense ended the game on a much better note, allowing just three points in the second half, and playing a much more aggressive style of defense.
While the defense was caught guessing last week against Taylor and LeSean McCoy, this week’s gameplan should be much more simple: take away the Browns’ league-best rushing attack and force rookie QB Cody Kessler to beat them.
If the defense can come back to form and have success defending the run, there will be two keys to completely shutting down this Browns offense that’s averaging just 18.5 points per game.
Taking away Terrelle Pryor
Bill Belichick has always been great at forcing teams to practically forget about their number one option when facing the Patriots. This week, Belichick’s and Matt Patricia’s attention will likely be towards former QB and now WR Terrelle Pryor.
With Corey Coleman, the Browns’ first round pick, missing significant time this season, Pryor has emerged as Cleveland’s top receiving threat. Through four weeks, Pryor is standing at twentieth in the league with 290 receiving yards, and he has been on the field for 92% of Cleveland’s offensive snaps.
Pryor has been just about everywhere, lining up at receiver, receiving direct snaps, and even passing the ball. In regards to lining up wide, look for the Patriots to stick to their typical game plan: Logan Ryan shadowing the opposing top receiver with FS Devin McCourty providing support.
Pryor scored his first touchdown of the season last week, beating CB Josh Norman to the corner of the endzone. Ryan may face a similar issue against the six-foot-six, 240 pound receiver with speed, however, it’s not likely that McCourty is caught flat footed like the deep safety here.
Pryor accounts for roughly 30% of Cleveland’s receiving yards this season, and if the Patriots can blanket him, Kessler will have a tough time settling into the game.
Generating a pass rush
Arguably the most concerning aspect of the defense through the first quarter of the season is the lack of pass rush. New England ranks twentieth in the league with a measly seven sacks, while Cleveland is ranked seventh with 11 sacks allowed.
The matchup to watch is on the opposite side of future Hall of Fame LT Joe Thomas. The weak link of Pro Football Focus’ eleventh ranked offensive line has been RT Austin Pasztor, who has allowed 16 pressures on the season.
Look for the Patriots to throw a steady rotation at Pasztor, forcing him to adapt to the different skillsets along the Patriots’ defensive line. In addition, with Hightower’s health on the rise, don’t be surprised to see New England send some heat at the interior of Cleveland’s offensive line.
Getting to the young quarterback will be crucial as the Browns have one of the best receiving backs in the league, Duke Johnson. If the Patriots can create pressure at the snap, it will allow the secondary to play aggressive and hunt the ball, something they were unable to do last week.
All eyes will be on Brady and company this Sunday as he returns from his suspension. Perhaps we will finally catch a glimpse of just how great this Patriots team can be. If the Patriots can put together a complete effort for the full hour of game time, expect a long day for the Dawg Pound in Cleveland.