Tom Brady and the Patriots offense are off to a nearly perfect start. Brady is completing nearly 80% of his passes to a plethora of offensive weapons. Brady is making the smart decisions. He is allowing his receivers to find the throwing lanes while he uses his mobility to give them time to get open. Brady won't look to run but he is second to none in mobility. He is mobile within the pocket by making small well timed steps in the pocket.
Brady is able to use that mobility thanks to trust in his offensive line, especially with the interior of the line. Logan Mankins and Dan Koppen have good feet to provide protection but they also show exceptional hand usage at controlling the defensive line. At the tackle position Matt Light and Nick Kaczur are able to hide their deficiencies thanks to Tom Brady. They do not give up the inside because that is where they expect Brady to be. This makes their job so much easier as they can simply seal off the interior and ride the defender beyond the pocket.
At running back the Patriots have found a nice combination of Lawrence Maroney, Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris. While Maroney is nursing an injury, Sammy Morris has been outstanding in carrying the majority of the load. Sammy is a thick legged physical back and while he has been in the league for eight years, he remains fresh due to his lack of reps with the Dolphins and Bills. Morris does have a tendency to carry the ball to wide from his body as he makes cuts. The Browns should be looking to strip the ball whenever the opportunity arises. Kevin Faulk is the third down receiving back but he does have the explosion to make teams pay if they forget about his speed as a runner.
While all the talk seems to be about Randy Moss's reemergence as one of the leagues best receivers the two receiving threats that are killing opposing offenses is Wes Welker and tight end Ben Watson. They are providing Brady with the safe option by making huge third down catches in traffic over the middle. While Moss brings the home run threat on his deep post and seam route, it is Welker and Watson that base hit you to death. Welker is the most patient receiver in the league as he is using Watson and Moss to clear space. They drag the coverage... he comes in behind slows his speed and gives the quarterback a nice big target.
The Browns have a very big task ahead in trying to slow down the dynamic Patriots offense that rank in the top 5 in every statistical category while the Browns are bottom three in every defensive category. This is, however, a challenge that is not beyond their ability.
Brady likes to move within the pocket and doesn't like to get outside the pocket to often. The Browns must pressure the interior of the pocket. Shaun Smith and Ted Washington have the power to get the necessary push. It isn't what the Browns like to do as they try to control the line instead of breaking through it with the bull rush from the nose but in this game that bull rush up the gut of is vital to making Brady throw earlier than he wants. Also look for more blitzing up the middle to help stop the run and also slow down Tom Brady.
D'Qwell Jackson was known for his ability to slide through traffic and make the big play in the backfield. Jackson hasn't had the type of season expected although he is playing well. This game is a huge test for the young linebacker. If Jackson can break through the line, it will be a life saver for the Browns secondary. Also if he can fake the blitz and slide back into coverage, he may find the ball thrown into his lap as Brady targets the drag route to Welker over the middle. Look for a huge game out of Jackson this week.
Willie McGinest will have his opportunity to show the Patriots that they made a huge mistake in letting him go. McGinest had a very good game against the Ravens last week especially with his run support. He will be asked to not only provide the run support this week but also provide a pass rush.
The Browns finally decided to move Kamerion Wimbley around last week and although Wimbley failed to record a sack his play frustrated and punished Steve McNair. Wimbley may have the speed and flexibility to shoot the inside gap against the slower footed Kaczur this week.
With so many receiving threats in the Patriots arsenal, safety play is where this game will be won and lost. Sean Jones and Brodney Pool will be asked to provide deep help against Randy Moss and also cover Welker and Dante Stallworth in one-on-one match ups. If they are to have success, they must disrupt the wide receiver routes, especially that of Welker. You can jam him early and take him out of the play if you are physical for the entirety of the game.
If the Patriots get close to the goal line they are going to throw the fade route to the corner of the end zone to Moss. Moss's size and leaping ability makes him virtually unstoppable but Leigh Bodden has always played his best when facing the "unstoppable" receiver.
Eric Wright will have his hands full with whoever he is matched up against.
The rookie corner is coming off of his best game as a Brown and he no longer
seems afraid to make the mistake... which has led to his mistakes. Keep an eye on Daven Holly. Holly in the nickel is a huge bonus for the Browns with his knack
of finding the ball. He reads the offense as well as any defensive back in
football. Although he dropped a couple of picks last week, he was in position to
make those and he doesn't drop very many.
The Patriots are equally as talented on defense as they are on offense. The defense, however, is fully dependent upon the play of Vince Wilfork. Wilfork is the space eater in the middle. He has the pure strength to force the double but he also is so quick that he can still split the double and make plays in the back field. The battle between Wilfork and Browns center Hank Fraley will be huge. Hank is coming off of his best game as a Brown as he stalemated Haloti Ngata last week.
The Patriots linebackers of Adalius Thomas, Teddy Brushi, Junior Seau and Mike Vrabel could all have an unveiling in Canton in the near future. Thomas is the most explosive player on this defense, and he will test the rookie left tackle Joe Thomas early and often. As talented and intelligent as the Patriots linebacker corps is, they do seem to lack a great deal of speed. They are effective in the passing game by dropping into the right spot to cover the throwing angle and they are second to none in stopping the run.
The Patriots secondary will be pleased to have Rodney Harrison return from his four game suspension. Rodney won't start but should receive a great deal of playing time. He is the heavy hitter and intimidator in the secondary but his coverage leaves a great deal to be desired.
The corner tandem of Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs are built for speed and coverage ability. They are extremely talented and they will take chances due to the confidence in their ability to recover quickly if a mistake is made.
Derek Anderson is showing growth each week. His touch and accuracy are showing slight signs of improvement but he must avoid making the huge mistake. The Patriots are the best in the league at disguising their defense and sliding into the passing lanes. This is a huge test for the young quarterback. The best sign of improvement was in the throws Anderson didn't make last week. He tucked it and rumbled off a three yard gain and threw several balls into the crowd when no one was open. That is growth by the youngster.
Anderson has a few weapons of his own and this week those weapons have a tremendous physical advantage over the Patriots secondary. The Browns size with Kellen Winslow, Joe Jurevicius and Braylon Edwards must be used to exploit the smaller Patriots secondary. They are facing defensive backs in the 5-9 185 lb range and all three of the Browns weapons dwarf the corners. If the defensive backs come up to jam, those receivers should be able to turn them whichever way they want. They should also find themselves with many opportunities to out-muscle the corners for the ball and also the run after the catch.
Winslow and Edwards are coming into their own as two of the better receiving tandems in the game today. Winslow can't be covered by the Patriots linebackers. He is simply too fast for them to cover for more than three seconds. His size is equally effective when a defensive back is asked to cover him. He simply uses that big body to dislodge the defensive back. With the arm strength of Anderson, the Browns will attempt a few wide receiver screens this week. Throw it out in the flat and force the defensive back to come up and make the solo tackle. He is physically too much of a mismatch for the Patriots to play tight at the line with the jam. If they try to jam him, they will be chasing him to the end zone as Anderson will go over the top.
The speed of Jamal Lewis is also a definite advantage this week. Lewis will have a difficult time in finding running lanes but if he gets through the line he could find himself with a lot of room to run. The Browns receivers have done an excellent job at blocking in the secondary. Lewis can afford to be a bit more patient this week and allow the running lanes to show themselves. This is a phenomenal group of linebackers he is facing and they do not miss many tackles. Once he gets through the line however, they will not catch him.
The Browns offensive line will be in for a very difficult test but their pass blocking has been second to none in the last three weeks. Look for the Browns to get Eric Steinbach pulling a lot more this week in order to help open up the running game on the right side.
The Browns would also be well served in giving Ryan Tucker some reps at right guard this week. Tucker is returning from a four game suspension but he is by far the best run blocking offensive linemen on this team. If Tucker can work his way into the right guard position it would be a huge bonus for the Browns running game. A bit more zone blocking could be seen this week.
Josh Cribbs is becoming a household name for his outstanding return ability. The Patriots go for the strip on returns as hard as any team in football. Cribbs should find a few return lanes but he must be careful of the defense coming from behind and stripping the ball.
The Patriots Ellis Hobbs is also an elite return man as he is averaging nearly 34 yards per return. Squib kicking wouldn't be a bad idea for either team in this one.
It is hard to comment on Patriot punters because they never seem to punt. Since teams do not practice coverage at full speed due to the injury factor, this could be a question for the Patriots as they haven't had the reps in covering punts.