Saturday, October 8, 2016

Banged Up Patriots Still Have Enough To Handle Browns

Tom Brady has located his clothing and has reported to work.

There are various theories as to how his New England Patriots' offense will look with him under center instead of sunbathing in his birthday suit in Italy but, potentially, chances are it will look suspiciously like the final two months of last season.

That shouldn't exude much confidence from Patriots' fans, but the similarities are undeniable.

Consider: Brady's top two pass targets are banged up, as Rob Gronkowski is dealing with a lingering hamstring issue while fellow tight end Martellus Bennett, while not listed on any injury report, landed
Bennett (88) and Blount are both banged up, but should play
hard on his left shoulder in Sunday's dismal loss to the Buffalo Bills - and while neither is expected to miss a chance to test the Cleveland Browns' middle-of-the-pack pass coverage, it remains that neither are likely at a hundred percent...

...and neither, apparently, is top wide receiver Julian Edelman who appeared on the Patriots injury report for both Thursday and Friday as limited in practice with a sore foot.

 All three will play at Cleveland on Sunday, but don't expect the Browns to do anything but test all three of them.

It's called the kick-them-when-they're-down philosophy, and if the Browns don't get right up in the trio's collective face, they are missing their golden opportunity to pull the upset over the mighty Patriots.

You see, the Browns on defense are merely middle of the pack against the pass and are absolutely atrocious in the red zone, giving up ten touchdowns through the air in four games, including two to Washington tight end Jordan Reed and another to running back Chris Thompson in a 31-20 loss to the Redskins last week. That bodes ill for Cleveland's chances of corralling a healthy set of tight ends in space, and is even worse for keeping tabs on able running backs releasing into the pattern.

That means that even if the Browns and their marginally talented secondary get any help at all from their linebacking corps and are able to slow down the ailing trio, there is still the matter of a Danny Amendola and a Chris Hogan and a James White, any if which is capable of burning the defense to the point that they'll need dental records to identify the charred remains.

But the issue that has the smart money reeling is that there may or may not be enough of a running game to counter the Browns' coverages and pass rush, given the volatile status of power back LeGarrette Blount and his suddenly-chronic bum hip.

Rewind to last season, when Blount went down in week 14 against the Houston Texans with a hip injury that landed him on the injured reserved list and left Brandon Bolden and James White as the backfield - the running game fell from 85 yards per game to sixty, then went straight into the toilet in the playoffs, averaging 41 yards per game, and a good chunk of that coming from Brady running for his life.

Add to that, the offensive line, which was missing left tackle Nate Solder and was starting three rookies on the interior, were overwhelmed under this scenario, as with no running game to counterbalance the offense, teams just sent their pass rushers in waves, overwhelming the line and beating Brady like he stole something - this season missing right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and staring two of the three interior protectors with a rookie at left guard.

It does resemble the injury situation on the stretch run last season, but what do you you think Bill Belichick would have given to have had Bennett or Hogan on the roster to counter all of those injuries? It likely would have made all the difference and we may have been referring to New England as the defending champs - that's how resilient Belichick's charges are.

As we've consistently written, Belichick entered  this offseason fresh off of that bad experience and set his goal to never put his team in that kind of a position again.

His offseason was all about acquiring depth, and he was mostly successful - but the one thing that absolutely killed his offense last season was losing his power back with no tangible backup plan, and if Blount is unable to go, then the onus falls to James White, as Bolden is nursing a knee and will most likely be inactive.

White hasn't proven to be an effective between-the-tackles runner, though he is pure smooth hell in the pattern and is a willing and excellent pass blocker. That said, he probably doesn't have the Browns' interior defenders shaking in their cleats, and if he's the lone back, Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson will send everything he has after Brady while beating up on his receivers, jamming them at the line.

The Broncos did the same thing in the AFC Championship Game but, fortunately, the Browns are not the Broncos, and the resilient Patriots will pick up their fourth win of the season, and if they don't win by at least a couple of touchdowns, fans and media will minimalize it by calling Brady "rusty", when in reality it is far more than that.

The Patriots' defense, a unit that gave up only 18 points per game in the final two months of last season and carried the team to within two points of going to the Super Bowl when the offense sputtered, have picked up right where they left off - performing even better, statistically, at 15 points per game - and with the Cleveland offense in perpetual tatters and performing their annual early-season collapse, the Patriots appear to have more than enough to take home a win on Sunday afternoon...

...though it is unlikely that the Tom Brady "Middle Finger Tour", as it is being billed, will start off by annihilating Cleveland, as Brady will be playing his first real game action since he was pummeled in the aforementioned AFC Title tilt last January and probably will be a tad rusty, especially considering that he wasn't allowed contact with the team for the past month.

A win is a win, even if it's close against a really bad team - and while the worst-case scenario will still be good enough against Cleveland, it probably won't be good enough as New England enters the meat of their schedule, with Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Buffalo on their schedule before their bye, with the latter two away from Gillette.

No comments:

Post a Comment