Apparently the New England Patriots spent their time on the flight to Cleveland reading their press clippings. (Which was, of course, something that has plagued Barack Obama for the last 4 years, but let's leave recent electoral politics out of it.)
...it is midway through the 2010 season and the Patriots stand alone with the league's best record at 6-1, and they've managed to reach that perch with comparatively little fanfare.
The Patriots, except for one flurry of attention when they traded wide receiver Randy Moss, have remained mostly under the radar, piling up victories with a revamped supporting cast assembled to complement their championship-winning mainstays, Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. The manner in which these Patriots are winning games is beginning to draw comparisons not to the exploits of the 2007 team that went 18-0 before being upset by the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, but to the workmanlike clubs that captured three Super Bowls between the 2001 and 2004 seasons.
"I think the way they're winning games is similar," former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "I can make the connection on those terms. It's not just one unit of the team that's dominating. In '07, it was the offense that got all the attention. Now it's each phase. . . . It's been contributions from all over the place."
Maybe those convinced of the strength of the Pats didn't realize that they're 25th in total defense, and last at 47% in third down percentage defense. Oof!! They stubbed their toes bigtime in Cleveland this afternoon, now on the short end of a 34-14 score. The Pats defense has given up long scoring marches, unable to stop bruising back Peyton Hillis (6-1, 240), who has now run for 184 of the Browns' 230 yards. Yeccch.
The Patriots have Tom Brady, which always makes them dangerous. And they had won five in a row. But they awere going on the road in the NFL which is always tough. One of my concerns has been that they don't do the two things on defense that you seem to need to do in the NFL, and that's a) pressure the quarterback and b) stuff the run. The Browns showed today that a power running game works against New England, and it opens up the secondary as the linebackers and safeties cheat up to help. And offensively the Patriots don't run the ball consistently (68 yards today, total), and their receivers struggle to get separation and to stretch the field (7 catches by the wideouts today). Browns corners played mostly man to man, quite successfully.
Next week isn't any easier, as they go on the road again to Pittsburgh. You'd think Mike Tomlin will have taken some notes, and I suspect Bill Belichick will have done so too. Belichick needs to find a way to get his defense off the field before 12 plays and three or four first downs. Sacks help, and staying out of third and short would also help.