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Patriots Dispatch Browns, 33-13

Tuesday, October 11, 2016 4:28
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(Before It's News)

By now you probably know the Patriots handled the Cleveland Browns easily on Sunday, winning 33-13. The win put them at 4-1 on the season, a game ahead of 3-2 Buffalo and four full games ahead of the fading Dolphins and Jets. Next Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals travel to Foxboro, and the Patriots can prove themselves against a 2015 playoff participant.

Quarterback Tom Brady's triumphant return couldn't have gone much better. He was hit rarely, sacked just once, and led the team to an easy victory. He ended the day 28 of 40 (70%) for 406 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and a 127.7 QB rating that ranks him #1 in the league already. He was smooth and in control, spreading the ball to seven different receivers, deftly avoiding pressure, and just looking like he was on a different level (as we would expect).

Brady's favorite receiver was tight end Martellus Bennett, who not only caught six passes but was on the receiving end of all three of Brady's touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski (5 for 109) and Chris Hogan (4 for 114) both topped 100 yards, and not only did Julian Edelman have five grabs, but his downfield blocking was crucial to several big plays.

They balanced the load pretty evenly between running backs James White (48% of the offensive plays) and LeGarrette Blount, (39%). But the only real news in the running attack was rookie D.J. Foster's six carries and 15% of the offensive plays. It appears the team plans to replace Brandon Bolden on third-down with Foster, and they might be looking to upgrade the third-down back position with Foster's speed until Dion Lewis returns (if he does). 

The offensive line did a great job in pass protection. They were more mixed in the running game, sometimes doing a great job controlling the edge and sometimes having runs go for little gain. Notable was Nate Solder's excellent work in both areas, and some nice decisions on the fly by center David Andrews.

On one play, the pocket moved to the left, and Andrews slid from his position out to the right to protect Brady from an unblocked lineman — this allowed Brady to throw a 43-yard strike to Hogan, which led to a touchdown. A nice, heads-up play by Andrews.

One of the stars of the game defensive lineman Malcom Brown. His play inside helped shut down the second most productive running back in the league. And Brown added 2 sacks for 14 yards lost and 2 QB hits. Former Browns lineman Jabaal Sheard (1 tackle for a loss, one pass defended) and Alan Branch (2 tackles for a loss) contributed heavily to the excellent defensive line play overall.

However, the most interesting thing going on is at linebacker. 2016 Sixth-round pick Elandon Roberts (#52 in your program) displaced Barkeviovs Mingo to get far more snaps in this game. Roberts played 49% of the defensive snaps and led the team with seven tackles, whereas Mingo, who started, only played 7% of the snaps. No injuries were reported, and Roberts made several impressive plays, so one can only assume that he got the playing time for outperforming former first-rounder Mingo.

The Patriots have long needed someone to compliment starters Dont'a Hightower. Both played well on Sunday, though their stat lines weren't that impressive — but the Patriots need better play at the third linebacker so teams can't just pick on that one bad player. In the preseason it looked like that might be Mingo. But if Sunday is any indication, you might be seeing #52 in the lineup more and more as the season progresses.

The secondary got carved up on the second Cleveland possession of the day, but held together until the game was out of reach. All the longest Browns' plays are in the third and fourth quarter, and by that time, the outcome was assured.  Safeties Patrick Chung (6) and Devin McCourty (5) were second and third on the team in tackles, respectively. The corners didn't do anything special, unless you count the multiple times Justin Coleman gave up big plays.

Note: the entire team tackled much better this week, so kudos to them and the coaching staff for getting back to basics.

The biggest special teams concern is getting worse: kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed yet another field goal. Granted it was from 50 yards, but he needs to improve his consistency, because sometime this season a game will come down to a kick, and the team has to be able to trust him. 

The coaching staff deserves to take a bow for the 3-1 start and for reintegrating Brady without a hitch. Cincinnati will be a bigger test this weekend, but don't expect them to upset the Patriots — without the crowd to disrupt the Patriots offense, Cincy's best bet is to chuck the ball on every play and hope to keep up. And they haven't had much luck with that lately.

So where does that leave us? 4-1 and first in the division — sounds familiar, doesn't it? The team is gelling along the defensive line, the linebackers appear to be starting to solidify, and the secondary needs work, but the offense looks great with both Gronkowski and Bennett on the field. Looks like the fourth attempt to re-invent the two-tight end offense has finally worked.

Non-Brady MVP of the Week: It's Martellus Bennett again; he's a beast both receiving and blocking, and a great compliment to Gronk.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: There are five African-American coaches in the NFL, and three of them are in the AFC North: Hue Jackson in Cleveland, Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh, and Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati. (Trivia question: name the other two African-American coaches, answer below.)

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: “It was only the Browns, but still nice to see Brady out there.”

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 4-1!

PPS. Trivia Answer:
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Todd Bowles coaches the New York Jets, and Jim Caldwell is the head man for the Detroit Lions.

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