Student assistant Mike Rodak takes a look at the television copy of Sunday’s game against the Browns and offers some of his first-quarter observations:
1. After starting at nose tackle in Week 8 against the Vikings, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork returned to defensive end for the start of the first quarter in Cleveland. His presence on the edge was felt early, coming off a combo block by RG Billy Yates and RT Floyd Womack to stop RB Mike Bell for a 2-yard gain. Elsewhere, the Patriots chose to start Myron Pryor at nose tackle over Gerard Warren, and on RB Peyton Hillis’ 18-yard run on the Browns’ opening drive, Pryor was unable to come off a single block to disrupt the running lane.
2. The Browns’ strategy of not kicking off to KR Brandon Tate paid dividends on their first kickoff of the game, which was popped-up to the Patriots’ 20-yard line. In a situation seen more in baseball than football, TE Rob Gronkowski and RB Sammy Morris each seemed to call for the ball, both signaling fair catch. However, communication appeared to be lacking in the unusual situation, with the ball eventually finding the ground in between them and Morris unable to come up with the live-ball recovery.
3. As had been the case against the Vikings, the loss of Patriots safety Patrick Chung might have shied the Patriots away from using their sub packages as often as they would have otherwise. On the Browns’ first play after the muffed kick return, the Patriots stayed in their base 3-4 defense, but took safety James Sanders off the field in favor of CB Jonathan Wilhite, using LCB Devin McCourty against athletic TE Evan Moore, split wide in a 3-WR shotgun set. Lone safety Brandon Meriweather was in a single-deep zone, allowing QB Colt McCoy to throw a jump-ball to the 6-foot-6 Moore without fearing a safety getting involved in the play. McCourty did not have the size to compete with Moore and the 17-yard reception set up a Browns touchdown on the next play.
4. While the initial game box score may have credited ILB Jerod Mayo with the forced fumble on Hillis’ 16-yard run, it was not Mayo’s doing. Rather, OLB Jermaine Cunningham followed the run from behind, and as McCourty himself tried strip Hillis, Cunningham came up and punched the ball away. A missed tackle by Sanders on the play ended up keeping it alive long enough for the turnover to occur.
5. Using packages with few or no down-linemen, the Browns defense was able to disrupt blocking assignments and generally keep the Patriots offense sputtering in the first quarter. One Patriots run saw the Browns bring both safeties within 7 yards of the line of scrimmage, with one coming unblocked to stop BenJarvus Green-Ellis for a short gain. A few plays later, the Browns brought a 7-man blitz on second-and-8, leading to multiple free defenders stopping Green-Ellis for a loss.
6. Brady’s accuracy was inconsistent in the game. On a third-and-9 from about midfield, Brady found a favorable matchup, with RB Danny Woodhead beating a linebacker on a sideline wheel pattern. However, Brady’s lofted pass – which was rushed on a four-man inside blitz that pressured Neal at RG – was overthrown by a good 5 yards and out of bounds.
7. The Browns were able to translate their early success in the running game to gains in the passing game. Using play-action on first down, the Browns drew the Patriots ILBs close to the line, with McCoy finding WR Mohamed Massaquoi on a crossing pattern. McCourty released Massaquoi to the inside void created on the play, allowing for the 22-yard gain.
8. The Patriots made changes to their defensive line personnel as the first quarter progressed, eventually moving back Wilfork to NT and inserting Ron Brace and Brandon Deaderick at end by the final play of the quarter. On a Hillis run, Deaderick struggled with his technique. With a blocker turning him fully around, Deaderick had his back to the ball, preventing him from having any awareness of the unfolding play.