By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Red Sox may have gagged away their playoff hopes getting swept by the Cleveland Indians, but it wasn’t all bad last weekend for New England teams in Ohio. The Patriots laid a 20-point beatdown on the road against the Cleveland Browns with a 33-13 win that added up to a total team effort.
To the surprise of no one (except maybe Boomer Esiason), Tom Brady showed little-to-no signs of rust in his return from a four-game suspension, shredding the Browns defense for 406 yards and three touchdowns. My predictions of whom the Patriots would attack and exploit on the Browns defense didn’t do quite as planned, but the general idea was the same.
As you can see in the video of all 40 pass attempts by Brady against Cleveland, No. 12 identified plenty of mismatches with his weapons, and at other times the pass-catchers simply outplayed their defenders for the ball.
In what could quickly become a theme for the Patriots offense, the Browns struggled mightily covering the Pats’ dynamic tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. At times, they didn’t cover the Imagination Agency at all, while Gronk proved that he is a matchup nightmare for just about anyone with the unfortunate task of covering him.
As for the defense, it was clear that the number-one task was to stop the Browns’ league-leading ground game led by Isaiah Crowell, and did they ever. Crowell ended up with just 22 yards on 13 carries as the Browns couldn’t get anything going on the ground, fell behind early and were forced to abandon the run before the end of the first half.
Let’s have a look back on the key matchups in Patriots-Browns and how they turned out. …
Brady simply feasted on the Browns all day, repeatedly attacking their weak points and exploiting favorable one-on-one matchups whenever he could find them. The Browns’ linebackers had trouble containing the Gronk-Bennett combo, often losing sight of No. 88 while committing double-teams to No. 87, and at other times just getting flat-out beat.
I named Browns linebacker Demario Davis as the player the Patriots could exploit due to his struggles in coverage up until facing the Patriots, but Davis ended up having a pretty good day, notching a pass defensed and allowing just four catches for 30 yards on seven targets. Davis did, however, get blocked by James Devlin and blow his coverage against Bennett on No. 88’s first touchdown of the game, the easiest throw & catch the Patriots made all day.
The Browns linebacker who did end up getting abused was actually Christian Kirksey, who did a good job against the run, according to Pro Football Focus, but was exposed against the Patriots’ tight ends. He allowed three catches for 68 yards to Gronk alone. Kirksey also got beat on Bennett’s second touchdown of the day; he was actually all over Bennett in coverage on the play, but ultimately did not do enough. Both Davis and Kirksey struggled to contain running back James White in coverage for most of the game, as well.
Browns safety Ibraheim Campbell also got burned on some key plays over the course of the game. Chris Hogan torched him down the field for a 43-yard catch down the left sideline and Bennett just blew right by him to make his third touchdown catch practically uncovered.
Yes, the Browns played much of the game with the immortal Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback, but that’s no excuse for their abysmal performance attempting to run the ball with Crowell, who entered the game as the league’s leading rusher. Rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts had a great day spelling the banged-up Dont’a Hightower with 31 total snaps, recording six tackles. Roberts tackled Crowell three times for a total of zero yards.
Hightower, Jamie Collins, Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers, Alan Branch, Chris Long, Woodrow Hamilton, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Devin McCourty, and Jonathan Jones all tackled Crowell at least once. That’s what you call a total team effort.
As for coverage, dynamic Browns receiver Terrelle Pryor caught 5 of 6 targets for just 48 yards with a fumble. Malcolm Butler made a couple of mistakes, highlighted by a pass interference penalty while defending Pryor, but otherwise had a good day, allowing just two catches on five targets for 24 yards, according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald. Logan Ryan rebounded nicely from one of his worst performances as a Patriot in Week 4 against the Bills, allowing just two catches on four targets for 26 yards.
Again, it certainly helps the Patriots pass defense that they only had Whitehurst to worry about at quarterback. But the run defense stepped up big-time against what was a league-best rushing attack in completely wiping out the Browns’ run game, which gave Cleveland little chance to move the ball for most of the game.
This Week …
Later this week, we’ll take a look at who the Patriots will eliminate and exploit against their Week 6 opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals. The Patriots will be riding high coming off the win and getting ready for Brady’s first home game of the season, while Cincinnati is coming off getting manhandled 28-14 by the Cowboys in Dallas.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at email@example.com.