The Patriots typical work week begins with watching the previous game's film and making corrections with the players during meetings on Monday afternoons.
After the Patriots break from those meetings, the coaching staff quickly turns the page to their next opponent. In this case, the Cleveland Browns, reviewing the last four games and any pertinent game film from outside that purview. For example, last year's 45-7 rout of Cleveland at Gillette Stadium in November.
On Tuesdays, when the players are off other than receiving treatment and working out, Bill Belichick's staff comes together and crafts the game plan for Sunday's matchup, and that game plan is then relayed to the players at practice and in meeting rooms the rest of the week.
As the Patriots brain trust builds out their plan for the week, the immediate focus is on what Belichick disciples such as Mike Lombardi refer to as a "Tuesday player" on the opposing roster.
Tuesday players are elite talents or game-wreckers that can ruin a pleasant Sunday afternoon in Cleveland for the Patriots, and the Browns have several multi-time Pro Bowlers who fit the bill.
Starting on defense, whoever is under center for the Patriots will need to avoid two-time All-Pro pass rusher Myles Garrett and the still very lethal Jadeveon Clowney.
According to Pro Football Focus, Garrett (91.5) is the number one rated edge defender in football through five games, and Clowney (88.8) is ranked seventh, making the Browns the only team with two edge defenders ranked in the top ten.
Although it could always change, the two don't usually move around much, with Garret rushing over the left tackle creating a marquee matchup with Trent Brown and Clowney lining up over the right tackle, meaning Isaiah Wynn will have to deal with the former Texans star.
Keeping Garrett and Clowney from taking over Sunday's game will be at the top of New England's to-do list on offense, and we know that Belichick will throw multiple strategies to keep them off-balance. Typically, left tackle Trent Brown doesn't need much help. But this isn't a typical matchup.
On passing downs, the Pats could use a similar strategy as the Los Angeles Chargers did a week ago, where they chipped the edge rushers with tight ends, forcing Garrett to widen his rush path and allowing the tackle to sit inside to protect against an inside move.
In the play above, they chip both Garrett and Clowney, keeping Herbert's lap clean so he can step up into the pocket and allow the two edge rushers to fly by the quarterback.
The Browns have struggled to find consistent play from their defensive tackles, who are all grading out below 52.0 overall in PFF's system. The Chargers rushed for 238 yards against Football Outsiders' worst-ranked run defense in DVOA and created a pocket for quarterback Justin Herbert to step up and deliver passes.
Clowney and Garrett came close to sacking Herbert several times and even almost got the ball out on a few occasions, but ultimately tallied five hurries a piece as they could not get Herbert on the ground.
In the running game, the Chargers continued to invite the Browns tandem up the field with draws and even used "trap" schemes to "earhole" Garrett as he flew downhill.
Here, the Chargers run a draw play to running back Austin Ekeler that initially sparks Garrett and Clowney to go into a pass-rush move. They end up well behind the play, and you can see the movement generated by the interior of Los Angeles's offensive line to spring Ekeler.
This time, Los Angeles ran a "trap" scheme where they left Garrett unblocked to have the tackle fold over the defensive front with a double-team block. The puller kicks Garrett out as he aggressively charges downhill, producing another positive run.
The Chargers consistently created as much displacement on the interior of the line of scrimmage as you'll ever see in an NFL game, while Garrett and Clowney combined for only one tackle for loss. Using the duo's attacking mindset against them, the Patriots can keep them from taking over Sunday's game.
Patriots Defense vs. Browns Offense
With Garrett serving as the centerpiece of the defense, the Browns offense is built around a terrific offensive line and the best running back in professional football, Nick Chubb.
Cleveland has arguably the NFL's best guard tandem in left guard Joel Bitoni and right guard Wyatt Teller while starting tackles Jedrick Wills (left) and Jack Conklin (right) are also elite, and offensive line coach Bill Callahan is as good as it gets at orchestrating the whole thing.
Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski's roots are in Norv Turner's zone run-blocking scheme. As a result, Cleveland runs outside zone (54 attempts) more than any other scheme. Furthermore, 80.6 percent of Chubb's runs come outside the tackle, which leads the NFL by a wide margin.
Cleveland also frequently uses multiple tight ends and a sixth offensive lineman to create as many gaps and significant width to the line of scrimmage as possible, stressing all 11 defenders. You cannot block outside zone better than the rep below. This goes on the teach tape.
"These guys use three tight ends more than anybody in the league. They use the jumbo lineman more than anybody in the league. They use two tight ends a lot. Again, multiple formations, multiple shifts, and a lot of stuff before the snap. Then the ball is snapped you better be ready to go because they're coming after you, and they've got a great back, so there's no rest for the weary there."
"It's one tight end, two tight ends, three tight ends, two tight ends, and a jumbo lineman. There are multiple formations where they put them all on one side and balance them off. Put them all on the other side and shift them from one side to the other side. Shift from balanced to overloaded. Unbalanced line, shift unbalanced line, you name it. There are a lot of things for the defense to worry about," head coach Bill Belichick told Patriots.com this week.
The results are the top-ranked rushing offense by yards, Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, and expected points added, and Chubb leads the NFL in both yards after contact (415) and forced missed tackles (42) by a country mile. If you just take Chubb's rushing yards _after _contact, he's still fourth in the league in rushing heading into Week 6.
|Stat (via PFF)
|Jacoby Brissett With Play-Action
|Jacoby Brissett Without Play-Action
|Pass Yards Per Attempt
And if you sell out to stop the run, quarterback Jacoby Brissett averages 10.2 yards per play-action pass (fifth-best) on a 25.4 play-action rate this season. So how do you stop it?
The biggest challenge for the Patriots defense is that they've struggled this season defending runs outside the tackles, ranking 24th in the league in yards per rush allowed (5.5) and second-to-last in yards before contact (2.6) on outside runs.
One potential answer for the Patriots is the same 3-3-5 big nickel package they used most of the game last week, which is an odd front (3-4) version of their 6-1 tilt front that was made famous by Belichick against Sean McVay's Rams in Super Bowl 53.
The Pats lined up with Kyle Dugger outside the second tight end, Matthew Judon head-up over the in-line Y tight end, and Christian Barmore outside the tackle (five-technique). By making it difficult for the play-side blockers to reach those three defenders, the Lions struggled to turn the corner on the Pats defense on their outside zone schemes, forcing the ball back inside.
Since the Browns use heavy personnel groupings, every defender must prepare to be at the point of attack against the run, while it's going to take a village to bring down Chubb.
Ultimately, forcing the game into Brissett's hands by scoring points offensively would also go a long way to limiting Cleveland's early-down offense as they did in the matchup last season.
1. Pats LT Trent Brown vs. Browns EDGE Myles Garrett
This is such a good matchup that we have to highlight it twice. After a down week in the season-opener, Brown has been nails since and was dominant at times in the last two games. Garrett moves like a pass-rushing alien, though. Again, keeping the shelf clean for whoever is at QB so they can step up in the pocket is the key. Let Garrett and Clowney fly by the pocket while Mac or Zappe slides up and throws. This game will be decided in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
2. Pats RT Isaiah Wynn vs. Browns EDGE Jadeveon Clowney
Due to our confidence in Brown, Clowney rushing against Wynn almost scares you more than Garrett taking over this game. As good as Garrett is, it overshadows Clowney, who is still a game-wrecker in his own right. The Pats will likely help Wynn with chips and sliding the protection in his direction. But they might need to give Marcus Cannon a look if he struggles.
3. Pats S Kyle Dugger vs. Browns TE David Njoku
Several layers to this matchup will have a big say in the game on Sunday. First, Njoku is a big-play producer in the passing game off play-action and his large catch radius. Plus, Dugger beating blocks by Cleveland's tight ends will help the defense set the edge. Dugger was excellent in both run and pass defense last week.
4. Pats WR DeVante Parker vs. Browns CB Denzel Ward
Maybe you weren't expecting to see this matchup here, but we are going off last week's tape. Ward (5-11) gave up three big catches to Chargers contested-catch receiver Mike Williams (6-4) this past Sunday. I know contested jump-balls are the enemy. But giving Parker one or two opportunities against the much smaller Ward could produce an explosive play. Ward is off to a slow start and is currently in concussion protocol, so the Browns might be down their best cover corner on Sunday.