To help get a better perspective on today’s match-up with the New England Patriots, we spoke with Jamie Pacheco of the Patriots blog Musket Fire. My questions and his answers are below (and you can read my responses to his questions here):
1. Is there any surprise among you or other Patriots fans that the team is currently 6-1, with the best record in the league?
I am definitely surprised, as is the rest of Patriot Nation. Predictions for the Patriots’ season on the local sports radio shows ranged everywhere from 7-9 to 10-6 at best, though some who were considered “overly optimistic” went with 11-5. All of those are still real possibilities, but to get to the consensus successful season of 10-6, the Pats would only have to win 4 out of the remaining 9 games. I don’t see the team dropping 5 games for the rest of the season, so all of New England is pleasantly surprised with their Patriots.
2. It seems like the Pats have actually improved after parting ways with Randy Moss. What is the biggest reason as to why the Patriots are now firing on all cylinders?
I’m not sure that it all has to do with Moss no longer being on the team. Where his absence does have an impact is in the long ball. Tom Brady is no longer relying on throwing the ball up to Moss when the team is in a pinch and instead is re-committed to finding whomever is open. Moss was never a good fit for what the team likes to do in the passing game schematically. Moss is limited in the routes he runs and how crisp they are, and the Patriot offense is based mostly on strong, precise route running. Probably the biggest thing that has helped the team offensively is the commitment to the running game. This started while Moss was still on the team and has improved each week. Last week’s clock killing, game-clinching final drive was almost solely done on the legs of BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The running game is a quarterback’s best friend and has certainly been Brady’s best friend this season.
3. What do you believe will be the game plan for the Patriots against the Browns, both offensively and defensively?
Offensively, I expect an overall balanced attack like we have seen develop throughout the course of the season. In addition to that, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a trick play or two. The Browns have utilized some gadget plays effectively and I can see Belichick trying to match his former protege trick play for trick play. Defensively, I think the Patriots will try and confuse Colt McCoy and look to capitalize on any mistakes he makes. I don’t think that it will include many exotic blitzes, but the defense will show one look and then play something else at the snap, likely dropping back into different zones and squeezing the short-to-intermediate routes. If any player gets an interception on McCoy, I think it will be a linebacker who showed blitz and then dropped back into zone coverage.
4. We certainly know that Tom Brady will hurt you, but who is another player that should be on the Browns’ radar?
Offensively, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead in the backfield are two players that have gashed opposing defenses. Both are running hard and Woodhead adds an extra threat in the passing game. Defensively, Jerod Mayo is the most disruptive player to anything the Browns want to do. Mayo has been all over the field and leads the NFL with 86 tackles. He’s always around the ball and is a sure tackler. Colt McCoy needs to know where Mayo is at all times.
5. So, who wins this one?
Being a big Texas Longhorns fan, I’m really pulling for Colt McCoy to be successful in the NFL, just not this week. I think the Browns make it a tight game, pulling to within a field goal late, but the Pats seal the game with a final touchdown to win 27-17.