The keys to this game begin on the defensive side of the football. For the Browns, they will need to do a much better job slowing New England’s potent passing attack than they did in Washington. For a depleted secondary which understandably has troubles against talented receivers, the Browns need to do everything they can do to slow Brady down, including manufacturing pressure on him that throws him off-balance.
This is much easier said than done. But contrary to popular opinion, pressure is not equivalent to sacks. Early in the game, if the Browns can take Brady out of his rhythm, pressure will pay dividends. Forcing early throws is part of this, as well as altering New England’s play selections because the defense is simply making the game more difficult than it has been in the past.
In essence, the Browns need not worry about the big picture, defensive stats or whether they are finishing the deal initially. Everything will work itself out if the defense can find some consistent pressure without needing to blitz.
Most of all, this has to happen for Ray Horton‘s defense without dialing up sell-out blitzes. This is what the Browns have resorted to late in the last two games, and it has worked to a certain degree, but it can not be maintained over the course of an entire game. This is why the Browns absolutely need to find holes in New England’s pass protection and exploit them without needing to send more defenders than the Patriots can block.
The good news is, players on Cleveland’s defense have revealed their capabilities. Solid games will once again be needed up front from Danny Shelton, Xavier Cooper, Jamie Meder and Stephen Paea. This time though, the team has to find a way to put all of these individual efforts together and come away with a result. This will be the most difficult part, but it only even has a chance of happening if the Browns can generate an irritating pass rush.