By Dan Zeigarnik, Patriots Daily Staff
Fans are a resilient bunch, and have quickly shrugged off one of the most embarrassing losses in recent history. It has already been chalked up as a trap game against a coaching staff that knew how Belichick operates. The Patriots seemed woefully unprepared for the dogfight that the Browns were clearly going to bring. Having just come off of a great win against the Saints, and getting a whole bye week to prepare for the Pats, Cleveland was brimming with confidence and the Browns brought their “A” game. Colt McCoy was cool under fire, and clearly has a bright future in this league. Peyton Hillis is simply a beast the likes of which we haven’t seen since Mike Alstott. It also seems that Cribbs, Massaquoi and Robiskie only needed a competent quarterback to let their considerable talents shine through. The Cleveland Browns are clearly playing well and are better then their 3-5 record would have you believe.
The Patriots on the other hand are worse then their 6-2 record. Their defense is young and porous in the middle third. There complete lack of ability to prevent a 10 yard pass down the middle is borne out by the stats; they are dead last in 3rd down stops. Their offense is better, but not much better. The Patriots running game, while lovable, holds on by a shoestring with 2 players who would fit right in with the cast of the movie The Replacements. Speaking of which, Tom Brady looked like Shane ‘Foot-steps’ Falco, and it’s not just his obnoxious and noxious haircut. It was his errant and off-balance throws. To top it all off, the wide receivers can’t seem to get open and are all having a sub-par year. Welker’s woes are understandable; Branch is slower and more injury prone then he was 5 years ago. Edelman is having a year to forget and Tate is still developing.
This was all evident to anyone actually watching the games and not just listening to 98.5 about how much better the Patriots are now that Randy Moss is gone. It was easy to get coaxed into that kind of thinking, because the Patriots were finding ways to win games and pad their record. However, it’s hard to win games when you lose the turnover battle especially in the costly way the Patriots did last Sunday. The things to keep in mind for the rest of the season is that the Pats are a fun team with exciting young players that play the Belichick way.
Next up are the vaunted Steelers on the road, and Patriot fans are understandably nervous about being 1 game into a 3 game loosing streak. Sunday’s play against the Browns didn’t help much to bolster their confidence. However, there isn’t a single team in the league without a loss, and most team have an embarrassing loss or even multiple losses on their sheet. In this topsy-turvy league, anything can happen week to week. Look for the Patriots to get the upper hand in these key matchups:
1) Quaterback Play
Tom Brady had a night to forget and needs to bring his ‘A’ game in order for the Patriots to have any chance at winning this game. Roethlisberger is an upper echelon QB, but his team never asks him to throw a lot or for many yards. Also, he has had his fair share of turnovers and mediocre games this season despite having only playing in 4 games.
2) Gostowski’s replacement
With Stephen Gostkowski out of the year with a torn quadriceps it is vital that his replacement be adequate.
3) Rashard Mendenhall
He is a workhorse that can run through or around his opponents. This does not bode well for the Patriots linebackers who were just flattened by a much less-talented Peyton Hillis. Containing Mendenhall is of utmost importance, as he is the lynch-pin of the Steelers attack.
4) 3rd down conversions
The Patriots defense needs to get off the field, and give the offense a chance to put some points on the board. Otherwise the Steelers will just grind out the clock with a well-oiled ground game.
5) Turnover battle
What happened to Rob Gronkowski against the Browns is only forgivable because he is such a promising rookie and those mistakes seem like flukes. The team that wins the turnover battle will most likely win the game.