During a year in the NFL that has promoted parity by causing more head scratching moments than punters who still kick balls to Devin Hester, one team has seemingly nominated itself as the favorites for the Superbowl with it's dominant performances.
The New England Patriots have been playing unbelievable football during the past few weeks and have had onlookers drooling at their incisive offense and marveling at their emerging defense that benefits from a strong special teams unit. A franchise that went unbeaten throughout the regular season in 2007 looks to be playing even better this year. The Patriots may have lost two games already but they have looked unbeatable in recent weeks. Which begs the question; How do you beat the Patriots?
The first thing you must do is understand exactly what the Patriots have done to this point in the season to become such a feared outfit. The team sits atop the AFC with a 12-2 record going into the final two weeks of the season. In recent weeks they have dismantled recent SuperBowl winners and teams with realistic claims at this years crown.
The first major scalp of the season came when the Patriots beat the Baltimore Ravens 23-20 in week 6. Its no secret that the Ravens weakness coming into this season has been their secondary. The defense had only half of its starters in the secondary during their Week 6 match-up, crucially missing Ed Reed from the free safety spot. The Patriots were able to escape with a victory in this game thanks to a big performance from Deion Branch who took advantage of Chris Carr, a cornerback who has predominantly been a kick returner throughout his career. Significantly the Ravens proved that you could run the ball against the Patriots defense as Ray Rice ground out 88 yards on the ground while the secondary, while outmatched talent-wise matched up well with the smaller receivers as the Ravens have shorter agile cornerbacks such as Josh Wilson, Lardarius Webb and the aforementioned Chris Carr.
While the Patriots lost early in the season to the New York Jets, a team with lofty expectations, in the new Meadowlands stadium, it was their trip to Ohio and their game against the lowly Cleveland Browns that really exposed their flaws. The Browns man handled the Patriots winning 34-14. The Browns were 3-5 at the time and are currently 5-9 with two weeks left in the season and lie second last in the AFC North. How can a team that has lost almost twice the amount of games that it has won beat a team that has broken records routinely this season?
A trap game?
It's much simpler than that.
The NFL is a league based on match-ups and the Cleveland Browns are the perfect matchup to beat the New England Patriots. The Browns lay out a game-plan for any team looking to beat the Patriots this season. During the offseason they picked up Peyton Hillis from the Denver Broncos. Hillis is a powerful runner who played fullback in Denver before being switched to running back in Cleveland. He punished the Patriot's defense carrying the ball 29 times for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The Browns rode Hillis to over 38 minutes of possession keeping Tom Brady and his explosive offense on the sideline. The Patriots' defense lost Ty Warren, the team's second best run stuffer, before the season had even begun which has thrown rookie Brandon Deaderick into the starting lineup. This has been an often overlooked but nonetheless vital loss to the Patriots' defense.
The Browns rode their running game through the Patriots on offense while their secondary was the key match-up defensively. The Browns secondary is short and often overmatched by the height of team's receivers but their agility and speed allowed them to shut down the Patriots' offense. Starting cornerbacks Eric Wright and Sheldon Brown were aided by rookie first round pick Joe Haden while starting rookie safety T.J Ward also contributed to shutting down the Patriots corp of short and shifty receivers that most teams cannot keep up with. The Browns secondary is not one of the best in the league, the team is ranked 15th against the pass as a whole while playing in the run heavy AFC North but it held the Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady to 224 yards and 2 touchdowns(the second of which came when the game was out of reach)because of good depth at the position and the exact type of players who match up with the agility and speed of the Patriots offense.