Though the New England Patriots’ defense has been off to a historic start this season, their contest this past week against the Cleveland Browns showed some glaring holes in Bill Belichick’s impressive unit. In Sunday’s game against the Browns, Cleveland began their first offensive series following a lengthy Tom Brady-led Patriots drive. Setting up shop on their own 20-yard line, Browns’ coach Freddie Kitchens called running back Nick Chubb’s number, and as the back ran his off-tackle gap, the ball was punched out and recovered by linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who returned the ball for six points. On the ensuing drive, Chubb was given the rock once more and went galavanting through the Patriots’ defense and secondary on a 50 plus yard run. Fortunately enough, veteran cornerback Jonathan Jones chased down Chubb and punched the ball loose at the Patriots’ 10-yard line, which the Patriots recovered.
Cleveland’s defense, specifically their pass rush and young secondary, forced Brady off the field on the ensuing drive. Though they forced the turnover, quarterback Baker Mayfield and the rest of the Brown’s offense couldn’t handle the hot hand, turning the ball over once more. On first down, the intention of the first play was to be a shovel pass up the middle to wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who was running across the formation. Defensive lineman Lawrence Guy sniffed out the play, and beat his blocker right off the snap, driving the offensive lineman into Landry. Right as Mayfield pitched the ball, Guy jumped the route and picked off the pass for arguably one of the most unique interceptions we’ve ever seen. The pick set up Brady and the offense on Cleveland’s 11-yard line, allowing wide receiver Julian Edelman to run his bread and butter route, the slot receiver slant, and he caught Brady’s strike in stride and ran in for six. New England, up 17-0 following a chip shot extra point by journeyman kicker Mike Nugent, all but buried the Browns with precision and discipline on both sides of the football.
Including Guy’s interception, New England has tallied 19 interceptions at the season’s halfway mark, nearly double the second-place team, San Francisco, who has 10. The Patriots additionally pace the league in sacks, as they took down Mayfield five times on the night, raising their total to 30 after eight contests. Though the Patriots’ passing defense is on another level currently, their run defense, which does sit at fourth in the league, was gashed by Chubb, on a day where his stat line will forever be marred by those two consecutive fumbles.
Though Brady was able to capitalize on the turnovers and excellent field position given to him by the defense, the running game lost all of its consistency following the first quarter. This inability to run out the clock and ice away a lead against a disciplined squad could be detrimental moving forward. Belichick’s first-round draft choice, running back Sony Michel, led New England with 21 carries for 74 yards, while the rest of the team combined for just five yards on six touches. The Patriots will have a reinforcement coming soon, as left tackle Isaiah Wynn is set to return from the injured reserve list. Wynn will be eligible to play against the Philadelphia Eagles in week 11, after the Patriots’ bye week and when the schedule really starts to kick into high gear. Additionally, first-round draft choice wide receiver N’Keal Harry was activated following the contest against Cleveland, looking to pair well with Edelman and trade acquisition Mohamed Sanu to give Brady a well-rounded receiving core.
The Patriots’ first true test of the season will come in the form of an opponent Belichick has to plan heavily for: quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson, who appears to be the second coming of NFL legend Michael Vick, poses as the first quarterback capable of running for 100 yards against the Patriots in the history of the team under Belichick. We should expect to see athletic linebacker Jamie Collins playing as a quarterback spy on Jackson to minimize his impact in the running game. The Ravens have run the ball more effectively than any other NFL team this season and it is their ability to control the clock and wear down the defense that has made them as successful as they are up until this point. The Patriots’ defense usually revolves around Belichick erasing the opposing team’s top offensive weaponry, forcing them to their secondary options. For Jackson, his precision passing that he exemplified throughout the first few weeks of the season better be on full display, otherwise he’ll have a rough outing against that historic secondary.
Following the tilt against Baltimore, New England has a bye week, which will allow the roster to rest and return some key players, such as Harry. Edelman and other players have been playing through minor injuries, so the two-week period to heal will send the Patriots cruising into their week 11 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles, a rematch of Super Bowl 52. Brady and the Patriots are continuing their quest to hit 16-0 once more, and it’s looking like there are few teams that have any hope of stopping them.