No offense intended, Cleveland, okay? The top match-up I’ll be looking at tomorrow is the game clock. Yes, NFL.com tells me the 4-8 Cleveland Browns feature the league’s 4th-best defense, but somehow that still doesn’t strike fear into me. And. hey, Houston is third.
As the New England Patriots girds for another playoff run and the Browns play out their schedule, I need to see a complete, 60-minute game, the type of game that wins in January or even February. Does the crew from Foxboro still have it in them?
Despite a pair of wins the last two weeks, the Patriots appeared incapable of competing in every quarter each weekend. The team was outscored 41-7 in the first half against Denver and Houston. While all of us watched the impressive comeback wins in those games, that doesn’t erase the bad from our memories.
Part of the problem has been a lack of focus on holding on to the football or fumbles. When Pats fans think of fumbles, we think Stevan Ridley, last seen barely holding a football on the sidelines. Keeping him out of the game didn’t correct the Patriots problem with starting slow. He can help, however, assuming the hold-the-ball-on-the-sidelines stunt that feels like a high school stunt works. Fumbles notwithstanding, #22 is the team’s top back and a top touchdown maker in the league. Translation: the NEP needs Ridley.
I’m not blaming Ridley exclusively for the incomplete effort displayed by the Patriots. Obviously, each player has a role, as does Bill Belichick and his coaching staff. Tom Brady isn’t exempt and has discussed the problem multiple times. Brady said:
It’s hard to keep playing from behind. We talk about it. We’re trying to get better at it. There’s no magic formula, just like there’s really no magic formula to what we’re doing in the second half. It’s just really the execution needs to be a lot better at the start of the game. Really, we’ve got to have great execution for the entire game. I think that’s the most important thing. And we’ve played some really good teams, really good defenses put a lot of pressure on us so it’s hard sometimes to play 60 good minutes of football but we’ve got to start doing that at some point so we’ve had some ups and downs, we gotta put together a good game.
Bill Belichick said basically that executing a game plan is a process that takes some time to get right during a game. He said:
Sometimes it takes a little while to figure out how they’re going to match you. Again, that’s a little bit of a chess game sometimes. If a team is trying to match you, what’s triggering the match? Is it a certain guy? Is it multiple receivers?…Sometimes figuring that out, when you use different personnel groups offensively, takes a little bit.”