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New England Patriots

Jun 10, 2021; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (50) talks to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels during OTAs at the New England Patriots practice complex. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a cliché to say that an American football game “will be won in the trenches.” But in the case of Patriots-Browns on Sunday, it’s true. It’s damn true.

The big story out of Cleveland this week is a creeping COVID calamity (Scoops Callahan here!) in the running back room. But the true football heads know that head coach Kevin Stefanski’s run-heavy scheme is based around the offensive line. Sophisticated zone blocking, high-end talent across the offensive line … profit?

Cleveland heads to Foxboro this weekend on a high note, Costanza. They will face the Patriots coming off a 41-16 thumping of the Bengals. Cincinnati had no answer for the Browns on the ground. Cleveland rushed 23 times for 153 yards and two touchdowns, with Nick Chubb doing most of the damage.

And it’s not the same exact thing every week, either. Stefanski will tailor parts of the offense to the opponent, just like the Patriots do. It’s a diverse attack with an engine of five nimble ogres opening space for whoever carries the ball.

“They’ve got gap plays. They’ve got zone plays. They’ve got the midzone plays, outside plays,” head coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday. “The backs are really good. The point of entry could be one place, but that could end up somewhere else. You’ve got to do a good job across the board, and they usually get a couple guys to win on their blocks, so there’s just space in there somewhere. Tight ends do a good job. All of them. They use all three tight ends and a fullback and 11-personnel, so they kind of run wherever they can attack you, wherever you don’t match up well with them, and they’ll exploit that.”

  • Chubb’s 70-yard touchdown against the Bengals exemplified their ground game and the way they can take a big dump down your throat on one play. Their O-linemen probably take dumps the size of your arm. Anyway, watch from the left side. Tight end Austin Hooper, left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., left guard Joel Bitonio, center J.C. Tretter, and right guard Wyatt Teller. Across the board, they all win their blocks at both the first and second levels. Every single friggin’ one of them. That right tackle Blake Hance whiffed on a cut-block was inconsequential, because it’s a run to the left and Chubb is good as gone.

  • Just like the Browns’ big boys will be key to them pulling off the road win at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots’ own behemoths on defense will be key to keeping Cleveland from moving the ball. That starts with the D-line and guys like Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, and ascending rookie Christian Barmore, but extends to the linebackers you’ll see against the run, like Dont’a Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley.

    “They’re one of the top running teams in the NFL,” said defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington. “They do a good job of getting a hat on a hat. They do a good job of using all of their backs. It really doesn’t matter. Chubb, obviously, and then Kareem [Hunt], then, you know, all those guys. Just go down the line, for an offensive line. They do a really good job with their blocking and the way they handle the down guys and work up to the second level and get the ball to the edge. You can’t say enough good things about them, the way they do it. The number speaks for itself about their running game. They do a good job of game-planning.”

    (Hand up: had to look up “hat on a hat.” It basically means every guy getting blocked. Learn something new every day. This has been Reading Rainbow.)

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    The challenge the Browns put on themselves every week is that it mostly takes all 5-7 blockers executing properly for the offense to work right. So, in order to blow a play up, it could take just one of the Patriots’ Jumbo Joes to beat them to the dump down the throat with an even bigger dump.

    “We’ve got to go out there and bring the fight to them, we can’t allow them to bring the fight to us,” Guy told reporters on Thursday. “You know how they say in the trenches, it’s all about the first punch, so we have to deliver the first punch and continue to do it every single down and make sure we eliminate all the big plays they have.”

    The Browns lead the NFL with 5.3 yards per carry, and they’ve done that with the third-most run attempts. The Patriots, meanwhile, have quietly become one of the league’s better run defenses. After a rocky start, they’re now ninth in yards allowed per carry (4.1), and they rank first against runs to the right tackle, third against runs up the middle, and seventh against runs to the left guard.

    Problem is, Justin Jackson’s 75-yard run against the Pats in Week 8 is reeeally skewing things. So I’m going to remove that from the stats for now. Why? Because I can. Excluding that play, the Patriots have allowed 3.73 yards per carry since Week 3, fourth-fewest in the league. Where’s the beef? That’s where.

    Gillette Stadium is going to be a big ol’ beef stew on Sunday. Whoever wins could come down to whose stew smells better.

  • The Other Side

    CLEVELAND, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 19: Defensive end Myles Garrett #95 of the Cleveland Browns battles with offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil #78 of the Houston Texans during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 19, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

    CLEVELAND, OHIO – SEPTEMBER 19: Defensive end Myles Garrett #95 of the Cleveland Browns battles with offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil #78 of the Houston Texans during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 19, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

    The Browns’ offensive line vs the Patriots’ defensive line is arguably the key matchup in the game on Sunday. But there’s also a big challenge for Mac Jones and the Pats’ offensive line against a talented group of Cleveland pass-rushers.

    Obviously, Myles Garrett is the first chapter of that book. The guy has goddamn twelve sacks already, and 23 quarterback hits. He leads the league in both. Pass-rushers who go first overall in the draft don’t always pan out like you hope, but Garrett is becoming a perennial All-Pro.

    What the hell makes Garrett so effective, anyway?

    “Everything,” said Belichick. “Power. Explosion. Speed. Instincts. He can do it all. He’s got a tremendous skillset. Smart player. Very instinctive player. Reacts extremely quickly. He’s as tough a matchup as there is in the league.”

    Garrett can line up anywhere, but he typically sets up shop over the left tackle. So his guy is likely going to be either Isaiah Wynn, who’s taken a baffling step back this season, or Trent Brown just returning off injured reserve.

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    Keep an eye on that matchup, too. It might show up a few times on Sunday.

  • NEW Sports Hub Underground Podcast

    There’s no Patriots talk on this week’s podcast, but I’m plugging it here because I feel like it. We talk about the Bruins, fun facts about Ghostbusters, Aaron Rodgers pearl-clutching in the media, and our “Big 3” pro athletes that were must-see TV for us.