WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
If the Patriots are efficient on offense, they will murder Cleveland. But early-game flatness has been an issue the last three games. Outstanding as the Patriots have been adjusting, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels needs to find a way to get the offense hitting on one thing early and pounding it. The Patriots seem as if they’re sliding back toward the “probe-to-find-the-matchup” offense that marked prior seasons’ early inefficiencies and resulted in some wasted possessions. The Browns are stiff against the run but will be missing defensive end Desmond Bryant who went on IR with an irregular heartbeat this week. The Browns also cover well at the linebacker level with D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson. Their edge rusher, Paul Kruger, was very good with the Ravens last year and Joe Haden is a solid corner. What defensive coordinator Ray Horton has his group do is try to limit big plays so the Patriots will have to find the weak spot. That means more probing this week. Third-down efficiency in the first half is a big stat to watch. When teams get in the red zone against Cleveland, they get touchdowns quite often.