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SCOUTING REPORT

Patriots at Browns

Today, 1 p.m., Channel 4 (Line: Patriots by 4)

When the Patriots run

BenJarvus Green-Ellis continues to impress as an effective inside runner who shows flashes of brilliance by using a neat combination of quickness and toughness. Green-Ellis, who resembles a mini-fullback with his thick legs and big arms, has a quick first step, which allows him to exploit tiny creases and get to the defense’s second level. That quickness is a detriment at times, as Green-Ellis will sometimes run into his own blockers. He lacks elite speed but has decent open-field dekes. Danny Woodhead uses his above-average quickness and vision to offset a lack of size. Woodhead has great balance and elusiveness, plus the uncanny ability to slide off tacklers and avoid big hits. All this little dude does is pick up yards. The Patriots do a good job of keeping defenses honest by mixing in end-arounds. Aaron Hernandez (he’s big and fast) and Brandon Tate (he’s shifty and fast) are ideal candidates for this. Center Dan Koppen is one of the league’s most underrated players. Intelligent and with great hands, Koppen takes excellent angles and uses his impressive lower-body strength to redirect bull rushers. Cleveland nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin anchors the run defense. He has the strength to occupy multiple blockers but lacks the lateral quickness to make plays in space. Inside linebackers Chris Gocong (he punishes ball carriers with power and range) and Eric Barton (he has superb instincts and hits with authority) play with much emotion.

Edge: Patriots

When the Patriots pass

The one thing we know for sure is that Randy Moss won’t be walking through any Patriot doors anytime soon. That won’t stop Tom Brady’s attack, however. Brady will use every available set of hands to move the ball. He combines tremendous pre-snap recognition, an accurate arm, and uncommon poise to lead this team. While there is no clear-cut No. 1 receiver, there is no shortage of candidates to make plays. Wes Welker is the standard by which all slot receivers are measured. Welker has great quickness (though he’s not yet at his pre-surgery level) and strong hands. He slips to the second level with ease and catches most everything thrown his way. Deion Branch will be limited by a balky hamstring, robbing him of some of his quickness and cutting ability. Brandon Tate showed last week he has the speed, smarts, and focus to be a regular contributor on offense. Tight ends Aaron Hernandez (excellent hands and a knack for getting open) and Rob Gronkowski (great size and soft hands) continue to impress. Danny Woodhead is valuable because of his reliable hands and willingness to engage blockers seemingly twice his size. Cleveland corners Joe Haden (he’s lightning-fast), Eric Wright (he’s athletic and strong), and Sheldon Brown (he’s explosive) will make plays. Rookie safety T.J. Ward plays with an edge and delivers bone-crunching hits.

Edge: Patriots

When the Browns run

Peyton Hillis has emerged as the lead dog in the Dog Pound. He got the job because of an injury to Montario Hardesty (torn ACL) and the inconsistency of Jerome Harrison (shipped to Philadelphia after a stint in Eric Mangini’s doghouse). Hillis has kept the job because he keeps putting up numbers. A 6-foot-1-inch, 240-pound fullback/tailback hybrid, Hillis has good instincts and patience. He understands blocking schemes and will follow the big uglies through the creases. He has neither an explosive first step nor high-end speed but he picks up the yards by keeping his legs churning and always falling forward. He will break tackles, but his lack of quickness prevents him from picking up big chunks consistently. Mike Bell has speed and athleticism, but a lack of patience and nagging injuries have prevented him from shaking the label as a career backup. The Patriots will need to be aware of wide receiver Joshua Cribbs. He is a man of a million moves and can do a lot of damage on reverses and direct snaps. Vince Wilfork sets the run-defense tempo for the Patriots, whether he’s lined up at nose or end. The nimble (yes, nimble) 6-2, 325-pounder has great lateral quickness and power. He can be disruptive in the backfield but will chase runners down from behind, too. Jerod Mayo has tremendous instincts and uses speed and power to batter bodies. Fellow inside linebacker Brandon Spikes has a nice combination of instincts and speed.

Edge: Patriots

When the Browns pass

Browns quarterback Colt McCoy will face his third tough test in a row as the rookie tries to decipher a Bill Belichick defense. After passable performances in Pittsburgh (a loss) and in New Orleans (a win sparked by the defense), McCoy gets a chance to show off for the home folks. They won’t be patient. McCoy (6 feet 1 inch, 216 pounds) lacks the height to be a classic dropback passer, but he does have a strong, accurate arm. McCoy has the drive and work ethic to get better. He can buy time with his quick feet but he doesn’t respond well to pocket pressure and has questionable durability. McCoy’s top target will be the tantalizingly talented yet frustratingly inconsistent Ben Watson. The tight end has a wonderful combination of size, speed, and athleticism. He has the quickness to dust linebackers and the power to plow over defensive backs. The fact is, however, he rarely uses these skills together and too often drops balls that have been fed right into his bread basket. Joshua Cribbs is fearless going over the middle but runs sloppy routes. Chansi Stuckey has excellent burst and reliable hands. Mohamed Massaquoi is a speedy athlete who runs crisp routes but has had bouts of inconsistency. Patriot corners Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington run hot and cold and benefit from solid play by rangy safeties James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather.

Edge: Browns

BROWNS’ KEY PLAYER

Peyton Hillis

A running back known only to fantasy geeks (and drafted by none of them) entering the season, the 6-foot-1-inch, 240-pound thumper has emerged as a vital cog for an offense that has yet to settle on a quarterback.

How he beats you: With muscle and instincts. Hillis has good vision and will follow his blocks. He pops through openings at good pad level and will deliver blows.

How to shut him down: With extra bodies in the box. Until quarterback Colt McCoy proves he can move the ball consistently, stock the front with big boys and keep pounding Hillis into submission.

BROWNS’ KEYS TO VICTORY
1. Brown baggers: Linebackers Scott Fujita, Matt Roth, and Eric Barton have to get to Tom Brady and deliver some big shots to prevent him from establishing an early rhythm.

2. Screen test: Peyton Hillis is a solid receiver out of the backfield. Get him the ball on some play-action. It’ll keep the clock ticking and give Colt McCoy some easy early completions.

3. Kick in the pants: Joshua Cribbs just might be the most electrifying return man in the game. He has to make plays to keep the Browns close.

PATRIOTS’ KEYS TO VICTORY
1. Rookie mistakes: Browns quarterback Colt McCoy will be nervous in his first home start. Disguising the defenses and bringing the heat will make him confused, bruised, and demoralized, too.

2. Elementary, my dear: Thugging tight end Ben Watson at the line is a must. It will disrupt his timing and get him thinking. The more he thinks, the fewer plays he makes.

3. My name is Woody: Danny Woodhead has proven he’s up for anything. Rushing, receiving, blocking, whatever. The more he’s on the field, the better the Patriots will be.

Prediction: Patriots 26, Browns 16

 

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