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Patriots' run defense failed them on Sunday

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Recent posts by Kevin Fishbain

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Posted Nov. 08, 2010 @ 3:41 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

It looks like the Patriots' bend-but-not-break defense has broken. It was expected to happen at some point after five consecutive victories, but not against the Browns.

The Browns looked like the better team on the field in all facets in Sunday's 34-14 victory. They ran all over the Patriots, rookie QB Colt McCoy had no problem throwing (or running) against the Pats, Tom Brady's offense stalled and the special teams collapsed.

The goat of the game was rookie TE Rob Gronkowski. His mistake on an attempt to fair-catch a kickoff led to a turnover, and the Browns took over and scored a TD to go up 10-0. Then, with a chance to cut Cleveland's lead to as little as three points right before halftime, Gronkowski fumbled while trying to get extra yards near the endzone. He also had a couple of drops on the day.

But Gronkowski did not allow Browns RB Peyton Hillis to rack up 184 yards rushing.

The PFW Spin

As bad as the Patriots' pass defense has been all season, their stout run defense had kept them in games, forcing teams into 2nd-and-long and 3rd-and-long situations. They entered Sunday 11th in the league against the run.

They left Cleveland 21st.

The 6-1, 240-pound Hillis had a career game, and give credit where credit is due — the Browns were ready for this game, coming off a bye.

Where did the breakdowns occur? For one thing, the Patriots' defensive line rarely won individual battles, and Hillis at full speed is not easy for a linebacker to bring down, as evidenced when he trucked ILB Brandon Spikes on a touchdown run.

Spikes and ILB Jerod Mayo have helped keep opposing backs from getting past the second level, and while they led the team in tackles, usually it was trailing Hillis after he had picked up a good chunk of yardage. On Hillis' 35-yard TD run, DL Ron Brace was held up inside and S James Sanders did not set the edge as Hillis bounced to the outside and sprinted to the endzone.

It was one thing when the young pass defense was flailing. That was expected, and without S Patrick Chung, the unit is depleted. But the secondary had benefited from a run defense that put the opposing offense in obvious passing downs, and the Pats' defense had been making critical stops.

The Patriots need to hope Sunday was an aberration, and that the run defense will be improved for a crucial Sunday-night game against the Steelers in Week 10. Now ranking 29th in the league in total defense, the Patriots simply are not putting together enough offense to consistently make up for their porous defense.

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