Five-star question: Will the Patriots tie the NFL record of 14 consecutive games with at least 30 points this week?
The date was Nov. 7, 2010, and the New England Patriots were visiting the Cleveland Browns in a contest in which the home team was coming off a bye week and also riding the momentum of an outstanding road win against the defending champion New Orleans Saints.
The defensive coordinator for the Browns that day was Rob Ryan, now with the Cowboys. The Browns didn't have a great deal to for which to play, but at 2-5 it was another opportunity to get some game experience for rookie quarterback Colt McCoy.
To Ryan's credit, his Browns had not played that poorly, allowing opponents to score an average of about 20 points a game. On the other side, the Patriots came into the game with a 6–1 record and averaging 26 points per game. With a Browns team that was nowhere near as talented as the defense he coaches today, Ryan was able to do something that most defensive coordinators attempted to do, and that was fool Tom Brady with the scheme.
Ryan opened the game in his base 3-4 look but after that, he played nickel, with two down linemen and four linebackers or he played no down linemen, stand-up linebackers and defensive backs with man coverage behind it. Ryan did a great job of never giving Brady and the Patriots' offense the same look, whether it was fronts or coverages. The Browns did a nice job of not allowing Brady to feel comfortable in the pocket.
There were opportunities for Brady to hit on some passes but he just wasn't steady enough to make the accurate throws and his receivers let him down with bad drops. Ryan's defense was also able to force a fumble from tight end Rob Gronkowski near the goal line right before the half that held the lead at 17–7 for the Browns. The unit was also able to force the Patriots out on downs from the Browns 15 in the fourth quarter.
Ryan called a wonderful game and he was able to match his personnel up against the Patriots' and not give up any huge plays. The thing you notice quickly about this current Patriots squad is their ability to make plays down the field. I have never seen an offense that runs more crossing routes down the field.
The Patriots do a really nice job of breaking down your scheme. Where this game for the Cowboys could very well hinge is not so much how Ryan deals with Wes Welker but with tight ends Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who really don't play like true tight ends.
To Ryan's benefit, it will be the first time since early in training camp that he will be able to use Mike Jenkins, Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick at the same time. The Patriots put a ton of pressure with formations and the fact that they play with one of the all-time great quarterbacks in Brady.
I think that the Cowboys and Ryan will be able to hold this offense under 30 points because of the pressure that he can bring and how he will be able to use his coverage. The Cowboys' offense will have a huge hand as well in how this game will shake out. The Patriots have struggled to generate enough pass rush to cause offenses problems and the secondary gives up room on routes.
I believe that Ryan and this defense will get some stops, but it's up to the Cowboys' offense to not give up possessions as well. If they can do that it will help this defense greatly.
The loss to Ryan's Browns was the last time that Brady and the Patriots' offense didn't score 30 or more points in a regular-season game. Since, they have scored 30 or more against some quality defenses: Pittsburgh, Chicago, Green Bay, San Diego and the New York Jets have all had to deal with this Patriots offensive attack.