The New England Patriots were able to subdue the Buffalo Bills at home 37-31 and earn the season sweep, but not all the grades turned in well for the Patriots in this one.
Pass Offense A-
This grade was earned by the arm of Tom Brady; not the hands of his receivers. Wes Welker dropped an easy 34-yard touchdown catch that was perfectly designed by Brady on an audible, and there really is no excuse for letting a pass bounce of your hands. That drop wouldn’t have mattered as much had Welker taken advantage of a favorable matchup in the slot, but the usually terrific WR was poor against a Bills secondary decimated by injuries. He barely caught over 50% of the passes thrown at him and was anything but consistent.
Brandon Lloyd and Rob Gronkowski had some solid moments, but they were merely average when they should have been great. Deion Branch would like to forget this game- save for some awesome run blocking- after wasting eight targets to the tune of just 30 receiving yards.
Now let’s look at the good. And the good was great. Tom Brady had a TQBR of 87.9 (the ESPN stat) and was the third best quarterback this week when combining the advanced metrics SR%, EPA, and WPA. He was simply clutch in this one, and his performance was the the biggest factor in the Patriots victory.
Run Offense B
Danny Woodhead’s 15-yard scamper was a real treat to watch, and the blocking was solid all game even when Dan Connolly and Logan Mankins went down. Brian Waters who? Seriously, Donald Thomas is probably the best backup guard in the league right now and Nick McDonald’s solid versatility was shown yesterday.
Stevan Ridley could have had a better day against the Bills run defense and the unwinding and uncharacteristically undisciplined Nick Barnett. However, it’s difficult to fault 98 rushing yards and 4.5 yards per carry in a workhorse day for the Patriots star back. Ridley can do it all as a rusher, and he made up for a poor game from Shane Vereen. This is supposed to be Vereen’s chance to shine, but the former Cal back isn’t making good use of Brandon Bolden’s absences (save for his big Week 7).
Pass Defense C+
Ryan Fitzpatrick went off for 337 passing yards, and this grade is mainly earned by the failings of the front seven on pass defense. Chandler Jones was blanked out by Cordy Glenn again in a battle of rookies, while Rob Ninkovich had probably the worst game of any DE/LB all season. Only Jermaine Cunningham provided pressure for the Pats on a consistent basis.
Brandon Spikes and the linebackers were horrible in coverage, with Spikes getting manhandled by both Donald Jones and TE Scott Chandler all day. I have no idea why the Patriots defense’s goal seems to be giving Chandler as many opportunities to look like Rob Gronkowski out there.
Kyle Arrington was poor- as usual- and Kyle Arrington had a surprising off game, but the secondary wasn’t the problem here. Devin McCourty had a crucial pick to the seal the game, and he was even better in coverage by allowing just one catch. McCourty made plays all day long, and he is easily the most valuable member of the secondary. He was the Defensive MVP of the game and was the second most important player- behind Brady- in the Pats win.
Run Defense D-
This was brutal. I mean, 15 missed tackles is like 12 too many. I hope the front seven got this one out of their system, because I’ve never seen this usually elite bunch play this poorly. Dont’a Hightower is going to be great in the future, but games like this remind me that he has a long ways to go to get to that level.
Jerod Mayo was below-average, but the sad thing is that he was the second-best starter on the front seven in this game behind Vince Wilfork. Chandler Jones was bad against the run as well, and Ninkovich got mauled on pretty much every play. That’s a far cry from the guy who has been one of the best strong-side run defenders in the league this year.
And don’t even get me started on Steve Gregory. Putrid tackling at its finest. Other than that, the secondary was fine as far as tackling goes. Arrington, Tavon Wilson, and McCourty were astute back there.
Let’s hope this was all rust, especially for Gregory. I am betting this was an anomaly overall, but allowing nearly six yards per attempt- even to the best running back duo in the league- is extremely uncharacteristic for this run defense.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.