David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots AFC Championship Grades


Let’s just say, the grades won’t be turning out good for the New England Patriots after that lackluster 28-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It was an all-around team loss, and the grades reflect that idea.

New England Patriots Pass Offense D

Everyone shoulders a little bit of the blame here, and it just seemed like something was off for this offense. Tom Brady didn’t look quite right, but it wasn’t completely his fault. Brandon Lloyd made a few nice plays, but he also only came away with 70 receiving yards on 14 targets. The Patriots lack of a deep threat hurt them in this game, because the offense wasn’t able to get a big play going when they needed it most down the stretch. Wes Welker had an awful drop on third down that killed the momentum, but he played a good game aside from that drop. Aaron Hernandez also made a solid impact in this game on short routes, but you can’t nibble away when you are playing catch-up. I’ve been trying to defend Tom Brady as much as possible, but he will have to shoulder a significant amount of the blame. Just not as much as some people are heaping onto him.

Patriots Run Offense C

The Patriots averaged just under four yards per carry as a team with 108 total rushing yards, but Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen were actually decent in this game. However, it seemed like the Pats restricted Vereen too much and used him too late in the game. I wish they decided to get him involved earlier on, because the Ravens defense (the linebackers, mainly) were having fits with him.

Ridley only averaged 3.9 yards per carry on 18 carries, but that balance was crucial to the Patriots 13-7 half-time lead. He received some excellent blocking from Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, and Ryan Wendell in this one, but I was disappointed with the lack of success from Dan Connolly. I honestly think he should be benched in favor of Donald Thomas next season, but that’s discussion for another post.

The below-average per carry statistics against the Ravens don’t tell the whole story, especially since the Ravens are among the best teams in the league at shutting down the run. However, the Patriots can’t get a higher grade than this, because the Pats running game was simply average.

Pats Pass Defense D+

People will look at Joe Flacco‘s numbers (mainly the three touchdowns and no interceptions) and assume that the Patriots secondary had another rough day, and those people would be correct. They should have done better and they would have had Aqib Talib remained healthy, because he was absolutely shutting down Anquan Boldin. When he was knocked out of the game with a thigh/hamstring injury, Kyle Arrington and Marquice Cole stepped right in and looked overmatch.

On the bright side, both Alfonzo Dennard and Talib were excellent in coverage, which gives me faith in the corners on the outside going into the 2013 season as long as Talib is healthy. Devin McCourty was also solid in this game (as usual), but the good work he did in coverage was outdone by a pathetic game from Steve Gregory. He was easily the worst player on the field on defense, and he didn’t even play the run well either. Gregory was repeatedly beat in coverage, and he provided no safety help. That second touchdown catch by Boldin? He provided Cole with no help in the end zone.

The pass rush was even worse, as Joe Flacco had all time to throw as the Pats barely put any pressure on him. Rob Ninkovich led the way with three pressures and Brandon Spikes had a nice hit up the middle, but Justin Francis did not step up with Chandler Jones limited (that had a hugely negative effect on the game). Marshal Yanda also got the best of Vince Wilfork as a pass rusher.

The low grade is mostly the result of extremely little pressure on Flacco, because you can’t let a strong-armed quarterback have all day, especially when the linebackers (mainly Brandon Spikes) are having a difficult time covering two exceptionally talented receiving running backs.

Run Defense B-

The run defense was the only unit that managed to to play an above-average game, but the numbers do flatter them a little bit. Holding down Ray Rice to 2.5 yards per carry is no easy feat and is the strength of this grade, but the Pats looked clueless against backup Bernard Pierce and allowed the Ravens to get the yardage they needed on the ground during those key situations. Rob Ninkovich has 11 missed tackles on the season, and he and Jerod Mayo botched tackles on a Rice touchdown run. Brandon Spikes and Vince Wilfork were very impressive against the run, and they did it going up against two elite offensive linemen in Marshal Yanda and Matt Birk. The latter of the two was lights out in this game ,while the former is the best guard in the NFL.

You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.

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