The New England Patriots took down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday night 25-21 to run their preseason record to 2-0, and it’s time to take a look at the individual position units and briefly grade them. I usually only grade four different “units” (pass offense, run offense, pass defense, run defense), but it’s too difficult to do that for preseason games. I’ll still use those four groups as the basis for regular season grades, but I’m handling preseason grades differently.
For as bad as Tim Tebow was in this game, the other quarterbacks basically salvage this grade. It’s hard to grade all three quarterbacks as a group, because all three quarterbacks had performances that resembled different ends of the spectrum. Tom Brady had what we would basically call a “perfect day”, Ryan Mallett once again embodied the “mixed bag”, and Tebow was just friggin’ terrible. I mean, I don’t even think Tebow had one good throw in that game, and that interception was one of the worst picks I’ve seen in a long time. And I’ve watched plenty of Chicago Bears games when Rex Grossman was the quarterback. Mallett had a poor start to his night, but he buckled down and really started to move the ball up the field. One thing about Mallett that is apparent is the fact that he starts to try and throw the ball too softly on short throws, because he is afraid of gunning another overthrow. What happens as a result of that mentality are some weird underthrows.
Running Backs C+
It was an average day on the ground overall, but there were two encouraging performances that bump up this grade a little bit. Shane Vereen was an absolute beast in the air and on the ground, and he averaged 7.3 yards per carry on four rushes. Brandon Bolden had 38 rushing yards on six carries, and he is right with LeGarrette Blount for a spot on the roster. In my opinion, the Patriots should keep both backs, because both bring something else to the table and are talented enough to make the roster. Blount is the home-run back, while Bolden is the solid, consistent rusher.
Wide Receivers B-
No wide receiver recorded a drop in this game, and that’s definitely a positive to take out of this one. Julian Edelman quietly had a productive day by catching all four of his targets, but nobody else really impressed me other than Edelman or Danny Amendola. The latter receiver was obviously the standout at the position, and that was to be expected. He and Tom Brady are already showing an impeccable connection, and that touchdown to Amendola was a thing of beauty from Brady. Aside from the excellent throw on that play, though, the rest was Amendola, who showed solid ball skills, excellent route-running, and flashed more ability to stretch the middle of the field. Amendola looked strong, very comfortable on the outside, and he showed good ball skills on the sideline. He won my “Game Ball” with his six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown on just seven targets.
Tight Ends B+
Zach Sudfeld was definitely the star of the show, as he caught one touchdown pass and a two-point conversion with both plays needing to have flawless execution from Sudfeld to be successful. The two-point conversion was an incredible throw from Brady that was just in between two Buccaneers defenders at the back of the end zone, but it took great ball skills and even hands from Sudfeld to make that play. Speaking of ball skills, he also did an incredible job of concentrating and tracking down his 22-yard touchdown. Recent UDFA pick-up Evan Landi had a surprisingly solid day as a blocker and upped his small practice squad-shot stock. Jake Ballard also looked good as a blocker.
Offensive Line A-
The New England Patriots earn high marks for not allowing any of their quarterbacks to be hit, but the run blocking could have stood to improve in this one. It’s clear that Will Svitek is a whole lot better at tackle than at guard, and guard isn’t his natural position. He may or may not have picked up a very minor injury, so I’m not reading into his rough beginning at right guard. The Patriots have problems with depth at guard due to Tyronne Green‘s injury, and I can’t help but feel that Nick McDonald will be back into the mix soon. His younger brother Chris, though, was a standout on Friday, and Josh Kline also looked good after getting some major reps. The only offensive lineman who struggled in pass protection was Matt Stankiewitch, and that was a huge knock on him coming out of college. Stankiewitch was a terrific run blocker at Penn State with a real mean streak who blocked with reckless abandon, but he flat out stunk in pass pro. Stankiewitch had an awful snap on the Tebow pick, and he and Brice Schwab looked like the worst OLs on the field (that’s a shame from Schwab, because he was terrific against the Philadelphia Eagles).
Defensive Line A
I thought the defensive line was a huge plus for the Patriots on Friday, and that’s definitely encouraging given my thoughts about the Patriots pass rush. Brandon Spikes was responsible for two sacks (I want to see him blitz up the middle more often), but the defensive line nabbed the other two. Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones had the sacks, while Rutgers product Justin Francis chipped in with a hit on the quarterback. Jones had a fantastic game, and he certainly does look poised for a huge 2013 year. Michael Buchanan received plenty of reps, but he once again disappointed me. I like his upside, but I don’t think he’s nearly there yet and should spend a season on the practice squad.
The most impressive aspect of the defensive line on Friday was the interior, even though I’ve seen several others criticize how they played. Cory Grissom knew he needed to have a big game, and I think he did. At USF, “Pork Chop” was highly regarded for his run defense, and he showed up well against the run on Friday. Only Joe Vellano was better against the run at DT. Grissom doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher, but the Patriots could use another good run-stuffer on the roster. They overhauled DT for the better by getting more pass rushing guys like Tommy Kelly and Armond Armstead, but you still need a depth guy who can play the run effectively. That depth guy could also be Vellano, who now has two huge preseason days to add to his resume, and he is a real impact player against the run while also being adept at pushing the pocket. Marcus Forston continues to make a case for a spot on the roster, as he was disruptive throughout with five tackles and a tackle for loss. Keep an eye on all three of these guys, and I don’t get why the DTs were criticized. I thought they played well.
As for Marcus Benard, please don’t use him in the interior sub role. That was an idea bound to go horribly wrong, and the Patriots better not experiment with it in the regular season. Benard is an edge rusher whose natural fit is in the 3-4 anyway. He’s going to be a good pass rusher for the Patriots and will bring something different to the fold, but using him as an interior rusher is a bad idea.
The linebackers looked solid in this game, and Spikes showed why he is such a terrific blitzing linebacker with two sacks. Again, I want to see the Patriots use more delayed blitzes this year, because they have several linebackers who can do this. Jamie Collins led the team with six tackles and had a tackle for loss, but his coverage ability continues to impress me the most. Even if he gives up a catch, Collins quickly makes the tackle for a minimal gain. That’s the kind of covering you want to see at LB, and Collins should be able to vulture plenty of snaps; he looks like a secret weapon on defense. Steve Beauharnais has been quiet this August, and he quietly had a productive day against the Bucs with four tackles and looked good against the run.
The CBs were kind of “eh” in this game. Nothing really good or bad to talk about, and the most interesting player was definitely Logan Ryan. His pick six on Mike Glennon was the result of an awful decision by Glennon, but one of the reasons why it looks so bad is that Ryan read the play perfectly. It also took good ball skills to make the pick, but I will definitely say that this was a “gimme” pick for Ryan. He won’t get that lucky, because not every quarterback he’s going to face in the regular season is a rookie learning the ropes (at least the Patriots play E.J. Manuel and the Buffalo Bills in Week 1). Ryan was burned by Tiquan Underwood on one occasion, but I would say that Ryan had a decent day. He played the most snaps of anyone on defense and made up for giving up a big play by making one.
I wasn’t really impressed with the safeties, but that’s only because one man just played that poorly. Duron Harmon looked active with four tackles, and he is clearly ahead of Tavon Wilson on the depth chart. I sung Wilson’s praises after a good rookie season, but I’m definitely going to criticize him for Friday’s performance. Wilson just hasn’t looked good at all this offseason, and he can be blamed for the Bucs final passing touchdown on the night. He didn’t play nearly as poorly as some people think, but he was bad overall.