This is the first installment in what will become a weekly feature here on Musket Fire. Grading the Patriots offensive, defensive and special teams efforts is a fun thing to do, and hopefully it is an enjoyable read (much more enjoyable to do after a Pats win).
Passing Offense: B
The Pats aerial attack finally found its way yesterday, totaling 202 yards and producing two touchdowns. Brady was not as sharp as he usually is, but he was on the same page with his rookie receivers, which helped propel the Patriots to victory. Rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins combined for 10 catches, 93 yards and two touchdowns (both to Thompkins). The offensive line was solid throughout the game, despite allowing their quarterback to be sacked three times. Veteran Julian Edelman had a much quieter game than the previous two weeks, but he still hauled in seven catches on seven targets from Brady.
Rushing Offense: A
Stevan Ridley had been a major disappointment up until yesterday for the Pats. He seemed slow, displayed a lack of focus, and wasn’t hitting the holes as hard as he did in 2012. But the old Ridley showed up to play against the Bucs, and I think that he was the guy that jump-started this offense. Ridley’s numbers don’t look too good (35 yards on 11 carries), but he ran with authority, coming up with a couple big first downs. Brandon Bolden was active for the first time in 2013, finishing with 100 total yards from scrimmage. As a team, the Patriots ran up 156 yards on 33 carries against a tough Tampa Bay front, which in my opinion is deserving of a high grade.
Passing Defense: B
The Patriots secondary had a slow start to this game, but they finished strong and showed us for a third straight week that this unit is for real. The pass rush was solid as well, harassing Freeman all day long and forcing some bad throws. Chandler Jones and Tommy Kelly had a couple of nice combination sacks, and old reliable Rob Ninkovich came up with a sack of his own. They held Tampa to 226 total passing yards with cornerback Aqib Talib coming up with a huge interception in the closing moments of the first half. This was turning point in the game, and the Pats ran away with it from there. Alfonzo Dennard struggled a little bit with the Bucs’ taller receivers, but he held his own and is quickly emerging as the best cover guy the Pats have.
Rushing Defense: A
Doug Martin is one of the best running backs in the NFL, and he runs behind one of the most powerful offensive lines in the NFL. But they were both dominated by the Patriots defensive front on Sunday, setting the tone for the entire team in this win. This was a group effort, as nobody stood out in terms of run defense, and that is what you want to see in a elite defensive group. Martin finished the contest with 88 yards on 20 carries, and as a team they amassed 97 yards on 22 touches.
Special Teams: B
Just another day at the office for the Pats special teams. Their kick return unit is still headed by LeGarrette Blount, so they are not getting much results from that department. Rookie punter Ryan Allen continues his stellar 2013 campaign, and much maligned kicker Stephen Gostkowski came up big with three field goals, including a 53 yarder at the end of the first half.