After finally getting around to watching the tape of the Patriots 30-27 comeback win over the New Orleans Saints, I have some grades to hand out to New England. Most are good (thanks to Brady), but there is a certain group that struggled in a big way, and while I noticed it when watching the game live, it popped out at me like Peyton Manning’s forehead after I re-watched the contest.
Here is this week’s ‘report card’.
Passing Offense: B-
This unit looked phenomenal in the first half, totaling close to 150 yards through the air, and leading the Pats to 17 first half points. But things spiraled downhill in a hurry, as in the second half, they reverted back to the days of losing 13-6 to the Cincinnati Bengals. The offensive line, which had struggled mightily in the first half, continued to allow Tom Brady to be pressured into making a decision before he wanted to, which more often than not, resulted in a negative play for the Pats. Other than Edelman, nobody was able to gain separation, and the dreaded drops continued for the rookies. They were able to get it together for a great game winning drive, where Brady completed five of eight passes (including one spike), and the end result was a beautiful 17 yard strike to rookie Kenbrell Thompkins. A solid first half, and an extremely impressive last minute drive outweighs the horrible second half of football, which is why they receive a B-.
Rushing Offense: A-
I was impressed with what I saw from the ground game when I went back and reviewed the tape, particularly Stevan Ridley. The offensive line didn’t exactly open up any huge holes, in fact, I think Ridley turned in a big performance in spite of what his o-line did for him. Ridley carried the Pats on the ground as he turned in what was easily his best outing of the 2013 season. Ridley totaled 20 attempts for a total of 96 yards, and he punched in into the end zone twice in the first half. What impressed me the most about Ridley, was his decisiveness in hitting the holes, and how he explodes through them. At times it looked like there wasn’t much room for him to work with, then all of a sudden he was five yards down-field, and hungry for more. His ability to explode through a small space and turn a two or three yarder into a 10 or 15 yarder is key for this offense to function, and it was on full display in New England’s win.
Pass Defense: A
Aside from a few breakdowns, the Patriots played absolutely amazing defensive football in the back end on Sunday. The Saints obtain one of the most dangerous aerial attacks in the NFL, averaging close to 330 yards per game coming into this contest, and the Pats held them to 230. Jimmy Graham, the NFL’s leading receiver coming into this game, was held without a catch, largely due to the play of cornerback Aqib Talib. Talib was locked onto Graham all game (until Talib went down with a hip injury), and he effectively took the big tight end out of the Saints offense. Alfonzo Dennard also did a tremendous job on Marques Colston, allowing him only one reception all game long, and Kyle Arrington, yes Kyle Arrington continued his stellar 2013 campaign. Arrington has been faced with corralling some of the quickest players in all of football by being a slot corner, and he has been up to the task. His play was great once again versus the Saints, rarely getting beat from the slot, and when Talib went down, he picked up where Talib left off in locking down Jimmy Graham.
Run Defense: C
This is the area where I saw the biggest problems arise in last week’s game. Chris Jones and Joe Vellano are simply not cut out to be everyday starters on this defensive line. It seemed like every time I looked up, they were being pushed off of the line of scrimmage, as one of the Saints backs walked through for a 10 yard gain. The Patriots are known for pulling undrafted free agents off the street, and turning them into all-pro’s, but Vellano and Jones are just not that talented. I don’t mean to be incredibly critical, because I like both of their games, but not as a starting tandem. If they were coming off of the bench, and spelling Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, then I would be fine. But seeing them out there every down is frustrating and the Saints took advantage of them. There is only so much a linebacker can do to help a struggling defensive line, which is why the Saints ran all over New England. Allowing a 5.0 average on 26 carries is not acceptable, and the difficulty gets even higher as we have now learned that their leading man on defense, Jerod Mayo, will most likely miss the remainder of the 2013 season.
Special Teams: B
A near disaster in the first quarter on a failed lateral punt return brings this unit’s grade down a little bit, but other than that, it was another solid effort from the Pats specialists. Stephen Gostkowski continued his impressive 2013 season, as he nailed all three field goals he attempted, including a 54 yard bomb in the third quarter.