The New England Patriots played a very interesting game this past Sunday. In this first half, they looked like a squad that didn’t belong in the National Football League. After re-watching the game, I couldn’t pick out one positive from any particular unit from that first 30 minutes. It was downright hard to watch. But somehow, the Patriots flipped a switch in the second half, and came out looking like a decent football team. The offense began to click a little bit, the defense resumed their surprisingly stout ways, and before you could blink, the Pats found themselves with the lead.
This two faced affair made this weeks grades hard to make out, but I think I managed to come up with some fair marks. These “passing grades” can be attributed only to the second half, as if these were based on the first period, F’s would be handed out across the board.
Passing Offense: C
Tom Brady’s bunch amassed a grand total of 100 yards through the air in this game, and despite playing a solid second half, they showed that there are still many issues buried in this unit. Receivers couldn’t shake free, the offensive line struggled (three more sacks of Brady), and Brady himself had yet another bad outing. In the first half, Brady refused to look anywhere other than Gronkowski and Amendola, and it really hurt their production. Aaron Dobson has shown over the last few games that he has the ability to get open, and if given the chance, he can capitalize. Luckily, Brady snapped out of it just in time for the second half, targeting Dobson five times, resulting in four catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. If Brady had looked at the rookie more often in the first half, maybe the results of this game would have been much different. Rob Gronkowski had another good game, even though the numbers may not show it. He hauled in two catches for 27 yards, but his mere presence on the field is opening things up for everybody on the offense. Gronk also had a sick 30 yard touchdown catch negated by a questionable Nate Solder holding penalty. Danny Amendola returned to action after missing last week’s game with a concussion, although it wasn’t a great return, as he only managed to catch three balls for 15 yards.
Rushing Offense: B+
This was one of the few overall bright spots for New England in this game. I thought that once Stevan Ridley was allowed to enter the game in the second quarter, this group really started to show why they are key to the Patriots success. The offensive line actually did a decent job run blocking, opening up holes for the explosive Ridley all game long. Ridley contributed 79 of the 152 total rushing yards the Patriots gained, including both touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount also had a nice performance, running for 46 yards on 11 carries. Most of his production came on their last touchdown drive, and I have to say that Blount ran the ball very well throughout that drive. He actually hit the holes hard, and exploded through them with some purpose. I hope to see more of this from the big man, because if he could get going as a number three back (behind Ridley and Bolden), then this running attack would get very dangerous.
Pass Defense: B+
Another solid contest for the Patriots secondary, and as weird as it sounds, this is becoming the norm for the defensive backfield. After four years of pathetic secondary play, I think that we may have finally found a group that can play well together. Without their top man Aqib Talib, the Pats held the Phins passing game to 145 yards, as well as getting three takeaways. Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington led the charge from a coverage standpoint, limiting Miami’s top two receivers to a combined seven catches for 78 yards (23 of which came on a screen pass to Mike Wallace in garbage time). Devin McCourty continues to emerge as one of the top safeties in the game, highlighted by his heads up “volleyball” play in the fourth quarter, resulting in a big interception by Marquice Cole. Of course, a good pass rush makes any secondary look good, and the big boys up front did their job throughout the second half, sacking Ryan Tannehill six times. I thought that Rob Ninkovich had the best overall performance, getting to Tannehill one time for a sack, but more importantly, totaling nine hurries. His partner in crime, Chandler Jones, was stone-walled by newcomer Bryant McKinnie, holding Jones to no sacks and no hurries. I was surprised at the lack of impact that Jones had while watching the game live, but after giving it another watch, it was apparent that he was simply dominated by McKinnie.
Run Defense: C-
This was another sub-par outing for the Patriots run defense, giving up 156 yards on only 31 carries. It is not entirely the players fault, as the guys that are actually in there are battling every play, and giving it their all. But because of injury, New England just doesn’t have the talent to keep up with opposing teams running games. Joe Vellano and Chris Jones are doing all they can on the inside, but they lack pure skill, so their full effort isn’t enough. Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower played a decent game as well, but again, when you don’t have much talent up front, it makes the linebackers life extremely tough. Hopefully the addition of Isaac Sopoaga will help the Patriots run defense, because as of right now, they are really in over their head.