Gresh Grades: Frustration
The offensive line has struggled, no question, but there's more to it than just that. The only wide receiver consistently winning one-on-one battles is Julian Edelman, which is why when Tom Brady isn't under duress he always throws No. 11 the football. Rob Gronkowski is coming along, but we've seen no semblance of the '0 set', with both TE's working in concert. Plus, ask yourself this question: What's their identity on offense? They need to be a run-first group that operates via a consistent play-action game. But until they embrace this philosophy, we will see inconsistency.
Brady's numbers weren't bad -- 24-for-37, 234 yards, 1 touchdown. The issue was some of the cold-bird misses (see throw to Gronk in the second quarter) and the way he comports himself. HE has to be the one to chew the offensive line out, HE needs to be the one to set the tone and celebrate the positives, HE needs to not walk off the field with his helmet off when they don't convert on third-and-two early in the fourth quarter. He must power through the struggles, including his own, and keep the fire lit so they can develop some confidence for success.
RUNNING BACKS: C+
Hard to evaluate these guys because the blocking in front of them has been incredibly inconsistent. I know that when given a chance on short yardage that they have to convert, even if it means a goal-line leap. I just don't see the issues with the running game being the product of ineptitude of the backs. They're taking care of the ball. When the issues in front of them get straightened out, these grades will go up.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C+
The grade is down for the group because there just isn't enough separation from anyone other than Edelman, who gets another A this week. He's the only dependable guy who will make catches, get yards after catch, and sell out to make a play. I can't hoot on Kenbrell Thompkins, not when you only have one target and make a catch that's good. Just don't know why they don't throw to him more. Brandon LaFell is an enigma, but at least he produced a little bit. Danny Amendola might as well stay in witness protection because I don't see any separation when he gets into routes. And when given a chance to make a heroic catch, like he had around the goal line, you need to make it so the QB will believe in you.
TIGHT ENDS: C-
They limited Michael Hoomanawanui’s usage in the run game, which is a positive because he's just not a good run blocker. He had one play that stood out in a not-good way on a run to his side, but, overall, nothing to go crazy over. Brady missed Gronk once, but No. 87's drop in the end zone is IN-EX-CUSE-ABLE. I think he looks better and smoother each week, but he isn't the smashing machine he used to be, yet. And I think we need more of Tim Wright and the re-emergence of the zero set. Once they commit to a philosophy, this group could excel.
OFFENSIVE LINE: F
I've written this four times before, but again: Jordan Devey needs to sit. The tackles play too high at time and that's why they get pushed back off the ball and are reliant on position blocks. Much more Nate Solder than Sebastian Vollmer. I think Bryan Stork, who came in at center during the fourth quarter, just needs to play to develop confidence. But I thought the OL settled down a bit when he came in. Dan Connolly is giving it his all, but can't let a DL split him and Vollmer on a sack. They need to let these guys run the ball more. Overall, though, there's a need for some nastiness from this group and I don't know where it's going to come from.
What more can you ask for? After a bit of a shaky start that led to a long drive that produced only a field goal, they clamped down and got key stops in critical situations. They played well on third down and never let the Raiders running game get on track. They got a key interception at the most critical point of the game. Great job.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
With Sealver Siliga in the game early, they were able to move Vince Wilfork around all over the defensive front. Once Siliga went down with injury, Vince played primarily nose and Chris Jones had to come in and he played well. Lots of two-DL looks (depending how you classify Chandler Jones) with Rob Ninkovich and Jones on the field with the linebackers. I don't think the Pats respected the Raiders’ running game that much, which is why the bigger people weren't in the game as much. I think the Pats would like to take the 'Seymour' approach with Dominique Easley; however, he needs to come along faster because they need him now. Would like some more consistent push from the middle, but a nice job overall while dealing with more injury issues.
When you look on the stat page and you see that your first-, second- and third-leading tacklers are Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower, and Ninkovich, you know the linebackers had a productive day. And for this game, where the Pats played a lot of zone at the start, I put Ninko in this group. The run blitzes have been effective and is something Mayo and Hightower are excellent at in terms of timing it up with the cadence. Even though the stat sheet says they only had two QB hits, this group had some good pressure during the game and I thought they all tackled well. They need Jaime Collins back.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A-
Let's all calm down that some throws went Darrelle Revis's way and were completed. The Pats played some zone early and that's really not his game and I thought he improved when they played more man. But if the Pats weren't afraid to throw his way when he played for the Jets, why would other teams shy away? I liked the play of Logan Ryan and I thought the pass-interference call against him was absolute bullcrap. The offensive player initiates contact and puts both hands on Ryan's chest to create separation. And Ryan was looking back and playing the ball. Should've been at worst a no-call, if not a PI the other way. Pat Chung complimented nicely when they went to a third-safety look and Nate Ebner in a third-down role has been excellent so far this year. Another good week.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Ryan Allen was a star in this one: A 48-yard average on five punts, including a 53-yarder in the first quarter when the Pats had an abysmal offensive series that really helped in the battle of field position. All of Stephen Gostkowski’s kickoffs went for touchbacks. Matt Slater had a huge tackle on the punt I referenced earlier and had a nice kickoff return when it was a one-point game, which was a big momentum swing. All in all, much better work than earlier in the season.
It ain't broke...
1) Pass rush. Just because they didn't get a sack, doesn't mean they didn't get pressure.
2) Revis. He's will give up some catches. As long as it's not for third downs or touchdowns.
3) The running game. Just embrace it Josh. Just embrace it.
But it needs fixing...
1) TB12's body language. He has to battle and put on the brave face to motivate when things get tough.
2) The O-Line. No explanation needed.
3) A deep threat. Gronk is looking better . . .
Andy Gresh is a talk show host on 98.5 The Sports Hub and for 10 years has worked pre and post -game analysis on the Patriots Radio Network. He is also co-author of the book “The Great Book of Boston Sports Lists.” And is the lead color analyst for CAA football on Comcast SportsNet.