Gresh's Grades: Another defensive stand
GRESH'S GRADES: ANOTHER DEFENSIVE STAND
By Andy Gresh
Special to CSNNE.com
Felt like a ho-hum kind of day inside the stadium, and the Patriots offense played that way for the first half. I'm amazed by how this defense doesn't just take pride in holding a team to under 20, but wants to dominate . . . and that usually translates to championship football. After halftime the Pats offense woke up and started scoring, led by Rob Gronkowski. As matter of fact as Sunday's victory was, let's not forget the Pats have won yet ANOTHER AFC East Division title. We take for granted what they do in this division, and it's time for that to stop.
They were okay, just okay. When they woke up, wow, what an explosion. I think they never got into any sort of rhythm early on and the deflection interception (lucky play) stole any momentum they were building. I didn't like the give up at the end of the second quarter. TRY and make something happen, within reason. But in the third quarter they got hot, starting first with Gronk and then working some play action. Then a healthy dose of shotgun did the rest. Need more tempo and run game early, but to do that you need the ball and it wasn't theirs in the first half.
The interception was a fortunate one for the Miami defense as the tipped ball went right up in the air and was picked. Other than that, Tom Brady was the TB12 we've come to know and love. His movement in the pocket was exceptional, and the run on third-and-11 for 17 yards was spectacular. I like the fact that Brady is making a concerted effort to dump it down to all the running backs in the passing game. He created lanes to throw, though I would caution that if teams are going to have their defensive linemen throw their hands in the air to tip or knock down passes, TB12 either needs to slide in pocket to make a throwing lane or adjust his release point to complete those throws.
RUNNING BACKS: B
This was not a game in which this group was featured, but I will admit that -- even though some are overreacting to his success -- Jonas Gray did provide some life early in that third quarter when the offense turned it around. The ground game couldn't get untracked in the first half; that changed in the last two quarters. LeGarrette Blount's goal-line efforts were what we expect from him on a consistent basis. Shane Vereen was put in a position to contribute nothing, especially with three give-up carries at the end of the 1st half.
WIDE RECEIVERS: A-
By now you know this grade is really about two guys: Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman. Edelman started like a house afire with all the short catches. The Miami defensive line adjusted and Edelman adjusted accordingly as did the offense. His drop hurt, but you have to love how he battles to get into route and get an extra two yards with leg drive. LaFell is Mr. Crossing Route and, combined with his blocking ability, you can understand how he gets open during play action. Great work by these two, and even Danny Amendola made a catch.
TIGHT ENDS: B
Second half, Gronk was fantastic. In the first half they did everything to get him open. Motion. Lined up in the slot. Lined up out wide. But it wasn't until the Pats combo'ed him with Tim Wright on the same side of the formation that he started to get open down the seam. TB12 forced it to Gronk once in a while, but when the coverage is rolled to him, you take every opportunity to throw it to him. I've given up on Wright being a consistent contributor, but I'll take it when he gets a matchup he can win.
ORFENSIVE LINE: C+
Here's what concerns me: No real push in the running game, and I can't figure out why. They're big, aggressive, and they did try to run it early with Blount to no avail. The protection wasn't bad, but it wasn't as rock solid as we'd all like to see it. TB12 moved well in the pocket because at times he had to. I thought the rotation of guys like Josh Kline and Marcus Cannon hurt this group's ability to be consistent, but I understand the method to the madness. Bill Belichick is trying to keep everyone sharp in December.
Another second-half shutout. Hell, other than two field goals and a bad play at the end of a half, this defense was FANTASTIC. Chandler Jones came back and made an impact and didn't look like a guy who's had a hip injury. Dont'a Hightower came back and held down the middle once again and produced at a high level. The secondary has been rock solid minus some of the struggles on Malcolm Butler (and if you're wondering why he's playing big minutes, see my note on the O-Line rotation). Still putting pressure on QBs and still getting turnovers. Good work. This side of the ball is championship caliber.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A
I love when the D-Lineman get stats. That means they controlled the line of scrimmage and the running game. I thought Chandler Jones was active, played through contact, and had burst when rushing the passer. Sealver Siliga has been great since he's come back and plays with good push in the middle and has showed some ability to rush. Vince Wilfork had five tackles and knocked down a pass. Oh, and throw in another game from Rob Ninkovich where he recorded one of the DL's four sacks.
I'd like to see a game where Jaime Collins doesn't get 'almost' beat via play action. I thought the linebackers were respectable in not giving up their lanes in the zone ready scheme, but I do think they needed to do a better job fighting blocks on the inside, especially during those runs. Hightower came back and was a force. If his shoulder was hurting, you'd never know it with the way he held, and tackled, at the point of attack. And once the score started to get lopsided, the linebackers showed very little dropoff.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A
Once again we're writing about another pass-interference penalty from Brandon Browner, actually two. The first I didn't have a massive issue with; the second was garbage. I just have to accept that with this particular player, whom the refs are always looking at, this will happen. As long as he's not throwing guys to the ground for no reason (penalties of emotion) it's good by me. Darrelle Revis is an All-Pro and has played even better than that this year. Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung had good days, and this whole group had their hands on the ball all day. I do think the Butler experiment is over. No more one-on-ones with Mike Wallace.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A+
Fantastic when you get a touchdown from a unit as they did on Sunday. Collins showed his freakish athletic ability on the block; that unit has been close to a few blocks this season. Stephen Gostkowski was good on field goals and kickoffs once again. And no issues with the coverage and return units. I give them a pass at the end of the second quarter on the return that set up the TD because I think the strategy was flawed. That ball need to be kicked out of bounds to guarantee longer field position and no return.
'IT AIN'T BROKE'
1) 3rd phase of the game. Special teams this year rivals what they had in 2001.
2) Browner. Don't overreact folks, he is what he is.
3) Blount. Lots of people calling for Jonas Gray, slow the roll.
'BUT IT NEEDS FIXING'
1) Finish the half. NO give up runs.
2) Start faster.
3) Time of possession. Offense needs to do their part to help the D.
Andy Gresh is a talkshow host on 98.5 The Sports Hub and for 10 years has worked pre- and postgame analysis on the Patriots Radio Network. He is also co-author of the recently released book "The Great Book of Boston Sports Lists." Follow him on twitter @greshandzo.