Gresh's Grades: Evaluating the point explosion
EVALUATING THE POINT EXPLOSION
The Pats won what turned into a high-scoring affair with the Steelers when its offense seized the day with receivers making big plays in the passing game, and the run game churning yards and converting third downs. The offense saved the defense, which had some issues in the passing game and gave up over 500 yards for their worst performance of the year. But at the end of the day, they're 7-2 and in prime position to play their way to a division title and possibly a bye in the playoffs.
Finally I can write this and truly believe in this grade. I don't like the sacks, but I love the running game and that the coaches recognized that the fumble by Stevan Ridley was a great play by Troy Polamalu and kept feeding him the ball. The balanced offense benefitted with great play action and hit some big plays down the field. We're starting to see the people around TB12 fitting into their roles within this offense, and it's only going to get better with time to fine tune during the bye week.
Much, much better this week in arguably TB12's best game of the year. The accuracy was better with balls being thrown in places where the receivers could make a football move and gain extra yards. I also thought the long ball was pretty much on point, especially the deep shot to Dobson for 81 yards. He moved well in the pocket. Good work by TB.
RUNNING BACKS: A+
They fed Ridley the ball and it's about time. He's the best pure runner they have and Vereen is on the way to complement him. Good for BB in recognizing that the Steelers made a great play and didn't banish him to the bench. Great effort by Blount for his touchdown and I'm starting to like him when he runs north south. This group is strong heading into the 2nd half of the year.
WIDE RECEIVERS: A
When I heard Kenbrell Thompkins was scratched I thought there might have been some issues. But Dobson more than stepped up his game and is looking more and more like a better version of Brandon Lloyd. I do think he can play very well on the other side of the offense if Thompkins develops in that Lloyd role. His routes are smooth and his speed is deceiving and you can see how the back-shoulder game is working better with TB12. This group needs the bye week more than most because they can learn through self scouting.
TIGHT ENDS: A
Gronk was on point from the start. The Patriots did a great job of combo'ing off Amendola and it worked for both of them. Gronk getting off early gives them a different kind of red-zone and goal-to-go presence, allowing others to get involved because you have to pay attention to No. 87. And as the guys outside get better and Gronk continues to become the Gronk of old, all he has to do is chip in with a catch or two that moves the chains, and he did that in this one.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A-
I'm only concerned about free blitzers coming right at TB12. One of these times he's gonna get croaked and it's gonna be Mallett in the game. They set the pads in the run game and did a nice job with some extra effort plays especially during the Blount TD. That said, moving forward, I'm a lil worried about Cannon at right tackle. I'm concerned his lower trunk may get in the way when dealing with speed rushers. Better effort this week but they need to tighten things up during the bye.
Yes, B. Consider this. No Wilfork, Kelly, Talib, Mayo, Gregory, and for a time Ninkovich. That's an extraordinary amount of personnel to replace and continue to keep points off the board. I thought they did a nice job on third down and some of those conversions came when the game was already in hand. They continue to force turnovers and had five sacks. All in all, not bad. They will have to find they "new" way of playing Patriots defense without the core in the middle and maybe Gregory for a spell. Thank the football gods that the bye week is this week so they can do that.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A
Chandler Jones continues to be a beast and has to carry this group moving forward without Vince and Kelly. Playing with some three-man fronts is also taken into consideration with this grade. Chris Jones and Joe Vellano do grunt work and are playing amazingly well for rookies. Isaac Sopoaga is a guy from whom you should expect zero production on the stat sheet, but if he's gobbling up blockers, he's doing his job.
I'm about done with Dane Fletcher as a linebacker. And yeah, I know he had a sack but every time I see him out there he seems a step slow, or just off on his reads, or just missing a tackle and I've seen enough. Just like Brandon Spikes in coverage: He's just not good. But they need him out there. Dont'a Hightower played very well and did a much better job playing the inside running game and fighting off offensive lineman.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: B
Four hundred passing yards allowed is a lot. No question. But it wasn't all the defensive backs. They did a pretty good job versus Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. It was old man Jericho Cotchery who killed 'em, but I'll take the third WR on most teams beating me every game. I thought the tackling was shoddy at times and they allowed some yards after catch which can be corrected. They can cover and when Talib comes back it will get better.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
They allowed a 24-yard punt return, and 40-yard kick return, and a 21.5 kickoff-return average. That's not good enough, but this is what happens when your starters get hurt and the special teamers play more snaps -- the return and coverage game suffers. Four touchbacks on 10 kickoffs isn't good enough, but when it gets colder outside, these things happen. And Ryan Allen's net punting average was over 20 yards less than his average: 50.5 average to 28.5 net. This part of the game can't slip as more of the ST'ers play on both offense and defense.
IN AIN'T BROKE . . .
1) Ridley. They finally stuck with the guy after he made a mistake and were rewarded. 2) Turnover ratio. This has been arguably the most consistent aspect of this team's play. 3) Pass rush. Chandler Jones is a beast.
. . . BUT IT NEEDS FIXING
1) Linebackers in coverage. 2) Kick coverage with backup playing more snaps. 3) 3 for 5 goal to go. That needs to be near perfect when inside the 10. | Andy Gresh is a talkshow host on 98.5 The Sports Hub and for nine years has worked pre- and postgame analysis on the Patriots Radio Network.