Gresh's Grades: Lions no match for Pats
GRESH'S GRADES: LIONS NO MATCH FOR PATS
By Andy Gresh
Special to CSNNE.com
This was the first win of 2014 that felt like the old championship days. This was a good Lions team, and midway through the second quarter you knew the Patriots had already beaten then mentally. After a slow start, the Pats quickened the pace on offense and wore down a line-of-scrimmage-based defense. Defensively, they still match up against the opponents' strengths and take them away. They can beat you any way you give them, and that's why they may be able to win the whole thing.
A couple of red-zone trips that ended with just three points lower this grade. Changing the pace after going three-and-out on the first two drives really worked, not only in keeping Tom Brady clean in the pocket but also in taking advantage of the back seven in the overrated Detroit defense. The running game was good enough to compliment a stellar passing game. A drop or two, and the TB12 pick, hurt, but overall how can you complain about hanging 34 on the NFC's No. 2 seed?
The interception to start the third quarter was greedy, in my opinion. TB12 tried to squeeze it into a space just to get one to Rob Gronkowski, and it was unnecessary. Other than than, Brady was fantastic. He got hit early and didn't let it affect him like it did earlier in the season. This game was a perfect example of TB's greatness, as he was more than willing to bleed the Detroit defense slowly with short passes and patience. His chess game is masterful.
RUNNING BACKS: A-
I thought this was a great performance by Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount. Vereen's dependability in this passing game really shows up in a game like this, as he excels at the short, bail-out-your-QB throws that are necessary against a defensive line like this. Blount's presence is felt; and he's back and picking up right where he left off. His ability to run through the trash is natural, and consistent. And a back like Blount will wear you down and eventually make you susceptible to the big run . . . like his 33-yarder.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B+
Brady went 20-for-28 to his wide receivers, whose performance has been consistent for about five weeks now. Brandon LaFell does something that the great Calvin Johnson doesn't do, and that's fight to get open. He is also underrated after the catch. And he does a good job in the screen game, both catching and blocking. Julian Edelman is, well, Julian Edelman. He had a drop and had a big play taken away by penalty, but he has become Mr. Dependable. He also battles for every yard. Anyone miss that Welker guy . . . ?
TIGHT ENDS: A
It was Tim Wright who was Mr. Touchdown Sunday. Gronk's presence in pulling the linebacker and safety to his side in the end zone left Wright wide open, and he did a nice job of settling in and giving TB12 a place to throw. He also had good football sense on the second touchdown, sliding into the flat as Brady stayed alive in the pocket. Gronk got extra attention and they still couldn't stop him at a critical time of the game late in the second quarter. The zero set is back, and a nod to Michael Hoomanawanui in the running game.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A
First off, they ran the ball better than anyone expected. I love the running game and this OL, so my expectations were met, but I'll go with public sentiment and commend them. (BELIEVE IN THE RUN GAME, FOLKS.) And giving up no sacks and only four QB hits against the best defensive line in the NFL (coming in) is a job well done. Ryan Wendell and Bryan Stork had their hands full with Ndamukong Suh, but did a really nice job of making him work for whatever he got. And the biggest development was that they ran the ball around the goal line against this group. Proves they can run it inside the 10 against anybody.
The only reason this isn't an A+ is because the Lions could've made some plays, but flat out dropped the ball. The ability for this secondary to match up against all sizes and types of wide receivers is impressive and a big part of why they've played so well. The pass rush was really good early, as the Detroit OL didn't do a good job of handling the twists and middle pressure. Dont'a Hightower continues to play very well in the Jerod Mayo role and isn't getting the love he should be. They've passed every test put in front of them, and their third-down and red-zone defenses are clutch right now.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A
The work of the group on twists and getting rushers free is getting better and better. Those kinds of plays have to be called at the right time, but they are working together as a front to get home. Vince Wilfork is playing at a Pro Bowl level. People just can't move him off the LOS consistently. Alan Branch has a nice ability to run people over in the middle and he knocked Dominic Raiola on his ass at least five times. Rob Ninkovich has been really good on rush the last three games and he finishes well.
Jaime Collins still struggles in space when in zone, but in man he's athletic and covers well. He is getting better in the run game but needs to get off blocks better. Hightower gets the defense lined up every bit as well as Mayo did and is doing a better job covering from the inside when needed. Akeem Ayers has been a nice pass rush addition and is also benefitting from the work of the defensive line. Jonathan Casillas has done a better job within the defense and is very athletic and makes the most of his reps. This group is mixing and matching as well as the defensive backs.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A-
The tandem of Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis is maybe the best duo in the game right now. I've been impressed with Browner's ability to play with an edge but not lose control. They had some moments, but both of these guys made Calvin Johnson fight to get into route and he wasn't up to the task. The Lions only completed 8-of-21 to Golden Tate and Megatron. Patrick Chung has played very well, but there are catches to be made on him and that worries me for next week. Devin McCourty is the best bad safety (according to fans) in the league. He will get paid a lot of money this offseason. Open-field tackling is worth paying for.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A+
The only, small, tiny, negative is the consistency of snapper Danny Aiken. Other than that, the punt-return unit does a great job of setting Edelman up with a wall and he's fantastic in making people miss. Ryan Allen killed a punt off a bad snap in the first quarter that set the tone for a momentum change. Stephen Gostkowski is crushing field goals and kickoffs. You even got Danny Amendola in the mix with a huge return where he used his blockers perfectly. Great job of making a real impact the last three weeks.
'IT AIN'T BROKE'
1) The running game. Doesn't matter the back, it produces.
2) The 2 tight end set. Wright has done a great job.
3) Special teams. The return game is very special right now.
'BUT IT NEEDS FIXING'
1) Clean up the brain fart penalties.
2) No turnovers in the red area. I can live with a FG, but not an INT
3) Danny Aiken. Get back to being consistent.
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.