Gresh's Grades: Patriots charging ahead
GRESH'S GRADES: CHARGING AHEAD
By Andy Gresh
Special to CSNNE.com
A good, tough, gutty win against a team that we back East probably underestimated. The offense started fast with a strong running game, but then it was stalled by the offensive coordinator and never got back into rhythm all night. The defense carried the day and did a fantastic job of getting off the field consistently and putting pressure on Philip Rivers. Once San Diego lost its punter, the Pats had a clear advantage on special teams and easily won the battle of field position. It wasn't beautiful, but it's an important win because next week is now a hat-and-t-shirt game.
They started off great . . . and then they got to the goal line and Josh McDaniels stopped running the ball at the end of the first drive. I think that hurt the confidence and rhythm of the run game in particular and the offense in general. The fumble by Brandon LaFell was a lucky break for the Chargers, and the Tom Brady interception at the end of the first half was just a bad decision. After the disastrous third quarter, they came up clutch in the fourth with a field goal and touchdown off play action. Not a great day on this side of the ball, but enough to win even with all the mistakes and inefficiency.
There were times in the pocket that Brady was a little impatient, but conversely he had a couple of key scrambles out of the pocket for huge first downs, something we usually don't see from TB12. The play-action fake on the Julian Edelman game-sealing TD was a thing of beauty. There were a few inaccurate throws, mainly because of pressure, and there's no excuse for the interception at the end of the first half; just a terrible decision. But overall: Good numbers, good leadership, good win.
RUNNING BACKS: B+
I thought, AGAIN, this group got jobbed because the OC stalled the offense in the first quarter when he stifled the running game. LeGarrette Blount is steady and I love the fact they're diversifying by throwing him the ball occasionally. Shane Vereen did a nice job, as usual, in the passing game, but I'd like to see him have more than one carry. The guy who stood out was James Develin, who was snapping heads back in the running game. He never gets enough credit for what he adds, and he added a lot in this one.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B-
Edelman was nails once again. His route running is always full speed and his ability to fight through contact, and to gain yards after the catch, is superb. Give the Chargers credit, as they made sure to be physical against No. 11 and double him as much as they could. The grade for the group is lowered because of LaFell's fumble for a scoop and score. The back-shoulder throw is a weapon, but it needs to be used judiciously. It can't become a "go to" for Brady when he's in trouble. Danny Amendola caught three balls and did nothing with them. He's not even a decoy anymore.
TIGHT ENDS: A-
Michael Hoomanawanui drew a holding call, which is amazing considering he can't catch a cold. We're still waiting for Tim Wright to become more of a factor in the passing game, especially in the red area where Rob Gronkowski and Edelman are getting special attention. But this grade is really all about Gronk. He caught another touchdown, this time on a back-shoulder throw from TB12. He's a better option for that kind of throw than LaFell because of his height, arm span, and hand size. Plus he does a fantastic job with body control when in the air. Great work, as usual.
OFFENSIVE LINE: D
Nine tackles for losses, five QB hits, and one sack allowed by this offensive line. Nate Solder was just awful and got pinballed around a bunch. He had no answer for Melvin Ingram, who played a whale of a game regardless of who he matched up against. The tackles allowed pressure all night, but the middle of the OL did well enough to give Brady room to step up in the pocket. They were great in the run game early, then were hurt by the flow of play calling, but were never able to move people consistently off the line of scrimmage. Throw in some penalties and you have a crappy grade.
Fantastic, dominating performance by this group despite dealing with injury. They continue to take pride in shutting people down on third down and in the red area. I think we're seeing more ball-hawking and I love the fact that the physical tone is set by the guys in the back end as opposed to the front seven. The DL was much more stout with Sealver Siliga in the mix, and the pressure was consistent against Rivers. Make no mistake about it, they won this game for the Pats. Great job.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A
MUCH better job against the run. and a lot of that is being able to rotate four defensive linemen inside with Vince Wilfork, Chris Jones, Alan Branch, and Siliga. Much better at holding the point of attack in the run game and the front was a big part of that. They also generated some inside push in the passing game, but the big pressure came off the edge from Rob Ninkovich. He was able to get home a few times working against D.J. Fluker, who couldn't handle his speed. Better job winning one-on-one battles to create pass rush. Looked much better compared to the Green Bay game.
Jonathan Casillas had to play a ton of snaps because of the injury to Dont'a Hightower and played quite well. He started a little overhyped, overrunning a few plays, but settled in and did a good job. Jaime Collins had the green dot and I couldn't count any plays where the 'D' wasn't lined up properly. His ability is off the charts and he's become a great weapon with the A gap blitzes. Akeem Ayers has been a major player lately and was in this one. He holds the edge well. Has good pass-rush ability, and even slid inside a bit and more than held his own. This group just gets better and better.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A
The only guy who had a blip on the radar was Brandon Browner on San Diego's only score. Other than that, this group did a fantastic job of shutting down everyone in the San Diego passing game. Darrelle Revis has been the best cornerback in football the last eight weeks, even though his play won't translate to his numbers. Browner's hit was legal and the call to take away that touchdown was as horsebleep as it gets. Devin McCourty was robbed of the pick-six interception by the call, but his play was stellar as he made up for the bad angle in the Green Bay game. Patrick Chung was solid, and I loved that it was Tavon Wilson who made the key fourth-down tackle at the end of the game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A+
The Brandon Bolden punt block was a fantastic individual effort that led to the unfortunate injury to Mike Scifres and it affected the game in two ways. The Pats got great field position, and continued to get great field position because Nick Novak had to punt. Stephen Gostkowski continues his fantastic season with field goals and kickoffs. Ryan Allen helped win the battle of field position all night. Kick coverages were very good. This unit excelled Sunday night.
'IT AIN'T BROKE
1) Guts and guile. This team has tons of it.
2) Lockdown secondary. Revis is pretty good, Rex.
3) No panic. No matter how bad it got, you never saw it.
'BUT IT NEEDS FIXING'
1) RUN. THE. BALL. WTF!
2) More consistent pass protection from the tackles.
3) Get healthy.
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.