Gresh's Grades: Patriots sneak on by
GRESH'S GRADES: PATRIOTS SNEAK ON BY
By Andy Gresh
Special to CSNNE.com
This felt like a 'get through' game for the Pats and that's how it was played. With significant injuries on both sides of the ball, they had to gut out a win and did it by FINISHING, by running the ball and bleeding the clock. The defense came up big once again, only allowing field goals in the second half while the offense figured out how to put a touchdown on the board. It was ugly, but the bottom line is they have a bye and, coupled with the Bengals’ win over the Broncos on Monday night, home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
I love the way they finished the game. I’m a believer that closing things out on offense sends a statement not only to the opponent, but also to your locker room. Before that, though, there were way too many sacks, way too much pressure, not enough one-on-one wins. No doubt not having Julian Edelman didn’t help, because he's the guy Tom Brady knows he can go to whenever he needs it, but let's add that Danny Amendola did a really nice job of playing the Edelman role. The Jets defensive line played well and caused problems. But this is the third week in a row where first-quarter inefficiency led to game-long ineffectiveness. They must figure out how to start faster, or more quickly overcome slow starts.
Good, not great. Folks will probably quibble with this grade, but let’s remember they never got the run game where they needed it to be, and TB12 was hit 11 times by eight different players. That slows down the thought process of every quarterback in the league. But he stood tall in the pocket, and the facial expression and attitude he carried into that final drive . . . that’s the stuff that teammates respond to. And they ran out the clock. Brady must overcome slow starts and be more pinpoint, and that’s achievable.
RUNNING BACK: C-
Pass protection factors into this grade. All the backs were very inconsistent against the blitz, but Shane Vereen was the one victimized the most. There weren't a lot of holes to run through, and some of the run lanes that were there were the results of spread formations and natural running lanes opening up when in shotgun. Jonas Gray does a decent job with the big-boy running game, especially around the goal line. Brandon Bolden is underrated in his ability to run inside and bounce it outside. Gotta protect TB12 better.
WIDE RECEIVER: B
I liked what Amendola did in the Edelman role with his eight catches. He isn't Julian with the ability to get yards after the catch, but you can see that the Edelman role is the one best suited for Amendola. Brandon LaFell just continues to do all the little things that make him successful. He blocks, he run crisp routes, and his hands have gotten better as the year has gone on. What this group needs is to be more than three deep. Lots of fans earlier this year were pumping up Brian Tyms . . . waiting, just waiting.
TIGHT END: C+
Rob Gronkowski did his best through double coverage, though he did have some issues in protection on the first Brady sack. The Jets match up well against him and hit him every chance they had. I'm a little perplexed why Tim Wright didn't have a better day; this may be a layer of the offense they're sitting on for the playoffs. The blocking was okay out of this group, as Gronk is still an elite blocker when on the move. Michael Hoomanawanui didn't stand out, good or bad. It's amazing how when Gronk is shut down, this group doesn't produce.
OFFENSIVE LINE: D
It seems that when Dan Connolly is out, the left side of the offensive line struggles. The only guy I didn't see lose a one-on-one battle that led to a negative play was Bryan Stork. Otherwise everyone across the front lost at least one, and it led to massive pressure on TB12. They do deserve credit for how they cleaned it up a bit in the second half, but settling on a set five was difficult against this aggressive Jets defense. The numbers that drive this grade home: 11 hits on TB12 by eight different players, and seven Jets defenders were credited with at least half a sack. UGH.
Just like Brady: Good, but not great. This group did a decent job on third down (38 percent) and was good in the red area once again. And that has become the Patriots’ calling card: They hold you to field goals instead of giving up touchdowns. What I didn't like was four completions that went for 20 yards or more, and three runs of 14, 16 and 16 yards. Chunk plays kept drives alive for a putrid Jets offense. The pass rush also lagged, especially in the first half, but got better as the game went on. What I love about this defense is that they once again didn't give up a second-half TD.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
While the consistent pass rush was lacking, I thought this group was active along the line of scrimmage. Vince Wilfork holds the line as well as anyone and did a great job of redirecting and shedding blocks to make plays. Sealver Siliga's presence is a welcome one on that front, and I didn’t think his pass-rush ability inside was something he had in his toolbox. Alan Branch rotates in and does his job, which is to be a fat belly and take up space. Chandler Jones kept plugging away with the pass rush and eventually he got home. I liked how hard he worked during the game.
Once again, it’s the Jamie Collins & Dont’a Hightower show. Collins did something I've said he doesn't do very well: He dropped in zone coverage and made his interception. He fills up the stat sheet, which is easy for him because of his massive versatility. What can I say about Hightower in the middle that hasn't been said? He has great timing on the delayed blitzes and gets to the QB when he does rush. He's better at staying with his man when receivers flash in front of him when in route. Too bad Jerod Mayo got hurt, because what a trio they would have been.
DEFENSIVE BACK: B+
This grade is lowered because of Patrick Chung's bite on play action that led to the Jeff Cumberland touchdown. I thought this group did a nice job once again locking down in the red area. What bothered me a bit was that it was a bunch of different receivers who made a catch or two. Logan Ryan had some issues against Jeremy Kerley early on, but some of his catches came against zone, which the Pats played a significant amount of in this game. Darrelle Revis is still Darrelle Revis, and Brandon Browner and Devin McCourty played well.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Ryan Allen had a monster day, with a 45.6 yard net average and two of five punts inside the 20. And the return unit did a nice job of holding Kerley in check. Meanwhile the return unit, led by Amendola, gained yardage off punts to lower Ryan Quigley's net average to 31.5 off a 47.3 yard average. Monster gains just in the punt game. Only one touchback was a disappointment for Stephen Gostkowski, but the kick coverage did a nice job of limiting lanes and tackled pretty well. Field-goal unit was just fine. Another productive day for 'Teams'.
'IT AIN'T BROKE'
1) Punt teams. Great field position and yard production.
2) Second half defense.
3) Brady's movement in the pocket. And out of it.
'BUT NEEDS FIXING'
1) Settle on 5 offensive lineman, please
2) Pass protection from the RB's
3) Even when you go turbo, you can always run in the red zone.
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.