Gresh's Grades: Rough start to the season
GRESH'S GRADES: ROUGH START TO THE SEASON
By Andy Gresh
Special to CSNNE.com
Not the way the Pats wanted to open the season. They followed a productive first half with two of the worst all-around quarters of the Hoodie era. The third quarter started with an offsides on a kickoff, and ended with the offense trying to convert a third-and-29. They followed that with a fourth quarter of miscues, mistakes, and missed opportunities. Some of this is correctable. But what worries me is how they had no answer to their first bit of adversity.
In the first half the Pats moved the ball crisply downfield with Tom Brady chucking it around, using the quick passing game and connecting with eight different receivers. They mixed and matched personnel with varying formations and rotated offensive lineman at the center and right-guard spots. In the second half, though, mistakes created turnovers that led to points. The quick passing game was gone because of poor field position, bad down-and-distance, and Miami pressure (Brady was sacked four times). TB12 showed his frustration and started forcing the ball to Rob Gronkowski, whether he was completely open or not. A bad penalty from Brandon LaFell proved costly, as it took some of the life out of the offensive momentum and put them in a poor down-and-distance situation. This group has to not get so lopsided in its run/pass ratio, and needs some consistency from the offensive line to straighten that out.
Four sacks and six hits aren't optimal any time, but that's especially true when your QB is 37 years old. In the first half TB12 was in rhythm because of the quick passing game. That also limited his exposure to hits. But as the game wore on, the hits and pressure mounted and it led to several misfires. The miss to Julian Edelman on third-and-9 after the LaFell penalty was especially costly. Brady took a beating but stood tall. His leadership will be needed this week to fix these protection issues.
RUNNING BACKS: B
I can't fault Stevan Ridley on the sack given up by Michael Hoomanawanui in the third quarter; Ridley was already downhill on the play-fake and tried to redirect as quickly as possible, but to no avail. Ball security wasn't an issue and he had his best run called back because of a Hoo-man hold. Shane Vereen just gets more impressive as a receiver: He's smooth and runs nice routes. His inside running is underrated and that will be showcased more as the OL gets settled down. This group still needs improvement on third-down pass protection, but nothing really to complain about here.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C
Edelman has become TB12's new go-to guy. The QB's body language made us believe that Edelman may have run the wrong route on the misfire I referenced earlier, but I say hit the throw. Kenbrell Thompkins did a nice job with the spot throws and is good after the catch. I'd still like to see some separation from him on some longer third downs. Danny Amendola did little, and it will be interesting to see if they find ways to get him the ball since he really was brought here to play the Edelman role. LaFell did himself no favors with his new teammates. The offensive pass-interference penalty could've been avoided with patience instead of going for the knockout blow.
TIGHT ENDS: D
This grade is poor because Hoo-man brought them all down. Granted, Josh McDaniels put him in a bad spot -- having to pass protect against Cameron Wake is tough -- but cut him at the legs if you must to keep your QB clean. Actually, don't get beat off the ball; that way, maybe you'll have a chance. One of those plays led to Ryan Wendell getting his right leg hurt, as he got rolled up from behind while a Dolphins player lunged for the ball after a fumble. That was the play of the game for me because it's a momentum swing and caused more juggling of bodies on the OL. Had no issues with Gronk. I think he just needs to work his way back to being comfortable and trusting his body.
OFFENSIVE LINE: F
Going back and rewatching, the fourth quarter wasn't as bad as I thought. But, still, it wasn't pretty. In the first half, the Nate Solder-Marcus Cannon-Dan Connolly-Jordan Devey-Sebastian Vollmer line did a nice job. The pace was quick and no one was exposed. But as the game wore on and Wendell got some snaps, we'd see some leakage over the center and right side. Then the tackles got beat by Wake and Chris McCain and Olivier Vernon, and it was a mess. Cannon was good at left guard but missed two big blocks, one on a peel back on the play action after Alfonzo Dennard's interception that may have kept seven off the board. Bottom line here is, settle with five permanent linemen. And make sure one of them isn't Jordan Devey.
Here's my conundrum: They gave up running yards because the Dolphins got six in the box when they spread the Pats out in the third quarter by running out of three- and four-wide receiver looks. It created natural spacing, and when you combine that with linebackers who can't get off blocks and poor tackling, it led to Knowshon Moreno running wild on them. But they also created three turnovers, hit the QB five times (counting penalties), and made three red-zone stops after being forced into short fields because of offensive turnovers, holding Miami to field goals instead of touchdowns. Remember: As bad as the third quarter was, the score was still only 23-20 heading into the fourth quarter. Biggest issue is tackling. That will lead to better run defense because they were in position to make plays more than one would think.
DEFENSIVE LINE: D
By going with three down lineman in their nickel look, it created gaps for Moreno and the Dolphins to run through. Vince Wilfork played a nice game coming back from injury and had a chance, when the Pats were down by only three points, to make a huge run stop from the rare DE position. But he couldn't corral Moreno, and that was the ballgame. Still, he was there to make a play. Sealver Siliga battles hard but just doesn't have enough push for me. Joe Vellano is a grinder but makes little impact. Chandler Jones was great. He only should've gotten one roughing-the-passer penalty and was active all day. He's getting better with his redirection and pass rush set up.
When the Fish spread out the Pats 'D', it was up to Jamie Collins, Jerod Mayo and the rotation of Rob Ninkovich and Dont'a Hightower to slow down the run. And that didn't happen. Collins and Mayo in particular were inconsistent in both their ability to shed and to make tackles. Collins just need more reps to get better at play fake recognition; his athleticism is off the charts, as evidenced by the forced fumble. I think the coaches are finding that Hightower can play the Ninko spot better than Ninko, who just gets pushed too much at the line of scrimmage. Hightower was used up around the line of scrimmage and needs better chase when a running play goes away from him.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: D+
Tackling brought down this grade, but I like what I saw from this group. Logan Ryan putting a hat on the football and the Dennard pick was good stuff. Darrelle Revis pretty much stayed at left corner and wasn't married to any particular receiver. We didn't see massive separation all day; everyone had their moments (like Revis on the Mike Wallace double move), both good an bad. Malcolm Butler got picked on a bit in his welcome to the NFL. But overall the back end didn't kill them at all.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F
Worst overall special-team performance in years. Stephen Gostkowski was the only guy who was perfect. A bad snap on a punt led to early points. An offsides on a kickoff gave Miami a plus-8 in yardage. A punt return on a bouncing punt at a critical junction in the game gave Miami position at midfield. Even Edelman mishandled a punt. Scotty O'Brien has a lot of work to do this week in nearly every facet under his watch.
'IT AIN'T BROKE'
1) The secondary. Aside from Malcolm Butler's first real NFL game, I like a lot of what I saw.
2) The running game. I know, I know . . . harping again.
3) Gostkowski. Drilled two kicks in a place that isn't easy to knock em
'BUT NEEDS FIXING'
1) Offensive line. Settle in with five and stay in good down and distance.
2) Tackling. IT SUCKED.
3) Resilience. Do they have any? Because after that second half, you're left guessing.
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.