Perry's Report Card: Patriots vs. Saints
Exhale, New England. Your quarterback isn't old quite yet. After what as an at-times bumpy performance against the Chiefs in Week 1, he was singularly great, especially early, in the 36-20 victory over the Saints on Sunday.
Tom Brady hit Rex Burkhead on a touchdown on the first drive of the game despite pressure bearing down on his back. To keep the drive going, he hit James White on a crossing pattern knowing he'd take a big hit. His 53-yard touchdown to Rob Gronkowski was perfectly placed despite it being a flat-footed throw with defenders breathing on him.
The numbers were good, sure. Brady had a 139 quarterback rating. He completed 76 percent of his passes. That'll always put the Patriots in a good position. But the way he accumulated those numbers was impressive. Even for him.
We've compiled grades for Brady based on it all (SPOILER ALERT...they're not terrible), and we're showing our work. Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly for each position group...
The Good...Tom Brady's touchdown throw to Rex Burkhead was picture perfect, especially considering he had some pressure bearing down on him from his blind side. He saw man coverage when James Develin aligned wide and was checked by inside linebacker Manti Te'o. Then when Burkhead motioned to the slot, linebacker Alex Anzalone went with him. Brady looked to the left but quickly came back to the right side of the field and hit his back...Brady didn't have to put it on a dime to Rob Gronkowski, but he got it to his big tight end flat-footed early in the second quarter for one of the biggest plays of the game. Just as he did on Burkhead's score, Brady picked on rookie linebacker Alex Anzalone...The third-down conversion to Gronkowski late in the first quarter was an absolute strike with pressure coming at his left side...Brady got PJ Williams to bite hard on a fake screen that saw Chris Hogan get the Patriots into Saints territory. Easy pitch and catch. Too aggressive on the Saints' end...On his next throw, Brady was able to move Kenny Vaccaro with his eyes to open up the deep middle part of the field for Brandin Cooks. (He also absorbed a hit from Cam Jordan and still got the football to Cooks.) The play set up Mike Gillislee's touchdown near the goal line to make the score, 27-13...Brady's throw to Rob Gronkowski at the end of the first half was well-placed but Gronkowski dropped the back-shoulder throw...Brady saw the game better than the officials at times. He smartly picked up a too-many-men penalty when Te'o couldn't get off the field. Officials didn't catch it the first time around...Brady's throw to Phillip Dorsett early in the fourth quarter was dropped perfectly into the bucket with coverage closing in on the diminutive wideout.
The Bad...It looked like Brandin Cooks had a step on his defender on the first play of New England's second drive, but Brady put it out of his receiver's reach...Brady missed Rob Gronkowski on an out-route on second down in the second quarter. Color analyst Tony Romo said he believed Brady rushed the throw, and it's hard to blame him...Brady missed a wide-open Chris Hogan in the flat and instead threw to Dwayne Allen who was well-covered. The pass was nearly picked. Allen could have maybe come back to the ball to help cut off the angle, but it wasn't Brady's best decision of the day.
The Ugly...The Patriots offense was called for an illegal shift when they weren't set long enough following Dorsett's long catch in the fourth quarter. That's on the quarterback. Little too rushed...Things got a little sloppy in the third quarter, though Brady escaped unharmed. He threw a pick when targeting Gronkowski. It was erased due to a hold on Kenny Vaccaro, but Brady's throw occurred after the hold. Later in the period, Brady threw high and off the hands of Gronkowski. The pass fluttered right to Jacob Hollister. Hollister dropped it, but Brady may have been lucky it didn't land in the arms of the Saints.
RUNNING BACK: A-
The Good...James White's whip route on the first third down of the day was a route well-run and helped give the Patriots a little momentum on the road to start the game...The Patriots clearly made a concerted effort to get the football into Rex Burkhead's hands early, and after a few short runs and one short catch, he was rewarded with his first score as a member of the Patriots. He beat linebacker Alex Anzalone easily and showed his soft hands on the play...Mike Gillislee dragged a handful of Saints defenders to pick up a first down late in the first quarter. The Patriots got Gillislee, Burkhead and White touches in the first quarter, maximizing the skill sets of each...James White got the Patriots into field-goal range during their two-minute drill at the end of the first half by making Saints tacklers miss in the open field for a gain of 23. Good shake from the sub back...Dion Lewis had one of the most impressive two-yard runs you'll ever see late in the third when he was hit by two Saints defenders two yards behind the line of scrimmage but somehow escaped...White's down-the-field grab was nearly identical to the reception Kareem Hunt made in Week 1 in New England. He's a mismatch for any linebacker, as AJ Klein will tell you.
The Bad...On first down with a minute left in the first quarter, Gillislee had what looked like a sizable hole to run through thanks to Joe Thuney, Nate Solder and James Develin. Instead, he ran into Develin's back and picked up three...Gillislee went back-hunting again late in the second quarter. On his touchdown run, he put his head down and plowed into the surgically-repaired back of his All-Pro tight end.
The Ugly...Burkhead's drop late in the first quarter had to have been due to a lapse in concentration. Could have been a first down and brought up a third-and-seven.
WIDE RECEIVER: B+
The Good...Brandin Cooks' first touch of the game in his return to New Orleans may have caught his former team sleeping. He picked up an easy first down on an end around, flashing his speed along the edge...On Rex Burkhead's 20-yard screen catch-and-run, Phillip Dorsett and Cooks were 30 yards down the field holding their blocks. That won't go unnoticed in the film room...Chris Hogan threw a good block on Dorsett's end-around run -- his first touch as a member of the Patriots...Dorsett's first catch with the Patriots was a good one. Brady was hit on the arm (Cam Jordan got by Marcus Cannon) as Dorsett ran an out-and-up, and Dorsett came back on the ball when he saw it was going to be short. Nice adjustment by the new guy...The Patriots were almost called for an illegal pick in the secondary, but officials determined Cooks was within one yard of the line of scrimmage when he freed up Hogan for an easy touchdown grab. Cooks is known more for his explosive down-field ability than his physicality, but he did his job on that play...Cooks showed up again as a blocker in the third quarter during a Mike Gillislee five-yard run to the outside...Cooks caught a slant in the fourth quarter that he was able to set up much better than his previous two in the game (both of which were broken up). Rather than trying to run through rookie Marshon Lattimore's physicality, he set up the rookie with quickness at the line before making his break...Good work by Dorsett to reel in a contested pass from Tom Brady to put the Patriots down by the goal line with about 11 minutes remaining in the game...Dorsett later caught a swing pass and finished with toughness, lowering his shoulder on three Saints defenders.
The Bad...On Cooks' first two over routes of the game, passes were broken up by Lattimore...It looked as though Hogan was late to motion with 11:10 left in the first half. Brady was forced to call a timeout as a result.
The Ugly...Hogan could be seen limping throughout the course of the game and had trouble even going into motion with about two-and-a-half minutes left. It seemed as though he may have tweaked something on his long catch-and-run with about 6:30 remaining in the first half...Dorsett suffered a left knee injury in the fourth quarter, leaving the Patriots with one healthy receiver: Cooks...Cooks was called for a false start on the first snap after the two-minute warning. The Patriots finished better than they did in Week 1, but it wasn't flawless.
TIGHT END: A-
The Good...Rob Gronkowski made a nice lead block on Brandin Cooks' end-around run. He did more than just catch the football in this one...Gronkowski wasn't afraid to get physical with Kenny Vaccaro on New England's second third-down play of the game. He freed himself from Kenny Vaccaro over the middle with the Patriots beginning the play in their two-back "Pony" set...Think Gronkowski is feeling strong? After his 53-yard score when he broke a dismal tackle attempt in the Saints secondary and ran into the end zone. Quickly thereafter he gave a Hulkamania-style flex. Statement...Gronkowski's next catch was identical to his first. In two-back "Pony" sets, the Saints tried to man him up on a safety. Didn't work.
The Bad...Both Gronkowski and Jacob Hollister dropped a pass on the same throw in the third quarter. Brady's pass bounced off of Gronkowski's hands and then fluttered to Hollister, who dropped the deflection. Would have been a fantastic catch by Gronkowski had he made it...Gronkowski whiffed on a block with six minutes left in the second quarter. Dion Lewis had a run stopped for a loss of one as a result...Brady nearly threw a pick in Dwayne Allen's direction late in the third quarter when Allen allowed a defender to step in front of him on his stop route. Not a great throw by Brady, but Allen could've helped him out.
The Ugly...Gronkowski is going to be kicking himself over his dropped touchdown at the end of the first half. Running a corner route, he was turned around on Brady's back-shoulder throw, but typically that's a pass he secures without issue. Kenny Vaccaro was in coverage. He's not very good.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B
The Good...David Andrews, Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason were an athletic convoy leading the way for Rex Burkhead on his 20-yard screen. Only Mason was able to throw a block before AJ Klein caught Burkhead...Joe Thuney did a nice job to pick up a Saints rusher on a "game" up front on a third down at the end of the first quarter. Brady used the extra time to fire a strike to Rob Gronkowski...Good blocks by Thuney (pulling), Marcus Cannon, Shaq Mason and Dwayne Allen helped James White find seven yards with 7:27 left in the first half...Solder, Mason (pulling; man is he quick) and Thuney got things going on New England's two-minute drive, opening an easy running lane for Mike Gillislee to pick up nine...Nice block by David Andrews to spring Dion Lewis up the middle for a first-down run late in the third quarter.
The Bad...On the first play from scrimmage, Thuney was pushed back into the Patriots backfield on Brady's pass attempt. He appeared to have some issues with power rushers in Week 1. Worth keeping an eye on...Cam Jordan swam right past Andrews on the third play of the game, but Brady made an accurate throw to James White just before taking a hit on third down to keep things moving...Solder got Brady hit on the fourth play of the game when he couldn't hang with a quick inside move...Solder was pushed back into the backfield with about 13 minutes left in the first quarter as he tried to get out into open space to lead the way for White on New England's first drive. White was forced to re-route five yards behind the line but still picked up a couple...Solder was beaten on Burkhead's first-quarter score, but Brady got rid of the football quickly enough that it didn't matter...Solder couldn't stop Cam Jordan, who obliterated Mike Gillislee on a second-and-four play on New England's second drive. The play lost two...Solder was beaten by Jordan on Brady's long completion to Brandin Cooks late in the second quarter, but Brady got the ball out just in time. Jordan's hit impacted the throw, but it still had enough on it to get to Cooks near the goal line. Should've been a touchdown if not for the hit...Solder missed a block on Manti Te'o that stopped a Dion Lewis run for a loss of one.
The Ugly...Solder was beaten by Hau'oli Kikaha easily on third-and-eight in the second quarter. Kikaha's speed around the edge, using a long-arm move in the process, was too much for the Patriots left tackle. The sack forced the Patriots to punt for the first time in the game...David Andrews was called for a hold on a nice gain by James White on a screen late in the first half. Dud of a start to the team's two-minute drive...Cannon was flagged for a holding call in the fourth quarter. That followed up an illegal shift penalty called on the entire team. Not exactly the strong finish the Patriots were looking for.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A-
The Good...Dominant play by all three down linemen with about nine minutes left in the first quarter. Lawrence Guy and Malcom Brown defeated their one-on-one blocks to stuff Mark Ingram for no gain...Guy drew a holding penalty on New Orleans second drive of the game. Ryan Ramcyzk couldn't block him one-on-one. Too much power...Trey Flowers single-handedly blew up a stretch run in the second quarter when he drove guard Senio Kelemete five yards beyond the line of scrimmage, booked it down the line of scrimmage, and tackled Mark Ingram for a gain of one. Yikes...Nice job by Brown in running a two-man game with Flowers in the second quarter. Flowers looped around the young defensive tackle and got a good hit on Drew Brees, just missing out on a sack...Deatrich Wise blew up a Saints run on second down with three minutes left in the first half. After a long pickup by Michael Thomas, Wise's stop brought up a third-and-three. He already had two quarterback hits to this point in the game so it felt like a matter of time before he made a play against the run...On the very next play, Wise made his presence felt again, hitting Drew Brees and forcing an incompletion. That brought up a fourth down that was failed when Cassius Marsh put a little bit of heat on Brees...Wise made another big play by sacking Brees on third down early in the third quarter. He beat former first-round left tackle Andrus Peat to make the play. Peat's been playing left guard but was forced to play tackle as the Saints are dealing with injuries at that position.
The Bad...Alan Branch played just six snaps, and early in the second quarter, he was nearly pancaked by Larry Worford. For the last two seasons, rare were the occasions when a blocker handled Branch one-on-one, and Worford just about lifted Branch off his feet and controlled the big Patriots tackle. After a tough Week 1, Branch didn't exactly make a case that he should be playing more.
The Ugly...Flowers was called for a neutral-zone infraction early in the second quarter. It turned a second-and-10 into a second-and-five.
The Good...Elandon Roberts hustled to make a stop on Tommylee Lewis early in the first quarter. Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore seemed to botch the coverage, but Roberts worked to limit the damage...Roberts showed up as a run defender in this one. He read the Saints run play with 8:30 left in the first quarter immediately and blew up pulling guard Larry Worford to limit Adrian Peterson's carry to a minimal gain...Kyle Van Noy read a Saints screen perfectly with 5:08 left in the first quarter to stop Ingram for a loss of two. Van Noy will only continue to get more comfortable in his role as an every-down middle linebacker as he sees more time...On first-and-10 with nine minutes left in the second quarter, Roberts stopped Ingram for a gain of two. His instincts in the run game are very good, and if he and Harris are playing the same role as run-game-only linebackers, it's going to be tough for Harris to supplant Roberts if he continues to play the way he did in New Orleans...More good from Roberts as he stuffed a Peterson run early in the fourth quarter and forced the carry to bounce outside. Devin McCourty flowed to the ball and made the tackle for a gain of two...Roberts kept a third-quarter Mark Ingram run from turning into an explosive play when he got off of Worford's block to limit the gain to eight. Far from a stuff, but still a strong play. He got off of an Andrus Peat block on the next play to limit Ingram to three...Roberts was all over the field from his spot on the middle. He made a tackle on three straight plays, stopping Ingram for a gain of two on a stretch run. His speed and instincts coming downhill make it hard for linemen to jump him as plays develop.
The Bad...Looked like there was some miscommunication at the second level late in the second quarter when former Patriots tight end Michael Hoomanawanui caught one for eight yards. Patrick Chung seemingly had Ted Ginn, and Roberts appeared to be the one left in coverage on Hoo-man. Roberts didn't quite get there...Roberts met Worford head-on again in the second quarter but was sealed off in the hole for a five-yard run. Can't blow up every run play when you're giving up about 80 pounds to the offensive lineman assigned to block you.
The Ugly...Both Van Noy and Roberts bit hard on Brees' play fake with five minutes left in the first quarter. That left all kinds of room for Brees to hit Michael Thomas over the middle, but Brees wasn't ready to deliver. He eventually threw to Thomas late and the ball landed incomplete.
The Good...Devin McCourty played at the linebacker level on the final play of the first quarter and helped hold Alvin Kamara to a gain of two yards, combining for the tackle with linebacker Elandon Roberts...Malcolm Butler, who didn't start, broke up a catch by Michael Thomas early in the third quarter. Thomas ended up coming off the field after the play with team staffers...Jonathan Jones came up with a pair of breakups, including one in the end zone in the second quarter that saved four points. Strong work from someone who played just three defensive snaps against the Chiefs. It's worth noting that the second breakup came with Jones in coverage on 6-foot-6 Brandon Coleman. Jones is 5-10...Jones came off the edge for a pressure late in the third quarter...Patrick Chung saw a good deal of work on running backs in this one. He came up with a strong PBU midway through the fourth quarter while in coverage on Mark Ingram...Chung made a good tackle on Ingram later in the quarter, keeping the back in bounds to help run off some clock.
The Bad...Chung was in tight coverage on Alvin Kamara but Brees found Kamara anyway down the left sideline for a 38-yard gain...On the first Saints touchdown of the game, Josh Hill created some traffic near the goal line by running a slant that impeded Butler as Butler tried to chase Coleman to the back corner of the end zone. Chung jammed Hill at the line, seemingly trying to give Butler some room to get over the top of the pick, but Butler ran straight into Hill chasing after Coleman...The Patriots got caught on another pick in the second quarter when Stephon Gilmore got planted on the turf by Coby Fleener, forcing him to lose track of Coleman. Eric Rowe wasn't hit, but he also seemed lost on the play. Brees found his 6-foot-6 wideout for 42 yards...Gilmore was beaten down the sideline by Thomas late in the second quarter. Good catch, great throw. Gilmore was close in coverage, but Thomas had a step on him after he went out-and-up...Jones couldn't wrangle Michael Thomas midway through the fourth quarter while in zone, and Jones was later beaten by Coleman for a fourth-quarter completion for a first down the right sideline.
The Ugly...The Saints got into field-goal range early in the first quarter when someone lost Tommylee Lewis in coverage. Both Eric Rowe and Gilmore were in the area, but it's hard to know which player missed the assignment. There was some down-the-field contact -- call it a delayed rub route -- but that could be a sign of a communication issue between two players still learning one another. Bad breakdown nonetheless.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
The Good...Patrick Chung returned punts for the Patriots and secured the football well but did not record any return yardage...Harvey Langi, coming off of a costly facemask penalty, came up with a huge hit at the end of the end of the first quarter while covering one of Stephen Gostkowski's kicks...Flawless execution on the Patriots "mayday" call at the end of the first half. That's a play the Patriots run near the end of almost every training camp practice, and their preparation showed. With no timeouts and about 14 seconds, Brady and the offense hurried off the field as Gostkowski and the other specialists hurried on. Gostkowski got off the chip-shot field goal with plenty of time to spare to go up 30-13 at the half. Just how much detail goes into that play? Even edge blocker Lawrence Guy remembered to frantically tell officials he was eligible before lining up. Impressive...Ryan Allen's punt late in the fourth quarter was a chip shot that he dropped out of bounds at the seven-yard line. Nice touch by him on an end-over-end boot.
The Bad...Jonathan Jones' offsides penalty midway through the second quarter resulted in no harm, but that wasn't what he was looking for after recording a strong pass breakup just one play earlier...Ryan Allen's third-quarter punt went for only about a 27-yard net. On the same punt, Dwayne Allen was flagged for a too-many-men penalty, lopping even more yardage off the short boot.
The Ugly...Stephen Gostkowski's missed field goal -- which doinked off the left upright -- drained some of the positive momentum the Patriots built on their first drive of the game...Harvey Langi's facemask penalty cost the Patriots 15 yards before Brees even took the field. Not a great start for the undrafted rookie linebacker playing in his first game...The Patriots were called for a too-many-men penalty on a punt in the third quarter when Dwayne Allen slowly walked off the field but didn't get off in time. Sloppy.