Gresh's Grades: Bills get best of undermanned Pats
GRESH'S GRADES: WEEK 17 VS. BILLS
By Andy Gresh
Special to CSNNE.com
A difficult one to grade because you saw so many players on the field who normally wouldn't be in those positions. Offensively, the Patriots left a lot to be desired. Defensively, even with a bunch of backups (especially in the back seven), not a bad job at all. You could tell the Pats didn't press on the gas -- at all -- in this one. The result didn't matter; the fact that New England came away pretty healthy, does. Now rest and get ready for the Round of 8.
It wasn't very good all day long. What we need to remember is that they didn't have their big target who occupies the middle of the field (Ron Gronkowski), nor their inside receiver (Julian Edelman). The pass protection was shaky at times. The Bills got to Tom Brady in the first half, but REALLY got to Jimmy Garoppolo in the second. Of course, when Jimmy G was in, it was backups across the board minus Bryan Stork and Ryan Wendell. Clearly this was a basic game plan, but the bottom line is, they never got the run game working and never established the middle of the field. Tough day, but put it in perspective. This game really didn't matter.
Good, not great. Brady moved pretty well in the pocket but you could see that he had no one he could trust when it got hairy or if there was tight coverage. He never got into a rhythm throwing the ball and he did a good job in the pocket of moving around rush and contact. Jimmy G has some good instincts and anticipation in the pocket, but needs to learn when to throw it away. I love the fact they mixed in some zone read and the QB boot. You can see the potential in No. 10, but you can also see he needs more game action to improve.
RUNNING BACKS: C+
Not a lot of room to run, but there were times that LeGarrette Blount did a nice job of bouncing outside for yards. His 'jump-cut' move is odd for a man his size, but he's effective when using it. Shane Vereen had an issue or two in the passing game; some from lack of timing, some pressure related. James White was in during mopup duty and showed very little, but the offense wasn't producing like usual so that's to be expected. Brandon Bolden is a nice little fill-in here and there, but I don't want him out there for extended time.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C
Good effort, as usual, by Brandon LaFell. His big crossing route for 27 yards was the highlight of the day offensively. Love his work ethic to get into the top of the route, and out of that route he works hard to be precise. People are waiting for Brian Tyms to become Randy Moss and that's not happening. And I don't need a celebration after every play, Brian. Develop some consistency and let the fans cheer for you. Just very little separation from this group all day, regardless of who was in there.
TIGHT ENDS: B
Really nothing in the passing game from this group, and that's to be expected without Gronk. Steve Maneri had a clear drop on a ball from Brady, but did a nice job in the run game. He is the new 'Mully' from Maine. Michael Hoomanawanui had one forced to him down the seam by Jimmy G that was never catchable. And Tim Wright never got more than a passing look from both QBs, but did make a catch. Good job blocking by this group, which was their true job Sunday.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C-
The running game wasn't terrible, but it was far from consistent. The rotation of guys up front led to massive inconsistency and they did lose some one-on-one battles. Only one run of 10 yards or more doesn't bode well for a good grade. They survived, and we have to hope that the Nate Solder knee ding needs nothing more than a week of rest to get him back and ready to rock.
When you're leading tacklers are Jonathan Casillas and Darius Fleming, that tells you all you need to know about the regulars' playing time. The defensive line had the most amount of regulars rotating through the lineup and they held up pretty well. I was surprised to see Vince Wilfork in there into the third quarter. Some young, back-end defensive backs, like Duron Harmon and Tavon Wilson, got some good work. The third-down percentage wasn't great, but it didn't matter in the end.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
I liked the rotation of players and all of them contributed in their own way. Vince was a space eater, as was Alan Branch. I like Sealver Siliga's game right now, including his ability to press the pocket and get some inside pressure. Chandler Jones has become more of a force since returning; when it's one-on-one, he can get to the QB. Chris Jones and his 15-20 plays a game will be important in the playoffs as he can hold the point of attack solidly. They have an interesting, varied mix of players to rotate against different offensive fronts.
I liked the production from Casillas and Fleming, but they are what they are. Casillas is a special-teams demon who is a little too light to play against the run consistently on the inside. Fleming is a keeper, but needs a lot of work playing in space. Still, I think he stands up well against the run. Jamie Collins still produces at a high level, even when his snaps are down. His redirect on the strip sack shows his athleticism. Get Dont'a Hightower right with the time off.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: B
Sammy Watkins had one big play early against Darrelle Revis, but after that there really wasn't any big plays against the Pats 'D'. No one DB stood out. I liked how Logan Ryan played in this one. He was the starter, played primarily on the outside, and looked more comfortable and fluid in his stride and movements. Wilson and Harmon were okay at safety, especially since that with Kyle Orton at QB there really was no need to respect the deep ball. Good that Brandon Browner and Devin McCourty got some rest. McCourty is a Pro Bowler and has played great all year. I expect an $8 million dollar average on his next contract.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
The offense didn't do the punt team, or the defense, any favors by losing the battle of field position. But Ryan Allen did another nice job with hang time and giving the Pats punt-coverage unit time to get down field and maintain a strong net average. Stephen Gostkowski could've been a little better on kickoffs and the first one he didn't pound out of the end zone got returned for big yards. Field-goal and extra-point operation was just fine. They need to keep winning the battle of field position and it starts with kicking the ball.
'IT AIN'T BROKE'
1) The kicking game. For points.
2) Defensive depth. There's more than enough to be multiple needing only three more wins.
3) LaGarrette Blount. Looked healthy and had bounce.
'BUT IT NEEDS FIXING'
1) The kicking game. For field position on kickoffs.
2) More stout up front along the offensive line.
3) Health. Gets lost of rest, boys
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.