Gresh's Grades: That's more like it
GRESH'S GRADES: THAT'S MORE LIKE IT
By Andy Gresh
Special to CSNNE.com
We finally got a positive response, both mentally and physically, from this Patriots team. I have to admit, standing on the sideline minutes before kickoff, I didn't sense there would be an explosion of points from the Pats. I wasn’t optimistic because I didn’t see the fire that I saw once the game began. The level with which they competed was their highest all season, and the coaches had a great game plan on both sides of the ball. Now that they’ve set a bar of performance, let’s see how consistent they'll be from here on out.
The offensive line really played well, setting a tone for the offense that would produce 14 first-quarter points. The ‘0’ set (2 WR, 2 TE) is back in a big way as Tim Wright produced in limited snaps and Rob Gronkowski finally looked like Gronk. The running game was diverse with Stevan Ridley featured in the power game and Shane Vereen in the draw game, which was productive out of multiple formations. Tom Brady was able to push the distractions aside and throw the ball with confidence and in rhythm because the big boys did their job.
With all that surrounded TB12 heading into this game, some of which he fueled during the week with his own words, his focus and fire was on point. I can quibble with some throws here and there, but he read the blitz well, threw the ball with confidence, and was masterful in manipulating the Cincy 'D' with motions and checks. His best effort of the night was an incompletion where he threw the rainbow ball downfield to Julian Edelman while staring down the blitz. Shows how he thinks on the fly with no hesitation. Well done. Now keep the boys' feet to the fire.
RUNNING BACKS: A
Ridley had a nice night running between the tackles, but it was a career-long gain of 43 yards bouncing it outside late in the third quarter that showed his ability to be more than an in-between-the-tackles guy. And ball security hasn’t been an issue all season. Vereen was used in the passing game, working the flats and occasionally the middle of the field, but his impact came in the draw game where the Pats ran a slower developing draw that allowed huge lanes for consistent yards. And when needed, James Develin came in and smashed his way to success. He was also effective as the wham blocker.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C
This group just doesn’t have anybody that can stand out if Edelman is skunked, which he pretty much was in this one. Danny Amendola read the blitz nicely and adjusted for his catch. Aaron Dobson needs to get off the back of the milk carton and start making some impact. Instead of a catch for 16 yards. multiply that times three. Brandon LaFell is slowly getting better read coverage and adjusting to this offense, but Brady hasn’t started to develop a rapport with the free- agent signee. Time for someone to emerge and compliment Edelman.
TIGHT ENDS: A-
I loved seeing the snag-and-smash Gronk. He played with genuine emotion for his QB, and how fitting was it that he caught the ball that pushed TB12 over the 50,000-yard career passing mark. He wasn’t afraid to go over the middle or stretch the field vertically. He also had safety Reggie Nelson test his knee on the second touchdown and the big one didn’t even flinch. The sack he allowed, however, cost the group a letter grade. Wright played well and you can see he runs great tandem routes. He knows how to work the seam and he’s sneaky savvy with route adjustments based on reading coverage. Michael Hoomanawanui did a nice job blocking this week and didn’t have any major miscues.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A
Even though there were some mistakes, like false starts and holds, I loved the way these five performed. This is your five and the Stork in the middle jumps out on film. His ability to push blockers, turn them at the goal line if he can’t move them, and be aggressive in a firm play-action pass set, jumps off the screen. He’s a keeper. And I actually liked Ryan Wendell at guard. He played with great leverage and lean. They set the tone early and if they protect TB12 this way, it’s gonna be a good year.
The average per carry in the run game doesn’t look great, but the Cincy run was never a factor in this game. They started with four down and Chandler Jones wasn’t one of them, proving this is a week-to-week game plan team. It was a lot of Vince Wilfork, Chris Jones and Rob Ninkovich up front, with Chandler Jones and Dominique Easley mixed in. I liked Easley's versatility, from a 3 technique over a guard to lining up standing over a tackle. Jaime Collins had some issues in coverage and with assignment knowledge, but made a big play scooping up the fumble caused by Darrelle Revis. This unit also tackled the football very well producing three fumbles which were snagged by swarming Pats defenders. Must clean up the assignment issues and get lined up, but overall a nice job.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
The only real knock on this group was too few QB hits. I thought Chris Jones played really well inside with consistent hand placement and a good motor to tandem up with Vince, who looks spry right now. He’s getting off the ball as well as he ever has (look at the first defensive play for an example). Easley is coming along nicely as he continues to rotate between inside and outside. I’d love for the Pats to team him up in a 4-3 with him as the penetrating 3 tech with Chandler Jones outside him. Chandler was quiet as he only played about 35 percent of the defensive snaps and never got a good feel in this one.
There are still some issues here, one being that Dont’a Hightower was scratched. Deontae Skinner doesn’t measure up to an NFL starting linebacker and was quickly replaced. Jerod Mayo at times doesn’t disengage well enough for me inside. If a guard is on him, he’s toast more often than not. Jamie Collins had some issues with where to line up, then he would get lost in coverage sometimes and was responsible for what should’ve been a touchdown on an incompletion in the end zone to Jermaine Gresham. This group needs some work.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: B+
Alfonzo Dennard had some issues at times with hand placement, but did a nice job being physical when asked. Revis has been consistent this season, whether in man or zone. It was an unfortunate call against him that took away a pick but he’s been as advertised. And man-to-man suits this secondary well. Worth watching this week the health of Devin McCourty. He has a rib issue and they desperately need him out there to QB things around what they’re doing with No. 24.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
A mixed bag here. The 47-yard punt return by Adam Jones is inexcusable and they must fix the spacing on the punt coverage as it’s getting a bit too loose. Brandon Tate also ripped off 20 yards per return on seven kickoffs. Duve of those need to be touchbacks. Ryan Allen didn’t have a great net average, which is a testament as to how poorly this group chased and tackled. Stephen Gostkowski drilled his field goals with authority. Need a better week next week to not give the Bills any breaks.
'IT AIN'T BROKE'
1) FINALLY I CAN WRITE . . . the offensive line. Stick with this group and go.
2) Revis. He is going to give up some receptions, relax folks.
3) Ability to force turnovers.
'BUT IT NEEDS FIXING'
1) The return game. Must tackle and run to the ball better.
2) Penalties. Way too many dumb ones.
3) WR’s beside Edelman. It’s time, 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.