Perry's Report Card: Brady cleaned things up when it mattered
Perry's Report Card: Brady cleaned things up when it mattered
Grading the Patriots has gotten tricky. How should players like Cameron Fleming and Bryan Stork, both starting at positions they’d never played before Week 9, be judged? When Tom Brady is working with a makeshift offensive line, how does that affect the clock ticking in his head? Even when there isn’t pressure, are his decisions altered? How can the offense be expected to perform when it loses someone like Julian Edelman in the first quarter, adding to its long list of injuries? Can Justin Coleman and Rashaan Melvin be judged on the same curve as Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan? It’s tough, but the grading must go on, sliding scale or no sliding scale. After taking a second look at the Patriots win over the Giants 27-26 on Sunday night, there are marks both good and bad to go around.
Coming into the game, the Patriots seemingly had their choice of methods to carve up the Giants defense: Throw it on their porous secondary, or run it on their leaky front seven? They opted to pound the ball with LeGarrette Blount early, giving him eight touches on their 14-play opening drive that resulted in a Scott Chandler touchdown. The Patriots turned to their screen game on the next drive and did not find the same success they did when Dion Lewis was seemingly creating something out of nothing on a regular basis. Soon thereafter, Edelman was knocked from the game, further narrowing what the Patriots could pull from their playbook, and as pressure got to Brady, the offense sputtered. They turned it over twice, they were called for three penalties, they allowed 17 quarterback hurries, and they were two-for-four in the red zone. One of those red-zone failures was a rare zero-point result when Brady was picked at the line of scrimmage. Though Brady’s accuracy was up-and-down from drive to drive – and even within that final drive – it was good when it needed to be. Execution late by the quarterback, his receivers and his protection helped elevate their grade.
Brady stepped into one of the three times he was sacked, essentially bringing himself down. He lost a fumble. He made a throw that, in a blink, went from a potentially game-sealing touchdown to a back-breaking pick. He was nearly intercepted again, which would have cut short the game-winning drive before it gained any momentum. Looking at all of those miscues, though, other than the pick at the goal line, which both Brady and Brandon LaFell accepted blame for after the fact, Brady wasn’t the only culprit. That almost-pick by Landon Collins was underthrown because Gronkowski couldn’t hold a block and Brady was drilled as he threw. David Andrews allowed some pressure on that red-zone sack that made Brady jumpy in the pocket. And when he fumbled, he was swarmed under by Giants defenders invading the Patriots backfield. Could Brady have protected the ball better against a team that led the league in turnover differential coming into the game? Of course. But he made a series of very accurate throws – one deep down the field to LaFell, one to Gronkowski for the tight end’s longest touchdown of his career, one with pressure in his face that led Edelman for a long run-after-catch, a touchdown off his back foot to Chandler, three to Danny Amendola on the game’s final drive – that kept the Patriots in it. His demeanor in the game’s final seconds, when he was hurried but organized, rushed but not rushing, is the reason he’s arguably the best in football in those moments, and it allowed the Patriots to come away with a win.
TIGHT END: B+
Typically this is one of the cleanest sheets of all the position groups receiving grades. That’s what happens when the Patriots trot out the best tight end in the league for nearly 100 percent of their snaps. But there were hiccups Sunday. We touched on the one quarterback hit Gronkowski allowed above. It was the first he’s allowed in pass protection this year, but it nearly helped the Patriots lose the game. Otherwise, Gronkowski was once again very good. He caught five of his seven targets, and his ability to shake off a safety approaching him at full speed and rumbling in for a touchdown is why he is who he is. Chandler did a nice job of holding onto his touchdown despite a big hit, but he had one clear drop late in the third quarter that would have been good for a 25-yard gain. Michael Williams was not a factor in the passing game, but he was solid as a run blocker – at times leading the way for Blount – and played in 41 snaps compared to Chandler’s 22.
RUNNING BACK: B-
Blount’s heavy usage on New England’s first drive helped the Patriots set a physical tone, but the Patriots couldn’t maintain that style and all but abandoned it after they fell behind. After appearing to be in for a massive workload, Blount saw just 38 of a possible 73 snaps and had a 3.5 yards-per-rush average on his 19 carries. He also allowed a strip-sack on one of the two plays he was asked to pass block. On the positive end for Blount, he continues to be a load to bring down. He forced six missed tackles on his 21 touches and made a nice second effort to make sure he got into the end zone on his score. James White got 28 snaps as the primary passing-down back, and Brandon Bolden saw 10. Without Dion Lewis, the screen game was essentially a non-factor, but White did a solid job in protection late in the game, helping to clean up the edges of the pocket. He’s as dependable a back as the Patriots have at the moment when it comes to pass protection, and I’d expect him to continue to get the lion’s share of the passing-down plays.
The Giants could not keep up with the quickness of either Edelman or Amendola. Edelman had his way in the first quarter before leaving with an injury, catching four passes for 53 yards, with 22 of those yards coming after the catch. Amendola picked up where Edelman left off, not able to pick up quite as many yards after the catch, but securing 10 of 11 targets for 79 yards. His work on the final drive, converting on a fourth-and-10 and then picking up the last few yards necessary for Stephen Gostkowski to make his game-winner, showed just how trusted he is in late-game situations. On his final catch, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels credited Amendola with being on the same page as Brady, seeing a blitz come from his side and then sitting down in the resulting soft spot in the defense. He won’t replace Edelman’s role with Edelman out, but he’ll very likely see an increase in usage and targets as the Patriots scramble without their No. 1. Brandon LaFell’s 54-yard reception showed his tremendous concentration down the field. It was one of just two catches on the day for him, but it marked the second consecutive game he had a catch that covered about half the field. Last week he grabbed a 48-yarder against Washington.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C
The Giants came into the game with just nine sacks as a team so if ever there was a good time to be without a handful of starters on the offensive line, this might’ve been it. Jason Pierre-Paul was a threat, but because Brady got the ball out of his hands so quickly, he rarely had time to get home. Fleming had his hands full at left tackle, allowing five pressures, but he found a way to hold up against Pierre-Paul’s speed and power. Stork allowed a sack and a pair of hits and was lauded by Bill Belichick for “more than” holding his own at a brand new position. Josh Kline allowed a season-high in terms of hurries, but he still was perhaps the team’s best interior offensive lineman, helping both Stork and Andrews when need be. Shaq Mason had another good using his athleticism to pull, and he was effective as a fullback near the goal line. When the Patriots used him in that capacity, they moved Stork to left guard and brought in sixth offensive lineman Chris Barker to play right tackle.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
A game-winning 54-yarder with a little right-to-left wind from Stephen Gostkowski? An 82-yard punt return from Amendola after he gave a fake "Peter" call to deke two Giants gunners? An underrated grab by Amendola on the kickoff that preceded the game-winning drive, where he tip-toed up to the goal line but remained in the end zone to earn a touchback and save time on the clock? Not even Duron Harmon’s accidental collision with Amendola to prevent a punt-return score could prevent this unit’s grade from being an “A.”
Just as was the case with the offense, this unit produced a mixed bag of results. In coverage, there were breakdowns and there were game-saving plays. At the line of scrimmage, the pressures were few and far between, but sack by Rob Ninkovich ended up being one of the most important plays of the night. Despite the occasional lapses that were exploited by Eli Manning and his receivers, the Patriots defense, like their offense, showed up in critical moments at the end of the game that push this grade to where it is.
What Malcolm Butler did on Odell Beckham Jr. was nothing short of eye-opening. There’s a reason Belichick sought him out in the locker room after the game to tell him specifically, “Way to compete.” After Beckham Jr.’s 87-yard score, Butler limited him to two catches on 10 targets for five yards. He broke up three passes, including a would-be touchdown at the end of the game. Even the long touchdown didn’t appear to be Butler’s doing. He was on Beckham Jr.’s hip until the ball approached.When he looked up, he lost a step, but the ball appeared to be slightly under-thrown and to the inside of Butler’s coverage. Beckham Jr. made a tremendous adjustment on the ball, flattening out toward the middle of the field and cutting back inside of the oncoming Devin McCourty. The play was somewhat reminiscent of Packers wideout Jordy Nelson’s touchdown against the Patriots last season. Nelson got a step on Darrelle Revis and cut inside underneath McCourty. McCourty had sniffed out the Giants pass much better than he had against Aaron Rodgers last season, but Manning’s pass was spotted such that McCourty’s instincts carried him past the play. Logan Ryan, aside from one pass to Reuben Randle deep down the right sideline, was very good. According to Pro Football Focus, Ryan is the No. 8 corner in terms of quarterback rating allowed this season (55.4). He has not allowed a touchdown this season, a streak he was able to maintain when he combined with McCourty at the end of the game to snuff out a rub route at the goal line. Their tight coverage on Randle and Dwayne Harris forced Manning to eat the football and take a sack. The Patriots used Justin Coleman, who had a hard cast on his right hand, as their No. 3 corner in the first half. He made a nice play to break up a potential touchdown by turning his head around and playing the ball as he covered deep into the end zone. He also allowed four grabs for 50 yards on seven targets and fell down in the end zone to allow an uncontested touchdown to Harris. Rashaan Melvin was inserted for Coleman in the second half and was challenged as well. He allowed three catches on four targets for 60 yards.
Dont’a Hightower was relied upon heavily with Jamie Collins out, playing in all 77 Patriots defensive snaps. He was stout in defending the run and hurried Manning on a pair of occasions. Jerod Mayo played a season-high 31 snaps and finished with four tackles. As Mayo continues to get his legs underneath him following a season-ending knee injury last year, he was effective against the run. Jonathan Freeny, who saw 38 snaps with Collins absent, was also strong against the run. The former college defensive end and special teamer clearly gets downhill well and uses his aggressiveness to his benefit in that phase of the game. In pass coverage, though, the Giants targeted him six times and completed four of those for 46 yards. He did help break up a pass, but Manning was not afraid to send targets his way. Freeny bit on a play-fake to give his assignment space and allow a third-down conversion in the second quarter. Shane Vereen and Harris got the better of Freeny in the middle of the field as well. Jon Bostic saw eight snaps but appeared to miss an assignment in the Patriots zone coverage at the end of the second quarter. It looked as though he had the deep middle portion of the field yet allowed Will Tye to get behind him. Manning made an accurate throw and got down to the goal line, eventually leading to a Harris touchdown.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
Manning wasn’t pressured consistently on Sunday, but the Patriots got a variety of players from their defensive front to help disrupt the Giants quarterback. Rob Ninkovich (three hurries), Chandler Jones (three), Jabaal Sheard (three), Dominique Easley (two), Akiem Hicks (one) and Malcolm Brown (one) all had moments of effectiveness. Ninkovich’s 13-yard sack of Manning pushed the Giants out of field-goal range immediately after Brady was stripped in the fourth quarter. That helped keep New York’s lead at six as opposed to nine, and when Gronkowski scored on New England’s next possession, it gave the Patriots a one-point lead. Sheard played 25 snaps and was strong against the run in his return after injuring his ankle in Week 6 against the Colts. Sealver Siliga played fewer snaps (20) than Hicks (23), but he was effective in brief action, tallying a pair of run-stuffs. Jones picked up another sack, stripping Manning in the process, giving him 10.5 on the season. He continues to be a consistent force for the Patriots this season, helping the relatively inexperienced secondary by bothering opposing quarterbacks.