Perry's Report Card: Breaking down Collins' last game with Patriots
Offense earns honors, defense not so much...
After Sunday's 41-25 win over the Bills but before Jamie Collins was traded, Patriots coach Bill Belichick made it clear what he thought of his team's defensive performance. Asked about the linebackers in particular, typically one of the strongest position groups on the team on a week-to-week basis, Belichick was surprisingly candid.
"I think we’re all disappointed, so we really just need to do a better job," Belichick said. "That’s pretty much across the board – the running game, the passing game, everything. I mean there were some things that just . . . we need to do better."
For a team that sat among the top-five in the league in points allowed per game even after giving up 25 in Buffalo, Belichick's comments spoke volumes.
Things needed to change, but the fact that Collins, who has played about 90 percent of his team's defensive snaps over the last three years, played in only 47 of 78 plays was not necessarily a sign that a trade was imminent. It was, however, an indicator of how the team viewed him that day: He was not, as he had been for a long time, their best option across situations.
Collins' relatively down day didn't doom the Patriots. Their offense has been the picture of consistency since Tom Brady's return and it carried the day, which is reflected in the grades.
Though they probably would have liked to put 50 on the board against a team that they felt bullied them back in Week 4, the Patriots offense has to be pleased with what it did against Rex Ryan and his defense. Working together in unison, quarterback Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels remained patient throughout and methodically moved their offense up and down New Era Field. When Ryan dropped eight into coverage, Brady waited, and waited, and waited for his receivers to find openings. More often than not, they did, whether it was Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola working underneath or Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski threatening the deeper parts of the field. They struggled to find any running room whatsoever, and Brady took his lumps as the talented Bills defensive line bothered New England's protection up front, but all in all, this was another example of a sound plan executed efficiently by the game's best quarterback.
How can you tell Brady's feeling good? In those instances when he was willing to take his time as his receivers uncovered, he knew he was going to take huge shots yet he did it anyway. Don't count on him expounding upon the benefits of missing the first four games of the season anytime soon, but those hits may have seemed a little less appealing had he been at all battered through September. Brady's accuracy has been next-level throughout the course of the year, but to do what he did Sunday -- 22-of-33 for 315 yards and four scores -- in the face of pressure was impressive. He showed useful mobility to extend plays (Amendola's first-quarter touchdown) and pick up important yards (a 15-yard first-down run to convert on third down in the third quarter), but his ability to place the football continues to confound. He took a bone-rattling hit in the first quarter and then one play later hit Hogan in stride for a 53-yard score. The Bills secondary was totally out of sorts on the play, but Brady's throw was pin-point. Later, Brady took advantage of confused Bills defensive backs when he put a pass right on Gronkowski's hands over the middle of the field when the All-Pro was being single-covered. The result? Another 53-yard score and a franchise record for Gronkowski. Now averaging 9.8 yards per attempt and completing 73 percent of his passes, Brady is in the middle of one of the best stretches of his career at 39 years old.
RUNNING BACK: C+
That Patriots running backs averaged just 2.9 yards per carry was not all on them. The offensive line had a difficult time moving the likes of Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams on the interior. Williams, in particular, was a problem. The issues actually looked eerily similar to some of those that the Patriots had last season in the running game. They couldn't get LeGarrette Blount any room to build momentum, get into the second level, and make smaller defenders pay. There are times, though, when a back should be able to create on his own and make a would-be tackler miss. That didn't happen very often, and it probably had Patriots fans pining for Dion Lewis, who used to do that kind of thing on a regular basis. Blount did find the end zone yet again, for which he deserves credit. He's had a nose for the goal line and done well to protect the football in critical spots. James White picked up 15 yards on two carries and caught two more passes for 14 yards. His day would have looked a tad worse had his fourth-quarter drop -- when he was wide open and may have had a touchdown -- was erased due to a Bills defensive holding call. White has one drop on the year thus far and has been one of the team's most reliable receivers.
Chris Hogan is a field-stretcher. That doesn't mean that's all he's good for. Far from it. But when the Patriots want to send someone long to keep safeties honest, he can fill that role. Against the Bills, he beat talented corner Stephon Gilmore on multiple occasions -- most notably running by Gilmore for a 53-yard touchdown when Gilmore's help over the top never arrived -- and pushed his yards-per-catch average over 20.0 with a 91-yard day on four catches against his old team. The Patriots are still an offense that is built around Edelman, Gronkowski and the intermediate passing game, but having Hogan as a down-the-field threat will give opposing defensive coordinators something to think about for the second half of the year. Edelman continues to see plenty of targets (eight in Buffalo), and he converted on four of them. The most impressive of those was his 12-yard score, during which he should fanatical effort and good strenght to put his hand on the turf and be able to keep himself off the ground for an extra split-second in order to break the plane of the goal line. The play was freed up in part thanks to Amendola, who saw a season-high 32 snaps in the win with Malcolm Mitchell inactive with a hamstring injury. Amendola caught three passes for 29 yards and was called for a pass interference penalty -- his first flag of the season.
TIGHT END: A-
Gronkowski traveled back home and showed why he's as good as he's ever been in the passing game. Not only was his 53-yard score a mini route-running clinic, on that same play he also showed his breakaway speed by beating corner Nickell Robey-Coleman to the goal line. Gronkowski also reeled in a back-shoulder throw and then tossed Gilmore aside for a 33-yard gain, and he toe-tapped near the sideline for an 18-yard pickup. No matter the situation, no matter the route, Gronkowski is perhaps the most reliable weapon in football. Especially in one-on-one coverage. Gronkowski's false-start penalty deep in Buffalo territory had no real bearing on the game, but will be the kind of thing the coaching staff harps on because it could have cost them had the situation been different. Martellus Bennett caught four passes for 34 yards and saw a 21-to-20 split in his 41 snaps when it came to his responsibilities as a blocker and route-runner. Fullback James Develin -- who we will factor in here due to the fact that he meets with tight ends on a daily basis -- played only seven snaps, but he drilled linebacker Preston Brown on the goal line to help lead to Blount's score.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C-
Brady admitted earlier this week that part of the reason he took a season-high nine hits on Sunday was because he was willing to hold onto the football as his receivers found open space in the Bills secondary. But not every hit was on him. On the first of four sacks for the Bills, Kyle Williams easily split Joe Thuney and Nate Solder to bowl his way into the Patriots backfield. On the second, Solder pushed Preston Brown up the field but wasn't able to keep his feet and Brown doubled back to make the play. On the third, Solder was beaten cleanly by rookie defensive end Shaq Lawson. On the fourth, both Solder and Marcus Cannon allowed pressure from the edges and when Brady stepped up in the pocket Shaq Mason couldn't keep Dareus from getting into Brady's kitchen. Brady may point the finger at himself for that one for getting himself into trouble, but it the line will take some responsibility there for allowing him to be swarmed by a four-man rush relatively quickly. Thuney had difficulty with Williams for chunks of the afternoon, and Andrews had his hands full with Dareus. Cannon (who had the lone penalty of the group as an ineligible receiver downfield) generally performed well in pass protection, and Solder was once again very good in the running game, but overall the Bills front gave Dante Scarnecchia's line all it could handle.
Without LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins and Marquise Goodwin, the Bills offense was still able to show signs of life against a Patriots defense that was at full strength. The Bills even went without running back Mike Gillislee and tight end Charles Clay for stretches, and still, they produced. Buffalo's skill-position situation is so dire that they signed Percy Harvin out of retirement this week. For a Patriots defense that has prevented teams from converting drives into points as well as almost any team in the league this season, the Bills rushed for three scores and moved the ball well at times. Making matters more frustrating for Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia were the plethora of penalties in coverage, and an inability to figure out who should be on the field during a crucial situation near their own goal line late in the second quarter, turning a first-and-goal at the seven-yard line into a first-and-goal at the three. It was a disorganized showing at times, and it's no wonder Belichick was as disappointed as he said he was after the fact.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C
The Patriots got a bit more agressive up front, generating 14 quarterback hurries with their defensive line, but against the run that group had its issues. The Bills churned out 167 yards rushing on 26 carries, and running back Mike Gillislee ran for 85 on just 12 carries. That kind of production from Buffalo can't all be heaped onto the shoulders of New England's bodies in the trenches, but they've proven to be better in previous weeks. The group benefited from the return of rookie Vincent Valentine (out the previous three weeks with a back injury), and Chris Long continues to be highly-effective in the running game, but I counted seven missed tackles by defensive linemen on the day. On the positive side, Rob Ninkovich (four quarterback hurries), Alan Branch (three) and Trey Flowers (two sacks, one hurry) were effective pass-rushers, while Jabaal Sheard and Malcom Brown contributed with two pressures each. Flowers was particularly impressive due to his relentless effort, chasing down Gillislee on a dump-off pass in the second quarter from his spot at nose tackle.
Jamie Collins' last stand in a Patriots uniform was not a disaster, but it might have been his most inconsistent game of the season. The second play of the game, the play that former assistnat to the Patriots coaching staff Mike Lombardi has highlighted at various points this week, was a mistake. He shot a gap, left his position off the line on the right side of the Patriots defense, and Gillislee took advantage with a 28-yard run. He was off the field two plays later. Later in the game, Gillislee ran through a Collins tackle to score from three yards out. After that, Collins was close to stopping Tyrod Taylor before Taylor built up a head of steam on his 26-yard touchdown run, but Collins was held (and had his facemask grabbed) and came up empty-handed. In coverage, one of the strongest parts of his game this season, Collins was only targeted twice, and he allowed two catches for 16 yards. Collins also had two quarterback hits and added another quarterback pressure, flashing his trademark athleticism in getting to the quarterback. By dealing away Collins, the seemingly pass-rush-starved Patriots have lost one of their most talented blitzers. Clearly the Patriots believe they'll be OK without him. Part of the reason for that sentiment must be due to Dont'a Hightower, who made several thumping hits in the running game, including one that took Gillislee out of the game temporarily, and one where he may have rearranged fullback Jerome Felton's ribcage as he set the edge and allowed Sheard to make the stop. Hightower also blew up a designed halfback pass play when he closed on Reggie Bush before Bush could do anything with it other than throw back to Taylor for a loss of 10. Elandon Roberts was solid yet again, taking time away from Collins on early downs and playing 28 snaps. In the first quarter Roberts made a standout individual play when he bench-pressed center Eric Wood and then clipped Gillislee's feet as the back tried to jump over the collision. Roberts ran through Wood -- a Pro Bowler last year -- again later in the quarter for a run stuff. Roberts has not seen time on the edge as Collins and Hightower have, and he has some limitations in coverage due to his size, but his instincts are good and when he squares up blockers in the running game, he wrecks plays. Barkevious Mingo saw action late as a pass-rusher, in coverage, and on the goal line, where he made a stop. He played in nine plays but should see more time with Collins out of the picture.
Up and down day for this group. Though the Bills had little in the way of weapons, and though he picked up a hands-to-the-face penalty, Malcolm Butler continues to play as one of the best defenders on the team. He saw seven targets, only allowed two catches for 15 yards and allowed just one yard after the catch. Devin McCourty had perhaps his best game of the season, breaking up two passes on three targets, shutting down Clay, and laying a monster hit on former teammate Brandon Tate that sent Tate to the locker room. McCourty also had an interception that was wiped away by an Eric Rowe penalty. Tough day for Rowe, who started for the second straight week but added two 29-yard pass interference penalties to his list of miscues. He also allowed 54 yards on three catches. Eventually the Patriots leaned on Logan Ryan more, and Ryan responded with solid coverage. Justin Coleman was effective in his time on the field, allowing just one grab on four targets for 15 yards, but he was flagged for pass interference as well, giving the ball to the Bills at the New England six in the third quarter. (That drive ended with a turnover on downs so the penalty didn't hurt the Patriots on the scoreboard.) Patrick Chung had, as usual, some very good tackles in critical situations, but he missed a sack that led to a long Taylor run, and he left his area in coverage, helping lead to a 22-yard catch for Felton.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
Hard to have a much better day than this. Stephen Gostkowski was perfect on his attempts -- including a 51-yarder in difficult conditions -- and his kickoffs were equally effective aside from one that was returned 35 yards by Bush. Four of his seven kicks went for touchbacks. Ryan Allen had himself another positive day as well, punting three times and seeing just one returned for two yards. Nate Ebner continued his streak of six consecutive games with a special teams tackle. Matthew Slater chipped in with one as well, as did Mingo. Perhaps the special teams play of the day -- and one of the most important plays of the game for the Patriots -- was Amendola's 73-yard kick return to start the second half. After kicking a field goal to end the second quarter, that return gave the team an opportunity for back-to-back scores, which it did when Brady found Edelman from 12 yards away on the second play of the drive to make the score 31-10. This unit's grade might have been an 'A' if not for a flukey 16-yard first-down run by punter Colton Schmidt after he fumbled.