Patriots

Patriots 'can't do anything' against Jags, and the grades show it

Patriots 'can't do anything' against Jags, and the grades show it

The Jaguars treated their Week 2 matchup like it was a Super Bowl. The Patriots, meanwhile, opted not to show for the first 30 minutes. 

Defensively, Bill Belichick's club couldn't find its footing early. The Pats allowed receivers to win one-on-one battles. They allowed themselves to be pushed around in the run game. And they allowed Blake Bortles time to throw. 

Offensively, they couldn't shake Rob Gronkowski free. They couldn't run the football when they wanted to, and when they were forced to pass as a result, Tom Brady had defensive linemen breathing on him. 

"Couldn't do anything," Devin McCourty said after the game. He was talking about the defense, but that seemed to sum things up for the Patriots. There were some bright spots -- New England's second-half effort to make it a two-possession game early in the fourth quarter -- but last year's AFC champs couldn't capitalize on enough of their opportunities, and they lost to a team that now believes itself to be the cream of the AFC. Can you blame them? 

Let's get to the grades. 

QUARTERBACK: B-

Hard to kill Brady for what he did in Jacksonville on Sunday. He was put in some difficult spots by his running game's failures to execute, but he had added weapons at his disposal -- Sony Michel and Jacob Hollister both made their 2018 debut in Jacksonville -- and sputtered badly at times. Brady had a clear miscommunication with Michel on one incompletion, and he missed open receivers (James Develin short, Phillip Dorsett deep) to end a third-quarter drive. He also lost the football at the end when he was strip-sacked -- again hard to blame him when the defender is on him in two seconds flat. Where would the Patriots be without his key completions to James White? Or his third-down scramble for five? Or his dart touchdown throw to Chris Hogan? Dead and buried at halftime. 

RUNNING BACK: C+

Sony Michel looked healthy. And he ran hard. He broke one tackle and picked up 18 yards after contact on 11 touches. James White (seven catches for 73 yards receiving) continues to be one of Brady's most reliable receivers. But otherwise? Not much to celebrate here. Michel and Brady combined to botch an easy completion. Rex Burkhead only played 14 snaps and missed a block that got Brady sacked. As a group they averaged 3.35 yards per carry. 

RECEIVER: C

Credit Chris Hogan (number 15 above) and Phillip Dorsett for playing nearly every offensive snap in the oppressive heat. This group just wasn't able to do much to keep things close for the Patriots early on. Josh McDaniels did call upon heavier groupings, which we expected leading up to the game, so it appeared as though the Patriots would try to lean on those other positions -- tight ends, backs -- with the Jaguars employing two of the best corners in the conference. Once they got behind the way they did, the Patriots relied more on their wideouts, went with more 11 personnel, bringing Cordarrelle Patterson on the field. But outside of Hogan's two second-half touchdowns, the good plays were few and far between. Patterson's fall-and-go-boom catch behind the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter was representative of the day for the entire offense. 

TIGHT END: C-

One has to wonder whether or not the Patriots would have forced the ball into Rob Gronkowski a little more had it been later in the season. Yes he saw doubles on third down and in the red zone. But he sees doubles weekly. He's seen safeties more talented than Tashaun Gipson, who is a good player but not among the game's elite at the position. Yet four targets? Two catches for 15 yards. He was stymied when the Patriots needed him. Jacob Hollister made an impact early catching three passes for 35 yards, but saw his usage dwindle as the Jaguars built their lead and the Patriots went more 11 personnel. James Develin had a tough day in the run game trying to create any room, and he had the unfortunate duty of trying to block Calais Campbell one-on-one early. Dwayne Allen continues to be a non-factor in the passing game. He wasn't a liability as a blocker . . . but the rush averages were so poor it's hard not to dock this group for their lack of contributions there. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: D

The domino effect was easy enough to track. The Patriots had nowhere to run the football so when they failed on first and/or second down and had to throw, most in the stadium knew they had to throw. Including the Jaguars pass-rush. And when the Jaguars pass-rush can play aggressively, it's hard for any offensive line to stop. LaAdrian Waddle was the culprit on Dante Fowler's late strip-sack. Trent Brown looked lost at times going against Yannick Ngakoue. Even old reliable Shaq Mason looked late to his assignments at times. This group could use a healthy Marcus Cannon, but he won't be a panacea for the next time these two teams meet. Issues to resolve. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: D

"Bad ball," Matthew Slater told me after the game. That about summed it up for this unit. The punt-return situation is in a bad place. It was before Patrick Chung left the game with a concussion, and it got worse when he left. For the first time Slater can remember, the Patriots just opted not to even have anyone back deep to return a punt in the fourth quarter. The Jags promptly pinned them inside their own 10 -- something they did earlier in the game when Chung was back there and opted to let it drop. Kenjon Barner might be worth activating even if he's a non-factor offensively moving forward. But that was far from the only issue. Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal wide right. He also kicked a touchback on a pooch kick that could have pinned the Jags deep in their own territory following a Jacksonville penalty on an extra point at the end of the third quarter. Belichick looked miffed after that one. The Patriots also could have picked up a Jags penalty on the fourth-and-short punt they kicked in the fourth quarter. A defender jumped into the neutral zone but no Patriots reacted. Belichick said there was no one to blame for that on Tuesday's conference call, but it would have been an opportunistic and heady play to give the Patriots a critical first down. Deatrich Wise and Elandon Roberts also picked up penalties for this unit that bring it closer to a failing grade.

DEFENSIVE LINE: C-

Let's start with the good . . . Keionta Davis (pictured) looks like he can play. He had two instances in the second quarter when the Jaguars ran to his side for a combined 35 yards. Not great. But he responded on the next two plays -- both designed runs to his side -- which were bottled up for a total of three yards. He also had four pressures. Otherwise, this group had a hard time generating anything up front. Even after Jacksonville's starting left tackle Cam Robinson went down, there was very little in the way of pressure created. The Patriots brought six and seven-man rushes at times yet still couldn't consistently bother Bortles. Adrian Clayborn had five pressures but looked like a guilty party by getting too far up the field on two separate Bortles scrambles for first downs. Wise and Adam Butler, respectively, also helped screw up those plays by bailing on their rush lanes. Of the guys in the middle, Lawrence Guy looked as steady as he always does, bumping this grade up . . . but the Jaguars still averaged almost six yards every time they gave it to backup runner TJ Yeldon.

LINEBACKER: D

Kyle Van Noy (pictured) made a key pick by being in the right place at the right time and finishing the play. Otherwise it was hard to find much positive from this group. Ja'Whaun Bentley came back to earth a bit after a strong debut, both in coverage and as a rusher. He was asked to get after the quarterback to help try to create some pressure, and he had a clear shot at Bortles, but allowed Bortles to get around him to make a completion. Van Noy also got juked by Bortles on a third-down scramble. Dont'a Hightower missed a tackle on Corey Grant, who gave this entire group fits, and was blocked easily on a 20-yard pickup by Yeldon.

SECONDARY: C

This group has plenty to work through. They were picked in man coverage, almost at will, by Jaguars receivers. Jonathan Jones actually picked Van Noy just by following his assignment who worked across the offensive formation behind the line of scrimmage at the snap. The communication on those plays -- like the touchdown allowed by Chung when Chung was picked near the goal line -- will need to improve for a defensive unit that looks like it will be playing a lot of man-to-man this year. Stephon Gilmore allowed a touchdown early on a great pitch and catch from Bortles, but he had a solid game by forcing a fumble, defending a pass and coming up to make a tackle on Bortles short of the sticks on a third-down run. He allowed four catches on nine targets for 36 yards total. Eric Rowe (pictured) was beaten early and then benched, perhaps for not playing his "in-phase" or "out-of-phase" techniques the way he was expected to. Bortles made good throws, but the Patriots clearly wanted Rowe to play them differently. He came on for one snap in the second half and was promptly burned on a third-and-11 for a first down. Jason McCourty played relatively well in his first real action filling in for Rowe, allowing three catches on five targets. Devin McCourty (who let Austin Seferian-Jenkins get to the sticks for a first down on a seven-man rush on third-and-seven), Duron Harmon (blocked too easily on Dede Westbrook's 61-yard score) and Jones (missed tackle in the flat on Grant) all had uncharacteristic plays that made this a down day for this group. Gilmore's play and Jones' deflection that turned into a pick, helped this grade get to where it did.

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