Perry's Report Card: Offensive woes, poor DB play sink Patriots

/ by Phil Perry
Presented By Mass School of Law
Bill Belichick

FOXBORO -- It didn't look the way it did in their final two meetings last season. The Patriots defense held its own for a stretch. There were Bills punts. But by the time their latest meeting was over, the message that was delivered last year was delivered again. Just in different packaging. 

The Bills and Patriots simply are not members of the same NFL class.

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Let's dig into this week's grades and lay out why exactly that was so readily apparent in Thursday night's 24-10 loss...

Quarterback: C-

This is a difficult grade to peg given the offensive plan going into Thursday.

The Patriots clearly wanted to run the ball and throw short. They did the first thing well enough (more on that later), but when they fell behind 17-7, they continuously tried to do the second thing. Their strategy was so rigid that the Bills caught wind of it quickly and had no issue aggressively playing for quick-hitting pass plays.

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Mac Jones fell on his sword afterward saying that he could've executed New England's quick game more effectively. He certainly wasn't without fault. He and Rhamondre Stevenson botched a handoff on the first third down of the game. He was nearly picked by Jordan Poyer on a bad decision made along the sideline during a scramble-drill situation. And he was flagged for intentional grounding on the doorstep of his own end zone, risking a potential safety. 


Running back: B

Stevenson continues to impress when given an opportunity. He ran for 54 yards on 10 carries, including a seven-yard run in the third quarter that was all yards after contact. He had another run that went for 11 yards -- thanks to a push from his offensive line -- two plays later.

The fumbled snap early in the game and a drop later in the game hurt this grade a tad. But he's far from their issue offensively.

Wide receiver: C-

Marcus Jones gives this unit a nice boost thanks to his 48-yard bubble screen catch-and-run. But that one catch would've been enough to lead all Patriots wideouts in receiving yardage Thursday. And he's a cornerback. (Though if you were paying attention during the offseason, you knew he may pop up on offense eventually.)

DeVante Parker's drop on a deep throw late hurt this grade, as did an overall inability by this group to get open. Too many instances of Jones having to slowly work to his check down -- or worse scramble like crazy to buy himself time to find an open weapon down the field -- for this grade to get any higher than this.

The plan limited this group's potential effectiveness, too. Boos rained down on the Patriots offense at the start of the fourth quarter soon after a 15-yard completion to Kendrick Bourne. Why? Incomplete pass to Jakobi Meyers. Screen for a loss of five. Short throw into the flat for Meyers. Punt.

Tight end: D

Hunter Henry appeared to have a drop late in the fourth quarter as the Patriots tried and failed to generate quick offense. He finished with two catches for 13 yards. His fellow tight end Jonnu Smith ended up with just two catches for six yards.

The total inability to find work for these players continues to be perplexing, especially when the plan going into the Bills game was to throw short. Perhaps the Patriots asked both to be blockers to help out Trent Brown (dealing with an illness) and Conor McDermott (making his first Patriots start) at left and right tackle, respectively. But there should be more opportunity available to both.

Offensive line: D

The Patriots averaged 4.8 yards per carry with their backs. They just barely ran it (11 attempts from running backs). And the team only allowed one sack. But there were myriad issues related to penalties and pressure.

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Brown, McDermott and Cole Strange (declined) were all flagged for holds. Mike Onwenu was guilty of allowing a quick pressure on a third-and-10 play in the second quarter. McDermott allowed Jones to be sped up on a first-down play-action throw early in the fourth.


And despite only being on the field for 21:52 in the game altogether, this unit looked gassed by the end of the game during their slow 17-play drive that resulted in a meaningless field goal.

Special teams: C-

Nick Folk has been a revelation since arriving to the Patriots, but his missed 48-yarder was a killer. It came at the end of the first half, after the Patriots had turned over Josh Allen with a strip sack. The clock was mismanaged in that moment (perhaps with a timeout in hand, the Patriots could've made it a shorter attempt), and it was frigid inside Gillette Stadium. But Folk is expected to make those based on his track record.

He did make a 39-yarder and his lone point-after try. A hold by DaMarcus Mitchell on a kick return and a delay of game moments later before a punt dock this grade as well.

Defensive line: B+

This group deserves a lot of credit because a lot was put on their shoulders. The Patriots went into the game seemingly daring the Bills to run the ball. They flooded the field with defensive backs and encouraged Josh Allen to hand off. He did. Twenty-nine times. And he ran it eight times himself.

As a team, the Patriots held Buffalo to 3.6 yards rushing -- including just 2.5 yards per carry for the dynamic quarterback -- and while that result was thanks to sound fundamental run defense, the big bodies up front had to handle a lot of the load without much beef behind them.

Davon Godchaux led the team with a whopping 10 tackles, while Deatrich Wise (four) and Lawrence Guy (three) played key roles as well.

Linebacker: B-

Coaches will tell you it's hard to have much of a chance defensively when you've been almost doubled-up in terms of time of possession. The Bills finished with a massive 38:08 to 21:52 advantage in that regard. So if the linebackers were feeling it by the second half, hard to blame them.

It looked that way, for example, when Ja'Whaun Bentley had to try to track down Josh Allen as a spy on the 14th play of a 15-play touchdown drive that was capped at the start of the fourth quarter. Bad matchup to begin with. Really bad matchup for a linebacker who played 87 percent of the snaps Thursday.

While Matt Judon was once again relatively quiet (one quarterback hit, no sacks, three tackles), it was Josh Uche who gave this grade a bump with his pass-rush productivity. He picked up two sacks (including a strip sack recovered by the Patriots) to go along with an additional quarterback hit and seven total tackles. He played a season-high 32 snaps, while Judon checked in with 60.

An indication this was a massive defensive-back game, though? Just 20 snaps (of 75) for inside 'backer Jahlani Tavai, 14 for Raekwon McMillan and 10 for Mack Wilson. Seems as though the second-level change from last year to this year for the Patriots against the Bills wasn't necessarily to add speed at linebacker. It was to replace linebackers with safeties.


Secondary: D

Devin McCourty (75 snaps), Kyle Dugger (74), Adrian Phillips (35) and Jabrill Peppers (28) all had key roles in this one. Peppers notched a tackle for loss, while Dugger had a quarterback hit that seemed to help force a Josh Allen incompletion.

Dugger also had a missed tackle and a dropped pick, though, that took this grade down a tad. A missed tackle by McCourty on James Cook also hurt this mark.

Patriots corners got plenty of run in this one, too. Jonathan Jones played every snap (75), while Jack Jones (57), Myles Bryant (34) and Marcus Jones (34) each had real roles. Marcus Jones seemed to play both inside and outside as his role grows defensively -- and offensively.

Defensive pass interference and holding penalties on Jack Jones docked this grade, as did a holding call on Jonathan Jones. This unit had its hands full for the second straight week with another true No. 1 receiver to deal with, and they couldn't rise to the challenge.

With starter Jalen Mills unavailable, Jon and Jack Jones both saw time on Stefon Diggs, who went off for 92 yards and a touchdown on seven grabs -- not including a long touchdown with Jack Jones in coverage that was called back due to a Bills penalty.