Perry's Report Card: Brady pocket movement, accuracy still dynamite
As their coach Bill Belichick pursued his 300th career victory, Patriots players put to use the techniques he'd taught them to pick up their eighth win of the season and continue their nearly unprecedented run of dominance. And, no, "nearly unprecedented" is not hyperbole. Their +189 point differential is second-best through eight games in NFL history.
Tom Brady had a list of dimes long enough that strung together they were able to eat up a sizable portion of our "Monday Night Patriots" program this week. His throws to Phillip Dorsett down the sideline, Ben Watson down the seam, and Mohamed Sanu on a deep over were devastating. He also showed good awareness (side-arming one pass) and pocket movement (side-stepping Myles Garrett before another) to get the football to Julian Edelman for red-zone scores. Brady's near-pick in the end zone docks this grade, but overall this was a very good performance in difficult conditions.
RUNNING BACK: B
James White's 59-yard catch-and-run on a well-executed screen pass in the third quarter was the play of the game, in my opinion. Again, in a big spot, White is a legitimate go-to option for Brady if the No. 1 -- Julian Edelman -- isn't available. This group averaged just 3.15 yards per carry, but again that seemed to be more of a blocking issue than a running issue. It'll be interesting to see just how decisive Sony Michel will be in Baltimore after running backs coach Ivan Fears told reporters that his second-year back had to get downhill more aggressively more often.
Mohamed Sanu had a drop on his first target as a member of the Patriots. He also had his share of new-guy-in-a-new-offense issues he'll have to get ironed out. But off a short week? With a different team and quarterback? For him to play 37 snaps was impressive. His crack toss block helped get Michel started early. He had a fourth-down conversion on a hot route -- something that had to be encouraging for Brady -- and he caught a deep over route for a chunk gain in tight coverage. Julian Edelman was dynamite in the red zone, using his playing strength (to fight through contact at the goal line) and instincts (to find open space during a scramble drill situations) to get into the end zone twice.
TIGHT END: B
Both Ben Watson and Eric Tomlinson were used as fullbacks over the course of the night. Neither are fullbacks. But Watson contributed in the passing game yet again, catching a pinpoint seam ball from Tom Brady with a defender on his hip. With the Patriots not making any significant moves for tight end help at the trade deadline, Watson could be asked to play a real role as Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo have not been able to stay on the field as of late.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C
The Browns feature two of the best edge rushers the Patriots will see all season in Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon, and as a result, it was a long day for Patriots edge protectors. Marshall Newhouse and Marcus Cannon combined for 11 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. While Dante Scarnecchia's linemen were impressive on the two screens the Patriots had called in the third quarter -- a 59-yard gain by White and a nine-yard gain by Rex Burkhead -- their work in the run game helped lead to a 2.9 yards per carry average for the team.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Mike Nugent's two missed field goals helped him get released on Tuesday. He had a third kick from short distance that was contacted awkwardly and rocketed low through the uprights. Messy game and so we didn't necessarily see Jake Bailey's best work . . . but he still boomed a 55-yarder and the Browns had only two return yards. Interesting to see Jason McCourty get in the ear of rookie Chase Winovich for not getting away from a bouncing football on a punt return when the "Peter" call -- meaning get away from the football -- was on. The rookie third-rounder has very good athleticism for his size and has become a key part of Bill Belichick's kicking-game units.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
Probably the toughest grade to hand out this week. Lawrence Guy was a force of nature early on, and he recorded his first-career interception just by being smart and following close behind a pulling tackle to lead him to the play. He was simply led to the play quicker than anyone expected. Adam Butler, meanwhile, was in on three different sacks. So this grade should've been dominant, right? Hard to go much higher than this, though, when the team allowed over seven yards per carry. That's a team stat, but run defense starts up front.
The linebackers joined forces once again to get into the end zone. Kyle Van Noy made a forcible stop on a pulling lineman to actually stop two different would-be blockers in the tracks. That led to a fumble, which Dont'a Hightower cleaned up and brought to the house. Van Noy was one of the best players on the field all night once again, looking very difficult to stop in pass protection while working on a brand new Browns tackle. Jamie Collins was in on a pair of sacks once again, and Chase Winovich continues to make plays with the few reps he's given (in on one sack, one hurry, 16 snaps).
This would've been a tick better had Stephon Gilmore been able to hold onto a pick when he astutely saw a deep rub route coming and dropped off his assignment. Still, Sunday was another resume-builder for Gilmore as he held Odell Beckham Jr. to four catches on six targets for 49 yards. Thirty-one of those yards came in garbage time late in the fourth quarter. Jonathan Jones had one of the plays of the year when he stripped Nick Chubb and Jason McCourty only allowed 27 yards in coverage. This group was dinged for six missed tackles in the game.