Perry's Report Card: Patriots vs. Raiders
Usually it's hyperbole to say in the first few minutes of a game that a team has already lost. But in the case of Jack Del Rio's Raiders in Mexico City on Sunday against the Patriots, it may not have even taken that long.
Lifeless, they took possession to start the game and immediately looked like they wanted to be anywhere other than Estadio Azteca. On a second-down DeAndre Washington run -- Oakland's fifth play of the game -- the Patriots were clearly the more physical team. Elandon Roberts blew up a pulling guard, Patrick Chung shed receiver Seth Roberts' block, and the pair combined to make a tackle for four yards. Not a bad gain, but Seth Roberts' body language at the end of the play seemed to say, "Man, why are these guys trying so hard?"
He promptly dropped a pass on the next snap, the Raiders punted, and the Patriots offense was off and running.
Tom Brady and his teammates ran a methodical 16-play drive, starting with a fullback and two tight ends on the field. Three quick subs before the next play, and the Patriots were suddenly in shotgun and going three-wide. Then the pace kicked in. With Oakland's base 3-4 defense on the field, the Patriots went five-wide on their third play.
They toyed with the Raiders for about seven minutes, changing personnel and formations, forcing defenders to scramble with their communication all the way up until the point the ball was snapped. A few defenders tapped out, including rookie defensive back Obi Melifonwu, who pleaded with coaches to get him out of the game eight plays in. Some of those who didn't ask out --- like veteran linebacker Navarro Bowman -- moved so slowly they probably should have.
At the end of the deal, the Patriots led 7-0, and though there was plenty of game left, the Patriots had established their will. They dominated for the vast majority of the remainder of the afternoon, leading to some high marks across the board. Click through to see exactly how they fared in this week's Report Card.
Patriots fans had a cornucopia of accurate Tom Brady throws to choose as their favorite. Like when he airs it out? His bombs to Brandin Cooks -- one that went for 52 yards in the second quarter and another that went for a 64-yard touchdown -- were perfectly placed. Appreciate poise? He was six-for-seven under pressure, including a first-down throw to Rob Gronkowski that he weaved between two defenders while taking a big hit from Khalil Mack. He also deftly maneuvered in the pocket near the goal line, sliding to his right and then finding Danny Amendola running across the back of the end zone for his second of three touchdown passes. Creativity get you going? How about his one-yard shovel pass to Rex Burkhead to help him avoid a sack and keep the situation to a third-and-manageable? One of his best throws was one that actually went incomplete. He launched one about 30 yards on a line to Phillip Dorsett in the first quarter that hit the receiver in a minuscule window for a near-score. The pass was batted away, but a defensive holding call earned the Patriots some yardage anyway. Brady missed some throws in the short area to Rex Burkhead and James White, but he was generally really, really good.
RUNNING BACK: B+
This group was a Rex Burkhead fumble away from being in the A-range, thanks mostly to the work of Dion Lewis. He couldn't be tackled, making eight tacklers miss on various occasions in the running game and in the passing game. He was used as a receiver more than he had been previously this season (four catches on four targets) and his first-quarter touchdown left three Raiders defenders on their stomachs, having whiffed at their opportunities to bring him down. On his first carry of the second half, Lewis made two more tacklers miss. He finished with 60 yards on 10 carries and 28 more yards receiving. James White was held without a catch and was targeted just once with an uncatchable pass that was Brady's worst throw of the day.
WIDE RECEIVER: A
Brandin Cooks took up all kinds of real estate in the heads of the Raiders by the time this one was over. That Oakland's secondary wasn't more mindful of Cooks' speed early on was unforgivable. On his first long reception, the 52-yarder, the Raiders had all 11 players within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. The Patriots were in a three-tight-end set, which may have indicated run, but Jack Del Rio's club has to be more careful. Cooks easily ran by veteran safety Reggie Nelson and under Brady's heave. Cooks then took advantage of Obi Melifonwu, who was perhaps still dealing with the effects of the altitude when he blew his assignment to play the deep-third of the field and let Cooks run right by him for a 64-yard score. Later in the game, the Raiders gave Cooks more space, which he capitalized on for an easy 13-yard stop route. Nelson was 17 yards off the line despite another heavy Patriots package (21-personnel), and corner Sean Smith nearly fell down when Cooks finished his route even though he was giving up seven yards of cushion. Too easy. Receiver screens went nowhere for the Patriots, and Danny Amendola had to leave with dehydration, but that wasn't enough to drop this grade. Amendola was as dependable as ever, catching Brady's second score by being on the same page with his quarterback as Brady made calls at the line of scrimmage. And though Phillip Dorsett was largely quiet, he gets credit for blocking Karl Joseph late in the third quarter to help Dion Lewis pick up more ground down the field during a 12-yard scamper.
TIGHT END: B+
Rob Gronkowski didn't have big numbers (three catches, 36 yards), but he did help open things up for his teammates. On New England's first drive, he was almost tripled off the snap, leaving room for Dwayne Allen to make his second catch of the season. He also got the Patriots into scoring range on a third-and-11 that later led to Danny Amendola's score, and he made the final play before Stephen Gostkowski's 62-yard boot at the end of the first half. Gronkowski also made a big block in the running game to help get that end-of-the-half drive started with a Dion Lewis 11-yard run. Gronkowski and Allen both helped to block Khalil Mack at times (Allen essentially blocked Mack one-on-one on Cooks' touchdown), Martellus Bennett played 17 snaps and caught all three of his targets, and Allen fell on Rex Burkhead's fumble to help keep their opening drive alive. Gronkowski had a pair of run-blocks fail, and Jacob Hollister was absolutely reamed out by Brady for resisting orders before one snap, but otherwise this group had a very good day.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A
This Raiders defensive front has been one of the worst in football this season when it comes to getting to the quarterback, but that doesn't make what the Patriots offensive line did on Sunday any less impressive. Without two of their starters, they allowed Tom Brady to be sacked just once. He was hit two other times, and Brady completed passes on both. That was it. Ted Karras was a force in the running game subbing in for David Andrews, and the pace of play -- despite having played just nine snaps all season -- did not seem to bother him. He made solid blocks at the second level all afternoon, even through the final Patriots drive with the game well in hand, and he picked up a free five yards at the start of the second half with a subtle move pre-snap that forced the Raiders to jump. LaAdrian Waddle was very good yet again despite having to leave the game on two separate occasions. When he was out briefly on the second drive, Brady was sacked with Khalil Mack working on Cameron Fleming. But Shaq Mason allowed a pressure that forced Brady to step up into Mack's rush, leading to the hit, so tough to put that one totally on Fleming's shoulders. Waddle allowed one of the hits on Brady, and one stuffed run was because he was beaten to the inside by Denico Autry, but otherwise he handled himself very well. He had help from a variety of teammates when Mack aligned on his side, but on Lewis' score and on a third-and-11 completion to Rob Gronkowski, Waddle took care of Mack one-on-one. Nate Solder also deserves credit for what was maybe his best game of the season. We had him down for a clean sheet -- no hits, hurries or pressures -- as he used his athleticism to push rushers past Brady all day long.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
If it hadn't been for a Kyle Van Noy running-into-the-kicker penalty, this would be another flat A. Marquette King put on a show for the ages with his flop, but Van Noy will probably be told he can't give punters the opportunity to put on an acting class and pick up a flag. It ended up working out for the Patriots field position-wise, though, since the Raiders decided to go for the resulting fourth-and-one play and were promptly stuffed. Stephen Gostkowski was obviously great in the thin air, hitting a team-record 62-yarder and later a 51-yarder. He also bombed all but one of his kickoffs out of the end zone to keep the league's leading kick returner, Cordarrelle Patterson, from touching the football. Strong day overall -- and a quasi day off for a kick-coverage unit that has been one of the best in the league this season.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B-
Tough one to grade here because the numbers were not particularly good. The Patriots allowed over five yards per carry, and when linemen made plays in the running game they were marked by good hustle but often came four or five yards down the field. On Marshawn Lynch's 25-yard run in the second quarter, both Lawrence Guy and Cassius Marsh were sealed easily one-on-one to open a huge hole. Short yardage was also an issue at times in the running game. On the positive side, this group made an impact rushing the passer. Derek Carr was under pressure on nearly a quarter of his throws, with Trey Flowers leading the way with six total pressures (three hits, three hurries) and a batted pass. One of his hurries came on a Carr pass that was picked deep down the field by Duron Harmon. He had another on third down in the third quarter that led to an incompletion and a Raiders punt. Guy (three hurries) got into the act as well using his power as a pass-rusher.
This group should shoulder as much blame as their teammates up front, if not more, when it came to Oakland's success running the football. Though both David Harris and Elandon Roberts did well to meet pulling Raiders offensive linemen head-on, and Kyle Van Noy was often at the point of attack, there were too many missed tackles from this group to consider it a strong day. Their best play in the run game came on a fourth-down try when Trevor Reilly filled in a gap vacated by Adam Butler to stuff Jamize Olawale. In the passing game, not typically their strength, they were actually OK. Van Noy came up with the team's only sack of the day, and Roberts recorded a pass breakup (off the back of his helmet) when he ran stride-for-stride with Jalen Richard on a wheel route. Marquis Flowers made what was perhaps the play of the game by stripping Seth Roberts near the Patriots goal line, which gave this grade a solid bump.
DEFENSIVE BACK: B+
Good and bad here. First the bad. Stephon Gilmore and Jonathan Jones (two) missed tackles in the first half. Gilmore may have gotten away with a pass-interference penalty in the end zone when he didn't get his head around to see a pass intended for Michael Crabtree, but it wasn't called. Patrick Chung got a holding penalty. Gilmore left the game briefly with dehydration. And Malcolm Butler blew his coverage of Amari Cooper as the Patriots tried to maintain their shutout, biting on Cooper's return route when he didn't have to because he had Duron Harmon close by waiting to help. But all of that was outweighed by the good. Patriots defensive backs played with physicality for the most part -- Gilmore stuck his nose in to make a pair of hits on Marshawn Lynch, Butler was an aggressive tackler as he usually is, and Chung found himself consistently in the mix playing at the linebacker level. They also fared very well in coverage, not making any of the coverage busts that were a regular occurrence earlier in the year. Gilmore was typically tight on Crabtree with Butler going toe-to-toe with Cooper. Chung was in the right place at the right time to recover Seth Roberts' fumble in the second quarter, and Devin McCourty played a deep Crabtree route perfectly -- despite getting turned around twice -- to record a pass-breakup. Derek Carr had nowhere to go with the football in some critical situations thanks to New England's coverage on the back end.