Patriots

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Patriots

FOXBORO - Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers aren't peers. They aren't on equal standing. There is no debate as to which quarterback is the best of all time, despite the myriad statistical measures where Rodgers tops Brady.

Still, Rodgers is as close as it gets in that regard, which means there are few better measuring-stick opponents for the Patriots defense than the Packers. They responded with their best defensive game of the season and high marks across the board. 

TOM E. CURRAN HARD TRUTHS:

Offensively, the Patriots pieced things together without their top between-the-tackles runner and their top tight end to crack the 30-point barrier for the fifth time in the past six weeks. That meant good grades as well. 

Let's get to them...

QUARTERBACK: B
Tom Brady didn't turn it over, but he did have one turnover-worthy throw down by the goal line on a roll-out attempt. That drive, which ended with a turnover on downs at the goal line, featured inaccurate throws to Julian Edelman and a strange back-shoulder attempt to Josh Gordon in the end zone where quarterback and receiver weren't on the same page. Gordon was so unsure of his route that he slipped and went down. Brady also got caught looking at the Packers rush at the end of the third quarter after he missed a free rusher that led to a sack. Four plays later, on third down, Brady looked down at the rush and air-mailed a throw to Chris Hogan. Brady's rip to Edelman for 15 yards on first down in the second quarter was a dart, and he hit Edelman in stride on another perfect throw over the middle that Edelman dropped. Brady's lob to Gordon, his flea-flicker toss, and his no-window throw to Edelman over the middle were all money and bumped the grade to where it is. 
 

RUNNING BACK: B+
Cordarrelle Patterson finished with 11 carries for 61 yards and a touchdown and led the way for a receiver group that had 13 rushing attempts for 89 total yards. That's the most rush attempts by that position group in franchise history and the most league-wide since Browns receivers had 15 in 1993. Patterson still gets included in this group because this has become his primary role. Thirty-eight of his yards came after contact, according to Pro Football Focus, and he ran both outside the numbers and between the tackles. James White fought through injury to give the Patriots a boost in the second half with his double-pass screen and touchdown run (his second of the night). He also made a tricky toss back to Brady on the flea-flicker -- because Brady was very close to being under duress, making the decision to flip a tougher one -- that Bill Belichick loved. 

RECEIVER: B+
Gordon showed that he's still a physically superior player than most when he went up and over the Packers defense along the sideline for a big gain. His 55-yarder started by shrugging off a poor tackle attempt by Tramon Williams. Gordon also gives this group a little bump for showing some toughness by dealing with a dislocated finger in the second half. His stumble on fourth down at the goal line is pretty inexcusable. That's a seven-point play. Still surprised Brady went to him there if it wasn't going to be a sure-thing jump ball. Gordon looked confused mid-route. Edelman's drop hurt, but this group did more good than bad, between Edelman's runs, his double-pass throw to White, his block on White's second touchdown, and Hogan's drawn pass-interference call in the end zone. 

TIGHT END: B 
Dwayne Allen got into the black in terms of his receiving yardage for the season by grabbing a pass in the flat and scampering for 21 yards. He also served as a key player on both trick plays. He made an important block to buy Brady some time on his flea-flicker throw, and he served as a deep-middle decoy -- even though he's not truly a deep threat -- on the double-pass. James Develin was effective yet again in the run game, but it helped that the Packers were so light on safeties that they had to use the timid Williams in run support. At the end of the first quarter, Develin made what might've been the easiest block of his career when Williams turtled as he saw the fullback coming. 

 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B+
Solid job by this group against a talented pair of defensive tackles and a scheme that can confuse. Sure, they got beat. Ted Karras overset on Mike Daniels' sack off a three-man rush early in the game. And Brady never saw the second sack coming, which exploited an overloaded left side of the Patriots line. But by and large, they did what they had to do to give Brady time and give their backs room to run. Trent Brown had a bounce-back game after Dante Scarnecchia essentially said last week that Brown leveled-out against the Bills. He had key blocks on both White's first touchdown and Patterson's touchdown rush. Marcus Cannon also appeared to play without any obvious faults in his first game back from dealing with a concussion. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Ryan Allen was at the center of a couple of key plays late in the third quarter when he absorbed a roughing-the-punter penalty that gave the Patriots some breathing room. Later on that drive he booted a punt that was downed by Matthew Slater at the six. Two of his three punts landed inside the 20. Stephen Gostkowski made all five kicks he attempted, continuing his strong run after winning AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for October. Patterson also chipped in with a pair of nice returns of 36 and 28 yards. The coverage was strong as well, holding Bashaud Breeland to kick returns of 20 and 23 yards. No punts were returned. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: A-
This was the game of the year for Brendan Daly's group up front. When I spoke to him last week, he said one of the keys to keeping Aaron Rodgers in check was to almost act like you're playing the run, even though you're rushing the passer and want to make him uncomfortable. The reason? As a defensive lineman, you want to be able to control your blocker and have the ability to shed one way or another should Rodgers -- or any mobile quarterback -- start to look for an escape route. You're two-gapping while bull-rushing to collapse the pocket. It's a "crush rush" and the Patriots played it almost flawlessly time and again Sunday night. Rodgers was pressured a season-high 22 times, according to Pro Football Focus, often times as a result of those power rushes collapsing his pocket. Deatrich Wise was a factor early with a pair of hits and a bull-rush that put a blocker into Rodgers' lap to force an incompletion. The Patriots also crushed Rodgers' pocket on fourth down late in the fourth quarter to force another incompletion. Their lone sack game on a rare T-E stunt with Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn teaming up to catch the Packers line -- likely bracing for a head-on power rush -- off-balance. Even when Rodgers broke contain, Flowers or Clayborn chased him down. This was Clayborn's top performance of the year despite a neutral zone infraction penalty on third down in the first quarter, and Flowers was dominant at times. Lawrence Guy made a game-changing play with his forced fumble, and Malcom Brown was solid against the run. This grade would've been an 'A' had it not been for the penalty and the 4.7 yards allowed in the run game.  

 

LINEBACKER: B
Hightower was a factor as a pass-rusher, especially when power was the focus, which it oftentimes was. Someone like Hightower, in that scheme, is useful because he's so powerful at the point of attack -- even when working against bigger blockers. He finished with three hurries, including a hurry on the turnover on downs at the end of the game that effectively ended things. Hightower chased down Rodgers and ran him out of bounds for a run stuff, and he drew a hold earlier in the game. Kyle Van Noy pressured Rodgers into a short run. Hightower and Van Noy were both in the area when Aaron Jones hit chunk runs, and it was a quiet night for Elandon Roberts, who picked up one quarterback hurry. Nothing spectacular here, but a fine effort in a good overall performance for the defense. 

SECONDARY: B+
It wasn't perfect. But it was very good. Stephon Gilmore led the way by shutting down Davante Adams. Two catches on four targets for 15 yards against that caliber receiver and that caliber quarterback? That's a next-level performance. It might be time to start wondering if Gilmore is not just among the best corners in the league right now. Is he No. 1? PFF has him graded as the top player at his position, ahead of Chris Harris Jr., Byron Jones , Kareem Jackson and Kyle Fuller. No. 6? Jason McCourty. He gave up a 51-yard grab when he had no help on a zero-coverage blitz by the Patriots. But he bounced back when Rodgers came at him again and again later in the game. Outside of the one big play, he allowed two grabs on five targets for nine yards. Not bad at all. He also had two pass breakups. His brother helped force an incompletion by hurrying Rodgers on a blitz, and he helped break up a pass for Jimmy Graham in the end zone. Why isn't the grade here higher? Patrick Chung, who was very strong against the run, was called for a hold on Graham and he gave up an easy first down on third-and-five by playing well beyond the sticks. Jonathan Jones also had an occasional lapse in coverage, allowing six catches on six targets for 52 yards. He was also in the area when Davante Adams broke off his route, reversed direction and caught Rodgers' shovel pass. Hard to dock a player after that play, but that's a "plaster" situation in a scramble drill and Adams looked like Jones' assignment. 

 

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