Phil Perry's Report Card: Patriots pass first test of season vs. Steelers
The Patriots made quick work of the Steelers in Sunday night's season opener, shutting down Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the Pittsburgh offense en route to a 33-3 victory.
Much of that success started with the stellar play from the secondary, which locked down Big Ben's No. 1 target JuJu Smith-Schuster and forced the James Washingtons and Donte Moncriefs of the world to make plays. The defensive line did its job keeping Steelers feature back James Conner in check too. And Tom Brady? Well, he was Tom Brady.
But even after such a convincing win, there's still room for improvement in several areas. Let's take a look at all of the grades for Week 1. . .
Tom Brady didn't have all the time in the world to throw Sunday night against the team that tied for the league lead in sacks in 2018. But when he did, he generally made the most of it. Deep throws to Phillip Dorsett and Josh Gordon were on point. The first touchdown to Dorsett was made possible because Brady held the safety with his eyes. Red-zone execution could use some work, which is why this doesn't get into the A-range.
RUNNING BACK: B
It wasn't all on the backs, but to run for 91 yards on 28 running back carries (3.25 per carry) is less than ideal. They were more of a factor in the passing game than we anticipated, catching 10 passes for 97 yards thanks to Rex Burkhead and James White. In a back-heavy game plan, they were solid. Hence the solid B.
Just about everyone got involved here. Josh Gordon couldn't be tackled. Phillip Dorsett capitalized on Steelers busted coverages. Julian Edelman was effective over the middle. Even Jakobi Meyers showed up with a 22-yard pickup on his lone target. Dependable hands. Game-breaking plays. Hard to do much more than this group did. Also hard to give them a straight 'A' when they had so much help from Steelers gaffes.
TIGHT END: C
Ryan Izzo wasn't a huge part of the game play. He did record his first pro catch for three yards. But a bad offensive pass-interference penalty almost killed a Patriots drive early in the game. Matt LaCosse, likely still dealing with an ankle issue, didn't play even though he was dressed.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C+
Tom Brady wasn't exactly swarmed under all game, but he was hit five times and sacked once. The right side of the line had particular difficulty at times handling TJ Watt and Javon Hargrave. The left side, meanwhile, was rock solid. Ted Karras may have to find more consistency with the velocity of his snaps, according to Bill Belichick, but he proved once again to be a capable fill-in for David Andrews. Hard to find any fault with Isaiah Wynn in his regular-season debut. He snuffed out Bud Dupree.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
The kick coverage was generally good, though it allowed Ryan Switzer a 26-yard return. The punt coverage was fine as well, with Jake Bailey booming a beauty on his first pro try for 53 yards. Stephen Gostkowski hit all four field goals and all four point-after attempts, and Gunner Olszewski drew praise from Bill Belichick in Monday morning's press conference. He returned two punts for a total of 35 yards, and it could've been more.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A-
This one got out of hand relatively quickly, meaning the big bodies up front weren't all that challenged in the run game. By the end though, they'd only allowed 32 yards rushing on 13 carries for a 2.5 yards per carry average. Danny Shelton came up with a big third-down stuff and Lawrence Guy was solid as ever. Deatrich Wise generated heat on a limited snap count (18 plays), and Michael Bennett created some early pressure that flustered Roethlisberger. Only one sack (a sack-fumble by Wise) meant we couldn't go with an 'A' here. But that was a good performance against a strong front.
Dont'a Hightower was all over the field early in the game against the run. Jamie Collins was stout at the point of attack at times -- not his strong suit the last time he was here -- and came up with a run stuff that lost the Steelers four yards. John Simon held up on the edge to allow teammates to make plays. Chase Winovich and Shilique Calhoun were pests. Outside of a Ja'Whaun Bentley holding penalty, it was a sound night from this group.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A-
This was about as good as it gets against a pass-happy club like Pittsburgh's. The defensive back group as a whole came up with timely pass breakups from Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones, and none was better than Patrick Chung's that forced a turnover on downs. Devin McCourty came through with a "closer" pick, and Stephon Gilmore prevented JuJu Smith-Schuster (six catches, 78 yards) from being a factor until the game was in hand.