Gresh's Grades: Rallying in Houston
SURVIVE AND ADVANCE
Quite a yawner for the Pats after an exciting Denver game last week. With very little pregame hype and a holiday thrown in, there was no buzz for this one. Yet like last week, it was another close win for these Patriots. And once again they got down early and had to rally, but rally they did. It was just enough defensively to get the job done and a nod goes to Stephen Gostkowski for nailing some low-percentage kicks in high pressure situations. With three quarters of the season gone this team is in great position to get a bye, but with the way they're playing 'D' right now, a playoff run is looking like it might be short.
It was ugly early as this group started with a three-and-out and of course followed that up with the Tom Brady interception. But after that, they started to settle in quite nicely which paved the way for the second-half success. It started with protection which was better even though Brady was hit. The run game in the 2nd half was productive especially around the goal line. Let’s remember they hung 34 on the No. 1 ranked defense in the league. Things ain't so bad.
The horrible interception lowers this grade on what was a forced throw to Gronk on the game’s second drive. Other than that, I thought TB12 stood tall in the pocket and delivered the ball with confidence to everyone including Julian Edelman. His use of Shane Vereen in the passing game is getting better and better because on many plays he is a check-down option. Brady was 18-for-23 in the second half. I'll take that every time especially on the road.
RUNNING BACKS: B+
Good tough running from this group including the fullback James Develin. Their best work was around the goal line area with great production. Develin, LeGarrette Blount, and Vereen in the passing game, all were productive in the scoring zone. Houston's defensive front is tough to run against because when they make first-level contact, it's hard to run through the defenders' big mitts. I thought when needed in protection they were serviceable to good. They need Ridley though, and I expect him back next week.
WIDE RECEIVERS: A-
Edelman's breakout season continues as he has been the one to benefit the most from Gronk's being back on the field. He's gotten good production on first down plays in particular where a defense may be more interested in Gronk and Amendola. He's also done a nice job of getting into routes and has shown good hands after drops early in his career (hint to the Ridley haters). Amendola hasn't exploded the way we thought he would, but I do agree with those who think he needs a receiver with some deep speed opposite him. The Pats never had that this week with Dobson hurt. Boyce looks lost at times within this offense and needs to get in the playbook. And it’s evident Thompkins is working through something.
TIGHT ENDS: A
Gronk was, well, Gronk. He battled through double-coverage and blatant defensive holding to get open enough for Brady to rely on him. Houston really took it to No. 87 yet he battled his way to 127 receiving yards and a 50-yard play. And the TD catch was just stupid good. Oh yeah, Mulligan did ok too.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B
They went up against a front 4 that's every bit as good as Carolina's and were much more difficult to stop given the early deficit the Pats were in. The run game never really got rolling, but was productive in critical situations. There were some hits on Brady in the passing game but only one sack. They also did a good job in special teams on the field goal unit, something which gets overlooked.
The injuries are starting to take its toll. They just don't have a matchup linebacker in coverage that is close to Jerod Mayo and now the court of public opinion is running against Dont'a Hightower because he's just not suited for that role. They also have no inside presence in the run game and unlike with Houston's line, you can run through their first-level contact. They still do get turnovers and all they need are a few stops on third down to help the offense. I've resigned myself to the fact that they're probably going to be leaky unless the secondary gets healthy fast.
DEFENSIVE LINE: D
Would you have guessed that Ninko, Vellano, Chris Jones, and Chandler Jones all hit the QB at least once? Well they did, and that why they didn't get an F. The pressure definitely got to Keenum and this group was the reason for that pressure. But against the run they sucked. Couldn't get off blocks consistently and when they did get an arm on Ben Tate or Dennis Johnson they couldn't finish the deal and make the first-level tackle. They need a presence other than Chandler Jones. Immediately.
Like the front three, they weren't as efficient at getting off blockers as they needed to be. Hightower had a productive day on the stat sheet, but he's being asked to do some of what Mayo does and he's not ready for that yet. He can play the run well but in his old role he's more stout against the run. Spikes did better in coverage than I thought, but his run 'D' wasn't very good as guards got up on him and he couldn't disengage. If they're gonna play 3-4, this group needs to produce NOW.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: B-
When Logan Ryan went down, Houston took advantage of having Kyle Arrington outside and hit the field flipper to DeAndre Hopkins, but other than that there really weren't any HUGE chunk plays. And for me if you keep Andre Johnson under 10 catches and out of the end zone, you've done a pretty nice job. I do think early zone defenses hurt this group's play, but it adjusted nicely once it went to man.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
The 50-yard return on the opening kickoff and the missed field goal hurts this grade but overall they won this game for the Pats. Five touchbacks on seven kickoffs by Gostkowski were massive in controlling field position and Allen did a great job pinning the Texans late in the fourth quarter. And hitting 50-yard field goals is a bonus we shouldn't count on every week. Throw in an 11 yard punt return and a 40 yarder on a kickoff for Boyce and we have a major contribution.
IT AIN'T BROKE...
1) Fourth-quarter play. It's been spot on as of late. 2) Gostkowski. Whether it's long FG's or kickoffs, he's an All-Pro. 3) Gronk. He's a beast and there's a real Shaq factor going on where he's so big I don't know if they're ever going to call P.I. on a defender against him.
...BUT IT NEEDS FIXING
1) The run 'D'. Someone inside step up. Please. 2) Better starts. No first-quarter flops. 3) Get back to winning the turnover ratio. Not a push. Win it. | Andy Gresh is a talkshow host on 98.5 The Sports Hub and for 9 years has worked pre and post game analysis on the Patriots Radio Network. He is also co-author of the book “The Great Book of Boston Sports Lists.”