Gresh's Grades: Test passed in second half
Tale of two halves
The Patriots didn’t play their best game by any stretch, but pulled out yet another gritty win. The first half was an abomination; the defense allowed Miami to go 6-for-10 on third down and gave up 17 points. Tom Brady looked hurt at times, and made some magnificent throws other times. The 'D' clamped down in the second half in the passing game, but I have some real concerns with its ability -- or inability -- to stop the run. Special teams chipped in with a nice block at the end. Somehow, this beat-up bunch is 6-2. But they have some work to do and, IMHO, are in desperate need of the bye.
The passing game was shut down for the most part by aggressive Miami corners, who allowed very little separation to the outside wide receivers and made sure that Rob Gronkowski was doubly attended to over the middle. The run game was sparked by Stevan Ridley, who didn’t make his first appearance until the 10-minute mark of the second quarter for some reason. His burst is noticeable compared to the other backs. The offensive line had its issues, and the injury to Sebastian Vollmer could be significant. And there is definitely something wrong with TB12’s hand. He had a very inconsistent day and I think the coaches called a game that reflected his current physical state.
Brady gets this grade even though something is clearly wrong with his right hand. I rewatched all his throws and some of the completions, believe it or not, make me think there’s an issue. A ball in the second quarter to Gronk for a four-yard gain should’ve been better placed, which would’ve allowed for a first down. A throw in the red area to Danny Amendola, if it’s placed where it should be, would have been a TD. Then he made some throws -- like the ones to Aaron Dobson for the TD and to Gronk for the negated TD -- that were money. He's hurting, but he's battling through it; that, and a shakeup in his offensive line, is why the grade is higher than it should be.
RUNNING BACKS: B
Ridley runs with power, agility and burst, yet can’t seem to get consistent playing time and I don’t know why. Maybe they’re challenging him so he reaches his full potential, maybe it’s still about fumbling, but when he’s in there they run the ball well. This group overall needs to get better in pass protection and miss Shane Vereen from that end. LeGarrette Blount is a power runner who thinks he’s a dancer. Just power it up in there and this team will be in business.
WIDE RECEIVERS: D
Even with TB12’s hand issue, there was just not enough separation out there and at times this group was out-physicaled. Dobson ran a nice pivot and go for the TD on a great throw by TB12. And he also had a non-communicated slant route for the first time all year, which was exciting to see. Amendola looked okay, just couldn’t get open consistently. Having Gronk out there didn’t seem to help much. This unit needs to find a leader, a playmaker, and a middle-of-the-field presence to make the offense go. Time to assume your roles, boys.
TIGHT END: C
Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan did a nice job run blocking in the second half, but didn’t help the cause at all before that. Gronk was double-covered almost all game long but was the guy TB12 would go to when everyone was covered and he was looking for a pass-interference call. 87 made some nice catches and his presence was acknowledged by Miami. It didn’t help out the WRs, but it will in due time.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C
Like the TE’s, the second half was much better than the first when it came to run blocking. The pass protection was shaky at times when they wanted to get the ball downfield. The short throws were fine. The Vollmer loss is massive and I do have some concerns with Marcus Cannon at right tackle against speed rushers because of his ample hind end. But he was good in the run game. This group is giving up too many sacks on guys just getting beat one-on-one. This unit needs the bye more than any on this team to hit the reset button on their subpar season.
The amount of yards allowed in the run game lowered this grade, but I felt they played well after a bad first quarter. They gave up a short-field TD early and had third-down issues in that first half. But after rolling up with some tighter coverage and bringing well-designed pressure, they set the offense up for points while pitching a second-half shutout . . . and forced three turnovers in the process. There’s real concern with the run 'D' minus Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo. But they kept an average-at-best offense under 20, which is damn good in this day's NFL.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B-
This group, which BTW is now a 3-4 front, has had some issues gobbling up blockers on a consistent basis. Chris Jones was active again, as was Chandler Jones. But they are now setting things up for the LB’s to make plays. Chandler Jones is a beast as a pass rusher, but needs to be better fighting double teams. And Rob Ninkovich, whose role is changing with the new look, had a sack and was around the ball for a fumble recovery. All in a days work for Ninko. Yeoman work by an undermanned group.
Early, Brandon Spikes looked like he was just out there running around in the sandlot. Then in the second quarter he got better at reading his keys, being aggressive, and not letting guys run by him. Dane Fletcher made an early appearance as a coverage linebacker and wasn’t seen much in the second half after not getting over quickly enough to cover the RB on Miami’s second TD. He did chip in with a sack, which will earn him some more reps. Jamie Collins is young but can really run and has a chance to contribute more after the bye week. And Dont’a Hightower was much better than last week, which puts his play at a pretty high level. With the Patriots now running the 3-4, this group has to continue to be productive and get better. They took a step forward this week.
DEFENSIVE BACK: A-
Logan Ryan’s ability to blitz and get home is a real asset this team hasn’t had in a while. He had perfect technique on the strip sack, and his coverage isn’t bad either. James Gregory has the dot for communicating with the sideline and there wasn’t but maybe one play where they weren’t lined up properly. Mike Wallace did nothing and the best Miami receiver was tight end Charles Clay, mainly against Devin McCourty. The Pats will take that all day. Good work from these guys.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
I thought they really made a difference in this one. It started on the opening kickoff, tackling the returner at the 9, and was followed by good punt coverage and some sneaky returns from Julian Edelman. Punting was good and the kickoffs and kick tries went well. Throw in a blocked field goal, especially after last week, and you’ve got a good grade for this unit.
IT AIN'T BROKE . . .
1) The kicking game. No more worries about the rookie punter now, are there? 2) The secondary. And they didn’t even have Aqib Talib. 3) Coaching. With this many injuries, it shows up in how everyone is ready.
. . . BUT IT NEEDS FIXING
1) Ridley. Feed him the ball, for God’s sake. 2) Brady’s hand. Let’s hope it doesn’t get worse. 3) The run 'D.' They have to get it somewhat better cause Vince ain’t comin’ back. | Andy Gresh is a talkshow host on 98.5 The Sports Hub and for nine years has worked pre- and postgame analysis on the Patriots Radio Network. He is also co-author of the recently released book "The Great Book of Boston Sports Lists.”