Gresh's Grades: Evaluating after the excitement
It's not a B- because they came through in the clutch. They ran the ball pretty well even though they lost their ability to have a sixth OL on the field when Connolly went down, so Marcus Cannon had to play. The OL had lots of protection issues but were good moving bodies off the line of scrimmage. And that late interception, they came back and demonstrated excellent execution in getting the win. Gotta clean up the drops immediately, but great guts late.
TB12 finished 25-of-43, which probably should've been 32-for-43 . . . which probably would've pushed him to 300 yards or close to it. And he was under a barrage of pressure all day. He did a fantastic job of moving around in the pocket, including taking the open field and going on the run. He also did a great job of recognition at the line of scrimmage and adjusting to some of the pressure looks to get into the right play. The interception late was a bad throw, but by God did he make up for it with a perfect two-minute drill for the win. Times are tough for TB12, but he has continued to battle and the guys around him are responding.
RUNNING BACK: B+
The final numbers were very good for this group. Stevan Ridley made a strong return with 20 carries for 96 yards and 2 tough TDs. Brandon Bolden and -- of all people -- Brady also chipped in. They adjusted when Connolly came out of the game and did a great job running the ball, using James Develin as a blocker instead of an extra OL. The drops are alarming, but when those guys can chip in and help in the passing game it's a major bonus. Overall good effort.
TIGHT ENDS: A
After I couldn't put a grade on what I saw last week, this week I can. Michael Hoomanawanui contributed in the passing game with 4 catches and 57 yards and did a very nice job blocking on the edge. Matthew Mulligan also helped in moving people off the line of scrimmage and didn't make a mistake that we remember, so that's a win. It's time for Gronk to get back and end this.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C+
The Saints deserve credit for bringing it to this unit with blitz pressure and quickness up front. It's also the reason the Pats were able to run the ball; they took advantage of that speed and pushed people around. The pass protection was shoddy and it started up the middle and over the right guard. Some bad redirects on twists with Cannon and Nate Solder. They came through late and that says a lot, but for two weeks now they've been just okay, if not bad.
I wouldn't normally give this kind of grade for a team that gives up 27 points at home, BUT . . . of the Saints' 12 drives, half of them went three-and-out and one drive was for four plays. Those drives totaled 11 yards; one ended with an interception and, because of a short field, one ended with a field goal. And they did this with Talib being out for most of the second half. Let alone with no Vince Wilfork or Tommy Kelly. And they got the ball back for the offense late to go score and win. Great job.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
When I saw the stat sheet and that Joe Vellano -- JOE VELLANO -- was the leading tackler, I was floored. Chandler Jones filled the stat page and was dominant all across the line of scrimmage. Chris Jones filled in for Kelly admirably. I thought the pressure was better than the numbers showed, and they did a decent job of gap control and were productive in critical situations.
I thought the linebackers had the toughest task in this game because of the way New Orleans targets its running backs in the passing game. And at times, this group gave up some plays to Darren Sproles in the pass game. But I thought overall their tackling was good, and they were physical. Jerod Mayo still needs to get better shedding blocks, just like Brandon Spikes needs to get better playing in space and covering TE's. I think Dont'a Hightower's limited snaps were because of needing to play more dime and handling the spread looks from the Saints. Don't read too much into that, unless there's an injury we don't know about yet.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A
I know Alfonzo Dennard gave up the TD late and Steve Gregory didn't get over quick enough, but when Talib went out it shook things up and put more pressure on the safeties because the youngster Duron Harmon was in. Talib vs. Jimmy Graham was a skunk job. Talib was awesome, as was Devin McCourty when he was on Graham. Just look at the stat sheet. Kenny Stills had 3 catches for 64 and a TD. The rest (Marques Colston, Nick Toon, Robert Meachem) had 2 catches for 18 yards. And they held Drew Brees to under 50 percent completes. No space to operate and, because of the longer down-and-distances, they were able to blanket the WR's on the outside. Great job.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
The dynamic Sproles never hurt the Pats in the return game; he only had one good kickoff return for over 20 yards. Four kickoffs went for touchbacks and Ryan Allen pounded the ball for an average of 52.5 yards. Field-goal operation was smooth and I'd say another good overall week for the "teams."
IT AIN'T BROKE . . .
1) Complimentary football. Defense gets a stop after a big interception and the offense goes and scores for the win. 2) Guts. They have a ton of it. 3) The two-minute drill.
...BUT IT NEEDS FIXING
1) The offensive line. Too much pressure allowed the last two weeks. 2) Drops. Catch the damn ball. 3) Red Zone offense. Still need to be better around the goal line. | 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.”