September 30, 2016

Making The Grades – Patriots At Steelers

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

Settle down, class. I’ll be subbing for Prof. Gottlieb this week. After the Cleveland debacle, we wondered which version of New England would travel to Pittsburgh, and we got the one we wanted in a 39-26 win: tough on defense, efficient on offense, hard to beat overall.

So, this is the 2010 Patriots. Much like the NFL season itself, it has been difficult to determine what teams will show up from week to week. A quick review: Pittsburgh beat Cleveland, who beat New England, who beat Pittsburgh. We’re sure with a little more time and research, we could do a “win chain” involving most, if not all, of the league. (And if any of you make the effort to do so, email us at Patriots Daily University so we can post it online.)

Because the professor is out this week, letter grades will not be given. Unlike last week, enjoy.

OFFENSE: Overall Grade: Honors

In a hostile environment, against a historically fierce defense, New England racked up 458 yards and won the time of possession battle (31:28 to 28:32), scoring 29 points on offense that should have been 31 if not for a missed extra point. Not sure where this high-scoring group has been hiding, but they appeared poised and prepared for almost anything the Steelers threw at them.

Troy Polamalu Was Jealous Of Tom Brady's Hair.

Quarterbacks: High Honors

Positives: Tom Brady threw for 350 yards, completing 30 of 43 passes and three TDs. He made use of all available receivers (eight players caught a pass), at times seeming to toy with Pittsburgh’s defensive backs (his first touchdown to Rob Gronkowski allowed no room for error). He also made a great call on the third quarter QB sneak, a perfect read of the home team’s defense that allowed him to slice ahead three yards for six.

Negatives: Hung up a pass to Brandon Tate in the end zone that got knocked down; called for intentional grounding; needs a haircut.

Comments: Works hard. Tireless effort. Shows enthusiasm. Best student in class.

Running Backs: Honors

Positives: BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 18 rushes for 87 yards (just under 5 per). Watching diminutive Danny Woodhead block linebackers is like watching a tugboat stop a barge: small, yet surprisingly effective. Even Sammy Morris had a nice move after a catch for a first down. Extra credit to Woodhead and Morris for their special teams work.

Negatives: Sometimes Green-Ellis catches the ball as if it’s a sea urchin – it just looks uncomfortable. Woodhead got stopped on a third-down draw play where he seemed to take the wrong angle.

Comments: Position plays well with others, needs to continue effort for rest of year.

Wide Receivers: Satisfactory

Positives: Wes Welker (eight catches, 89 yards) and Deion Branch (seven for 71) seem like their old selves, getting open and making first downs. Brandon Tate took advantage of Brady’s time in the pocket on a big 45-yarder down the middle.

Negatives: While Welker gathered a few YAC (yards after catch), Branch continues to fall to the ground more often than a Spanish soccer player. Tate and Welker both dropped passes. The Patriots used to have a promising young guy named Julian Edelman, who’s had fewer catches than a Little League left fielder.

Comments: Improved effort, needs more consistency.

Tight Ends: Satisfactory

Positives: A career day for rookie Rob Gronkowski (five catches, 72 yards, three TDs). Veteran Alge Crumpler lived up to his last name, crumpling opposing linebackers throughout the contest.

Negatives: Brady got so exasperated at Aaron Hernandez (dropped pass, seemingly out of position) that the latter looked like an insane person you’d see on the street (again, that might be the hair.) Gronkowski had an offensive pass interference and an offsides penalty called against him.

Comments: Most improved on team, must learn from mistakes, shows great potential.

Offensive Line: Honors

Positives: Welcome back, Logan Mankins. The line paved the way for 103 yards rushing against the best rush defense in the league. They also gave Brady so much time to pass that he almost looked bored waiting for receivers to break open. Zero sacks, which is about all one can ask for at Heinz Field.

Negatives: Matt Light got his weekly holding penalty. The blocking for Woodhead on the aforementioned run failed in its execution. A Pittsburgh crossing blitz got the better of them, causing Brady to get that intentional grounding penalty.

Comments: Showing improvement and better consistency. Great effort.

DEFENSE: Overall Grade: Satisfactory

Ask me to grade the defense for the first 45 minutes, they’ll get glowing reviews. It’s irksome when a 23-3 lead has trouble standing up in the fourth quarter. Overall, though, a solid job, holding Pittsburgh to 76 yards rushing (albeit at 4.8 yards a clip) and taming the home team’s passing offense for most of the game.

Defensive Line: Honors

Positives: Vince Wilfork set the tone on the line of scrimmage early, stalking center Markice Pouncy like a puma figuring out how to disembowel a porcupine. Mike Wright had 1.5 sacks and would have doubled that had the QB been anyone other than Ben “Me No Fall Down” Roethlisberger. Not a lot of stats, but solid play overall.

Negatives: On running plays, Wright and Brandon Deaderick got pushed around more than would make us comfortable.

Comments: Steady performance, great effort, shows improvement.

Linebackers: Satisfactory

Positives: Gary Guyton became a whirling dervish in this one, tallying a sack, knocking down a pass and covering Heath Miller in the end zone to prevent a TD. Tully Banta-Cain had 1.5 sacks, and – as stated before – with any QB other than Ben “Me Stay Up, Me Do Good” Roethlisberger, he could have doubled that figure. Shawn Crable added half a sack (sorry: what?), while Jerod Mayo put in his expected nine total tackles. Brandon Spikes had a well-timed stop up the middle.

Negatives: Crable spun to the inside more than once, allowing Ben “Tell Me Again About The Rabbits, George” Roethlisberger to roll out and complete passes. Mayo missed his gap on the Steelers’ 2-point conversion up the middle. Jermaine Cunningham’s offsides penalty in the second quarter kept a Pittsburgh drive alive. Spikes mustered only two total tackles on the night (tying him with Woodhead) and lost Heath Miller for a long completion.

Comments: Strong effort, though uneven. Shows high potential. Needs to pay more attention in class.

Defensive Backs: Satisfactory

Positives: Any question about the impact of Patrick Chung on this defense got a firm answer Sunday night. Chung led the team with 10 total tackles and made it difficult for anyone catching a pass underneath. His tipped ball went into the hands of James Sanders, who returned it for a game-sealing TD. Sanders’ early hit on Hines Ward knocked the receiver out of the game, changing the complexion of Pittsburgh’s offense (we’ll call that a positive, though we’re sure the league front office will disagree). Rookie Devin McCourty spent most of the night in the right place, knocking down passes all over the field.

Negatives: McCourty got beat for a touchdown and had some luck with a Steeler drop or two. Brandon Meriweather’s pass interference penalty set up the home team with first and goal (resulting in a missed FG attempt). For all his stellar work, Chung got called for holding twice. After Sanders’ return, the team got penalized for a group celebration. And, seriously: 23 points in the fourth quarter? That was about as fun to watch as a vasectomy on the medical channel. (Damn you, basic cable and faulty remote batteries. Damn you both.)

Comments: Shows lack of attention to detail, inconsistent effort. Willing to put in the work to improve.

Special Teams: Unsatisfactory

Positives: Zoltan Mesko dropped three punts inside the 20. Shayne Graham hit both of his field goal attempts. We didn’t hear new long snapper Mike Katula’s name except in an introductory sense; that’s always good.

Negatives: Graham missed an extra point attempt, which led to a failed 2-point conversion, a mini-Rube-Goldberg effect that shaved two points off the final score. Those are two points the Pats will need in the future.

Comments: Must avoid past behaviors. Please see me.

Coaching: High Honors

Positives: They took a mess of a team, brought them to a site that reeks of doom (or maybe that’s just the Ohio River – ha!), and prepared them to outplay the home team in just about every facet. They gave their QB time to complete short passes and execute long scoring drives to begin each half. New England’s pass rush took advantage of a piecemeal offensive line, suppressing Pittsburgh’s scoring until it was too late to wage a full comeback. If the Patriots can play like this – excitedly and efficiently – then good things shall continue.

Negatives: We assume that the defense loosened up in the fourth to avoid big plays, but the coaches need to define what “loosen” means. For example, when you loosen your belt, you don’t take it off and throw it into an incinerator. Also, 10 penalties for 113 yards will lose a lot of games. The team is young, not dumb.

Comments: Great work overall. Looking forward to more of the same.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Comments

  1. Overall, Chris, a very good report. But a couple of comments about your neg. on Brady. Fair comment on the hair. So let’s talk about the two pass plays you mentioned. First, the trick play: the fault was not Brady’s–if you saw the end zone shot he could not throw the ball before the receiver got separation and by the time he did there wasn’t any room to get the ball in–fault lies with the play caller–that play has to be called beyond the 50yd line in order to give the receiver room to go get the ball.
    The other play: grounding–that was a terrible call. I think that was an option route by the receiver. If there was a blitz-which there was- then he should have cut it off short. I think that’s what Brady talked to the referee about.

    Anyway let’s give out game balls:
    Special teams: Mike katula even though he took all the suspense out of the kicking game.
    Defense: as you so rightly mentioned-Gary Guyton-probably his best game in the pros. Especially coming after a very horrible 1st half of the season.
    Offense: Logan Mankins-this guy is not only the best lineman but also the “Enforcer”. I think he’ll get a new contract with the Pats. I didn’t think so before.

    • Chris Warner says:

      Bobd, my only debate would be that, from my perspective, it looked like if Brady had targeted the left corner of the end zone, Tate had a couple of steps on the defender and could have gotten to the ball (instead it looked as though Tate had to stop running and jump for the pass). I will agree, though, that I’m being very particular in my negatives of Brady. Overall, a stellar performance.

  2. oldskool138 says:

    That PI on Brandon Merriwether was ticky-tack. He beat his man to the spot and was looking for the ball. The Steeler he was covering ran up his back and knocked him over.

  3. For the love of god please quit referencing Brady’s hair.

    • Chris Warner says:

      Lance, by referencing, do you mean how long it is, or how silly it looks when he takes off his helmet?

      ‘Cause, I gotta tell you, the references ain’t going away until the hair does.

      • As the possessor of a long mane, I’d just hope you’ll include how jealous you are of studs who can grow it without a lot of it coming out of our ears or up our backs…

        And let’s be honest here. If you had a supermodel wife who earned more than you, a multi-million dollar earner yourself – would you care what anyone else thought about your hair? Brady doesn’t and I’m glad he doesn’t. The only exception is his O-line. With Light’s hair I suspect that’s where the idea came from.

        And oh yeah, anyone in New England thought we’d see Crable play in the NFL, let alone this team? He’s not a full-timer but he contributes. Thanks Timbuk3 – agree with your comments (this time).

  4. oldskool138–I also think the interference on Gronkowski was ridiculous. If defenders can put their hands on receivers then vice versa should be true. To me interference is what Hernandez did in the SD game where his arms were straight out. I mean come on if Timmons can’t fight off that love tap then he should be doing something else like taking up ballroom dancing.

  5. Good article… love the humor!

    I agree, most definitely, about the comment above on the interference call on Merriweather. If anything that should have been offensive pass interference. I didn’t complain about it at all this week, because it ended up not getting the Steelers any points, but it was a pathetic call, and probably shouldn’t go down as a negative for defensive backs. The call against Gronkowski, maybe it was ridiculous, but also a rookie mistake by Gronkowski. It wasn’t how hard he pushed Timmons, bu how obvious he was about it. He was kind of daring the ref to call it… Probably shouldn’t have been called, but often times when a rookie does something like that, they are going to get called. He needs to make the adjustment… that being said, can’t really complain about Gronkowski’s performance this week.

  6. 1. Brady’s hair is the best in the league. Pure Rockstar befitting his status and supermodel wife. Get over it you cromags with your supercuts chop jobs.

    2. Guyton: I love that guy. Decent linebacker, one of the fastest in the league the year he joined. Gets incrementally better every year. I thoroughly enjoy watching these guys come together, get better individually, and develop as a team.

    3. No issues at all with the 4th quarter yardage given up by defense. Really, it’s brilliant coaching. “you take 7 minutes, we take 8, game over”. No sense in displaying every trick, formation and creative blitz when the game is well in hand. Save your defensive playbook for next week, run out of your base/nickle/dime defense and give the young defensive guys some reps. As Bill says “stats are for losers”. This is a reflection of BB genius and nothing else, why is that so hard to see?

    4. Crable? Finally!! Am I the only one happy for that guy?

  7. Nice report. And I agree with the Tate miss in the end zone – Tate had a couple steps and if the ball had been throw to the back corner, it would have been 7. Looked like the throw tailed a bit, giving the defender time to get involved.

    But that’s the only one. There were no other misses the entire evening, like in CLE, where it seemed like every throw was behind, or at the feet, or both. That first TD to Gronk was ridiculous – from the over the shoulder view, you couldn’t even see Gronk and yet it was in a place where only he could catch it.

    The Cunningham offsides was one of those stupid lining up in the neutral zone ones – how dumb is that?

    But I love how aggressive the D was. Plenty of blitzes and different schemes up front. Really kept the pressure on, something missing in the losses I think.

    And you have to wonder if this habit of loosening up is going to bite them in the end, although it has worked to perfection every time so far. 10 yds up the middle, taking 5-8 minutes to score, seems to make everyone happy and has worked out thus far. Very strange but in the end effective. Even the announcers were saying it was Ben just padding his stats in the end.

  8. Seriously? Hair comments? You get an automatic D- until you let it go…

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