New England Patriots Game Review 9: Pittsburgh

After a slow start to the season, the Patriots of old have returned. The Pats defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers by a score of 55-31, which is a great way to end the first half of the schedule and head into the much needed bye week. This bye week will allow everyone to get fully healthy and will give us a good look as to what should be the team we will see for the remainder of the season. One sad note, Steve Gregory broke his thumb and is expected to miss time event hough he has played a lot better the past few weeks. But without further ado heres the grades.

 

Quarterbacks

This was easily Tom Brady’s best game of the season and really what we should expect for the rest of the season. With all of his weapons besides Shane Vereen finally healthy, we sw what this offense can really do. Tom was 23/33 for 432 yards and 4 TDs. He had a QB rating of 151.8 which is nearly perfect. You could tell that he was much more comfortable in the pocket and was getting rid of the ball as quick as we are used to seeing him. He obviously targeted Rob Gronkowski more, but that was because Pittsburgh was practically allowing him to run free and get off the line clean. Either way, Tom looked great and with Vereen coming back this offense should quickly return to its elite status.

Overall QB Grade: A

 

Running Backs

For the first time since Buffalo, Stevan Ridley was once again the focal point of the running game and he did not disappoint. With 115 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, Ridley was fantastic in this game and was clearly trying to make sure the job was his for the rest of the season. What was even more incredible was the coaching decisions. Stevan Ridley, in the 3rd quarter, caught a ball out of the back field and was instantly hit by Troy Polamalu, who then stripped the ball for a fumble. Ridley’s fumbling issues have been a big problem this year, but in the past he would be benched and not seen from for 2 weeks. This time though, after he fumbled, he was out there on the next series and on that drive had 31 yards and a touchdown. The trust the they showed in ridley after his fumble was very telling, but may also have to do with how Bill Belichick attributed the fumble to the great play of Troy Polamalu. He said, “”Sometimes turnovers are a result of real good defensive plays. Sometimes they’re a result of sloppy plays offensively. I would, unfortunately, have to credit that one to Polamalu. He made a great play and that’s one of those things you have to live with.” Great move by the coaches to stick with Ridley and it payed off handsomely.

Overall RB Grade: A-

 

Wide Receivers/ Tight Ends

Anytime you have a total of three receivers have over 100 yards and at least 1 touchdown in a game, they were clearly on fire. The combination of Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Dobson was exactly what the Patriots wanted coming into this season and now that they are all healthy, their effectiveness can not be overstated. The gameplan was clearly Amendola down low out of the slot, Gronk form the TE position across the middle of the field and down the seam, and Aaron Dobson occupying the outside “X” receiver position to spread the field deep. They all did their jobs and played off each other very well. Out of the three though, the biggest game came from Aaron Dobson, who played the best game of his career so far. His two touchdown catches were exactly what the Patriots were expected to get when they drafted him in teh second round. His first was a great back shoulder catch in the front corner of the endzone. He adjusted his body and made a great catch. His second touchdown was an 81 yard catch where he beat the corner off the line and was calling for the ball almost instantly. Brady hit him at the Steelers 40 yard line and he took it to the house himself. With Dobson coming in at 6′ 3″, he has very deceptive 4.39 40 speed and we should see in the future that being used more and more.

Overall WR/TE Grade: A

 

Offensive Line

The offensive line was very inconsistent in this game. They were almost unstoppable in teh run game and was opening up huge holes for Ridley to run through. On the other side of the coin though, their pass blocking was a little more skeptical. For most of the game, Brady had a clean pocket and was able to deliver the ball down the field all game. The one place of worry was once again on the inside with center Ryan Wendell and guard Dan Connolly as they were the most inconsistent of the bunch. They allowed two sacks form the inside, not to mention the constant pressure up the middle, which Brady is notorious for doing bad against. They need to improve and fast because after the bye week is Carolina, who has two extremely talented defensive tackles in rookies Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. A point of interest in this game was Marcus Cannon replacing the injured Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle. He did allow one sack, but for the most part played very well especially in the run game. Multiple times we saw him have to pull across the line o scrimamge to help secure the edge and every time we saw him attempt, he was successful. This may have to do with his past experience at the guard, but it seems for the future he should be a good enough replacement for Vollmer.

Overall OL grade: B+

 

Defensive Line

The DL played extremely well in this game. Now, this has to be put into perspective due to how weak of an offensive line Pittsburgh has and not to mention guard David DeCastro did not play in this game. Either way, they took advantage of the weak line and were wrecking havoc all game long. They had a total of 5 sacks along with a total of seven QB hits. Chandler Jones led the charge with 2 more sacks to bring his season total up to 8.5. A few players to key in on were newly signed defensive end Andre Carter, who had a sack and another 3 QB hits in this game. He was effective especially after Rob Ninkovich had to leave the game with a foot injury. He shouldn’t miss any tie wiht the injury, but Carter proved that if he did need to miss time, he could perform up to par and make some good plays. Another great thing he brought was leadership. Whenever  he was in the game, he would be constantly pumping up players and encouraging them. He was always the first one to help a player off the ground and was clearly the vocal leader of the defense. Without Mayo or Wilfork, a veteran presence like his is greatly needed and should be an asset for the rest of the season. One thing to look at though was their performance against the run. Newly acquired DT, Isaac Sopoaga, played well when on the field, including helping stuff a 4th down and one attempt. The Steelers did run the ball well though. Le’Veon Bell was averaging over 4.5 yards per carry, but it seemed during the game that he was breaking off 6-12 yard runs all the time. Against a run first team like the Panthers, this defense needs to fix the run stop or that Monday Night game could be a long one.

Overall DL Grade: A-

 

Linebackers

This game was all about the play of Dont’a Hightower. He was exceptional in this game and was much more comfortable this week than last. I think it has a lot to do with the pressure of having to call plays, but in this game that duty was given to Steve Gregory which allowed Dont’a to play without overthinking every situation. With Gregory’s injury, we still don’t know if he will play against Carolina so who will be relaying calls on the field is unknown at this time for the future. Outside of him, Dane Fletcher played well in his sub role including picking up a sack. The big thing in this game was there relative success in pass coverage. For the most part, the running backs were held in check in the receiving game although they did have one or two big plays in the game. Either way, this core looked much more comfortable in their second week without leader Jerod Mayo.

 

Overall LB Grade: B+

 

Defensive Backs

This was the point of weakness for the whole team on Sunday. It is clear that without Aqib Talib, this secondary is not the same and the match ups don’t work as well. The big one was Kyle Arrington on the outside trying to cover Emmanuel Sanders and Marquise Cole trying to cover Jerricho Cotchery. Arrington, as we saw last year, seems lost on the outside and was burned all over the field. He is much more comfortable in the slot, but without Talib he is forced to the outside. In the slot, Cole was downright dominated in this game with Jerricho Cotchery having close to 100 yards and had three TDs. Cotchery is a savvy, veteran receiver, but he should not be having that kind of production. Although they tried this, the Patriots should try putting Logan Ryan on the outside like they did last year with Alfonzo Dennard. He started inside and after Arrington proved to be a liability outside, they switched them and it ended up being extremely effective. We’ve seen he can play on the outside as he played there against the Dolphins and the Jets and played very well. The star of the secondary this week was Devin McCourty, who is having himself a All-Pro caliber season. He led the team in tackles and also showed off his great centerfield range by picking off a Big Ben errant pass. He has been the most consistent and best player on the defense so far and he is showing no signs of slowing down. Last point, it will be interesting to see how they replace Steve Gregory is he does have to miss a few games. When he got hurt, he was replaced by rookie Duron Harmon, who ended up with an interception. His replacement and how they perform will be vital to the performance of the defense as a whole. One thing is for sure, this secondary needs Talib back and once he comes back, the pass coverage should go back to being how dominant it was in the beginning of the season.

Overall DB Grade: B

 

Special Teams

Special teams was pretty quiet again this week. Stephen Gostkowski hit seven extra points and another 2 short field goals. His one issue was that he didn’t get a lot of touchbacks as he usually does. It was very windy during the game, so that may be a factor. Punter Ryan Allen extended his solid rookie year and he had another two points that went about 50 yards each, but thats all we heard from him. Julian Edelman did have a 43 yard punt return where he showed off why he has the NFL record for average punt return yardage. When you don’t have to talk about special teams, normally that means they did their job.

Overall ST Grade: B+

 

Well that’s it for this week. Enjoy the bye week everyone and get ready for the Patriots MNF matchup against the Carolina Panthers. Follow me on twitter @Hrube5297.