November 09, 2004
Grogan's Grade: Week 8
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, the Patriots started an entirely new winning streak with a 40-22 thumping of the Rams in St. Louis. Considering all they had to deal with coming off the loss to Pittsburgh the final score had to be somewhat of a surprise?
Steve Grogan: This game turned out far more lopsided that I ever imagined. With two starting cornerbacks out against a team that throws the ball all over the field you’re thinking the Patriots really had their work cut out for them in this game. This was a very close game for the first half and then in the second half I thought the Patriots just dominated the Rams physically and got the job done. Going into the game with all the injuries in the New England secondary you had to wonder how they were going to respond. But they are just so well prepared nothing seems to faze them. They had Troy Brown playing at defensive back, a linebacker Don Davis filling in at strong safety, and Mike Vrabel looking like an All-Pro tight end with a fingertip catch in the endzone for a score. The coaches get their players in positions where they can do something to help the team win, and that is just so impressive to me.
RRM: Not only did the Patriots start a new winning streak, they ran their streak of scoring first to an impressive 16-straight games. That may not be as impressive as their 21-game winning streak but they are now approaching the record for that mark as well?
SG: I don’t think many people are aware just how highly unusual that is. Even if they just get a field goal to start the game like they did against the Rams once you get up on an opponent early you start to feel a whole lot better about yourself, especially when you are playing on the road. If they can continue to score first like this it will certainly make their task a lot easier.
RRM: The Patriots ran and passed the ball the exact same number of times (32), which is the precise definition of a “well-balanced offense”. That has to make an offensive coordinator like Charlie Weis smile?
SG: You can’t get any more well-balanced than that. I said prior to the game the key for the Patriots was getting Corey Dillon back for this game. He made a huge difference in the Patriots offense in this game. I thought the Patriots’ offensive line really played well yesterday. They not only blocked well for Dillon they also protected Brady well. This was the first time this season they really manhandled people up front on both sides of the ball like they did. The Patriots defensive line got a lot of pressure on Bulger. They just beat the Rams up front all day long and that was a big factor in the victory.
RRM: The TV broadcasters made a reference to how differently the game is played on AstroTurf. What is it like for a player to play a game on the artificial surface?
SG: It’s hard to explain but when you are on turf you just feel faster. It’s a uniform surface, and when you plant your foot you know it’s not going to slide out from under you. It’s actually a lot of fun to play on turf, and if it wasn’t so debilitating players would want to play on it all the time. I know that might fly in the face of the NFL traditionalists but it’s kind of fun to play at a game at high speed where everyone is flying around making big plays.
RRM: Was this another instance where St. Louis head coach Mike Martz outsmarted himself by announcing his game plan in advance?
SG: Mike Martz is a good football coach and has been successful, but he gets a little stubborn sometimes the way he approaches a game. Every team that has played the Patriots and had any semblance of a running game has had some success. For that reason I was surprised the Rams didn’t try to run Marshall Faulk more at the Patriots. Mike Martz came out and said they were going to pass the football all day long against the Patriots and when you know it’s coming you can concentrate on defending the pass. That allowed the Patriots to really go after Bulger hard and that made things difficult for him.
I also thought the Rams played a lot of sloppy football. They committed a lot of stupid penalties and were guilty of a lot of mental mistakes.
RRM: We talked a few weeks back about the precarious nature of the Patriots’ backup quarterback situation. I guess we no longer need worry because Adam Vinatieri can fill the role?
SG: I don’t think Rohan Davey has to be concerned about moving down on the depth chart! Adam Vinatieri is an athlete, and we knew that when he chased down Herschel Walker from behind during a game several years ago. He can throw the football as well as kick it and he made a nice throw to Troy Brown on that fake field goal for an easy touchdown.
RRM: Apparently the Patriots alerted the officials that might run that play in the game. How exactly does that work?
SG: Coaches routinely talk to the officials before the game and they will ask if there is anything they need to keep an eye out for. They told them before the game that they may run a play where a player come in and goes inside the numbers and then back out along the sidelines. In this case all the rule says is a player coming on the field has to be between the numbers, and if the officials hadn’t been paying attention they probably would have thrown a flag.
Every team has many trick (or gadget) plays that they practice during the week but it’s important to find the right situation to use them. They caught the Rams’ kick defense unit sleeping, as they never sent anyone out to cover Troy Brown out wide and it cost them six points. This is a play the Patriots practice every week but they must have seen something on film that indicated the Rams weren’t paying attention to who was on the field during field goal attempts. If one of the Rams would have run out after Troy Brown then Vinatieri would have called a time out and then they would have kicked the field goal.
RRM: I can’t recall many trick plays when you were playing quarterback for the Patriots. It seems this team has always had conservative play calling?
SG: We had one where I would hand off to the fullback Mosi Tatupu and he would head into the line and then turn around and flip the ball back to me and I would throw to Stanley Morgan deep downfield. That one seemed to work quite often and it was always a lot of fun when it worked.
RRM: Willie McGinest must have run 10 miles in this game. There was one play where he tipped a ball that resulted in an interception when he was in coverage 20 yards downfield, and another where he tracked Bulger some 30 yards across the field and forced a fumble. I just can’t think of too many defensive ends in the NFL that can do those kinds of things?
SG: It seemed like Willie McGinest was on Bulger’s back all day. There aren’t a lot of players with his ability in the NFL, and he was playing with some passion. When he wasn’t getting to him he was forcing the Rams quarterback to move around in the pocket and making him uncomfortable. Richard Seymour got only one sack but he was consistently pushing the pile back towards the quarterback and that was another big factor for the Patriots.
RRM: This Sunday night the Patriots will host division rival Buffalo, and the Bills seem revitalized after their upset win over the Jets on Sunday. What can we expect to see in this game?
SG: I watched a great deal of the Bills game against the Jets. Drew Bledsoe seems rejuvenated and the Bills appear to be a much better team than the one that started the season. The big difference is their running back Willis McGahee. I had not seen him before and he was pretty impressive. He’s taken some of the pressure off of Bledsoe, who still has one of the strongest arms in the league. When he has a running game and pass protection to work with he is a very effective quarterback, so this will be a big challenge for the Patriots. They have to take away the running game and force Bledsoe to beat them because in the past he hasn’t proven he can do that against Bill Belichick’s teams.
But they are going to have to work really hard to maintain their positions this week. They can’t chase the ball like the Rams were guilty of doing so many times against the Patriots. The Patriots ran a lot of misdirection and counter plays to get them running the wrong way and the Rams defense was a little overly aggressive. That’s not the kind of defense you can play against a back like McGahee because he can cut it back on you, and if there’s no contain on the other side he’ll be gone in a flash. His ability has opened up things for Bledsoe just like what Dillon has done for Brady. You can’t rush the passer nearly as hard when you need to be concerned about the running game. I expect this to be a hard fought game and I just hope I can stay awake long enough Sunday night to see it!
RRM: The last undefeated team in the NFL went down to defeat when the Steelers routed the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Terrell Owens got into an argument with Eagles’ quarterback Donovan McNabb that created quite a stir, so it appears things aren’t quite so peaceful in the City of Brotherly Love?
SG: Owens is a great athlete and you always want great athletes on your team but he is unique, that’s for sure. I would hope for their sakes it’s just a one time thing, but he is the kind of player that can be a distraction and as a quarterback you can’t let that influence your relationship because otherwise you have a problem. If that had happened to me I would have bristled a little bit and then gone back to him later on after the game to try and talk things out.
RRM: I take it you wouldn’t go for the old Bobby Layne solution to dissension among the troops. He played quarterback for the Lions in the 1950’s, and if you crossed him he’d fire the ball at your face just as you were coming out of your break so you wouldn’t see it coming!
SG: That must have smarted because they didn’t have facemasks back then! I’ve wanted to do that a few times, not to any of my teammates but some of the guys on the other team. Somehow I don’t think that would go over too well in today’s NFL.
RRM: What are Grogan’s Grades for the big win over the Rams in Week #8?
SG: Considering they were playing a pretty good football team while playing with a depleted roster I’m giving out straight A’s across the board. It really was a tremendous performance considering all the injuries they had. You have to single out Troy Brown for his two-way performance. He caught three balls including one for a score and on defense he had one pass breakup, one he should have caught for an interception, and an interference call that I thought was questionable because he did get his head turned back around to the ball. He’s a veteran and he really provided them with a big lift the way he was able to run with the Rams’ receivers. I’m going to have to break my rule about giving game balls to kickers because Adam Vinatieri certainly deserved one. Not only did he have four field goals he threw a touchdown pass, and that doesn’t happen that often to a kicker! The only minor glitch to this game was they were deep in Rams territory so many times and had to settle for field goals instead of scoring touchdowns. It’s not a great concern right now but something you have to hope doesn’t become a trend with this team.
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