September 19, 2006
Grogan's Grade: Week 2
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, it looked like the Patriots had things firmly in control up 24-0 over the Jets in the Meadowlands. I guess they needed a reminder that the game is four quarters long after hanging on for a 24-17 victory?
Steve Grogan: I got really comfortable with the 24-0 lead in the third quarter like everyone else. The problem is I think the Patriots did the same thing, and they almost got bit in the backside because of that. It really was a tale of two halves. I thought the Patriots played extremely well in the first half, and had the game under control after scoring a touchdown right before halftime. Then they came out and scored early in the third quarter and it looked like the Jets were out of the ball game and had no chance whatsoever. Then they gave up the two big pass plays due to poor tackling and suddenly the Jets were right back in the game and they had to hold on for dear life down the stretch. They played a really good second half against the Bills and then a good first half against the Jets. Now all they have to do is figure out how to play well in the other half and we’ll have a Super Bowl contender on our hands [laughs].
RRM: Were you at all troubled that they weren’t able to put an opponent away like the Jets in this game?
SG: No, I don’t think so. I think they have some young guys in that secondary that have to learn to put the thumb on the other team when you have them down, and they simply have to start tackling better. It looked like their philosophy was to keep everything in front of them; they were allowing some short passes but weren’t letting anybody get deep. The two long plays the Jets had weren’t from deep balls but from missed tackles, although you have to give some credit to Jerricho Cotchery because that was just a heck of an effort on his part. The touchdown by Laveranues Coles should never have happened; someone should have brought him down.
RRM: Tom Brady did not have Tom Brady-like stats in this game, completing only 15 of 29 for 220 yards, but with the game on the line in the final quarter he made three straight third down completions to keep a time-consuming drive going that was vintage Brady. It almost seems he is a reflection of the team right now; we get some flashes but not consistency?
SG: I think if you look a little more closely at what they were doing on offense, particularly in the first half, the ball was going down the field quite a bit. You didn’t see the screens or the quick hitches in that first half, instead Brady was throwing corner routes, out routes, and seam routes down the field and your completion percentage isn’t going to be as good when you’re throwing downfield that way. In watching him it seems he still is feeling his way around with a lot of these guys. They’re all trying to get used to each other and it does take time to develop a rapport.
RRM: That’s a good point you raise. Speaking as a quarterback do you think the average fan really understands the difficulty involved with Brady trying to get used to what is essentially a brand new corp of wide receivers?
SG: I think the average fan just thinks you just throw a guy in and he’s supposed to run a 12-yard out, and everyone runs the same 12-yard route. I can tell you it doesn’t happen that way. There are all sorts of nuances that each receiver brings to the position and it takes time for a quarterback to get used to them.
RRM: After dropping a potential touchdown pass Brady went right back to Chad Jackson four plays later for a score. Is that another sign of a mature quarterback at work?
SG: I think so, and it’s also a sign that he has some confidence in the kid. They apparently worked enough in minicamp to get familiar with each other, and Tom Brady knows that this is a guy that he will have to go to for the next few years and when a young guy like that drops one you want to get another one back to him fairly quickly so he can redeem himself and get his mind back in the game.
RRM: The rookies Laurence Maroney and Chad Jackson each scored their first NFL touchdowns on Sunday. What did you think of Maroney’s play in his second game?
SG: I thought you were looking at the future of the Patriots’ offense on Sunday. These two guys are going to be a huge part of the offense going forward from this point on. I thought Maroney didn’t play extremely well against the Jets; he didn’t have any of the big runs like he did against the Bills a week ago. It’s obvious he has a lot of talent and he seems to be feeding off of Corey Dillon. He watches Dillon pound it in there and he follows suit, and when you have 1-2 punch like Dillon and Maroney it’s going to pay off down the road because you aren’t going to have to rely on the passing game.
RRM: For the second straight week Brady was blindsided and dropped pretty hard. If he keeps averaging one of those per week what are the chances the Patriots will have their quarterback healthy for the postseason?
SG: If this keeps up Brady might be cross-eyed by the end of the season! He’s a tough kid and he’ll be able to take a few of them, but you don’t want to expose him to many of those kinds of hits, particularly from the back, because those are the ones that give you whiplash. Believe me, I am expert on the subject of whiplash and it’s not something you want to have happen to your franchise quarterback.
RRM: For the second straight week Brady was erratic with many of his throws, missing a sure touchdown pass and underthrowing one ball that led to an interception. Do you see anything that would lead you to believe that troublesome shoulder of his is affecting his game?
SG: There’s always the possibility that Brady could have something bothering him that’s affecting his play, but when you see him make other throws that are very precise and on the money you say to yourself it can’t be bothering him too much. There’s always that chance, and we’ll be able to make a better determination after watching him play a few more games.
RRM: There was so much made over the Patriots losing both David Givens and Deion Branch and how their passing game would be irreparably harmed. Would you like to take a stab at how many wide receivers aside from Troy Brown, Givens, and Branch have caught 40 or more passes for the Patriots in a season since 1993? There aren’t many Pro Bowlers in this bunch. [Hint: There are six, and only one made the Pro Bowl.]
SG: I think I’ll pass and let the PatsFans readers take a crack at this one. [Answer at the end of the column.]
RRM: For the second straight week the Patriots faced a fourth-and-one situation inside the opponents 15-yardline with a chance to wrap up the game. Last week they ran Corey Dillon who picked up the first down that iced the game. This week they opted to try and kick a game-clinching field goal which was blocked. Why the change in strategy, was it because Dillon went out with an injury and wasn’t available in the short yardage situation?
SG: I think they were a little more concerned about the Jets’ ability to go back down the field and score if they didn’t make the first down than they were about Buffalo’s offense the week before. The three points would have made it a two-score game, and with the Jets left with no time outs it would have been extremely unlikely that Chad Pennington could have scored twice on them. I really don’t think Dillon not being available had much to do with the decision. It appeared to me they were thinking of field goal all the way, which of course was the percentage play until it was blocked.
RRM: Who gets the blame for that blocked field goal? Was rookie Stephen Gostkowski’s kick too low or did the Patriots’ front wall allow too much penetration?
SG: It looked to me like the Jets’ Jonathan Vilma came pretty clean through there. I don’t think it had anything to do with the rookie kicker so I wouldn’t say it’s going to affect him at all like some in the media were already speculating after the game.
RRM: A lot has been made of the handshake or lack thereof between Bill Belichick and his former protégée Eric Mangini at the end of the game. What was your take?
SG: That handshake was what I guess you could call a fish handshake. There’s definitely no love lost between the two of them right now. From what you can read between the lines the issue seems to be when Mangini was offered the job in New York, Belichick cautioned him not to take it because he didn’t think Mangini was ready to become a head coach in the NFL. Mangini took the job anyway and I’m sure there were some words that were exchanged, and even though both of them claim to still be best friends I think their relationship is as colleagues only. I don’t think they are best friends anymore. Parcells and Belichick had the same kind of relationship when Belichick left the Jets to take the job with the Patriots. That’s really part of the coaching profession; you are going to work with guys and be very close for awhile and suddenly you’re opponents and you don’t get along any longer. It’s just the nature of the business.
RRM: Did you find that same dynamic existed with your former teammates when you faced them in a game?
SG: I wouldn’t say there was any animosity between us. You understand the nature of the game and the toll it takes on friendships. With coaches their livelihoods depend on winning and they don’t like opponents because they threaten their livelihood, so it’s harder for them to handle it that way.
RRM: It was good to see a lot of old gang back together on defense like Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison. After watching him for two games do you feel Harrison is back to what he was before the knee injury?
SG: I think Harrison is 100% mentally. Physically he’ll probably never be 100% again because of the nature of the injury he had. But in my opinion he’s still better than anyone else you could put out at that position because of his experience and his fierce competitive nature. He is so vital to their success because he is the guy that sets the tone for a lot of people with the way he plays the game. He is definitely one of the team leaders, and it is comforting to know that he is back there.
RRM: The Patriots find themselves in the catbird seat with a 2-0 record in the AFC Eastern Division. How do you rate the rest of the teams in the division in the early going?
SG: I was surprised at how poorly Miami played at home against Buffalo. The only other conclusion is the Bills are a much better football team than the one we saw here last week. The Jets have some good young talent but they can’t run the ball that well and their offense will rely on Chad Pennington and two very good wide receivers. The Patriots are clearly the best team in the division and there’s no question they should win it.
RRM: This week the Pats head home for a Sunday night encounter with the Denver Broncos, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year. Will the revenge factor be big in practice this week?
SG: It really isn’t that big a deal with the players, though I’m sure the media will play it up all this week. When you take away all the little scenarios involved in this game you’re left with a game between two good football teams with a lot of playoff experience, and it will be a big game for both teams in front of a charged up Foxboro crowd on national television. I think if you’re the Patriots you have to beat good teams at home, so this will be a nice early season test. Hopefully they can win it and go into a tough game on the road at Cincinnati undefeated with a ton of confidence.
RRM: Denver has been struggling to score points but their defense has not allowed a touchdown so far this season. Do you expect a defensive struggle to unfold in this one?
SG: I’m sure that’s what everyone’s expecting so watch it turn into a 34-31 shootout, and that wouldn’t surprise me the way things have been going in the NFL of late [laugh]! I know their quarterback Jake Plummer has struggled in his first two games and they have a #1 draft pick in Jake Cutler who is starting to look good to the fans in Denver. Like the Patriots they use two running backs in Tatum Bell and Mike Bell and have new faces at wide receiver, so they have been feeling their way in their first two games. Knowing how Denver likes to blitz and how they came after Tom Brady in the playoff game last year protecting their quarterback will be near the top of the Patriots’ game plan this week. If the Patriots can continue to run the football it is going to open up so many things for them offensively and if they can run the ball against this Denver defense they will be in good shape. I feel good about their chances in this one and I’ll be surprised if they don’t play well in this game.
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the 24-17 win over the Jets at the Meadowlands in Week #2?
SG: I thought it was a solid effort for most of the game so I’m going to give them a B this week. There was the inconsistency of the offense, the poor tackling on defense, and the blocked field goal, but the Patriots also did a lot of good things in this game. They had a good drive offensively late in the game that ate up a bunch of the clock that kept the Jets off the field. For the second straight week the Patriots’ defensive front played extremely well. They shut down the run and got some pressure on Pennington, and you have to single out Ty Warren for another strong game. The poor tackling on the two long pass plays really changed the dynamic of the game. If someone had brought those two guys down we’d be discussing a 24-0 win and I’d be handing out A’s all around! It was just a lack of execution by the secondary to get the receiver on the ground, and you can bet Bill Belichick will be running tackling drills this week in Foxboro.
Quiz answer: David Patten, Terry Glenn (Pro Bowl 1999), Shawn Jefferson, Vincent Brisby, Michael Timpson, and the immortal Will Moore.
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