October 10, 2006
Grogan's Grade: Week 5
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, it wasn't exactly the cakewalk most fans expected but the Patriots did run their record to 4-1 on Sunday with a 20-10 decision over the Dolphins. What was your view of the game?
Steve Grogan: I thought both teams played it very close to the vest. Neither team wanted to make a mistake and as a result neither team took many chances. I thought it was boring to be honest with you [laughs]. It was like watching George Halas' old Chicago Bears teams; play conservatively and wait for your defense to do something for you. I know the tendency is to criticize the Patriots' offense but I think you have to give Miami some credit. They played extremely well on defense and that can make an offense look bad at times.
RRM: While the Dolphins have struggled on offense they still possess one of the better defenses in the NFL and it is always a tough match up for the Patriots. Were your surprised that the game was so close?
SG: Miami always plays the Patriots tough. It's a divisional game and the Dolphins knew how important this game was to their season. They didn't want to dig themselves too big a hole that they couldn't get out of, so they came into Foxboro with a lot of emotion and they played well. Their quarterback Joey Harrington played a very good football game for them, and considering it was his first start for a new team it was that much more impressive. He was extremely sharp, made quick decisions, and got rid of the ball in a hurry and threw with authority, and I was impressed. I would be very surprised to see them going back to Daunte Culpepper anytime soon.
RRM: Tom Brady had another inconsistent game and had more passes batted down at the line of scrimmage than I can ever recall. How does that happen?
SG: I know Brady had two in a row batted down at one point, and that doesn't happen very often. When that happened I was thinking to myself he must be too short, because that what was everyone always said about Doug Flutie when it happened to him [laughs]! I thought the Patriots' offensive line was getting it done; they were keeping the Miami linemen away from Brady. But when they couldn't get to him they were putting their hands up and jumping. If you are throwing a lot of inside routes that's where you get balls batted down, and it looked like the Patriots were running more inside routes than normal. When the ball is going to the outside it's a little harder to bat a ball down because you only have one guy out there in the defensive end that you have to contend with.
RRM: Although Brady tossed a pair of touchdown passes and didn't throw any interceptions, he still just didn't seem like the Tom Brady of old?
SG: It definitely wasn't one of Tom Brady's better performances stat-wise (16 of 29 for 140 yards). He threw two touchdown passes and got the job done when he needed to. I think he still is getting comfortable with what he has to work with right now in the passing game. Miami did an excellent job of taking away the run and trying to make the Patriots throw, and Brady made enough good throws to win the game. But In the final analysis it really wasn't one of Brady's better games.
I thought you could really see Brady's comfort level on display when he was throwing the ball to receivers he was familiar with. When he was throwing to Troy Brown and Ben Watson he was throwing with authority. When the ball was going out to some of those other guys he just didn't look sure of himself. I think that's still part of the growing process, and Brady and his new receivers have to come together and work together and get comfortable. I don't think Ben Watson made his first catch until midway through the third quarter and I just can't figure out why they're not trying to get the ball to him. It just baffles me that they wait until that late in the game to get the ball in his hands to make a play for them.
RRM: It just didn't seem to be Tom Brady's day. He was even called for an illegal motion penalty on the direct snap to Kevin Faulk which doesn't usually happen to a quarterback. Did you ever get called for an illegal motion penalty?
SG: No, I never had one of those called on me. Of course I can never remember a play where I went in motion, either! I did have a number of holding penalties called on me and that's always embarrassing for a quarterback. Actually on that play it looked to me like Brady did stop for that one full second prior to the snap, so I thought it was a bad call.
RRM: You mentioned the conservative nature of the Patriots' offense, and their longest play from scrimmage in this game was only 15 yards. Don't you have to try and stretch the field by trying a couple of deep throws to keep the Miami defense honest when their corners are playing so close to the line?
SG: You would think you would have some chances if your receiver can avoid that jam at the line of scrimmage because then he should be running free downfield. Miami brought a lot of pressure on Brady and did a lot of blitzing that seemed to confuse him. He just didn't look very comfortable with what he was trying to do.
RRM: The one occasion when Brady did air it out deep downfield the Patriots got a pass interference call in the endzone of Miami's Will Allen against wide receiver Doug Gabriel. It set up Heath Evans' game-clinching touchdown, but did you think it was a good call by the officials?
SG: It's a very tough call for an official to make because it is such a judgment call. If the defensive back is playing the man and not the ball and doesn't look back for the ball you will get the flag every time. When I first saw the play at regular speed I thought it was definitely pass interference, but when they slowed it down you could see that Allen's head did turn but it was at the very last second. At regular speed you just couldn't notice that, but I still thought it should have been called. It was definitely a huge turning point in the game because it helped to increase the Patriots' lead to 10 points and you knew that Miami couldn't possible score twice the way the game was going.
RRM: Miami head coach Nick Saban was incensed over the call and he raised a good point after the game when he said the rule in that instance doesn't make sense. Allen had Gabriel well covered and the ball hit him in the back, so why penalize the defender in that instance?
SG: The best way I can explain it is to say it's similar to when a defensive back has established position and a wide receiver runs over him; that's offensive pass interference. It should also go the other way. The pass receiver (Gabriel) established position and was waiting for the ball and the defender (Allen) ran through him, and that should be pass interference whether he was looking back for the ball or not.
RRM: The talk that Patriots cornerback Assante Samuel was struggling will have to be put on hold after he came up with two interceptions against the Dolphins. The Patriots defense hadn't come up with a lot of turnovers early this season so that had to be a welcomed sight?
SG: Sometimes you wind up in the right place at the right time, and Samuel was in the right place at the right time Sunday. Sometimes a player can struggle a little bit and suddenly they make a play that builds their confidence and they start playing at a whole different level. I think the fact that he played so well in Cincinnati the week before against their elite group of receivers was probably a confidence booster for him, and he seemed to carry that over into this game. Samuel made two HUGE interceptions that probably won his team the ball game. If he doesn't make either of those two picks who knows what the outcome would have been? It's fair to say if the Patriots don't get that fumble recovery and the two interceptions they don't walk out of there with a win the way they were playing on offense.
RRM: One of the bright spots to come out of the game was the improved performance of kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Not only was he was perfect on his two field goal and extra point attempts, he continues to boom the ball into the endzone on his kickoffs which kept the Dolphins bottled up on their own side of the field for most of the game?
SG: Gostkowski is doing a nice job for the Patriots right now. He seems to be getting more confident every week after his couple of miscues at the start of the season. You are right, when he is getting that ball five yards deep into the endzone the opposition is either at a disadvantage if they bring it out or if they down it end up starting at their own 20-yardline. A defense can't ask for anything better than that, and both he and punter Josh Miller have really been important factors in helping the Patriots win the battle of field position early on this season.
RRM: I asked you last week about the dirt section in the middle of Gillette Stadium's playing field and it came into play again in this game with the usually reliable Olindo Mare slipping and getting one of his field goal attempts blocked. Are those New England Revolution players responsible for the field being all torn up so early in the season?
SG: Soccer doesn't play right down the middle of the field like that so I don't know what the reasoning is for having the field that way. Why they can't go in there and put some new sod down is beyond me, but it looks horrible and it's hard to play on and something needs to be done. With those kind of field conditions a player can easily get hurt. Your feet can slip out from under you so you wear longer cleats so your feet will hold in that sandy area in the middle of the field, but then you get out on the outside where the grass is solid and those cleats dig into the ground farther. They don't come out as easily and then you wind up having knee injuries. That's why I really feel they have to address the conditions of the field before someone gets seriously hurt.
RRM: Is this a good time for the bye week, or would you have preferred for it to come a little later in the season?
SG: I think it's a good time for the bye week, although they really aren't banged up all that much. Usually you like to have a bye week when you're banged up physically and you can get some guys healthy, but I don't think it makes that much of a difference really. There really is no perfect time for a bye. Wasn't it only a couple of years ago their bye came on the last week of the season? Now that's a little late for a bye [laughs]! This year it came maybe a hair early but in the NFL you take it when you can get it.
Some people were thinking that Bill Belichick was giving his team the weekend off as a reward for winning this week, but they would normally get the weekend off during the bye week whether it was now or later in the season. It will give the Patriots' players a chance to get away from everything for a few days and refresh themselves and then come back ready to go to work. Right now they're sitting in a really good position in their division so they can go into this break with a good feeling about themselves.
RRM: How will Bill Belichick and his coaches use these two weeks? Will there be any extra game preparation for Buffalo this week, or will they work on other things this week and introduce the game plan next week just like it was a regular work week?
SG: They may put in a few new wrinkles for the next game plan this week just to see what they look like. I never went through a bye week since the NFL introduced the concept after I retired, so I'm just guessing it's kind of like a playoff week bye where you just kind of get out and move around a little bit that first week. You review some things and look at your tendencies, and continue to work on things you've been having problems with like pass protection, etc. Then the following week you really put your focus into the Buffalo game which I imagine is what they will do.
RRM: A trip to Buffalo is always an experience for the Patriots. Do you expect it to be any different two weeks from now when the Patriots resume their schedule with a game against the Bills?
SG: Let me put it this way, Buffalo's never a fun place to play [laughs]! Even when they don't have really good teams they play you tough, especially at home. It's kind of like the situation with Miami this past week; it's a divisional game and the Bills are going to play extremely hard. It will be interesting to see how they play this Sunday against the Lions in Detroit after getting just smoked by the Bears 40-7. That has to be embarrassing for them. You look at some of the talent on that Bills team and you wonder why they can't win more games. They have a good running back in Willis McGahee, a good coach in Dick Jauron, and some good players on defense. It just doesn't make sense to me, but hopefully that trend will continue two Sundays from now.
RRM: Before I ask for your grades I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about the prank war between the Patriots' two quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Matt Cassell. Cassell filled Brady's car with styrofoam peanuts and Brady removed all four tires from Cassell's car and placed them next to his locker. I have to ask, are these just typical pranks that go on with a football team?
SG: I've seen some pranks take place in the locker room over the years but those went about as far as I've ever seen or heard about. Taking all the tires off of somebody's car and putting them next to their locker? That's really out there [laughs]! I thought Cassell showed a lot of ingenuity for a backup quarterback with his peanut gag, but most of all it sounded like they had a lot of fun doing it. It also loosens up the rest of the team, and everyone knows you're not too serious and that you're having fun while you're out there. I did read that Brady was trying to teach Cassell that if you don't have more money than the other guy you're not going to win in a battle of pranks, and that's a pretty good point. Cassell should be working towards a starting job so he can get him back [laughs]!
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the 20-10 ugly win over Miami in Week #5?
SG: I think an overall grade of B will be appropriate this week. I thought the defense deserved an A for their play but the offense was just average so they get a C. The Patriots' defense has been solid all season but in this game they forced some turnovers which really helped out the offense. Tedy Bruschi stood out with 10 tackles and it was nice to see Ellis Hobbs back playing with a cast on his broken hand. I thought Mike Wright should deserve a mention for blocking a field goal attempt and tackling the Miami punter for a loss. I think he is a kid that just keeps getting better and better in making plays. When he gets his chances he does something with them, and it's always fun to see somebody come from nowhere to do some special things.
After five games I'm happy with the way this team is playing defense. The special teams have also played well, and when your defense and special teams are so solid you don't have to ask your offense to do much. But offensively there is still a lot of room for improvement. This offense really needs to develop more consistency because eventually they will get into situations where the offense will have to step up and score some points. Hopefully with this bye week they can work on some things to try and improve the passing game. We'll find out just how well they've done that when we see them in Buffalo in two weeks.
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