October 16, 2007
Grogan's Grade: Week 6
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, you just knew this wasn't going to be your average football game right from the very first play when the Patriots faked a reverse and Tom Brady threw deep for Randy Moss. In the showdown of two of the NFL's unbeaten teams this one came as advertised, didn't you think so?
Steve Grogan: I actually took that play as a bad sign that Tom Brady was going to be off his game because he usually hits everything and he overthrew Randy Moss by quite a bit on that throw. Fortunately I was wrong, and Brady had a fabulous game. It was two good football teams going head to head and Dallas is still one of the best teams in the league, it's just that the Patriots have so many weapons. You can't take away one or two of them because they have two or three other ones they can go to and kill you with! They ended up making Dallas look like a ragtag team.
RRM: The Patriots actually trailed in the second half for the first time this season, but wasn't it more fun watching them turn on the afterburners and pull away from the Cowboys after that?
SG: I suppose there were a few anxious moments for some Patriots' fans early in the third quarter when it looked like the Cowboys might come back and beat them, but instead the Patriots went out and proved how good they are by going out and throwing points all over the board in just a quarter and a half. The Patriots M.O. through the early part of the season has been to feel people out in the first half and then separate themselves from them in the second half. You really have to be impressed with the Cowboys because they have some really great athletes on both offense and defense so they are going to hang with you for a good part of the game. Right now this Patriots team is so deep and so talented that when the second half comes around they have their opponent figured out and totally worn down, and then they go out and score a ton of points and end up winning fairly easily.
RRM: Wes Welker just destroyed the Cowboys with 11 catches for 124 yards and two touchdowns. The more you see of him the more you realize just how valuable an asset he has become?
SG: Wes Welker has showed us what he can do already this season and he had another good game running loose in the interior of that Dallas secondary. The Patriots lost their tight end Ben Watson and the Cowboys did their best to cover Randy Moss but it just didn't seem to matter because they had Welker and Donte Stallworth to throw to.
RRM: Donte Stallworth finally had the big game everyone was waiting for. I thought the 69-yard catch and run for a touchdown was the highlight of the game?
SG: Brady made a great throw to Stallworth on that play and hit him right between the numbers, and Stallworth made a great effort to shake the tackle and get into the endzone. For the first few weeks everyone was wondering when we would hear from Stallworth, well this was finally his time. The Cowboys focused a lot of their efforts on Randy Moss and Stallworth ended up having a big game with seven catches for well over 100 yards.
I thought Stallworth started celebrating a little too early before he reached the endzone and I'm sure Bill Belichick will be speaking to him on that point. I've really been impressed not just with the talent but also the professionalism of this receiving corp. The majority of the time the Patriots' receivers make a catch they turn and hand the ball to the official. They aren't like other receivers that fling the ball on the ground or toss it in the air, they turn and hand the ball to the nearest official and I think that shows the maturity and respect these players have for the game.
RRM: Tom Brady set a new NFL record by throwing for at least three touchdowns in each of his team's first six games. Twice in the second half he had what would have been a club record fifth touchdown pass of the game wiped out either by penalty or by replay before he finally got it on a throw to Donte Stallworth. It was almost as if the football gods were trying to preserve your record for you?
SG: My records are going by the wayside right and left and there's no way to stop that. Tom Brady is in a zone right now and there's been no sign of him cooling off any time soon. His offensive line is doing a great job and he's got people to throw the ball to and he never seems to get flustered about much of anything, so I can foresee several games of him having five touchdown passes or more with the kind of talent he has around him right now.
RRM: Dallas head coach Wade Phillips decided to go for broke and pressure Tom Brady early and often, and while they had some success including forcing a Brady fumble that they returned for a score they ended up paying the price when Brady repeatedly burned them with deep throws to receivers that were single covered. And the moral to this story is…?
SG: We've talked about why opponents haven't been pressuring the Patriots because they were scared to death of the ball going down the field, and we saw in this game what happens when you bring a little pressure and Brady winds up hitting a deep throw downfield. Dallas has a good front seven and they did get some pressure on Brady and knocked him down more than any other team has, but he also threw five touchdowns and most of them went quite a ways down the field. The Cowboys secondary was a little suspect and I thought that was one of the keys of the game because the Patriots were able to convert on 11 or 17 third downs which is just unheard of against a very good defense. The Dallas secondary wasn't covering very well and that's why they gave up five touchdown passes. I thought the Dallas front seven did a pretty good job getting some pressure on the quarterback, and that's something the Patriots are going to have to shore up.
RRM: Bill Belichick the innovator was back at work again in this game. What did you think of his new defensive alignment of six defensive backs, four linebackers, and one defensive lineman he unveiled against the Cowboys?
SG: You don't see that very often in the NFL, do you? It certainly gave Tony Romo something else to deal with and he wasn't too successful against it. The NFL is a copycat league and I'm sure you will see other teams trying to use that defense; the problem is most teams don't have the same talent personnel-wise to do something like that. Bill Belichick knows he has some linebackers that can cover as well as rush the passer so it allows him to do some things that most coaches can't do.
RRM: While the Patriots haven't exactly been devastated by injuries this year they have been steadily increasing week after week. Ben Watson went down in the first half and Sammy Morris left the game in the third quarter, will losing them hurt the New England running attack?
SG: I think Kevin Faulk has been around long enough that he can carry the load for awhile. You also have Heath Evans who played a couple of games last year as a starter and did a nice job filling in. I would think Laurence Maroney is pretty close to returning and carrying at least some of the load, so I wouldn't be concerned just yet.
RRM: Maroney has had his share of injuries so far early in his career. Is he starting to run the risk of getting the reputation of not being able to answer the bell?
SG: I think at this point it's definitely a question that needs to be asked. I think they're probably being overcautious with him and they could afford to be since Morris was doing such a good job for them. Now that Morris is banged up I would think if Maroney was even close to being healthy they are going to get him back out on the field, and I would suspect we will see him next week in Miami.
RRM: Is it easy to develop the reputation of being injury prone or being "soft" in the NFL?
SG: Yes, it is but it's also easy to get rid of that reputation by coming back and playing well. Guys tend to forget about all that kind of stuff in a hurry with a few good performances, so the sooner Maroney comes back and starts piling up some numbers the sooner he'll put those questions behind him.
RRM: I heard a few people question whether the Patriots were trying to run the score up at the end of the game when Kyle Eckels crashed into the endzone with only a few seconds left on the clock. What were the Patriots supposed to do, take a knee on the Dallas one-yardline on fourth down?
SG: You just don't see coaches taking a knee in those situations any longer. In those situations you still run the football but you're not really trying to show them up. It's like you're saying you guys still have to stop us, we're not just going to lie down for you; it's just part of the game. The Dallas defense didn't stop Kyle Eckels and he scored, end of story.
RRM: That was Eckels first pro touchdown, but weren't you surprised he didn't ask for the football as a souvenir?
SG: That surprised me, too. I guess that's what they teach you at the Naval Academy, act like you've been in the endzone before. Somebody should have gotten that ball for him though because he might have changed his mind later on.
RRM: Do you enjoy this wide open, high scoring brand of football or do you miss the good defensive battles. It's almost like baseball today with whichever team hits the most home runs in a game wins?
SG: I really don't like a 14-10 game but give me a 24-23 game over a 48-27 game. At times it doesn't seem as if there's any defense being played by either side of the ball. Right now the game is to play three of four wide receivers and spread the ball all over the field. Pretty soon they won't need offensive linemen, they'll just play seven on seven and the fans will love the 100-95 scores. Maybe Joe Gibbs will bring back the one-back offense and the trend will turn around, but for now enjoy the ball being in the air because you are going to continue to a see a lot of it and lots of high scores.
RRM: Randy Moss and Manny Ramirez both speaking to the media in the same week. It could only happen in Boston, right?
SG: Sports reporters in Boston are dying of heart attacks from the shock as we speak [laughs]! That certainly is interesting, and it was good to finally hear them talk about a few things. Randy Moss turned out to be pretty articulate and had some fairly interesting things to say, and I think he needs to talk to the press. I wouldn't expect any Pulitzer material from either of them but it is good to see them coming out of their shells for a change.
RRM: Winning so consistently by such wide margins is starting to take a toll on the Patriots' image outside of New England. Just like Yankee haters there seems to be a growing number who are starting to hate the Patriots. That doesn't seem right, does it?
SG: I guess for many the Patriots are becoming the team you want to hate. They are kind of like the Cowboys of the 1970's which was known as America's Team, and you either loved them or hated them with nothing in between. I think a lot of football fans are starting to hate the Patriots because they are so successful, so that's not really unusual. In a way it's a compliment, so just take it all in stride.
RRM: On the surface a trip to sunny Miami to play the winless Dolphins would be the next best thing to a week off for this team. But given this club's history of playing poorly in Miami will this be a tougher game than expected?
SG: A lot of strange things happen when the Patriots play in Miami but this is no longer your father's Patriots football team. This is a special team, and I can't see them making enough mistakes to even let Miami stay in the game. With most teams you would say this is a trap game but I don't see that happening with any team this Patriots club plays. Will they win by 40 points like they probably should? Probably not, but they know what they have to do. This is a very mature football team that sees itself on a mission to win a championship, and I just don't see them having any kind of a letdown.
RRM: The Dolphins have had so many great quarterbacks over their history from Bob Griese to Dan Marino, but Cleo Lemon? How do you get up for a game against Cleo Lemon?
SG: Who in the hell is Cleo Lemon? Things are pretty tough in Miami right now but I had no idea they were that bad. Now we know why guys like Vinny Testaverde are still playing in this league, because you have guys like Cleo Lemon starting in the NFL. Holy Cow [laughs]!
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the big 48-27 win over the no longer undefeated Dallas Cowboys?
SG: I think an A- is a fair grade for this game. This was a pretty good effort against what is believed to be the best team in the NFC, and to beat them that handily on their home field is very impressive but there are still some things they need to work on. Their running game wasn't particularly effective and they had trouble with pass protection in the first half. The defense did give up some points but they did shut the Cowboys down when they had to in the second half. They were playing against a high caliber offense that scores a lot of points and I thought it was unrealistic to think they could totally shut them down.
The Patriots tried some different things on defense, including starting two strong safeties Rodney Harrison and James Sanders in order to keep Tony Romo's big target, tight end Jason Witten, in check. They shut him down, limiting him to only three catches, so overall this defense held up pretty well. I thought Rodney Harrison struggled a little bit early in the game, but it was his first start of the year and he's still trying to play his way back into shape. Once they get Richard Seymour back it should help them quite a bit, so I think they are in pretty good shape on defense. There are still several things for them to work on and I'm sure Bill Belichick will keep supplying the lessons this week in practice.
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