November 06, 2007
Grogan's Grade: Week 9
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, for once all the pregame hype surrounding a big game lived up to its billing as the Colts and Patriots waged a battle for the ages right down to the final gun. What was your take on the game?
Steve Grogan: It was a game that featured two extremely good football teams that made each other look very bad at times. It wasn't because they were bad, it was because the other team was that good. A lot of people expected the offenses to go up and down the field and score a lot of points just like what happened in the AFC Championship Game. Instead the two defenses took center stage, and I also thought both offenses played very conservatively early in the game. The Colts were content to run the ball for most of the first half and when the Patriots got the ball they seemed very cautious about not making a mistake. Neither offense really cut it loose until much later in the game, and that's when things got really interesting.
RRM: All of us have been so used to the Patriots being in total control of a game this year that it was almost eerie watching them play from behind for most of the game. Did you ever get the feeling this was going to be the game where they finally lost?
SG: I had some doubts going into the second half. The Patriots weren't playing all that well and the Colts seemed to be playing with a lot more emotion than the Patriots were. The game seemed to mean more to the Colts early in the game, and that's when I got a little concerned. This was a tough test for both teams. They are clearly the two best teams in the NFL, and when you match two teams against each other that are that good you are going to force the other team to make some mistakes, and we saw some of that in this game.
RRM: Tom Brady had far from his best performance but with the game on the line in the fourth quarter he once again showed why he has become the best quarterback in the NFL. How does a quarterback gain the ability to perform under pressure?
SG: Brady has a lot of poise in pressure situations, and we saw that in this game against the defending champion Colts. It's hard to explain how a quarterback develops that ability, but he has shown that skill since he became a starting quarterback in 2001. The more pressure there is the cooler he gets, and his teammates around him remain cool and make plays for him. It's been just a pleasure to watch him, and we should be able to look forward to several more years of that.
RRM: Brady was under a lot of pressure in this game, mostly from the Colts' two defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Did those early sacks and hits account for his usual pinpoint accuracy being a little off in this game?
SG: When you are sacked on the first play of the game it doesn't put a really good mind set in your head for the rest of the day [laughs]! Both of the Patriots' tackles were having a hard time coping with the speed of those outsider rushers. I thought Matt Light settled down in the second half and got the job done as did Nick Kaczur on the other side, but in that first half it looked like they hadn't seen anybody that was that quick off the edge. They just didn't adjust to it until they got some help with a tight end chipping occasionally. After that they were able to settle in and handle things one on one.
RRM: There were so many big plays in this game it's hard to pick out just one. Certainly Jarvis Green forcing the fumble by Peyton Manning to clinch the game was a crucial one. What was your choice?
SG: I thought the catch by Donte Stallworth down the sideline where he was forced out that set up the Patriots' game-winning touchdown was a big play in terms of getting the Patriots back into the flow of the game. The interesting thing is if you look at the boxscore of this game it's almost identical for each team. The yards passing, the yards rushing, the number of plays, yards per play; it's almost all exactly the same except for two things. The Patriots had over a 100 more yards on kick returns than the Colts due in large part to a great punt return by Wes Welker. Ellis Hobbs also had a nice kickoff return early in the game. The other difference was scoring in the red zone. The Patriots were three out of four in the red zone and two for two inside the five-yardline, while the Colts were one out of three in both categories. The Colts were forced to settle for two field goals early in the game, and the Patriots scored touchdowns when they had red zone opportunities, and that was the difference.
RRM: Last week we talked about what a big factor Colts' tight end Dallas Clark has been against the Patriots in their most recent meetings. Zero catches for Clark in this one, go figure?
SG: It looked like the Patriots really concentrated on taking him out of the offense by putting Rodney Harrison on him. That was very effective but it did hurt their run stopping ability and the Colts took advantage of that, particularly in the first half. The strategy definitely took Clark out of the game and it prevented him from making any big plays against them. It was the typical Bill Belichick philosophy on defense; bend, bend, and bend and eventually they'll stop themselves or we'll stop them, and the Patriots were able to turn them back in the red zone so it worked out well for them.
RRM: Speaking of Rodney Harrison, he thanked an official for not throwing a flag on him on a tightly contested pass in the end zone by slapping him on the butt. Was that a bit unusual, to say the least?
SG: It doesn't happen a lot, but it happens. When an official makes a call or in this case doesn't make a call that goes in a player's favor you'll see a guy every once in awhile give him a pat on the back or a slap on the butt. You know the saying Manny being Manny? I guess we can call it Rodney being Rodney!
RRM: The Colts had a lot of success running the football with Joseph Addai in the first half, so can we expect other teams to try and do the same thing over the next two months?
SG: You can expect the opposing teams to try and run the football on the Patriots. When you play against better teams you always try to run the ball to keep their offense off the field, but to me there's a big difference in the caliber of the opponent when you talk about the Colts and then the rest of the league. The Steelers may try and run the ball but their quarterback isn't as good as Peyton Manning. Ben Roethlisberger is a good quarterback, but he just doesn't scare you as much as Peyton Manning.
I thought it was apparent when the Patriots came out that they had decided their number one goal was to stop Peyton Manning from throwing the football. They started the game with four down linemen and five defensive backs which makes it easier to run the football, and that's what opened up the running game for the Colts. The Colts ran the ball so efficiently in the first half and then in the second half they seemed to quit trying to run it. I assume it was an adjustment the Patriots made at halftime, and the Colts' offense wasn't as effective after that. There was some poor tackling by the Patriots in this game, particularly on that long catch and run by Addai for the touchdown that could have turned the game in the Colts favor. But right now it is a little too early to tell whether it will become a nagging problem. If another team is able to run the ball against them then it becomes a problem that needs to be addressed.
RRM: There were a couple of pass interference calls that drew the ire of Patriots Nation, but you don't often see the Patriots whistled for 10 penalties in a game?
SG: It was uncharacteristic for them, but I really thought that officiating crew didn't do a very good job. I got a little worried about the officiating early in the game where the Colts' player caught the ball on the sideline with a foot clearly out of bounds and two officials looking right at it and they called it a catch. I figured they were going to let everything go the Colts way, and there were some questionable calls throughout the game. There's no question the Patriots committed some stupid penalties, but anything that was remotely close went against the Patriots and that's just poor officiating. Ellis Hobbs had perfect coverage on Reggie Wayne and drew a pass interference call, and there were a couple instances where it appeared the Colts were short of a first down and they didn't even bring out the chains and measure it, they just gave it to them. Maybe all of us around here are starting to buy into the conspiracy theory, but it seems just about everyone around the league wants to see the Patriots fail and you can't help but think that way when things like that happen.
RRM: We didn't hear much from Wes Welker until the end of the game when he slipped free and grabbed a 10-yard pass to convert a third down and clinch the win. Better late than never I guess?
SG: Wes Welker is just like the Energizer Bunny, he just keeps going and going. He's fun to watch, and just when you think you have the Patriots shut down he comes up with a big catch to keep a drive going.
RRM: The Colts are still thought of in New England as being very talented but a soft team that isn't as physical as the Patriots. After watching this game I don't think that is the case any longer?
SG: The Colts have become a very physical football team, and if anything the two teams have switched roles this year. The Patriots are a lot more about finesse and less physical than the Colts are this year, and it was always the other way around. It's almost as if Bill Belichick followed the old saying, if you can't beat ‘em, join ‘em. So far he has!
RRM: We all know about the intense animosity between Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini, but what about Colts' head coach Tony Dungy. Is there no love lost there as well?
SG: It kind of looks that way. They are not overly friendly after the game. They do the congratulatory handshake after the game on the fly as they leave the field. To be honest I don't think Bill Belichick has a lot of friends in the coaching business but I don't think that's something that really concerns him anyway. He just wants to coach his football team and they'll probably have to carry him off the field in a body bag because he's going to coach until he dies!
RRM: Someone asked me if teams still do special prep work during the week to be ready to play in a domed stadium. Do they still bring in the loudspeakers during practice to simulate the crowd noise?
SG: Yes, they'll pump in really loud music to the point where you can't hear to try and make it as loud as it will be in a dome. I think the Patriots have played in enough domed stadiums by now where they are fairly used to it. Domed stadiums used to be the exception in the NFL but there are several more now so it's not as unique an experience as it used to be.
RRM: The Patriots depth at running back took a hit with the loss of Sammy Morris for the rest of the year. Should we be concerned about the depth at running back with Laurence Maroney's injury history and the age of Kevin Faulk?
SG: I'm not overly concerned because you can find running backs out there if you need one. As long as they learn the pass protection schemes quickly they should be all right. They can also press Heath Evans into service and he can do a pretty good job for you. They can pick someone else up to play special teams if that is the case. I got a chuckle out of the Corey Dillon coming out of retirement story. His agent commented about him getting back into his shape and how some of his buddies had called him to come back, but none of those inquiries ever came from the Patriots and I doubt they ever will.
RRM: We're still only nine games into the season, but is it safe to say we are looking at one of the greatest seasons for a pro team ever?
SG: I think so. They are on a pace to shatter the record books while becoming only the second team to go undefeated for an entire season. I've been asked a lot if I think they can go undefeated and I think they probably can, but will they? It may be hard because they are going to lock up their division so early that for the last three or four games it will be like preseason where they will only be playing their starters for part of the game. I don't know if that is really conducive to trying to go undefeated, but if Bill Belichick decides that this is a record he wants his team to have I think they might be able to do it.
RRM: The undefeated '72 Miami Dolphins didn't play a single playoff team during their perfect 14-0 regular season. Since the Patriots have already defeated the Chargers, Colts, and Cowboys and have the Steelers, Ravens, and Giants left on their schedule, if they do go unbeaten the rest of the way wouldn't it have to be viewed as the greatest accomplishment by a team in NFL history?
SG: I would think so. But as I have said it will be interesting to see how they play out the string in the last few games. That Giants game on the road the last day of the season may be a tough one. If the Patriots have home field in the playoffs already wrapped up and the Giants are playing to make the playoffs it could be a good battle. Right now it looks like any team with some good outside pass rushers can give the Patriots some problems, and the Giants have that ability. But let's worry about that one next month.
RRM: When the Patriots return to action in two weeks they will be heading up north to play the division rival Bills. I guess playing in Buffalo in November is better than playing there in December?
SG: That's true, although it can still be pretty windy and cold in November up there. The Bills had a nice win over Cincinnati on Sunday and are back to the .500 mark at 4-4. J.P. Losman is back at quarterback and they still have Aaron Schobel to rush Tom Brady, so the game could be interesting.
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the pulse-pounding 24-20 win over the Colts?
SG: This is a hard one to grade. It's kind of like a test that's so hard no one gets a great grade on it so you have to put the scores on a curve. The Patriots had a lot of penalties and made some big mistakes, so I think an overall grade of B is fair for this effort. The offense really didn't do too much of anything until the fourth quarter but then again they turned it on when they had to. The defense gave up a lot of yards in the first half and was guilty of some poor tackling. It was good to see Richard Seymour rounding into form with a big tackle for loss that blunted the Colts first scoring drive, and then getting a piece of Adam Vinatieri's field goal attempt forcing it to go wide. You could tell he looked quicker this week after getting some playing time last week. I think half way through the season is a perfect time for the bye week, and coming off a physically-demanding game like this one makes it a very good time. I know I could sure use a break. See everyone again in two weeks.
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