November 27, 2007
Grogan's Grade: Week 11
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall: Steve, the Patriots are AFC Eastern Division Champions once again but no one is talking about that after Sunday night's 31-28 close shave against the Philadelphia Eagles. Bill Belichick began his postgame press conference by saying the game went as they expected. Am I wrong, or did most of Patriots Nation expect another easy, one-sided victory?
Steve Grogan: Bill Belichick expected the game to be that close, huh? Wow, he's an amazing guy, isn't he? It was not the kind of game I expected. The Eagles played a lot better than I thought they would, particularly on offense. I didn't think the Patriots played all that poorly but I was really impressed with how important the Eagles made the game seem to them. They really came out with a lot of emotion and had a great game plan. Every team has come into the game with something to prove against the Patriots and no one has been able to stay with them until this game. I thought the Eagles defensive game plan was really good. They got in Brady's face quite a bit and made him move around and they effectively took Randy Moss out of the game. Other teams have tried to do that, they just haven't been able to get it done. On offense they gave the Patriots fits, and I didn't think the Patriots adjusted all that well to what the Eagles were doing to them. I thought the Patriots were very fortunate to walk away with a victory.
RRM: Back when the Patriots won their first AFC Eastern Division title in 1978 when you were the quarterback I remember it being a pretty big cause for celebration. I barely saw it mentioned in most of the papers on Monday?
SG: It's just become so commonplace after winning the division six of the last seven years that it's come to be expected of them. It's just no big deal any longer, and they have bigger prizes on the horizon that they are aiming to get.
RRM: The Eagles had a lot of success running inside pass patterns all night long against the Patriots. Were you surprised the Patriots didn't make any kind of defensive adjustment to take that away, especially in the second half?
SG: I had the same question myself. It's so much harder to throw the ball to the sideline than it is the middle of the field, and when you have a backup quarterback like A.J. Feeley who is making his first start in a long time you would think you would want to make him throw the ball to the outside which is a much more difficult throw. I guess you would have to say the Patriots did not adjust well defensively to what the Eagles were doing, and consequently it kept them in the game the entire night. In order to stop that you have to drop your linebackers under those inside routes and for some reason they weren't able or willing to do that. You also have to have your corners play with a little more of an inside technique, but I think what the Patriots defense was trying to do was make sure that Brian Westbrook didn't beat them. He was their best offensive player and they were trying to keep everything inside and not let him break a big run outside on them. They stuck with that defensive strategy all game long and it almost cost them.
RRM: We've mentioned several times how the Patriots need to develop a consistent running attack. Instead Belichick dispensed with any pretense of trying to run the football and came out in a four-wide set and dared the Eagles to stop them from throwing the ball?
SG: It was a strange game plan to open with four wide receivers and throw the ball on every down but one in the first half. I'm not sure what they saw with the Eagles' defense, but their defensive coordinator Jimmy Johnson has a reputation for giving teams a hard time and he sure confused the Patriots quite a bit Sunday night. When a defense is coming at you that hard you need to run the ball at them occasionally, and for some reason the Patriots just weren't doing that. I don't know if it's because they still don't have one fully healthy running back, but it certainly appeared that they felt better with Kevin Faulk on the field in the passing formation as opposed to Laurence Maroney in the running formation. However, if you look at the final stats the Patriots ran it 15 times and the Eagles only ran it 19 times, so neither team really cared much about the running game.
RRM: I was surprised over how long the Eagles were able to hold the football on offense. The Patriots defense spent a lot of time on the field in that first half and it could have come back to cost them in the second half?
SG: Yes, it could have. The reason the Eagles had the ball so much was the Patriots couldn't get them off the field on third down. One of the things that surprised me the most in this game was the success the Eagles had on third down conversions. The Patriots defense has had pretty good success stopping teams on third down so far this season but they allowed the Eagle to convert eight of 13 third down chances. You don't like to see your defense giving up those kinds of numbers, especially this time of the year. The main problem was they failed to get any kind of consistent pressure on Feeley and they allowed him to get too comfortable back there. He looked like an All-Pro quarterback at times, and that is not a good thing to see in the 11th game of the season.
RRM: Tom Brady completed 34 of 54 for 380 yards and ONLY one touchdown but I thought this was one of his better performances against a relentless pass rush. What did you think of the game Brady turned in?
SG: Tom Brady had a very good game considering the amount of pressure he was under for most of the night. He took some good licks but he was able to shrug them off, although I'm sure he's sore today. I didn't think the Patriots offensive line played very well in this one. It was similar to the Colts game where they got a lot of pressure on Brady but in that game they finally made the adjustment to give the offensive line some help. They never gave the Patriots tackles any help against the Eagles. Matt Light and Nick Kazur's men were just running by them, and when you have a property as valuable as Tom Brady back there that's not a good thing.
RRM: A lot of members of both the print and electronic media are spouting off that the Eagles have now provided the blueprint for beating the Patriots. Do you agree with that assessment?
SG: I think as good as the Patriots are they will figure out what the Eagles did and make the necessary adjustments. Is this the blueprint for how to beat the Patriots? Everyone can say this is the way you go about beating the Patriots, but if you don't have the pass rushers to put some pressure on Tom Brady or the cornerbacks to stay with Randy Moss you aren't going to be able to do that.
RRM: Do you think this game will at least serve as an example to the Patriots remaining opponents that they can be beaten?
SG: I've heard that said but you know what, this game can also serve as a wake up call to the Patriots that they just can't waltz into a game and show up and expect to win by 40 points. They'd better get some intensity back or this will be the type of game they will be involved in for the rest of the season.
RRM: They asked Bill Belichick about the two interceptions by Asante Samuel and all he said was that they probably don't win the game if Samuel doesn't make those two pics. He obviously knows how valuable Samuel is to the success of the team, but does that translate into a new contract for the Patriots top cover corner?
SG: Samuel is making the statement that he deserves the contract he was looking for, and he certainly made two big plays. I really thought when he made that first interception that would really set the Eagles back on their heels and get them to quit early, but to their credit they kept playing. The second interception came as the result of what I thought was a really stupid call by the Eagles. They were moving the ball well and their quarterback had a good rhythm going and suddenly you decide you're going to break it open with an out and up in the red zone? Even if you complete it for the score you've left too much time on the scoreboard for Tom Brady to come back downfield. It just didn't make any sense.
RRM: Did it seem like there were more dropped balls than usual from the Patriots receivers in this game?
SG: There were some drops in the first half and that was uncharacteristic for the Patriots wide receivers. I did notice when the Patriots receivers were catching the ball in traffic the Philadelphia defensive backs were just hammering anybody that touched the ball, particularly Wes Welker who took some huge hits. He took a couple that I didn't think he'd be able to get up from! If he hadn't been there I think they would have been in big trouble because nobody else could seem to get open. The Eagles defense played at a really high level, and that's what kept them in the game.
RRM: I was shocked that there wasn't a challenge on Jabbar Gaffney's touchdown in the back of the end zone. Did you think it was good catch?
SG: It looked good to me on the replay but I'm sure the Eagles would have thrown the red flag had the play not happened right at the end of the half. In the last two minutes of a half they can't throw the flag, it has to come from the booth. I thought it was really strange that they didn't review it.
RRM: You have to wonder about the future of Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia. Last year he gets hurt and Jeff Garcia leads them to the playoffs. Now he gets hurt again and A.J. Feeley starts playing out of his mind. Is McNabb the right quarterback for the Eagles?
SG: Right now it doesn't look like it. Sometimes you just need a change of scenery, and I'm not saying that A.J. Feeley is the guy to take over but McNabb hasn't had a lot of success recently. He's been hurt constantly and it might be best for him if he gets a fresh start.
RRM: The Patriots are going to have to make a decision very shortly on whether to activate Troy Brown or cut him. As much as we'd all like to see Troy back I can't envision Bill Belichick making a decision based solely on emotion, can you?
SG: Belichick can surprise you sometimes but I don't see it happening, especially not this late in the season. You'd hate to see Troy Brown's career end that way but at the same time if they can release him and give him a position in the organization and have him around in case something happens that would be the best case scenario. More than likely he's not going to be picked up by another team if they do waive him, so if they keep him around and Welker or one of the other receivers gets hurt they could suit him up and get him back out there. Unfortunately right at this particular time there just doesn't seem to be any room for him on the roster.
RRM: Thursday night is the battle for NFC supremacy between Dallas and Green Bay. Should they just cancel the vote and name Brett Favre the comeback player of the year right now?
SG: Favre is having fun again and they have some good, young receivers in Green Bay playing with him. When a player with that kind of talent gets rejuvenated he's going to win some games. It's still amazing at his age he can still get out there and run around the way he does, but they are definitely a force right now in the NFC. Unfortunately half the country won't be able to see the Green Bay-Dallas game because it is on the NFL Network. I feel badly for all the real football fans that won't get to see it because of the big dispute going on between the NFL and the cable companies. Hopefully something like this will lead to some changes because every fan should be able to watch this game.
RRM: Next Monday night the Patriots will meet the Baltimore Ravens who are in the midst of a team record five-game losing streak after being pummeled by the Chargers on Sunday. A few weeks back this looked to be the toughest of the games remaining on the Patriots schedule, but after this game against the Eagles I guess you have to say there are no gimmes in the NFL?
SG: I would expect on a Monday night that Ray Lewis will have all his defensive cohorts breathing fire, and I really expect this to be a tough ball game for the Patriots. Hopefully their head coach Brian Billick will do something stupid on offense to allow the Patriots to win the game [laughs]!
RRM: The Ravens offense has struggled mightily and Bellick has benched starting quarterback Steve McNair in favor of Kyle Boller. One thing I know for sure is that Kyle Boller is no A.J. Feeney [that's my snide remark for the week!]?
SG: No, but they can turn him into one if they play like they did against the Eagles. We all think the Patriots are a better football team than the Ravens and they are, but Monday night against a good defensive team on the road you'd better be ready to come and play football or you are going to have another game like you did on Sunday night.
RRM: This will be the Patriots third consecutive appearance under the lights. Does that take something out of you as a player?
SG: It can take a bit of a toll. It can throw your whole schedule out of whack. They have to travel next week down to Baltimore and not that it's a huge trip but you'd always prefer to play on Sunday afternoon whether it's at 1 PM or 4:15 PM. The night games can wear on you after awhile, so I'm sure the Patriots will be glad to get this one over with and play in the afternoon for the rest of the regular season.
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the 31-28 squeaker over a tough Eagles team?
SG: Offensively the Patriots moved the ball consistently and piled up a lot of yards and enough points to blow the Eagles out, but the defense didn't play very well and they showed some holes that need to be addressed. They also didn't play with the same intensity and that troubles me, but it's hard to come up with a reason as to why that happens sometimes. They never got any pressure on Feeley to speak of, and it just didn't seem like it was important to them last night. Rodney Harrison was around the ball quite a bit but you have to give Junior Seau a mention. He did a good job shadowing Westbrook coming out of the backfield, and it is amazing for a guy his age to still run like that and keep up with a young running back. The special teams were very inconsistent. They allowed a successful onsides kickoff, Stephen Gostkowski missed a short field goal, and Chris Hanson had a poor punt in the second half. It definitely wasn't their best effort, but when you don't play your best game and still win it says a lot about the talent on your club. You have to hope they don't start to make a habit of it, but with Belichick riding them in practice this week I would guess against it. We'll find out next Monday night in Baltimore.
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