September 14, 2011
Grogan's Grade: Week 1 - New England at Miami
BY: Steve Grogan
Patsfans.com is proud to welcome former New England Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan back for another season. Grogan played in 149 games with the Patriots from 1975-1990, and was named to the Patriots Hall of Fame in 1995. Steve will join us each week to provide his insights on the progress of the Patriots during the 2011 football season.
R.R. Marshall: Steve, after years of watching Patriots' teams wilt in the heat and humidity of Miami it was poetic justice to see the Dolphins gasping for breath under Tom Brady's relentless air assault on Monday night. Were your surprised to see the Patriots go no huddle for as long as they did in Miami?
Steve Grogan: Yes, it was shocking to me that the Patriots were in such better physical condition than the Dolphins. I don't know if that had to do with what either of the teams did in training camp, but usually when a New England team goes down to Miami after practicing in 60-70 degree weather and you go play in 80 degree Florida weather it usually kicks you pretty hard. In this game it looked like it kicked the Dolphins instead of the Patriots.
The shortened summer camps might have been a factor. The Patriots players were having offseason workouts together and I don't know if the Dolphins were doing that or not. But at least to me it didn't look like the Miami players weren't in nearly as good a physical condition as the Patriots.
RRM: Brady had a field day, er night, attacking the middle of the field with his two big tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Why do you think Miami didn't adjust to that? SG: I'm not sure there was anything that anybody could have done. If you take the two tight ends away then you have single coverage on Wes Welker and Deion Branch. The Patriots have so many places to go with the football that if you take away one guy somebody else is gong to be open. Brady seemed really comfortable with his two tight ends. Last year they were a big part of the offense and it looks like they will be again this season, perhaps even more so.
RRM: Wes Welker's record-setting 99-yard touchdown put the game away early in the fourth quarter, but didn't it make you nervous seeing the Patriots line up in the empty backfield formation virtually on their own goal line?
SG: No, not really. Tom Brady was playing so well and they have so much confidence in him for knowing what to do and not taking the sack, and combined with the fact that they don't really have a big back that you would give the ball to to get a couple of yards to give you a little cushion down there I can see their viewpoint. That's just their offense and I think that's what we are going to see all year long; spread people out and go quick on them and let the defense make adjustments.
I lost track of how many times the Dolphins got caught with too many people on the field because they were trying to run in substitutions and the Patriots offense was going so fast that they couldn't get their subs in. Wes Welker gave a great stiff arm on that play. For a little guy that's running that fast you would think his arms would be shorter than those of that defensive back, but somehow he got a stiff arm on that kid and then blew away from him. It was a heck of a play on his part.
RRM: How much will the loss of starting center Dan Koppen to a broken left ankle mean to this team, and to Tom Brady in particular?
SG: I think it will hurt some, but since they don't really go much from under center I'm not sure it will make a big difference to the quarterback who is snapping the ball if you're standing in the shotgun. It doesn't matter if the tackle is snapping the ball to you as long as they are all pass protecting, and that's going to be the key. Can Koppen's replacement at center Dan Connolly step in and make the calls and pass protect like Koppen could? I have a feeling that he will because they have smart people on that offensive line and a great offensive line coach in Dante Scarnecchia. It's a slight drop off because Koppen has had a great career, but I think they'll be all right.
RRM: Everyone was anxious to see the revamped Patriots defense in action but I guess you can say at best the results were mixed?
SG: Actually I would say a little bit disappointing. To give up 400+ passing yards to a quarterback like Chad Henne who only has one good receiver in Brandon Marshall has to be a disappointment to the Patriots. They did sack Henne four times which is a good sign that they can pressure the quarterback, but they gave up close to a 100 yards rushing and 400 yards passing and that's not going to translate into victories against a good offensive football team.
RRM: The big weaknesses on defense last year was the lack of a consistent pass rush and their smallish cornerbacks who gave up too many big plays. Did you see improvement in either of those two areas?
SG: Maybe some. I think they are still in that "bend but don't break" mode of a Belichick signature defense. They don't mind you catching the ball underneath as long as you don't give up the big play. Henne was actually the leading rusher for the Dolphins in this game, and if the Patriots had done a better job of keeping him in the pocket they might have had a couple more sacks.
I think the Patriots have improved their defensive front, the linebackers are going to be pretty solid, but I think the secondary is going to be a question mark week to week. But if you look around the league a lot of teams had trouble on defense in their first game, so for many it will be a work in progress as the season goes along.
RRM: I was going to ask you what you thought about all the controversy over the new kickoff rule, but it didn't seem to deter kick returners in this game?
SG: The new rule was supposed to radically cut down on the number of kickoff returns but that wasn't the case on Monday night. I was surprised there were so many kickoff returns in the game. All summer we were hearing about the new kickoff rule and how it would result in all these touchbacks. I don't know if it was the humid air in Miami but it seemed all of the kickoffs were being run back.
RRM: It seems rather strange to start a new NFL season without Peyton Manning. For those of us old enough to remember you playing with the rollbar neck brace at the end of your career can you tell us what neck surgery will mean for Peyton's future?
SG: Without knowing the exact nature of Manning's injury it's hard for me to comment on that. This is his third surgery in 19 months, and if it heals up and they tell him it's safe to go back out onto the field I know he's such a competitor he'll want to continue to play but he's going to need several opinions before he does come back. I'm sure he's getting a lot of advice from medical people, and there have been other players at other positions that have had neck fusions and disk problems and had them corrected and gone back out and played, and they got hit harder than quarterbacks did so it can be done.
This is strictly a guess but I think they were trying to do the least amount of work surgically that was necessary to get him corrected the first two times instead of just removing the disk that was causing the problem. It sounds like they were just chipping away at the problem instead of fusing the disk and letting him heal up and come back. There's always the chance that we've seen the last of Peyton Manning. If it's a neck problem that after three surgeries doesn't get fixed correctly and could be a problem for him down the road, then I would say it's time for him to walk away from the game.
RRM: The San Diego Chargers should provide a much more formidable opponent for the Patriots' home opener this Sunday. Will this be another game that keeps the scoreboard operator busy?
SG: You would think so. Philip Rivers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league and the Chargers put the ball in the air a lot. They have a pretty good defense and year in and year out they are a playoff caliber team, so I'm expecting a highly competitive game. I think the ball is going to go up and down the field a lot, and in games like that the team that makes the fewest mistakes usually winds up on top. This should be a good game, and we'll find out a lot more about this Patriots defense and secondary. If a quarterback like Henne can throw for 400 yards against them you have to figure Philip Rivers is going to be a big challenge for the Patriots defense.
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the record-setting season opener against the Dolphins in Week #1?
SG: After a record-setting performance by Tom Brady and the Patriots offense the offense has a to get an A. The defense as I said was disappointing and gets only a C-, and that averages out to a B+ overall. I thought Patrick Chung played a pretty good game at safety and deserves a mention, as does Rob Ninkovich.
I thought the two new guys on the right side of the offensive line did a really good job. The new right guard Brian Waters had been there for eight days and it looked like he had been there for eight years! The rookie Nate Solder put on a clinic at right tackle, and once they get Sebastian Vollmer back that will allow them to rotate some people and give them a little rest, so they should be pretty solid up front. All in all it was a good win to start the season, now things get a little tougher this week so we'll see if they are up to the challenge.
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