September 27, 2011
Grogan's Grade Week 3: New England at Buffalo
BY: Steve Grogan
R.R. Marshall: Steve, in a wildly bizarre game the Buffalo Bills rallied from a 21-0 deficit and snapped their 15-game losing streak to the Patriots. How can you score 31 points and come away with a loss?
Steve Grogan: It's not easy. That was a very disappointing loss. The Patriots had the game under control for the first quarter thru the midway point of the second quarter and it looked like it was gong to be a cakewalk, and then the big question mark that has been the Patriots' defense came into play again. They didn't get any pressure on Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and he lit them up. Right now that secondary is just not good enough to cover, and their front seven which is supposed to be improved didn't generate any pass rush and Fitzpatrick was completing passes at will. It was just terribly disappointing.
RRM: Revamping the Patriots' defense was the priority for Bill Belichick over the off season but despite a host of new players and a new defensive scheme they continue to yield big plays and commit costly penalties. Is this a coaching or personnel problem, or maybe both?
SG: I think right now it's personnel. They have some guys playing back there that are struggling, and I know Bill Belichick's defenses are a little more complex than some of those guys are used to playing so they're not sure where they're supposed to be and when they're supposed to be there. Devin McCourty has been a disappointment coming off of his rookie year when he went to the Pro Bowl. He just doesn't seem to be the same player right now that he was last year, and I don't know if it's the sophomore jinx or whether he's banged up or has let his success go to his head, but he is just not making the plays he was making last year.
RRM: Tom Brady threw only four interceptions last season and incredibly he equaled that in this game alone. Tom Terrific did throw for 387 yards so you can't write it off as just a bad game, but did he force the ball at some inopportune moments?
SG: At least one of those interceptions, the throw to Rob Gronkowski, was a force. Another one looked like he wasn't on the same page as the receiver (Chad Ochocinco), and on the other one where he hit the guy on the head you can't fault him for that. It happens some times when you get a ricochet and someone happens to be standing there and the ball gets picked off. You don't see Tom Brady throwing four interceptions which leads me to believe there's still a little confusion going on with a couple of those players on offense.
Deion Branch was a nonfactor in the game as he didn't catch a single pass, and if it hadn't have been for Wes Welker it would have been a blowout win for Buffalo. I'm not really sure where they need to go or how they get there but they had it under control for most of the first half and put up a lot of yards, but it looks like they are going to have to continue to outscore people.
RRM: I have to ask, did you ever throw an interception that was a deflection off of a defensive linemen's helmet?
SG: I'm sure I did, and probably more than once though I can't recall any specifically. They're playing defenses differently now. Back in my day they weren't doing this kind of thing but now the ball is in the air so much that linemen are taught once they can't get any farther just to jump up and get your hands up, so it happens a lot more now than it did in the past. Tom's been pretty good at avoiding that kind of thing up until yesterday, and it's just one of those freak things that happens in a game.
RRM: Wes Welker had a career day with 16 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns. Is he as good a wide receiver as you've seen for the Patriots?
SG: I would say he's getting there. He's a gamer, no doubt about it. He catches everything that's thrown in his direction and he runs well with the ball after the catch. He catches them inside, outside, down the field; he's just a very talented guy.
RRM: I don't think the average fan appreciates that Welker is just not running a designed pass route but has to make reads and adjustments on each play while running at top speed and has only a few seconds to do it?
SG: What's really incredible is that he's able to decipher all that and at the same time Brady is able to do that as well. If Welker has that many options you would figure there would be some mix ups between them at times but it never seems to happen. It does happen with some of the other receivers but not with those two. As a quarterback you only have three seconds tops to get rid of the ball and they seem to have a mental connection that most quarterbacks and receivers don't have.
RRM: In contrast Chad Ochocinco came to the Patriots this season with much fanfare but again caught only one ball and dropped a sure touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Are we looking at the equivalent of a Carl Crawford in a Patriots uniform?
SG: Like is the case with Carl Crawford on the Red Sox you have a player in Ochocinco who's trying too hard. He's with a new team and he knows a lot is expected of him. He has the talent and the ability but he's just trying too hard, and when you try too hard you don't let your natural instincts take over and that can cause problems, and that's what it looks like to me right now.
RRM: So you don't think it's a case of the Patriots picking up a player who is past his prime?
SG: No, I don't think we should give up on him yet.
RRM: Next Sunday New England travels to what used to be your favorite place to visit on the road, scenic Oakland, California. I imagine this wouldn't be the first place the Patriots would want to play coming off a road loss?
SG: You suffer a tough loss like they did against the Bills on Sunday and then to have to get on a plane and fly clear across the country and play a team that's hot right now. It's just not a pleasant task. Raiders' fans are shall we say among the most intense fans you will ever encounter and they will be revved up for the Patriots, I'm sure.
RRM: Do you expect a less wide open type of a game against the Raiders?
SG: It really depends on the score. When the Patriots got up 21-0 on the Bills I thought they'd start pounding the ball on the ground but that doesn't seem to be the way they want to play offense. They want to keep throwing the ball all over the field no matter what the score is, and they found out that approach can get you in trouble sometimes. I was surprised the Patriots ran for 100 yards against the Bills because it didn't seem like that during the game. They've got that three-headed monster going with Danny Woodhead, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and the rookie Stevan Ridley. They are going to have to stop throwing the ball 40-50 times a game and start pounding people a little more, and this may be the week to do it.
The Raiders are a very physical football team and they beat up on the Jets pretty good last Sunday. That's not the kind of team you want to play coming off a tough road defeat. They certainly found a way to beat the Jets with Darren McFadden burning them for 179 yards on the ground. They have a lot of confidence right now and feel that they can play with anybody, and facing the Patriots is going to be a huge game for them. They're looking at all that success the Patriots have had and they are trying to build back the winning tradition they used to have in Oakland so I am anticipating quite a battle.
RRM: Do you think Belichick and Richard Seymour will say hello to each other before the game?
SG: [Laughs] Probably not. I don't think there's a whole lot of love lost between those two.
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the bewildering 34-31 upset by the Bills?
SG: I'm giving them a D+ only because I don't want to fail them so early in the season. The offense put up a lot of yards but made a lot of mistakes so they grade out at a C-. They did a few good things defensively but once again yielded too many big plays so they get no higher than a D.
There's still a lot to like about this team. They can still score points with the best of them, but it looks like the will have to score 40 instead of 30 to win unless the defense figures out a way to hold opponents to under 30 points. You saw the Patriots blitz a few times against the Bills and right now the secondary is not good enough to cover people in one-on-one coverage. That takes away your blitz packages which doesn't leave them much to work with, so they definitely have some work to do.
These next three games against Oakland, the Jets, and then the Cowboys are really going to be a test for this team. They are going to have to play really well in all three of those games because they come out and face the Steelers and the Giants after the bye week so things aren't going to get any easier, that's for sure.
Grogan's Grades for Game #3
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