October 18, 2011
Grogan's Grade: Week 6 - New England vs Dallas
BY: Steve Grogan
R.R. Marshall: Steve, everyone was expecting an offensive explosion between the Cowboys and Patriots on Sunday but instead touchdowns were scarce and the game was decided on big plays made in the clutch. In those situations who wouldn't you want on your side but Mr. Comeback, Tom Brady?
Steve Grogan: Tom Brady just continues to amaze with the way he can pull games out of the fire at the end of games. Believe me it's not supposed to happen that easily. I did think Dallas was guilty of playing what used to be called the prevent defense, which prevents you from winning [laughs]. The Cowboys had been bringing a lot of pressure and giving Brady a lot of trouble and suddenly they backed off on that last drive and he was able to sit back there and pick them apart.
It wasn't a really well-played game but it was a game where both teams matched up pretty well. On that final drive Matt Light did something to his leg and he was on the ground for quite a while and it just about got to the point where they were going to have to take a timeout. Somehow he got himself up and all I could think of was how he was going to be able to block Demarcus Ware on the next play and keep him off Brady because he could hardly walk. But he hung in there and finished the game and Ware never did get close to Brady, so I thought that was a great example of a player putting the pain into the back of his mind and getting his job done.
RRM: Aaron Hernandez looked to be the goat after coughing up the Patriots' first lost fumble of the year but he got the chance to redeem himself by grabbing the game-winning score. How often does that Hollywood ending happen in the NFL?
SG: Not often, but those two young tight ends have been a tremendous find for this Patriots' offense. Wes Welker has been the main guy here for so long and Dallas did a nice job taking him away. Deion Branch had one big catch but the two tight ends were the big key in this one. They caught 15 balls between them and they seemed to be open all afternoon long, and when you're under pressure as a quarterback there is a no more welcome sight than a big target open downfield!
RRM: For the second straight year a Rob Ryan coached defense put the clamps on the Patriots' prolific scoring offense by hitting Brady hard and often while (as you mentioned) containing Wes Welker. Has he designed the blueprint that other clubs will use against this Patriots' offense going forward?
SG: I think if you have the right kind of players you can play that kind of defense, and Rob Ryan has some good players on his defense. They matched up really well against the Patriots and they have a good pass rush with Demarcus Ware especially. Brady had a lot of people in his face all day which forced him into making some mistakes that he normally doesn't make. He threw a pick while he was running out of the pocket to the left, and he's not a quarterback that can throw on the run and it cost him one in this game. They took away Welker, they shut down the running game, and they decided they were going to let somebody else beat them and in this case the two tight ends were enough to tip the balance in favor of the Patriots.
RRM: The Patriots' defense came up with what you would have to consider their best game of the year with some good redzone defense and some contributions from players we hadn't heard much from like Andre Carter and Brandon Spikes. How did you rate their effort?
SG: You're right, guys you don't really hear much about made their presence felt in this one. It was almost like who is this guy and when did he get here [laughs]? They gave up a lot of yards passing (300) and they had to overcome four offensive turnovers but I thought they held their ground pretty well. They didn't allow Dallas into the endzone except for one time and they had some players banged up during the game but their replacements played well. It was encouraging to see them get some pressure on Tony Romo, not a lot but some so that was a good sign.
RRM: Bill Belichick once again opted to make covering a dangerous threat at tight end his top priority on defense. Just like he did with San Diego's Antonio Gates a few weeks back he chose to take out Dallas tight end Jason Witten. Has the modern NFL evolved to the point where covering the tight end is more important than defending against the top wide receivers?
SG: It is an interesting trend, but it's been that way in Indianapolis and Dallas for a couple of years and you're seeing more and more teams are starting to get to the point where they understand that a good tight end can cause NFL defenses a lot of problems. This Dez Bryant kid is a tremendous athlete and he had some big plays early in the game for the Cowboys but they didn't seem to be looking for him enough in my opinion. He really could have given that Patriots secondary some major problems and I thought the Patriots caught a break when they stopped trying to get him the ball.
RRM: The trading deadline is here so the question is do the Patriots rid themselves of the unproductive Chad Ochocinco (who was on the field for all of seven plays on Sunday) and bring in a veteran wide receiver who can help them?
SG: I think if there's somebody better out there right now then they should be looking at that. I've heard the Denver wide receiver Brandon Lloyd is available and since he played in Josh McDaniel's offense he would have an easier time picking up the Patriots' offense. If they could pick up someone with his kind of ability in a trade for a fourth or fifth round draft pick I could easily Ochocinco walking out the door because he's just not contributing.
RRM: I understand with Julian Edelman out the Patriots need a sure-handed player to return punts, but don't you feel a little uneasy having Wes Welker as your punt returner?
SG: It is a scary thing to have him back there. I'm not sure why Belichick feels he's the only one that can do it, but it is a risky thing to do. If he was just back there to fair catch it and judge whether the ball won't go in the endzone that's fine, but when he takes off running with the ball you hold your breath because if they lose him then offensively they have some major problems.
RRM: Despite the lack of a consistent offense in this game it appeared the usually subdued crowd at Gillette Stadium was loud and into the game the entire way. Did you get that same impression?
SG: I was actually at the stadium for the first time in a while and I think the crowd kept waiting for the Patriots to open things up so they could get excited, but it just wasn't happening. I think the people there thought if they made a lot of noise they could cause some problems for the Dallas offense.
I also noticed that Brady had a wrap on his right elbow when he was on the sidelines. I'm not sure what that was all about, whether he was having some elbow problems or not but we'll never know because Bill Belichick will certainly never tell us! That was the first time I've seen that on his throwing arm ever, so that has to be something going on there that bears watching.
RRM: The favorite week of any NFL player has arrived, the bye week. While it is a much welcomed week for the purpose of getting your injured players healed and rested, do you think it came a little too early for the Patriots this year?
SG: I think you would always want to have the bye at midseason or after just because you're a little more banged up then and it gives you some time to heal up, but as Bill Belichick says it is what it is and you take it when you get it. I think I heard with the new collective bargaining agreement they have to get a mandatory five days off, so they'll get away from the game and if they come back without the kind of focus they need they'll have more games in the season to get refocused than if they bye week had come later, so maybe that's a good thing.
RRM: Five straight days with the wife and kids? Maybe the NFL Players Association will want to rethink this?
SG: No comment! Some of them won't know what to do with their time, that's for sure.
RRM: Kevin Faulk is due to come off the PUP list over the bye week. Do you think he'll get activated?
SG: It sure will be an interesting decision by the coaching staff, won't it? Do you keep him inactive and put him on the sidelines as a coach for these young running backs or do you cut someone to make room for him on the active roster? I'm glad I'm not making the decision.
RRM: In two weeks the Patriots will resume the season with an all-expense paid trip to beautiful downtown Pittsburgh to face Big Ben Roethlisberger and his Steelers. The Pats have had good success against the Steelers in recent years, do you expect that trend to hold when the schedule resumes?
SG: I would think the Patriots would feel pretty confident going in there. They always play well against Pittsburgh and they've never been intimidated by the Pittsburgh crowd. But it will still be a battle and it never gets easier from week to week because every team has good players. It should be a very competitive game.
RRM: The Steelers are a physical team that like to pound the ball on the ground with Rashard Mendenhall. Does the fact that the Patriots fared well against the Cowboys in a rather physical contest this week help them in this game?
SG: The Patriots have been a fairly good run stopping team although they had trouble tackling some of those Dallas runners. The first hit wasn't bringing them down so I think they really need to focus on that. I know poor tackling is something that really bothers Belichick and you can be sure that will be addressed over the bye week.
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the 20-16 last-second win over America's Team?
SG: I gave them a B. It was close to a C but I thought that last drive brought it back up to a B. The offense, defense, and special teams were all above average but not that far about average to deserve an A. It wasn't one of their best efforts but on this particular Sunday it was good enough to get the job done. The Patriots ran the hurry up offense and they caught Dallas with too many men on field a couple of times, but I thought overall they hurt themselves by trying to rush things a little too much. The no huddle offense is good for Tom Brady because it keeps the flow going but he doesn't usually rush things, he just looks over the defense and makes the call. In this game I thought they were in too big a hurry and it cost them at times. They were so concerned about getting the ball snapped before a player got off the field that they either didn't get the right play called or didn't execute it properly.
It's good to see the defense show some improvement, especially the front seven, but I'm still concerned about the secondary including Devon McCourty, who continues to struggle. He whiffed on a receiver in the open field and committed a bad pass interference penalty in the endzone but got bailed out by holding penalty on the Cowboys. I really don't know what's happening with him, it must be the sophomore jinx or something. Hopefully they can get him out of his slump over the bye week and keep their overall momentum going when they get back to playing football in two weeks.
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