November 29, 2011
Grogan's Grade: Week 11 - New England at Philadelphia
BY: Steve Grogan
R.R. Marshall: Steve, the game against the Eagles figured to be a tough one for the Patriots but instead they won going away 38-20 in a game that wasn't close after the first quarter. What was your take on the game?
Steve Grogan: I thought you really had to give the Patriots a lot of credit for the game they turned in. This was an Eagles' team that had just beaten the Giants (a team that had beaten the Patriots in Foxboro) that was loaded with game-breakers like DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy, and despite giving up 400 yards passing to Vince Young they kept the Eagles in check for most of the game. On offense Tom Brady picked the Philadelphia defense apart after they had established a running game in that first quarter. I thought the touchdown drive they put together at the start of the second half took all the fight out of the Eagles, and that's when the fans started to turn on their team which they do in Philadelphia. But I'm sure that was music to all the Patriots' fans watching the game on TV.
RRM: Either Bill Belichick or Tom Brady must be reading this column because your concerns about the over reliance of the tight ends was addressed this week, as both Patriots wide receivers racked up over 100 yards against the Eagles. It's been awhile since that happened?
SG: It was nice to see both receivers be so highly productive, especially Deion Branch who has been so quiet of late. You knew Wes Welker wasn't going to be held down too long and I thought his long touchdown in the second quarter really took a lot of the fight out of the Eagles. The Patriots just can't rely on those two young tight ends every week, and I thought they did a really nice job in getting the ball outside to the wide guys.
RRM: Brady pointed downfield to Deion Branch on their 63-yard, 2nd quarter hook up and the broadcasters thought it showed their great communication skills. I remember a former mediocre Eagles quarterback a few decades back that used to do the same thing and the defense always thought they were doing them a favor. Which is it?
SG: Even though the defense may know where you are going to throw it a lot of times they aren't in the position to get there, and in this particular instance the Eagles weren't. That play showed two guys who have worked a long time together which is what Branch and Brady have done. They are both on the same page and as a quarterback you like to have someone out there you can rely on in that fashion.
RRM: All week long the talk has been about Tom Brady's "tennis elbow", but with Brady eviscerating the Eagles for 361 yards and three touchdowns apparently his elbow is no longer an issue?
SG: If Tom Brady would stop wearing that pack on his elbow while he's on the sidelines that would put a stop to all of that talk. When you look at his numbers in this game I can assure you that a quarterback putting up those kinds of numbers is not having a major arm problem.
RRM: There had to be some concerns about the Patriots offensive line going into this game seeing that they were down to their third-string center in Ryan Wendell. Those concerns became justified when Tom Brady was being belted around in the first quarter, but then everything seemed to settle down up front for the Patriots?
SG: Dante Scarnecchia has a knack for taking whoever he has and inserting him into the line up and they are able to do the job no matter what position it may be along the line of scrimmage. It does take awhile for offensive linemen to get used to each other but it didn't take quite as long in this game, and once they got their blocking assignments ironed out Brady was able to sit back in the pocket and just carve the Eagles' defense apart. The Eagles have a pretty good front four but I thought the Patriots' revamped offensive line handled them pretty well.
RRM: With all the media attention focused on the quarterback and receiving positions do you think the New England offensive line has gone unappreciated around here?
SG: Maybe a little bit. There have been several instances this year where Brady has gotten banged around that were directly attributable to Dan Koppen being out, Stephen O'Neal being gone due to retirement, and trying to transition a former All-Pro left guard in Brian Waters to right guard. That is extremely difficult to do, and when you take into consideration all those things you're probably right, they haven't gotten all the recognition they deserve. They've run the ball well and protected Brady for the most part, and I think with what they have they've done okay to this point.
RRM: Is this the type of injury that will flare up from time to time?
SG: If it is a tendonitis type of injury then it depends on where it is. I went through one whole season where I had torn the tendon off of my right elbow and had to have it surgically reattached after the season. I wore a brace to kind of stabilize everything but it does affect your accuracy to some extent when your elbow is bothering you so yes, it can become a lingering problem.
RRM: Last week we joked about how Julian Edelman was doing his best Troy Brown impersonation as a three-way player, but I don't ever recall Bill Belichick sending Troy on a blitz?
SG: No, I can't ever recall Troy blitzing but maybe he did, but I couldn't imagine he would have been in a hurry to get there [laughs]! Edleman is still young enough in his career that he's got his ears pinned back and he'll do whatever it takes to get the job done, and he really planted Vince Young on one of those blitzes. He's not afraid to hit people at his age because he knows he'll heal up. Troy was near the end of his career when he was playing in the defensive backfield so he wasn't too anxious to get in people's way. Edelman is a different breed of player. You have to love watching guys who enjoy playing football and can do a lot of different things, and he's one of those type of players.
RRM: Perhaps the biggest surprise of the game was seeing back up quarterback Brian Hoyer in the game with over six minutes left to play. Is Bill Belichick changing his policy and becoming a little more conservative regarding Brady's health with the playoffs on the horizon?
SG: I'm sure that's possible, and if Brady does have an elbow problem then maybe they just wanted to get him out of there for that reason. Brady is getting up there in age and the fewer hits he takes the better off the team will be when they reach the postseason. I was actually surprised to see Brady take off and run the ball as many times as he did in this game, he actually wound up being the second leading rusher for the Patriots. You just don't see that happen very often.
RRM: The Pats return home this Sunday to host the Peyton Manning-less Indianapolis Colts. Even without the future Hall of Famer did you ever imagine this team would be 0-11 this season?
SG: Never. They have some pretty good players on defense including two good pass rushers at the defensive end positions. They also have some weapons on offense which should have helped them to win some games by now. For them to be winless at this point of the season is something I don't think anybody could have predicted.
RRM: This Colts' team is only two years removed from being a Super Bowl finalist. How could things fall apart to this degree so quickly with or without Manning?
SG: I remember in 1981 when we went from 10-6 the previous season to 2-14. We came close to winning every week but couldn't quite get over the hump. I can't explain why we didn't win but I see a lot of similarities between that team and the Colts. As you mentioned in two years time you go from being a Super Bowl team to the worst team in the NFL because of one guy, that just doesn't make sense. I believe that at least on paper this is a much better team than their record would indicate, but it's just one of those unexplainable years for them like we suffered in 1981.
RRM: The Colts used to upset your Patriots' clubs when you were overwhelming favorites against them. There isn't any chance that could happen this Sunday, or is there?
SG: I would almost bet my house that there is no way that could happen. The Patriots know what they have to get done and they have the talent to do it, and right now the Colts have pretty much packed their bags and have their cars running in the parking lot waiting for this season to be over. They know they are after the #1 pick in the NFL draft and it's not that they aren't going to play hard, but if things start going badly early for them you might as well change the channel because they aren't going to come back.
RRM: I was going to wait until next week to ask you about the great Tim Tebow debate and his winning 5 of his 6 games since he was inserted as the starter in Denver. Not bad for a quarterback that has trouble throwing the football?
SG: I got to see a good deal of Denver's overtime win over San Diego on Sunday and I believe that Tebow is just a talented athlete who makes some really poor throw at times but also makes some really good throws at other times, particularly down the field. The way he can run the ball and put pressure on defenses makes him hard to defend against. I really get the sense that he has got his team believing not only in him but themselves right now, and that they have the chance to beat anybody on any given Sunday. They didn't have that with Kyle Orton at quarterback, but Tim Tebow is a winner and he knows how to get it done.
RRM: It sounds like I can count you among the members of the Tim Tebow believer's club?
SG: I guess so. He has a lot of work to do in the passing game but he's still a young quarterback and he's got a lot of time to develop that aspect of his game. Hopefully his ability to run the football will give him that time to learn to throw the football. I'm certainly not one of his many detractors that want to kick him out of the league yet, that's for sure. I think all these people in the media that are saying he'll never become an accurate passer from the pocket are really jumping the gun.
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the 38-20 win over the Eagles in the City of Brotherly Love?
SG: I really thought the entire team deserved an A for this game. The defense gave up 400 yards passing to Vince Young but they accomplished their goal of keeping him in the pocket and forcing him to beat you by throwing the football. They also shut down the Eagles' dangerous running back and the special teams didn't allow any long returns. Once again this defense yielded a lot of yards but they didn't give up a lot of points which is the bend-but-don't-break type of defense Bill Belichick likes to play, and they are really playing it to perfection right now. This looked to be the toughest opponent remaining on the Patriots' schedule and they handled them with ease. I don't think you could ask much more than that.
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