December 14, 2011
Grogan's Grade: Week 13 - New England at Washington
BY: Steve Grogan
R.R. Marshall: Steve, were it not for some costly mistakes by former Patriots' nemesis Santana Moss in the final minute the Pats and Redskins might still be playing. Instead New England escaped with a 34-27 win over a team many figured they would handle easily, but I guess there are no easy games at this point in the season?
Steve Grogan: There should be easy games but right now the Patriots are making them a lot harder than they should be. It certainly looked like this game was headed for overtime but once again the defense that seems to bend and bend and break occasionally bent just enough and waited for Washington to make a mistake, and they did. Jerod Mayo showed some really good hands making that diving interception but to me on the replay it looked like the ball hit the ground, but I'm sure the Patriots aren't going to argue about it.
Once again the Patriots secondary was at a loss, giving up big plays to former Patriots like Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth seemingly at will. I heard of teams playing a soft zone before, but c'mon, can't someone make a key play back there once in awhile?
SG: Right now they have to play that soft zone because they have so many people banged up and they have wide receivers playing safety, so there are a lot of holes out there. Normally you would have the linebackers getting into those lanes but they have their hands full trying to stop the running game, so you have just a mess on defense for the Patriots right now. Until they get some people back and healthy I think it's going to continue to be a struggle for them.
Tom Brady put up some big numbers but his crucial end zone interception on the Patriots' final drive of the game could have proven disastrous to New England. What was he trying to do on that play?
SG: I'm not sure what exactly happened on that play. Brady had four or five throws that looked absolutely awful during the game. He either just missed receivers or wasn't on the same page with the routs they were running. On that particular play from his viewpoint in the pocket he felt like Tiquan Underwood was open but it certainly didn't appear that way from what I saw on TV. He made a really poor decision and you don't see Tom Brady do that very often.
Wasn't that heated argument between Brady and offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien out of place for this team in particular?
SG: I would have loved to have known what set that whole thing off. I know Tom was upset with himself and sometimes when you're mad at yourself you snap back at people, and he snapped at the coach and the coach got in his face. It's an emotional game and sometimes things like that happen.
Two or three minutes later they were talking about what they had to do to go forward so those kinds of things happen, but it is out of character for both of them, that's for sure.
I had a few shouting matches with coaches but it didn't happen very often. You come to realize you made a mistake that you shouldn't have made and when someone tries to tell you about it you don't want to hear it, so you snap back and before you know it you're yelling at each other. They'll get over it and move on, but at that point in the game all they needed to do was call a running play, get the ball in the middle of the field, and kick a field goal for a 10-point cushion. I'm not really sure why they called a pass play to begin with.
The ‘Skins had no answers for #87 who shattered the record for receiving touchdowns by a tight end in a single season and turned in what just might be the play of the year with his catch and run in the first quarter that was beyond belief. It seemed the only thing he did wrong all day was spiking the record-setting ball on his first touchdown and then scrambling around to get it back?
SG: That was one of the more impressive catch and runs that I've seen by a tight end or anyone else for that matter in a long time. He almost lost that ball in the stands because he spiked it so hard [laughs]! He's just a great talent and he's really come into his own this year. I've been asked if he reminds me of anybody and my answer is he catches the ball like my former teammate Russ Francis but he runs after the catch like the former Colts tight end John Mackey did. I remember watching him as a kid just running over and through people, just like Gronkowski is doing now. Right now you can't tackle him with just one guy; he's just too strong and too fast. If he can stay healthy he's going to have a heck of a career.
One of the things the Redskins' defense does do well is rush the passer and they did get to Brady at times. Were you surprised the Patriots didn't try and run the ball a little more often to slow down that pass rush?
SG: I was surprised they didn't run it as much as they did, but BenJarvus Green-Ellis wasn't in the game much after the first quarter so I'm thinking he might have been banged up. Danny Woodhead isn't the kind of guy you want to pound in there 20-25 times, so that might explain why they didn't run the ball more than they probably should have.
There was some criticism this week that the Patriots' no longer throw the ball to their running backs. But if they are utilizing the empty backfield formation as much as they are doesn't that really cut down on the opportunities to throw to your backs?
SG: It does, but they did have Kevin Faulk out there against Washington and got him a couple of throws but when your best players are your wide receivers and tight ends catching the ball you go to your best players. Right now I don't think they have a healthy Green-Ellis so they are going to get the ball to their receivers as much as they can, and you can't argue with their offensive production.
This was the first victory ever by a Patriots team in Washington, but this week they have to try and pull out a win in a locale that hasn't been too hospitable to them over the years. Just how tough is it to play in Denver?
SG: If they had trouble winning in Washington they are going to find out it's even harder to win in Denver. The altitude factor gets in your head a little bit and it can be an actual physical factor for the wide receivers and the guys that are running a lot. It's more of a mental thing for the bigger players. They hear all the stories of the lack of oxygen in the high altitude but the Patriots have enough guys on the defensive line that they can rotate in and out to keep people fresh. But it certainly is a hostile environment to play in. I haven't been to the new stadium in Denver but they tell me it's just as loud as the old one. It's a big home field advantage for the Broncos and they have been on a real roll the past two months so the Patriots will have a formidable challenge awaiting them in Denver.
Of course this week will all be about Tim Tebow mania. Given what Bill Belichick has to work with on defense how do the Patriots try and defend against this quarterback that is strong as an ox and runs like a deer?
SG: Right now Tim Tebow is on an incredible run. He's been really fun to watch and he has inspired that entire Denver football team. I watched their game on Sunday and for three quarters he stunk up the place but I've been telling people he's going to get better. But when the game has been on the line he has his teammates believing in him and he makes plays. He can play and he has all the tools. You would think Bill Belichick would be the kind of coach that could confuse him if he had a healthy secondary but without one it's going to be interesting to see how they will try to stop him. It's certainly not going to be easy.
Do you think having Rob Gronkowski mimic Tebow in practice this week would help the Patriots' defense prepare for what they are about to face?
SG: There you go! In all honesty I don't think you want to wear down your best tight end doing that all week long in practice, but they will find somebody to try and mimic him. Maybe they can use Vince Wilfork now that he has a touchdown to go along with his two interceptions this season!
The Tim Tebow phenomena would be a mere footnote if not for the strong play by the Denver defense since he took over at quarterback. Isn't this type of strong, physical defense the kind that gives Brady and the Patriots' offense the most trouble?
SG: Denver is playing really well defensively, there's no question about that. They are holding people down point-wise although to be fair like as was the case with Chicago on Sunday their opponents have not been among the best offensive teams in the league. Not to be overlooked is the fact that they are running the ball really well with Willis McGahee. He's having a great year and he can take the pressure off of Tebow if he gets going. As long as they stay close the Broncos feel like they have a chance to win.
The Denver defense can definitely give Brady and his offense trouble. When they are getting in his face and jamming his receivers at the line then there aren't a lot of openings for easy throws. Washington did that to him a few times, got him out of the pocket and made him try to throw on the run which is not his game. He needs pocket protection. He can move in the pocket but you don't want him to move very far, so Denver can cause some real problems for him. They can try and counter that by running the ball well, but that might be hard to do if Green-Ellis is still hurting.
What are Grogan's grades for 34-27 nail biter against the Redskins?
SG: I gave them a B-. It's so hard to grade this team because the offense is playing pretty darn well and I would give them an A. The defense is playing really below average and deserves no better than a C-, and with the special teams play thrown in that averages out to about a B-. If the Patriots manage to win their last three games that would give them a first round bye in the playoffs and give them an extra week for their injured players to heal up. But if they don't get that secondary shored up we all know it's not going to be a very long run in the playoffs.
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