September 10, 2013
Grogan's Grade: Week 1 - Patriots vs Bills
BY: Steve Grogan
PatsFans.com is proud to welcome former New England Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan back for the 13th straight 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 insight on the progress of the Patriots during the 2013 football season.
Ron Marshall: There are a lot of questions about this Patriots coming into this season and not many of them were answered in the season opening game at Buffalo. Should we come away happy over the fact they pulled out a 23-21 win on the road against a Divisional opponent? Or should we be concerned over all the egregious mistakes made by the Patrtios in this game?
Steve Grogan:I think you've got to be happ ythat they won the ball game because it certainly didn't look like they were going to for most of the second half. At the same time, I don't think it's time to jump ship and panic too much. There were things that happened Sunday that are unusual for a Bill Belichick coached team. Four turnovers by the offense, one resulting in a touchdown. That's not good, and Stevan Ridley found that out by standing on the sidelines for most of the game after the second fumble. I think the other thing we saw Sunday is that a lot of the pundits, including myself, watching the preseason thought that these young wide receivers and the young tight end [Zach] Sudfeld, had really connected with Tom Brady during the preseason. But after watching them Sunday it became obvious that the regular season is at a much different pace than a preseason game, or even training camp practices. They were having a hard time, and Brady knew that, and that's why three veteran guys were basically all he was looking to get the ball to all day.
RRM: It's funny because for the first 16 minutes or so, the Patriots seemed firmly in control of this game up 10-0 and it looked like they were on their way to another score. But when as you mentioned Ridley fumbled, and Da'Norris Searcy ran the ball back 74 yards for the touchdown, it was a 180-degree momentum shift after that.
SG:You give a team like Buffalo that's young and supposed to be not very good, you give them a big play like that in a game and it just boosts their confidence to where they think, 'Hey, we can play with these guys,' and that's what I thought I saw out of Buffalo Sunday. They got that return and it was all of a sudden, 'Hey, we're in this game and these guys aren't really all that much better than us," and they almost stole the thing.
RRM: Ridley's been plagued by fumble-itis in his brief time in New England, and that one had to be his worst ever, he wasn't even touched, he just fell on his own. But do you think Belichick was correct to put him on the bench for the rest of the game?
SG:That's the way Bill does things and fortunately Shane Vereen could come off the bench and give you just about what Ridley was giving you. Ridley had some nice runs before he got sent to the bench, but you just can't put the ball on the ground like that and he's got to stay more focused on hanging on to it. I thought Vereen came off the bench and we expected him to be a big part of the pass game, but he had some really nice runs too, I think he ran for over a hundred yards. So that shows you that the offensive line is doing a nice job and that Vereen can do both. He can't just catch the ball, he can run it too and Ridley's going to have to earn his job back, it looks like.
RRM: I don't know if you noticed or not but the way Ridley fell, I thought maybe he thought that he had hurt his knee and he was kind of like, in shock, and that's why he didn't go after the ball?
SG:That's possible, I didn't notice that. But I think he went down on his own accord and then just kind of left the ball laying on the ground, and you can't do that. That's a rookie mistake, not a guy that's been in the league for a several years.
RRM: You mentioned Vereen and you're right, he rushed for 101 yards on only 14 carries. Is it time to start thinking of him as a 'change-up' back and maybe get him into a starting role here?
SG:If you're not comfortable with Ridley I think it probably is. At the same time you don't want wear him out to the point where he can't be as effective as your guy out of the backfield catching the ball. I'd like to see the platoon thing continue to work, but if Ridley's going to put it on the ground, it may be time to let Vereen go the whole game and see what happens.
SG:I think he's already on his way to doing that. It's amazing how much those two guys look alike, the way they play the game, and they would have been in serious trouble if he hadn't come out in the second half after tweaking his groin. If he couldn't have played the second half, I don't think the outcome would have been the same and I'm not sure how he got it stretched out, or whether maybe they gave him a little shot of novacaine or something in there in the locker room at halftime but he was a major factor in the second half, and a major factor in them winning the game.
RRM: Well the early reviews on the rest of the Patriots receiving core were not good. Didn't you feel that they looked totally overmatched by the physical play of the Bills defensive backs?
SG:I don't know if they were overmatched as much as I don't think they were really sure what Brady wanted them to do. I noticed Thompkins, several times, the ball was thrown at him and it was put in a place that you could tell, Thompkins didn't expect it to be there. He got up and kind of put his hands out like, 'What am I supposed to do here?' I guess that will be part of the learning experience and they'll go look at the film and Brady will tell him what he should have done and hopefully he'll do it next time. But Sunday they certainly were overmatched and not a factor in the game. The tight end position was a non-factor whatsoever. I think they might have had one catch by a tight end, maybe two. But they've got to get those tight ends a little more involved. You can't rely on three players to make all your plays in a game.
RRM: You've had first hand experience of breaking in an entirely new wide receiver core. I believe there was one year where Harold Jackson retired and Russ Francis had moved on and Stanley Morgan was hurt, and you basically had to work with an entirely new cast of youngsters. How difficult was that for you, and exactly how does a quarterback go about doing something like that?
SG:Well it's somewhat difficult. Everybody runs a route differently and you have to kind of get used to what they're doing. Back when I was playing, you called a route and for the most part, that's what the receiver ran. I think in the Patriots offense now, the receivers, from what I've been told anyway, receivers have to see the coverage and they adjust their route. The may have an in route called, and if they see a coverage they might run a hook or if they're running a fade pattern down the sideline and the defensive back is out in front, they'll look for the back-shoulder throw. You just can't get on the same page with that until you've spent a lot of time together. The more games these young guys play, the better they'll get at it. But Sunday they weren't on the same page, that's for sure.
RRM: It's just seems ironic that everybody's looking to Brady for leadership but it must be tough to do so when you fumble near the goal line to blow a scoring opportunity and at that time it looked like that gaffe might cost them the game.
SG:Yeah, it looked like Tom was trying to go on a quick count, and he was a little quicker than the center. I don't think that the snap was bad, I think he was kind of leaning back trying to get the play off in a hurry and surprise the defense and sometimes when things aren't always going your way you do crazy things that you know you shouldn't, and that was one of them that he did. He needed to stay under the center and get that snap and then see what happens.
RRM: Unlike past years where we kind of had to have the offense kind of make up for the deficiencies in the defense, conventional logic is the Patriots defense will have to kind of pick up the slack as the offense gets up to gear this season. On Sunday the Patriots defense gave up a couple of scores with blown coverages to the rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, but overall came up with stops when they needed them. How did you think they performed in the season opener?
SG:I thought the defense played pretty well. They gave two touchdowns, one major one on a blown coverage there on Aqib Talib...not sure what he was doing there, but that was too easy. But for the most part I thought they played well defensively. The only criticism I might have is that they're still not getting any pass rush and I think that's what we heard during the preseason and coming out of preseason that they thought they'd have a better pass rush this year. I don't think they pressured the young quarterback enough, he was able to sit in the pocket and feel pretty comfortable. It doesn't matter who you are if you're playing in the NFL you can throw the ball when you have time, so they'[re going to have to work on the pass rush still.
RRM: Didn't get a chance to talk to you in the preseason so I'll have to ask you to give your overall impression of the Tim Tebow experiment and what that was all about in your mind?
SG:I think Josh McDaniels is the guy that drafted Tebow in Denver and likes him a lot and I think he probably talked Bill into taking a look at him. They gave him some chances… I like Tim Tebow. I like the way he plays the game. In my opinion, I think he's trying too hard to become a pocket passer, which is not his game at this point in life. He needs to run around and use his running ability more than he is. I also think he's probably, over the past three or four years, had so many different coaches trying to change his throwing motion that he's thinking too much when he throws the ball and that's why he's so inaccurate. He wasn't that inaccurate in college, but he had a throwing motion that people said wouldn't work in the NFL so he's been trying to change it and when you start thinking about how you're throwing the ball, then you don't just let it go and that's what I'm seeing from him.
RRM: If right this morning TIm Tebow walked into your shop at Grogan & Marciano Sporting Goods (Steve's store) in downtown Mansfield and said, "Mr. Grogan, what do I have to do to succeed as a professional quarterback?" What advice would you offer him?
SG:Well, I've read that he has still this dream of being an NFL quarterback. But I really think it would do him some good if he maybe went to Canada and played a year or two, even Arena Football where you have to throw the ball 60-70 times in a game and be extremely accurate. I think he'd be better off doing that for a couple years and then trying to get back into the NFL once he's got everything figured out and has got his throwing motion where it needs to be and maybe figures out what it's like to play quarterback at the professional level and be the starter for a couple of full seasons. I don't think he's going to do that from what I've read, but that would be my advice.
RRM: It's a very short week to prepare for the rival Jets on Thursday night. Does the short preparation time give either team an advantage going into this game?
SG:I'm not sure it's an advantage. Both teams have the short week. You're looking at another football team that shouldn't be as good as the Patriots, another young quarterback that has some mobility and played a decent game on Sunday and won the game for his team. With Rex Ryan as their coach they're going to be good defensively, but they're not as talented as the Patriots - but - the Patriots have to play a much better football game than they did this past Sunday or we'll be in another nailbiter.
RRM: Well for the first time in 2013 we ask for Grogan's Grades for the 23-21 squeaker over the Bills in week 1?
SG:THis is a tough one to grade. I would give the defense maybe a B+ and the offense maybe a C or a C-, so that would put you somewhere in the C+ area. I think it was just an average, a little bit above average performance for the overall team.
RRM: We'd be remiss without mentioning Julian Edelman who grabbed 7 balls for 79 yards and two touchdowns. This from the guy who had one foot out the door and nobody thought he was coming back and if not for him, we're probably talking about a loss in opening week. How about a game ball for him?
SG:A game ball for him, and I think Stephen Gostkowksi, it wasn't a long field goal at the end of the game but there's always pressure and he had the 48 yarder earlier in the game, so it's nice to have to kicker that's as consistent as he is. Vereen's got to get a game ball too, he did a lot more than anyone expected him to do.
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