October 29, 2013
Grogan's Grade: Week 8 - Patriots vs Dolphins
BY: Steve Grogan
R.R. Marshall: Steve for the first 30 minutes it appeared that the Patriots were as sleep deprived as the rest of us who had stayed up late to watch the World Series. Then they came out and ran off 24 unanswered points on the Dolphins to put up a convincing win. What was the key to the big turnaround?
Steve Grogan:It must have been what Bill Belichick said to them at halftime [Laughs]. I'm sure he wasn't too happy. In that first half they looked like a team that was coming off an emotional loss the week before, playing a team that had lost three in a row that didn't look too good in those three losses and I'm sure they just weren't emotionally ready to play the game, and I'm also sure at halftime they got their tail-ends chewed a little bit by the coaching staff and finally woke up and came out and played the way they should have been playing the whole game in the second half.
Well, it seems for years we've been pleading with Bill Belichick to blitz more, and he finally let the dogs loose in the second half. The Patriots came on with six sacks, and it appeared that poor Miami quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, never stood a chance?
SG:He didn't. In the first half he had all the time in the world. He looked like an All-Pro, he was really playing well. When you blitz you've got to have confidence in your secondary and confidence that you'll get to the passer and make him hurry some throws and we haven't seen that in a number of years around here with this Patriots team. I think Sunday, they were desperate. They started coming after him, they got the sacks, they got the coverage, and it worked out extremely well, the adjustments they made at halftime to blitz him because Miami seemed totally confused that whole second half.
Tannehill came into the game as the most sacked quarterback in the league. As I was watching it unfold, I was wondering, do you think Bill Belichick decided to dial up the blitz because of Miami's inability to handle it? Or is this perhaps a sign that Bill now has developed more confidence in his young defensive backs to handle man coverage?
SG:I think in some respects it was probably just a desperate move to try to get his team playing better football and they decided to blitz some early in the second half. It was working, and they knew that Miami had protection problems with their offensive line and because it was working, they continued to blitz and Miami never made the adjustments. Now will they do it next weekend again against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger?. I kind of doubt that, but it worked yesterday in the second half and it was the wake-up that really got the win for them.
Well, the story at the start of the game was Tom Brady's swollen throwing hand, which Phil Simms pointed out to us on numerous occasions. The network made a big point of showing Brady continually putting his hand into the little pouch he was wearing on his belt. What did you read into all of this?
SG:His hand did look swollen. They showed the shot of him getting swatted on the back of the hand last week and I'm sure he was in some discomfort. But I'm also sure it wasn't really affecting the way he gripped the ball or threw it because, particularly in the second half, he threw the ball really well. Every quarterback plays with something that's bothering them at some point in time during in the season and a lot of times it will be a finger or a hand. You just half to adjust, and I think Brady did that on Sunday. It looked kind of like he might have been thinking about it some in the first half, he wasn't really as accurate as you would have liked to have seen him. In the second half, I think he kind of put that out of his mind and got back on track.
Stevan Ridley had another big game and was instrumental in this team's big turnaround but he didn't play until late in the first half, apparently for disciplinary reasons. So my question is, when does invoking punishment interfere with hurting your team's best chances to win a football game?
SG:That's a fine line a coach has to walk. You've got a guy that you know can help win a game, but he's done something that needs to be disciplined about. It's a fine line. You can't overlook the discipline part, but at the same time you know you're putting your team at a disadvantage if you don't have the guy out there. I think in Bill Belichick's case, he usually leans more toward the discipline part and tries to win with whoever he's got out there. Fortunately Ridley came in late in the first half and had a great second half. I was happy to see them stay with the running game in the second half. Most of the first part of the season they've run the ball fairly well in the first half and have completely gotten away from it in the second half. This week, they stayed with it, and it paid off.
Did it seem that the Miami defensive front was worn down by that tactic by the fourth quarter?
SG:It looked like they were. I think the offensive line, which has been having some trouble protecting Brady also… Offensive linemen love to run the ball. They get to come out and hit somebody instead of backing up and letting the defensive linemen come and hit them and it looked like these guys Sunday were happy to run the ball. They got to be aggressive and they were pushing the pile pretty good. So it's nice to see that and hopefully they'll continue to do that because it will take some pressure off of Brady and those young receivers.
Well, you mentioned the offensive line and certainly the injury to Sebastian Vollmer was a horrible sight and a stark reminder of how physically demanding this game can be. A lot of people have commented on this, it seems that the more serious season ending injuries have increased across the league this year. Have you gotten that impression as well?
SG:Yes, I think there's been a lot of really good players that are out for the rest of the year. It's hard to know why that's happening. Some people speculate that they're not getting enough contact in practice, or the coaches are complaining they're not getting to spend enough time with them during the offseason. More than likely it's probably just one of those crazy years when something seems to happen more than it has in the past and it will probably even out in the years to come.
What about the strength vs flexibility issue? There's so much emphasis on weight lifting to build up muscle and if that muscle was more flexible…?
SG:Right. Most strength coaches have a lot of flexibility exercises along with the weight lifting. In Vollmer's case Sunday, a guy rolls up on your foot, I don't know if that has anything to do with weight lifting or stretching, or anything else. You just happen to get caught in a bad situation. It happens, it happens in the game and it's unfortunately it's happened to a lot of big name guys around the league this year.
And you can attest, you speak from experience.
SG:It's happened before [Laughs].
Week after week Julian Edelman impresses with his ability to return punts and the field position he provided his club in the second half was also a big plus in their favor. Is he among the best you've seen so far?
SG:I think on a punt-for-punt basis, he is as good as I've seen. He's fearless. He catches balls that most guys that are back there wouldn't catch and try to run with. Has a knack for making the first couple of guys miss. He's not like a PacMan Jones that's returned however many touchdowns he's got… He's not one of those flashy speed guys, but instead of a fair catch or a couple yard gain, he'll get you 10-15 yards and occasionally a lot more than that. So he's got a real talent for it.
It's uncanny because as you're watching it, unless he breaks off a big one it doesn't look like he's doing that much. But then you look at the end, and he's always ranked among the league leaders if not the top and these 7-8 yard returns, they really tend to add up over the course of the game...
SG:Absolutely. They tend to add up, and you have to take some chances to get those kind of returns all the time. He does that, and it's working for him. He doesn't lose the ball. He picks the ball up if it's bouncing and he gets you 10-15 yards occasionally and most guys that are back there won't do that for you.
It was nice to see some calls go in favor of the Patriots for a change and certainly the call where the Dolphins were flagged for an illegal batting of the football on an apparent strip sack of Brady in the fourth quarter ended up resulting in the Patriots' game clinching touchdown. Have you ever seen that call before, and was it the right call to make in that situation?
SG:I have seen it before. It doesn't happen very often, but I've seen it a couple times. Initially when it happened, I thought that he had definitely batted the ball forward. When they slowed it down, it was really hard to tell whether he was trying to reach it back into him and just had it glance off the outside of his hand, or whether he was actually trying to bat it. I think he was trying to bat it forward because he knew somebody was there that he was going to have to wrestle with to get the ball and he figured one of his guys could get it farther down the field. But that's just my opinion.
In general, what do you think of calls where officials are forced to read intent into a play? Isn't that almost an impossible situation?
SG:It is impossible, but there's always going to be calls like that. You can't make all rules black and white, particularly in football. It just doesn't work that way. You're going to have to leave some of the decisions to the officials and they'll get some right, they'll get some wrong.
The once formidable and now 2-5 Pittsburgh Steelers come to Foxboro on Sunday, fresh off a loss to the mighty Oakland Raiders and desperately need a win to keep their season afloat. What is it they say about desperate teams?
SG:They can be dangerous. They scare me. You know Pittsburgh has good talent and they have a great quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger and for them to only have two wins is surprising. This is a team that will scare the heck out of you coming in here. They're desperate, they'll do anything to win, and those are the kind of teams that will jump up and bite you if you're not prepared.
As you mentioned, despite his team's struggles, Ben Roethlisberger is a quality quarterback in this NFL and will pull victory out of defeat if you give him the opportunity. Despite all these injuries the Steelers have had on their offensive line, you mentioned that you don't think they'll be all that blitz happy against him because of his escapability, I guess we could call it? So how do you defend against Big Ben?
SG:He's a strong guy back there and if you get to him and you don't have a guy or two to get to him, he can burn you out of the pocket. So I think they'll probably start the game at least cautiously next week, maybe kind of like they did this week and hope for better circumstances in the first half than they got this past week against Miami.
RRM: We've reached the midway point of the season, the Patriots check in at 6-2 and are among the league lead right behind Denver and Cincinnati in the AFC. How would you assess their first half so far?
SG:Honestly? I think it's amazing where they're sitting right now. They have not played anywhere near what they've been in the past offensively. They've got major injuries on defense, some young guys playing in the secondary, and for them to be sitting in the spot they're sitting in right now is pretty impressive. They haven't played a lot of really good football teams. The Jets beat them last week and then turned around and got beaten by Cincinnati Sunday in a blowout. So the second half of the season is going to be interesting. They've got some better opponents coming up and they've got a bye week in there to get some guys healthy. I'm kind of surprised they're sitting where they are right now.
RRM: What are Grogan's Grades for the 27-17 dumping of the Dolphins?
SG:It's another game where it's a tale of two halves. The first half I would give them an "F", and then in the second half I think I'd give everybody an "A". So these are hard games to really grade, but they came out with a big win and I think I'd probably give them a B for the whole thing.
RRM: Do we still consider the offense a work in progress?
SG:Absolutely, and now with Vollmer out it will be even more of a work in progress.
RRM: Let's hope Marcus Cannon is up for the task.
SG:There you go, he's going to have to be.
Special Teams: B
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