R.R. Marshall: Steve, as expected the Patriots emerged from Arizona with a 23-12 win over the Cardinals but looked a little sluggish in the process. What did you think of their performance?
Steve Grogan: I thought the Patriots played pretty well in this game. The offense got a little sloppy in the second quarter, but overall they got done what they needed to against a team they were supposed to beat and did beat. People think because you're playing against an inferior team that you're just supposed to show up and blow them out of the water, but that doesn't always happen. They certainly didn't play their best game of the year but they did dominate the game. The outcome was never really in doubt, and I'm sure their attitude is they came out of there with a win and no major injuries so it's on to the next game.
RRM: As you mentioned everyone in Patriot's Nation expected a blowout, but the fact is you can't blow out any team in the NFL when you turn the ball over three times and commit a dozen penalties?
SG: You're right about that, but I really didn't expect a blowout in this game. I know once they got up 14-0 early it raised people's expectations, but this was the Cardinals' home opener with a new head coach. I think you have to give Denny Green a lot of credit because he's a coach that can really motivate a team. You add all the emotion involved with the ceremony for Pat Tillman and I just didn't see them winning the game 49-0. I thought they'd win it fairly easily which they did but it wasn't by as wide a margin as many thought.
RRM: How much was the heat on the field a factor in the Patriots poor play in the second and third quarters?
SG: The heat can definitely drag you down as a player when you are playing in those conditions. It can hit you at different points during the game and it's different for different people, but the break at halftime usually helps. I don't know if that is what happened to the Patriots yesterday but it looked to me like they were rotating offensive and defensive linemen on a pretty regular basis to keep people fresh which was a good idea. The fact that they are able to do that is testimony to their depth, and that is something a lot of teams don't have and it gives the Patriots a big advantage in game conditions like that.
RRM: Charlie Weis drew a lot of ire from the fans when he gave Corey Dillon only 16 carries last week. I guess giving him double that amount against the Cards will make them feel a little better this week?
SG: A lot of the Patriots players are unhappy about the bye week being this week, but I think Corey Dillon is going to be happy about it! When you carry the ball that many times (32) in that kind of heat he's going to need two weeks to recover. Charlie Weis is going to use the people that he thinks will give him the best chance to win that given week, and against the Cardinals that was running the football behind Corey Dillon. As you mentioned he got only 16 carries against the Colts and 32 this week, but in their next game he may only get the ball 15 times. I guess Corey Dillon fans will just have to get used to that.
RRM: Dillon appeared to get even stronger as the game wore on. Is he one of those backs like an Earl Campbell who you used to play against that has that ability?
SG: Keeping in mind that Corey Dillon was running against the Arizona Cardinals this week and not the Indianapolis Colts, any time you run for over 150 yards you're had a pretty good day carrying the football. I've been very impressed with Dillon so far this season. He's a guy that pounds it up in there hard, and he makes one move and then he's running up field breaking tackles. Dillon was a huge factor in this game because I didn't think Tom Brady looked quite as sharp as he did against the Colts.
Watching Dillon play he doesn't seem to be quite as powerful as Earl Campbell. They're similar in that you're not going to bring him down just grabbing him with your arms, you have to put a body on him. With the runners of that type as the defense gets tired and they only get stronger like Dillon did in this game, it gives you a very powerful weapon late in a game.
RRM: We saw the reason why some coaches don't like to throw the Hail Mary at the end of a half. The Patriots narrowly avoided losing Deion Branch to serious injury during an interception return, so I guess that shows why coaches sometimes opt to just run out the clock?
SG: It seems every team tries the Hail Mary at the end of a half even though 99.9% of the time it doesn't work. You're right in that you are taking a chance of getting people hurt on a play like that. If someone took the time to look up my stats if they took out the Hail Mary passes that were intercepted I would have finished with more touchdown passes than interceptions! It just kills you as a quarterback to do that because you know the odds are in the defense's favor of the ball being intercepted.
Fortunately Deion Branch was not seriously hurt. It was just one of those freak plays where his teammate Stephen Neal was blocked from the back and fell onto his leg. Branch asked to come back into the game in the second half which is always a good sign, so he should be ready to go when the Patriots get back to work after the bye week.
RRM: David Givens took over for Branch and had a big second half, grabbing five passes for over a 100 yards over the last 30 minutes. At times it looked like Tom Brady and Givens were playing catch against the Cardinal defense?
SG: When you are running the ball as well as the Patriots were you can see how it opens up the passing game. David Givens was wide open over the middle for some big gainers because the threat of the run just sucks the defense in tight trying to stop the run. Instead of those little five-yard flips to the wide receivers we're used to seeing on first down you're getting 20 yards a pop on those first down throws. You're taking these huge chunks of yardage with the passing game, and it's the success of the run that set the whole thing up.
RRM: It wasn't that long ago where we were bemoaning the lack of talent the Patriots had at wide receiver. Now we have a player like Givens who comes off the bench and has a 100-yard game in the second half alone!
SG: I keep telling people it's amazing what Brady has been able to do with his "no name" receivers, but these guys are starting to make a name for themselves. Troy Brown didn't play in the season opener and caught only one pass this week, and then Branch went down right before halftime and this offense didn't miss a beat. It's really amazing but this group of receivers continues to get the job done every week.
RRM: Arizona rookie quarterback Josh McCown looked totally helpless against the Patriots defense. Being a former quarterback didn't you feel a little sorry for him?
SG: Believe me, I've been in that situation before and it is extremely frustrating. You just can't do anything or get anything going offensively. You try everything and you start forcing some throws which usually leads to interceptions. They sacked McCown five times and I lost count of how many times they chased him out of the pocket. It was a long day for the kid and I did feel badly for him.
RRM: Eugene Wilson made two interceptions and Rodney Harrison came up with two sacks against Arizona, and together they combined for seven tackles. That's not a bad day's work for your deep safeties?
SG: It doesn't get much better than that. As well as they played they got a lot of help from the Patriots front seven. Richard Seymour didn't have a single tackle in the game but I thought he played extremely well. He was into the Arizona backfield in a hurry on a number of occasions, so he was really disrupting that offense. Wilson and Harrison were the recipients of many of the problems he caused, but it just goes to show that statistics don't always tell the whole story.
RRM: Do to a quirk in the NFL schedule the Patriots have next Sunday off. I would hazard a guess that if Bill Belichick had a choice he would not choose Week #3 for his bye week?
SG: I'm sure Bill Belichick and his players would say they prefer to keep playing but that's just the way the schedule fell, and these guys are pretty resilient as far as accepting what's dealt to them. I don't think the time off is going to affect this team too much. This team is too well-coached and too well-prepared to let it bother them. It is way too early in the season to have that kind of time off but believe me the Patriots coaches will put this time to good use. With a big stretch of games coming up against division opponents they'll probably have game plans ready for the next five weeks by the time their break is over!
RRM: What are Grogan's grades for the 23-12 win in steamy Arizona in Week #2?
SG: I thought the defense played really well in limiting the Cardinals to only 167 yards of total offense. The Patriots defense knows who to take out of the game and their secondary did a really good job in taking their big weapon, the young wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, out of the game. He caught five balls but for only 36 yards, and they had no one else who could make any plays.
I thought the Patriots' offense was just a little better than average although they did roll up 377 yards of offense with Dillon giving them a good, balanced attack. Now they have a week to rest up and get ready for their trip to Buffalo in two weeks.
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