The Patriots are 4-1 and on top of the division a game ahead of Buffalo and three games ahead of the Dolphins and Jets. They put together a very impressive team win over the Browns on Sunday with good performances by the offense, defense, and special teams.
So how were the grades on Sunday? There was definitely a boost in the team’s psyche getting Tom Brady back this week as well as Rob Ninkovich. One could tell that when the team got off the bus and DE Jabaal Sheard was wearing Brady’s jersey backward so that the nameplate was showing. Unlike the flat effort showed a week ago, the team came out with a purpose and was sharp from the opening kickoff.
So we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.
Tom Brady returned from his 4-game suspension and the biggest question mark surrounding him was how rusty he’d be since he hasn’t played a meaningful game since the AFCCG in Denver. Three straight touchdown drives later that question was answered. On the Patriots first four drives, Brady was a stellar 14 of 16 for 248 yards and two touchdowns. One of the incompletions was a drop from Julian Edelman.
Brady remained sharp and focused for the entire game, he saw the field extremely well and finished 28 of 40 for 406 yards with 3 TDs and no interceptions. Not only was he right on with his short and intermediate passes but he threw the deep ball extremely well hitting on 43 and 63-yard bombs downfield. The latter was perfectly thrown right in step with Chris Hogan who had beaten Joe Haden. He did overthrow Edelman on another deep throw where he was behind the defense.
No rust here. Brady showed just how good this offense can be with all of the pieces working together and in place.
Running Backs: B-
LeGarrette Blount didn’t have the big impact in the running game that he’s had earlier this season. While he didn’t have the room to operate that he’s had in earlier games, it was a bit disappointing. He finished with just 37 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown but was stopped twice on the one-yard line with a chance to blow the game open in the first half.
James White had a solid day running the ball five times for 26 yards and adding 63 more yards via the passing game on four receptions including a big 36-yarder down the left sideline on a perfectly executed screen pass.
D.J. Foster was active Sunday and got some work, carrying the ball six times for 17 yards. But he wasn’t used in the passing game which was a bit surprising.
Wide Receivers: B+
Chris Hogan had a big day, with his first 100-yard receiving day as a pro, catching four passes for 114 yards. Not coincidentally it was his first game with Brady as his QB. He caught two Brady deep balls, the aforementioned 43 and 63-yard bombs. He also took a couple of big hits that required him to get looked at on the sideline but was able to return and seems fine.
Julian Edelman caught just five passes for 35 yards on the day, but unsurprisingly he got things going on the first play from scrimmage as Brady went to his most trusted WR for a 10-yard gain and a first down. He also threw a terrific block, taking out two Browns defenders on White’s 36-yard screen pass.
Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell weren’t targeted much, there was only so many passes to go around but each chipped in two receptions each as everyone got involved.
Tight Ends: A+
What’s wrong with Gronk? Nothing. The big man was another player that we circled in our players to watch on Sunday along with Hogan and White on offense and he was. Finally getting healthy after a nasty hamstring injury, he looked like the Gronk we’ve become accustomed to seeing. The big man had five catches for 109 yards including a big 37-yarder where he made a bunch of the Browns miss or bounce off.
Martellus Bennett had a career first, catching three touchdowns for the first time in a game, also coincidentally his first with Tom Brady, (are we detecting a pattern here?). He ended up with six catches for 67 yards with three scores, the final one where he was wide open down the right sideline and dove into the end zone.
Gronk and Bennett’s combined numbers 11 catches for 176 yards and three TDs. What is scary is that when the Patriots got into the red zone, Cleveland rolled their coverages to go to Gronk and that left Bennett wide open for Brady to hit. This duo is going to be fun to watch as the season progresses.
Offensive Line: B-
The team did some shuffling this week, with RT Marcus Cannon out with a calf injury, they inserted Cameron Fleming in his place. To give him a bit of support, they slid rookie left guard Joe Thuney over to the right and Shaq Mason to Thuney’s left guard position.
Brady’s pass protection held up fairly well, he wasn’t under a ton of duress but Cleveland doesn’t have a ton of dynamic pass rushers. The line wasn’t able to generate a lot of running room for the running backs this week, the final numbers were 33 rushes for 100 yards before Garoppolo’s kneel downs which were disappointing.
Defensive Line: A-
The Patriots defensive line was outstanding on Sunday. Cleveland came in with the #1 rushing attack in the NFL, led by the impressive Isaiah Crowell who entered with a stellar 6.4-yard average. The interior of the line, led by Malcom Brown and Alan Branch were immovable at the point of attack. Woodrow Hamilton, just activated off the practice squad played some and looked better than he did in the preseason.
Cleveland’s running backs had nowhere to run and were bottled up at the line of scrimmage. The Browns rushed for just 27 yards on 22 carries. Crowell’s numbers? Just 22 yards on 13 carries. Brown also chipped in with two sacks.
The defensive ends, Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, Rob Ninkovich and Trey Flowers did a great job of setting the edge in the running game but were inconsistent with their QB pressure, although they had numerous shots at sacks. One area to watch in the future is their ability to finish off plays. They’ve hounded opposing QBs on numerous occasions this year, but in most instances haven’t been able to bring them down.
Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins didn’t have a ton of tackles in this one because their teammates on the defensive line were stuffing everything at the point of attack. But they were solid in the middle and disrupting the short passing game and covering the lanes.
With the blowout in place and with Shea McClellin out and Jonathan Freeny banged up this week, Elandon Roberts saw extensive playing time. He was impressive and led the team with seven tackles, six solos. Barkevious Mingo also saw some time on defense against his former team.
The defensive game plan was to stop the run and take away Terrelle Pryor in the passing game and make the Browns go to their other players on offense. They succeeded on both points of emphasis. Pryor had just five catches for 48 yards and was never a factor in the game. The plan of bracketing him underneath with a safety over the top worked very well.
Devin McCourty and Pat Chung had strong games at safety with the latter getting an interception off of a tipped pass. The Browns secondary receivers, TE Gary Barnedge and WR Andrew Hawkins had solid games but the team’s focus was elsewhere.
CB Cyrus Jones got beat for a touchdown when he whiffed on his jam at the line of scrimmage on Hawkins. Connor Hamlett scored on a 17-yard TD in the 4th quarter but CB Jonathan Jones had tight coverage. It was just a question of the Browns seeing a mismatch (6’5 TE on a 5’10 CB) and throwing a jump ball.
Special Teams: B
Stephen Gostkowski missed another field goal attempt this week, a 50 yarder that he normally makes. One has to wonder if that miss in Denver is playing with his psyche. He later made a 31-yard chip shot and all four extra points.
Ryan Allen was solid in the punting game and had a 41.8 average on the day. The kick and punt returns were okay but nothing impressive although the coverage units again, especially on the kickoffs were fantastic.
Bill Belichick had the team ready to go on Sunday, unlike a week ago when they collectively looked flat from the opening kickoff. His keys to winning was to limit Cleveland’s two big playmakers Pryor and Crowell and they did that very well. Josh McDaniels still kept the balance they had earlier this season with 40 passes and 38 runs.
He was able to mix things up on offense and the unit looked unstoppable early in the first half. It may be a little nitpicky here, but they went to the bubble screen a bit too much in the second half but overall, the game plan was excellent.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots Roster 2016 Patriots season Bill Belichick Chris Hogan Cleveland Browns Cody Kessler Danny Amendola DeflateGate Dont'a Hightower Isaiah Crowell Jabaal Sheard James White Jimmy Garoppolo Joe Haden Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler Martellus Bennett New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Terrelle Pryor Tom Brady Trey Flowers