The weekend is over, the second and third looks at the film are in and the grades are ready for the Patriots 23-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday Night Football. An unfortunate computer glitch prevented this from being posted on Monday afternoon where it will be for the rest of the season.
So how did the Patriots grade out? Considering that the best QB and TE in the game were missing along with the team’s best RB, both starting tackles and their most clutch DE, it is a good day to be a Patriots fan considering how the game turned out.
So let’s start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.
Okay, so it was far from perfect but considering what Jimmy Garoppolo was dealing with, missing so many key components in the offense, and having two new members of the team playing in their first game in New England (Bennett, Hogan), and facing a 13-3, Final Four team on the road? Oh and he was starting his first NFL game.
Jimmy G. (you can’t call him that!), played with remarkable poise and coolness in the pocket. His looking off of the deep safety (Swearinger), on the Hogan TD was sweet, as well as his recognizing the coverage and changing the play at the line.
The buying of time on the 3rd and 15 to Amendola was Brady-esque. He shoulder-faked the safety and slid in the pocket to his left and didn’t panic and throw too soon, which would have resulted in a pick. He threw a laser to Mitchell which turned into a 28-yard gain. Ditto for the 3-yard 3rd down conversion to James White.
He needed to get his second half sideline throw to Julian Edelman out much faster. Edelman was about de-cleated by Patrick Peterson. Overall, it was a great performance, now….we’re on to Miami.
Running Backs: B
LeGarrette Blount, who continues to get a ton of shade thrown on him, played pretty solidly. His touchdown run was classic. He got up a head of steam and carried half of the Arizona defense the final 3-4 yards into the end zone.
He made a nice run on the 3rd and 11 on the Pats final drive, making Peterson miss and rumbling 13 yards for the first down. His average wasn’t great but he was the lead back for a team effort 106-yard night. If I told you the Pats would rush for 100+ yards last week, would you take it?
James White did a good job in blitz pickups and made a couple of nice catches out of the backfield, scooping one almost on the turf and another shielding the defender using his body to get a tough first down. Brandon Bolden? Ugly exchange resulted in a fumble.
Wide Receivers: A-
Garoppolo got over his opening throw jitters by leaning on Julian Edelman who had three catches for 37 yards on the opening drive. He looked like his normal uncoverable self, underneath the coverage and any lingering doubts about his foot seemed at least for now, to be put to rest.
Chris Hogan capped off the opening drive with a 37-yard TD catch. He shimmied rookie Brandon Williams out of his jock and had an easy touchdown. He looks like a happy camper being in New England and it showed on the field. He did whiff badly on a wham block that got Blount hammered six yards deep in the backfield.
Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola didn’t get a ton of targets but both turned in big plays with a 28-yard catch and run, burning the aforementioned Williams. Amendola’s 32-yard catch on 3rd and 15 was money. Wasn’t an easy catch and he recognized the play breaking down and cut his route deeper finding the sweet spot in the zone.
Tight Ends: A
We didn’t have a Gronk sighting but did see a black Unicorn and was he impressive. Martellus Bennett was praised by both Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels for his unselfish play. His blocking was like carrying an extra tight end out there and he man-handled Chandler Jones with ease on many running plays.
A.J. Derby played only a handful of snaps and it wasn’t pretty…nuff said.
Offensive Line: B
Maybe this is a bit high of a grade, but considering who wasn’t playing, who was and who their opponent was, it was a much better scenario than was widely imagined, especially in the Arizona and national press outlets.
Joe Thuney was very solid overall and held up well in pass protection. David Andrews had an up and down night, but his communication, key against facing a team that loves the A-gap blitz like Arizona was good. Cameron Fleming did okay for the most part facing Jones, which was supposed to be a mismatch. He frequently used the cut block to slow him down and keep him from getting his arms up.
Alex Karras, Shaq Mason, and Marcus Cannon struggled for stretches. But overall the unit held their own against a very tough defense on the road.
Defensive Line: B
The Patriots edge rushers Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard were very solid if unspectacular. They did a great job of setting the edge and funneling the plays back to the inside. David Johnson had 16 carries for 89 yards but 45 of them came on one play where the tackling was poor everywhere. But for the rest of the evening, they held the dangerous RB for 15 carries for 44 yards, less than 3 yards per pop. Long had a sack, three QB pressures and drew a holding penalty. Sheard had four QB pressures.
Alan Branch and Malcom Brown were solid inside, they also got some good rotation in with Vincent Valentine and Anthony Johnson seeing some significant snaps. The pass rush was okay but not great and netted three sacks. They’ll be better as the season moves along.
This wasn’t the greatest of games for the Patriots dynamic duo of Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. The game plan was a bit more passive than usual with the defense taking deep drops to keep the play in front of them, forcing the Cards to go the length of the field and preventing chunk plays.
Hightower had just one tackle and seemed to be a non-factor for much of the game. Collins did have a sack and blew up a screen pass in the backfield, dropping Andre Ellington for a loss. But we’ve come to expect more. He also took a costly penalty, trying to block an extra point.
Shea McClellin and Jonathan Freeny played sparingly and Barkevious Mingo played surprisingly only on Special Teams.
It wasn’t always pretty, but overall they got the job done. They held the Cardinals who averaged 30 points and 300 yards a game thru the air, to just 21 and 252. Malcolm Butler was toasted early on a deep pass to Michael Floyd that he tried to sell to the refs that he stepped out of bounds on.
Logan Ryan had good coverage on but was victimized by Larry Fitzgerald for two touchdowns because…he’s Larry Fitz. You couldn’t get much better coverage than he did on those. Justin Coleman had a nice pass breakup on a deep John Brown route. Rookie Cyrus Jones gave up a big 18-yarder on the final drive that could have allowed the winning field goal.
Devin McCourty was outstanding and was everywhere they needed him to be. Pat Chung was solid in the box.
Special Teams: A+
Go to the head of the class Stephen Gostkowski. He not only made all five kicks, (3 FGs and 2 PATs) but his kickoffs consistently pinned the Cards deep in the end and forced them to go long distances to score. He was a major factor in this win and it had nothing to do with scoring. Ryan Allen had the hang time on his punts to give the dangerous Peterson little room to run. The coverage units were fantastic.
Belichick is the gold standard and everyone else plays for second. It is ridiculous that he never gets any kudos for coach of the year. Fantastic game plan and getting the players ready to go in a hostile environment on Sunday night.
Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia both had excellent plans and they both saw them thru well. Was it perfect? No but it was damned good enough. Joe Judge’s charges had their best game in a year.