Editor’s Note: Andy Gresh will be part of The Providence Journal’s Patriots coverage for the season. “Gresh’s Grades” will appear each week in print, on providencejournal.com/sports, and on 630wpro.com following a Patriots game.
Another banner raising night in Foxboro, and another Gillette Stadium beatdown of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s amazing the Patriots dominance of the Steelers has lasted so long. From a coaching standpoint, Bill Belichick vs Mike Tomlin isn’t even a fair fight at this point. And while Ben Roethlisberger is a Hall of Fame player like Tom Brady, they exist on different football planets.
The knowledge Tom Brady has in this offense is scary. He is so comfortable operating in the pocket, making pre-snap reads, changing plays. He is a pure maestro. There are a few throws he’d like back, but he operates at such a high level at his age it defies logic.
RUNNING BACKS: A
Sony Michel got a lot of opportunities to run the ball and just couldn’t get going with any consistency. He was essentially replaced by Rex Burkhead in the 2nd half when there weren’t 2 running backs in the game. We did see James White and Burky on the field at the same time and that is big danger for opposing offenses. Brady worked pass/run matchups using White in motion, and Burkhead was able to show how healthy he is by how hard he ran in the running game.
TIGHT ENDS: B
I thought the Patriots would play a 6th offensive lineman at times and they didn’t because James Develin played the role of TE quite nicely. Ryan Izzo did yeoman’s work when asked. I think we saw vs. the Steelers how this position will be de-emphasized in the passing game all season long. That is, unless someone walks back through that door.
WIDE RECEIVERS: A+
Philip Dorsett looks very comfortable and settled in the offense. He is playing with supreme confidence. Josh Gordon’s catch and a touchdown, plus the tough catch and hit in the middle of 3 defenders showed his various skills. Edelman is Edelman, and even young blood Jakobi Meyers got in the act. This group also did a great job blocking for each other when asked.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B
They protected Brady very well with some help from the running backs. Brady got the ball out quickly on the whole and had nice protection when he wanted to take shots down the field. The run blocking left a lot to be desired. The delay or draw was the most effective running play. Although, they did a nice job getting one yard when they needed to and that’s going to build confidence as this group gels.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
I loved how the bigs played against the run. And kudos to the coaches on the way they mixed and matched personnel all game long. However, there were too many times that the bigs got no pressure on Big Ben. I did see good effort and lots of versatility. Their pass rush will come.
It was good seeing Ju’Whaun Bentley back playing inside LB. He definitely helps in slowing down teams run games. Dont’a Hightower is a beast when healthy. He was good in coverage, tackled well, and oozes football smarts. Jaime Collins still has plenty of game to contribute at a high level, I just don’t think he’s a 70 play-a-game guy anymore.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A+
Fast. Smart. Solid tackling. Great communication. That defined this group Sunday night. Devin McCourty is so impressive in how much he can do. Tackles, plays up near the line of scrimmage, can blitz, very underrated player. His brother, Jason, can still run with most anyone in the league and he understands the nuances of his position like angles and field awareness. Patrick Chung played well as did Jonathan Jones. I hope we see J.C. Jackson raise his game and challenge Jones for the starting role.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
8 kickoffs, 6 touchbacks. 4-4 kicking field goals, and 3-3 on point after tries. That’s a good night for Gostkowski. Jake Bailey acquitted himself quite well and his punt pinning Pittsburgh inside the 10 while pinning the returner to the sideline was a thing of beauty. Gunner Olszewski contributed in the return game by being a smart decision and decisive. North-South punt returns make coaches very happy. He didn’t have his dancing shoes on.
3 Things to Watch
1) Does Antonio Brown grasp the offense quickly enough to contribute next week? I think it’s going to work because he’ll be forced to cut the crap. But as good as he is, trust is earned every day, not in a day.
2) This team will be tested next week in terms of focus and respecting a weak opponent. Guys will say the right things all week, but do they believe what they say?
3) I don’t think they are yet done tweaking the roster. Given his antics with the Raiders, the Brown signing was a surprise. But they still need an answer at tight end.
“The Gresh Show” airs each weeknight on 99.7FM and AM 630 WPRO from 6 to 9 p.m.