By Andy Gresh
I said last week on my radio show on WPRO that the Patriots game versus Cincinnati was a Jim Valvano game. “Survive and advance” was the former N.C. State coaches famous mantra during the 1983 NCAA Tournament. The Patriots followed that to the letter. Offensively they still aren’t where they need to be as a unit, but they were what they needed to be to win the final road game of the season. The defense did a great job of getting to the football and turning those opportunities into points. 11-3 is 11-3 no matter how you slice it.
Tom Brady was uncharastically inaccurate to multiple wide receivers in the first half. One incompletion to Julian Edelman was an issue of timing, most of the others were cold bird misses by Brady. Once the Patriots went up 27-10, the Pats went conservative offensively, protecting Brady and Edelman along the way. This was one of the rare times this season where the other 10 were doing their jobs, and Brady didn’t do his.
RUNNING BACKS: A
The inconsistency in the running game has been more offensive line related than Sony Michel related. He ran hard Sunday and the Patriots did a good job of being physical early in the game. Michel needs to be mindful of ball security at all times as he will lose focus of fundamentals, but when he gets going, he can punish defenders. James White is so consistent and reliable, he also did a nice job in pass protection. I also found it interesting that Michel, Rex Burkhead and James White all had similar snap count totals.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B-
I’m being lenient with the red pen here. Julian Edelman looked out of sorts all game long and once the score was secure, he was not featured. I hope he can manage through this injury. Brady missed Mohammed Sanu for a sure touchdown and another throw over the middle on 4th down. The passing game was just out of sorts. N’Keal Harry did a nice job when he got touches and seems to be playing with more confidence. Phillip Dorsett got doghoused with only 9 snaps on offense. Not enough guys getting open, but this gameplan was geared more to running the ball, let’s see what happens against the Bills.
TIGHT END: B-
Matt LaCosse did have a nice play action seam route connect with Brady, but also got steamrolled at times in the running game. Ben Watson was competitive when asked to block, all in all, not bad.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B
There were more positives with what this unit did in the running game, than negatives when evaluating the passing game. Having center Ted Karras back was noticeable in the running game as he and Shaq Mason had some crushing double team blocks. Both Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon had issues in pass protection. Again. Their play is something that Tom Brady is going to have to manage because I don’t see consistency at those spots coming anytime soon.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
Even though the stat sheet doesn’t back it up, I really liked the pressure they got on Andy Dalton. Deitrich Wise showed up as his length was a problem for the interior of the Bengals offensive line. Danny Shelton controlled the middle at times and is evolving in the Wilfork role. I think Bill Belichick was content with allowing some rushing yards, knowing the Bengals couldn’t execute their running game at a level that would win them the game. That’s why we didn’t see more big bodies along the defensive front.
With Cincinnati’s focus on running the ball, this was a game for the run pluggers and Ja’Whaun Bentley showed up well. Seeing limited time in 2019, this was the most productive he’s been in any game this season. I thought after the first quarter, everyone settled down, stayed in their lanes, and hemmed in the Bengals running game. The versatility of this unit was on full display as the strategy was to not let the Bengals make big plays in the running game.
DEFENSIVE BACK: A+
I thought the back end of the defense was dominate as both Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson saw the ball well out of Andy Dalton’s hand. Gilmore was the only defender to play every snap. The interception return for touchdown by Gilmore, strengthens his case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. That play showed his smarts through film study. Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon did a good job with movement to make Dalton think pre-snap. Great work.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Nick Folk and Jake Bailey hit their kicks. (I’ll give Bailey a pass on the kickoff before halftime) I’m ok with being ‘return conservative’ especially on the road, and protecting a big lead. Coverage was good and the tackling was solid.
3 Things to Watch For
- Player health is paramount. More important than practice time, so don’t panic if big names don’t practice much this week.
- The Bills players and their fans will make this game their ‘Super Bowl’.
- The Patriots will use that enthusiasm to their advantage Saturday afternoon by grabbing control of the game early.