There was certainly a lot to like from the Pats' 55-31 win over the once mighty Goths from Pittsburgh. Gronk gronkulated, Tom Brady was as cool and accurate as ever, Aaron Dobson brought back some memories of Randy Moss, and Danny Amendola re-emerged, and even left the field on his own power. But don't let the final score fool you. The Pats' led by a mere 27-24 Patriots after three quarters thanks primarily to a costly Stevan Ridley fumble, and the Pats' "D" giving up a bevy of big plays to the Pittsburgh offense. In short, this was a throw back game to the way the Pats have played, albeit successfully, over the past three years. Here are my grades:
I. OFFENSE: After a tepid start, the Pats' offense got rolling in the second quarter...including a text book TD drive in the closing two minutes of the half. But, in the third quarter, this unit reverted to it's inefficient ways, which allowed the Steelers to hang around, and threaten an upset. Fortunately, a huge special teams play triggered an avalanche of fourth quarter points, which turned the game into a rout.
1.) QB: The reports of Tom's demise were greatly exaggerated...as his much duscussed accuracy issues dissipitated in proportion with the swelling in his passing hand. With his hand at normal size, Brady morphed back into Tom Terrific mode, completing 23 of 33 passes for 432 yards, with four (4) TDs, and no picks. The highlights of his best performance of the season were his 34 yard TD pass to Danny Amendola, his 19 yard TD pass to Gronk, and his 17 and 81 yard TD throws to Aaron Dobson...with the 81 yard bomb being a thing of beauty. But, Tom's most impressive stretch of play came during a classic two minute drill at the close of the first half, in which he led his team on a 77 yard TD drive, in the closing 1:55 of play: GRADE: A+;
2.) RBs: Though Stevan Ridley led this group with 115 yards on 26 carries, including two (2) TD runs, he refused to speak to the media after the game. Perhaps he knew that the focus of his otherwise grand performance would fall on his costly fumble during the Pats' initial drive of the second half, which nearly cost his team this game. At the time of his flub, the Pats were leading, 24-10...and one more score would have salted the game away. But, that fumble gave the Steelers the ball at the Pats' 36. The Steelers would immediately convert the miscue into a TD, cutting the lead to just 24-17...and giving the Steelers momentum, and hope. On their next possession, the Steelers would tie the game at 24. Folks, no matter how many yards a RB gains, if he's a fumbler, he's worthless. Ridley must do a better job at protecting the ball. That said, LeGarrette Blount chipped in with 47 yards on just five (5) carries, including a determined 4th quarter TD run, and Brandon Bolden added 36 yards, on just three (3) carries: GRADE: B;
3.) OL: A mixed bag for this crew. Though they by and large dominated the line of scrimmage, they couldn't get enough of a push to gain a yard on the Pats' first solid drive of the game, on a 4th and one. They also continued allowing Tom Brady to take too many QB hits (6), including three (3) sacks. Still, when an offense puts up 610 total yards, including 197 yards rushing, how can anyone really complain? Well folks...it only takes one good hit on Brady to ruin the season. Y'all saw how Tom's play deteriorated due to him suffering a hand injury. So, despite the gawdy numbers, there's room for improvement: GRADE: B;
4.) TEs and WRs: The Hoo-man had one catch for a first down, but also had a potential drive killing drop on the first play of the fourth quarter. Great to see Gronk gronkulating again! Targeted 10 times, the big man responded with nine (9) catches for 143 yards, and a TD...and, had he not been grabbed in the end zone by a flailing Steeler defender, he would have had a second TD grab. He is making a difference, as the attention he forces defenses to take to guard him is freeing up the WRs. Speaking of, Danny Amendola had four (4) catches for 122 yards, including a first quarter 34 yard TD reception, and a 57 yard run and catch in the second quarter. Aaron Dobson added five (5) catches for 130 yards, including a fabulous 17 yard fourth quarter TD reception at the left py-line, and a beautiful 81 yard hook-up with Brady late in the fourth quarter which removed any lingering hope of a Steeler come-back: GRADE: A;
II. DEFENSE: A slew of injuries to key players (Wilfolk, Mayo, Kelly, Talib) have clearly taken it's toll on this unit. Though it usually has trouble stopping the run, today it gave up too many big plays in the passing game. Most notable of these were allowing the Steelers to come within inches of converting on a 3rd down and 30 on the last play of the first quarter, via a swing pass to a RB coming out of the backfield. Though the Steelers only had one other big play via a similar swing pass for 22 yards, they flubbed several other opportunities to convert on similar plays. Poor coverage on troublesome Steeler WRs Cotchery, Sanders, and Brown accounted for an additional 265 yards, many of those earned after the catch. For the game, the Steelers had a whopping 479 yards in total offense.
1.) DL: Losing DE Rob Ninkovich in the third quarter hurt. His strip sack had thwarted a potential Steeler first quarter TD drive. The weak Steeler running game accounted for 108 yards on 20 carries. But, when you consider that the Steelers gained 55 of those yards on two (2) carries, and only 53 yards on the remaining 18 carries, it wasn't all that bad. Credit the DL for some good short yardage plays on 4th and less than one. DE Chandler Jones had six (6) tackles, including three (3) solos, a pair of sacks, and three (3) QB hits. But, the DTs were not able to garner any inside pressure on QB Ben Roethlisberger throughout the game: GRADE: B-;
2.) LBs: Since the Steelers didn't run very much, the Pats' ILB Hightower, Spikes, and Dane Fletcher were forced into coverage situations....not their strongest suit. Look for future opponents to continue to attack these guys as the Steelers did, with their TEs, and especially with backs coming out of the backfield on swing passes, screens, and deep routes. or the game, TE Heath Miller and the Steelers' RBs accounted for nine (9) catches for 131 yards. This is the area in which the Pats miss Jerod Mayo most. Rookie OLB Jamie Collins was again a no-show: GRADE: C-;
3.) SECONARY: A Devin McCourty first quarter pick of Big Ben was a big play, and turned the tide, early. On the very next play, Brady would hit Danny Amendola deep for 34 yards, and a 7-0 Patriots' lead. But, that's where the highlights pretty much end, as Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard had huge difficulties keeping tabs on Jericho Cotchery (seven (7) catches for 96 yards), Emmanuel Sanders (six (6) catches for 98 yards), and Antonio Brown (five (5) catches for 71 yards). Too many big plays were given up, as the Pats' DBs clearly feared the speed of the Steelers' WRs. This cause them to play off them far too much, giving them opportunities to do what they do best...accumulate yards after catch. Hurry back, Aqib: GRADE: D+;
III. SPECIAL TEAMS: Another solid kicking game from Allen (averaged over 50 yards per punt) and The Ghost (2 for 2 in FGs). The coverage team broke down a bit in the third quarter, allowing Antonio Brown to return a punt 24 yards...which helped to set up a Steelers' 3rd quarter TD, tying the game at the time, at 24. Huge play by Julian Edleman returning a Steeler punt 43 yards in the dying seconds of the third quarter seemed to change the momentum, and set up a Pats' TD...widening their lead to 34-24: GRADE: B;
IV. COACHING: For the most part, I liked the way the Pats mixed the run with the pass. Gutsy call in the fourth quarter, with the Pats leading, 41-31, to call a bomb from the N.E. 19 yard line on a second and ten, rather than call a run to continue to run the clock. The gamble paid off handsomely, as Brady hit Dobson down the right side-line in stride, for an 81 yard TD play. The "D" had great trouble keeping up with the fleet Steeler WRs, and their backs coming out of the backfield. Due to an overall lack of talent at coverage LB and in the secondary, the Pats' were seemingly forced to play in the hated bend but don't break mode, which we've seen so much of, over the past three years. Got to find a way to better address these coverage issues: GRADE: B;
V. PLAY OF THE GAME: The aforementioned Edleman 43 yard punt return.
VI. PLAYER OF THE GAME: Tom Brady.
Here are the game stats: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=331103017.
As always, your comments and opinions are welcome. Have a great day!