Offensive line (5 out of 5)
Wasn’t totally flawless, but when you consider the Rams blitzed on 51 percent of the Patriots’ 43 dropbacks, it was very impressive that New England allowed only eight quarterback pressures. That’s by far the highest percentage of blitzes at Brady since the Dolphins sent extra rushers 54.9 percent of the time in the second meeting last season. And the Dolphins could actually cover people. Three of the pressures couldn’t be assigned to an individual because they were just free blitzers. Rookie left tackle Nate Solder had his finest game as a professional with zero pressures allowed, as he shut down impressive end Robert Quinn. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (hurry) was just as terrific, mostly against standout end Chris Long. It did help that Brady (and Mallett) held the ball for more than three seconds on just 11.6 percent of the dropbacks. The quarterbacks got rid of the ball in less than 2.5 seconds — the threshold for a sack — on 50.9 percent of dropbacks, so they were unsackable half the time. Ryan Wendell, Donald Thomas, and Dan Connolly were also very good, especially in the run game.
Defensive line (4 out of 5)
This group accounted for 79.4 percent of the Patriots’ 17 quarterback pressures, thanks to Jones and Cunningham having their best rushing days of the season, which tends to happen when the other team is one-dimensional for half the game. Jones (sack, two hurries, 2.5 knockdowns) got pressure on 18.3 percent of his rushes, a season high. Cunningham (three hurries, knockdown) exceeded his season total of three pressures, and he did well to chase down a run from behind. Ninkovich (sack, 1.5 hurries, half knockdown) had a good game, and Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love were their normal solid selves. Unreal athletic ability for Wilfork to cover running back Daryl Richardson in the flat and then make the tackle for a 4-yard loss. Not many tackles can do that. But there were a few problems against the run (Cunningham, Ron Brace) and two penalties. And rookies Jake Bequette and Justin Francis did not impress in their first extended playing time of the season.
Linebackers (4 out of 5)
More good than bad out of this group, but a bit of a mixed bag. Having Dont’a Hightower (two knockdowns, half stuff) obviously makes the defensive coaches more confident in opening up the playbook a bit. But there were times when Hightower was on the passive side against the run. Brandon Spikes (hurry, half knockdown) showed improvement against the pass with two breakups. Mayo was extremely solid.
Secondary (3 out of 5)
The Rams’ touchdown was an exact copy of the Seahawks’ game-winning score. Same coverage (Cover 2), same route (fake corner then post off a play-action rollout), and same blown coverage by safety Tavon Wilson. Think they’ll drill that one a few times during the bye week? Sterling Moore also allowed a plus-20-yard pass, but it was a very good throw and catch, tough to defend. Alfonzo Dennard (interception) competed well, but he’s going to have to make progress against the run. On Steven Jackson’s 7-yard run on the second drive, Dennard didn’t react well to the run, and then couldn’t get off the block. Cornerbacks are crucial to the Patriots’ run defense, and if Dennard doesn’t improve, he could get replaced against good run teams. Nice interception by Wilson, where he read the quarterback’s eyes and broke on the ball. Devin McCourty continues to show well at safety. It’s going to be tough for the Patriots to move him.
Special teams (4.5 out of 5)
Zoltan Mesko didn’t get much action with only two punts, but they were very good. Stephen Gostkowski continued to be strong on kickoffs, and the coverage was excellent. Nate Ebner (three tackles) and Marquice Cole stood out on coverage. Edelman, who failed to field one punt, is terrific at making the first guy miss. The team is better with him back there, but he needs to get upfield a little bit more. Vereen missed a block on the first kickoff return.