A look back at how the Patriots performed in their 31-14 victory over the Buccaneers on Thursday night.
QUARTERBACKS (Rating: 3.5 out of 5)
Tom Brady (11 of 19, 118 yards) was nearly flawless, with only a couple of poor throws and a poor decision to nearly get Wes Welker killed at the end of the first half on a short pass. Brady should have seen the safety coming. It was a tough position to put Welker in. The playfake Brady made on the touchdown to Chad Ochocinco was a thing of beauty. S Sean Jones completely bought it. It helped that Ochocinco sold it too with a purposely lazy route on the pop pass. Brady ran the team with precision and he had the Bucs on their toes the entire first half. He was in complete command. Brian Hoyer (1 of 4, 6 yards) didn’t get much time, and didn’t help himself with two poor throws. Actually thought Ryan Mallett (9 of 14, 71 yards, INT) played better all around in this game, even with the interception returned for a touchdown. Mallett shouldn’t have thrown the pass where he did, but he earned points on the play. Mallett recognized that the Buccaneers were blitzing with the near corner well off the ball. The Bucs had a zone blitz called with two linebackers coming. The problem was Mallett saw the blitz and both Matthew Slater and TE Carson Butler did not. Mallett wanted to go to either one as his hot route – Patriots receivers are taught to sit when reading blitz -- but both kept going down the field. Mallett panicked and just threw the ball downfield. He should have thrown it into the seats. Mallett had two more poor throws, but also had two very nice ones. He seemed in better tempo with the offense.
RUNNING BACKS (Rating: 4 out of 5)
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (11 carries, 51 yards, 2 TDs) was excellent. Broke two tackles and his 1-yard touchdown run at the end of the first quarter was all him. RB Danny Woodhead (5 for 63) was very good as well and got what was blocked with the exception of a nice broken tackle on his 29-yard run. Stevan Ridley (14 for 84) again opened eyes. What stands out about him is he can make people miss on the move, going through the hole. A lot of young running backs will lose speed while doing and dance at times, but Ridley doesn’t appear to lose much speed. He’s an excellent fit for a lot of the Patriots’ zone stretch plays because he can stick a foot in the ground and get up field. He broke two tackles and made a would-be tackler miss. His fumble won’t go over well in the film room.
RECEIVERS (Rating: 3.5 out of 5)
The receivers were fine, just didn’t get a ton of work. Welker was targeted on eight of the 20 attempts (40 percent). He had one excellent catch where he took a beating. Ochocinco is still very much feeling his way through the offense. When you have to think through a play, and Ochocinco definitely is, you're not going to be playing at the proper speed. Especially in this precision offense. Despite the apparent mental error on the interception, Slater continued to show he’s more than just a special teams player with two very good catches, and two plus-run blocks. WR Jeremy Ross missed a run block that could have spurred Ridley to another big gain. TE Rob Gronkowski had a little bit of an off night (for him). He had a terrific run block, but dropped a catchable pass and his illegal downfield block penalty was just a mental error. Will Yeatman was the only TE besides Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (3 catches, 42 yards) to see the field. Draft pick Lee Smith rode the pine while Yeatman worked. He had a couple excellent run blocks, but he also had two terrible ones (one a bad run under 1 yard was on him) and allowed a QB pressure. Yeatman’s best block of the night came when he cleared out Bucs CB Elbert Mack on Stevan Ridley’s 12-yard run at the start of the second half. Yeatman only outweighs him by about 100 pounds. The former lacrosse star just needs more reps. He’s very green. Not sure how happy the Patriots are with their blocking from the tight end position behind Gronkowski. It’s been a mixed bag in both exhibitions.
OFFENSIVE LINE (Rating: 3 out of 5)
The starters were very good in the first half, but not perfect. They were on the ground, however. Really nice work there. In the air, they gave up four pressures, three quarterback hits and a sack. LT Nate Solder held his own with only minimal help with a sack allowed and a half QB hit. LG Logan Mankins allowed a hurry and half a hit. C Dan Koppen would have been perfect without his holding penalty. RG Dan Connolly allowed two QB hits and a hurry. Sebastian Vollmer allowed two hurries. The interior of the line had tough time dealing with Bucs DT Gerald McCoy. The Bucs blitzed 10 times in 37 drop backs (27 percent). Four were six-man pressures, and there was one seven-man blitz. In the second half, the backups were a little bit of a mess, allowing one sack, two QB hurries, two QB hits and four bad runs. Rich Ohrnberger was the most consistent of the group, with two plus-run blocks and only one poor run block. Corey Woods, in very limited time, had a very good run block. Jonathan Compas (sack, hurry, and shared responsibility for two bad runs), Thomas Austin (hit, hurry and bad run), Steve Maneri (hit, bad run, another shared) and Mark Wetterer (shared two bad runs) had a rough go.
DEFENSIVE LINE (Rating: 5 out of 5)
All totaled, the linemen had 10.5 quarterback hurries, two hits, one knockdown and three holding penalties drawn (all by Andre Carter) for a total of 16.5 quarterback pressures. That’s three night’s work for this group. Carter had three hurries, three holds drawn, a quarterback hit and a shared bad run (runs of less than 1 yard) produced. Even the backups got into the act with four quarterback hurries (two from Alex Silverstro). Other pressure DL totals: Kyle Love (hurry), Eric Moore (knockdown, ½ bad run), Mark Anderson (two hurries), Myron Pryor (half hurry), Vince Wilfork (QB hit), Gerard Warren (TFL, hurry) and Landon Cohen (hurry). Warren’s swim move on Ted Larsen showed that not only can he two-gap, but he can get up the field in this new attacking scheme. The group was also much better against the run, probably because they cared about it more in this game. The Bucs running backs only had 11 carries for 25 yards (2.27 average). There were no blow gaps or contain in the game. The only negative was Clay Nurse missing a tackle.
LINEBACKERS (Rating: 5 out of 5)
This group was even more impactful in the pass rush with three sacks, seven hurries and nine QB hits for a total of 19 quarterback pressures. They also had two passes defensed and 2.5 bad runs. The linebackers were flying all over the field. Jerod Mayo was sensational as the WLB with three QB hits, two sacks and a pass defensed. Rob Ninkovich was impressive playing both SLB and DE with two hurries, a QB hit, a pass defensed and a solo bad run. Ninkovich showed off his strong-side potential when he shed TE Ryan Purvis and then took LeGarrette Blount down after a 1-yard gain. Gary Guyton, having to play the Mike after Dane Fletcher went out, actually shed a block and make a stout tackle against the run. Among the reserves, Aaron Lavarias had a fine game with two QB hits and two hurries. Tracy White served notice with a hurry, hit and a bad run. Niko Koutouvides had a sack, hit and hurry. The Patriots continued to show more aggression blitzing. Bill Belichick blitzed 18 times in 37 drop backs (48.6 percent). The Patriots blitzed more than that in only three games last season (Bengals, Steelers and Packers). The Patriots sent five rushers 10 times, six on seven occasions, and unleashed one seven-man pressure.
SECONDARY (Rating 3 out of 5)
Another group that didn’t get a ton of work. Kyle Arrington led the way with an interception (assisted by Patrick Chung’s hit) and two good coverage plays. Darius Butler had a pass defensed and one plus coverage, but did jump too early allowing a completion on the sidelines. None of the safeties flashed as Sergio Brown got more time. He had a missed tackle, a pass breakup and one of the unit’s four penalties. The most glaring error came from S Brandon Meriweather with 13:56 left in the fourth quarter when Jonathan Wilhite came on a slot blitz. Meriweather was the safety on that side of the field but he was very late reacting. That allowed Bucs WR Preston Parker to run free down the field for a 28-yard gain. It was the kind of mental error that drives the coaches crazy about Meriweather.
SPECIAL TEAMS (Rating: 3.5 out of 5)
After a dismal display against the Jaguars, Scotty O’Brien’s group settled down in this game, which didn’t feature many opportunities. P Zoltan Mesko was very good with a 41.4 net. White and Carson Butler each missed tackles. Butler showed his value on special teams, however, as he’s very fast getting downfield to cover punts.