In this post, I give the various units of the New England Patriots grades for their Week 1 performances against the Tennessee Titans.
Tom Brady went 23 for 31 on Sunday, a completion rate of nearly 75 percent. And not all of those eight incompletions were Brady's fault. Wes Welker dropped an easy ball in the first quarter, and the blame for the missed deep ball to Brandon Lloyd two plays earlier can probably divided between quarterback and receiver. Plus, as the announcers speculated Sunday, Brady's overthrow of Aaron Hernandez late in the fourth might have been a strategic move to reduce chances of a costly mistake (I'm going to go out on a limb and assume they meant an interception). Throw in two TD passes and a goose egg under interceptions, and Brady had himself a decent day.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: A-
Good day all around for the receivers. They were targeted a total of 28 times and totaled 21 receptions (75% completion rate to them), and some of the incompletions to the receivers were on Brady (low passes or overthrows). Brandon Lloyd and Rob Gronkowski both did a good job of keeping their feet in bounds in the second quarter, Lloyd on his semi-diving sideline grab and Gronk in the back of the end zone just before halftime. Wes Welker's drop and Brandon Lloyd's miscue stop the group from getting an A.
Running Backs: A-
Stevan Ridley became the first 100-yard rusher for the Patriots since BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 136 yards in Week 5 last season. It was also the first 100-yard game of Ridley's NFL career.
But the Patriots still don't get an A for rushing since they were good, but not fantastic. Ridley made up 94 of his 125 yards on six carries that were each 14 yards or longer. He was stopped for a loss four times, and ran for between zero and two yards six times. So even though he gained lots of yards, there wasn't much consistency to his running. Ridley might not be as effective against a better defense that eliminates big plays, which, in Ridley's case, means stopping his longer rushes and limiting him to far fewer yards.
Plus, the Pats couldn't get anyone besides Ridley going. Their second-leading rusher was Danny Woodhead, with six carries for 20 yards.
Offensive Line: A-
The offensive line did a good job keeping Brady's jersey clean and paved the way for Ridley's 125 yards. But the one time Brady was sacked, he was hit in the head, and on TV it looked like he was hit hard. That could've been a big loss for the team if Brady got injured, and it costs the O-line an A.
Defensive Line: A
Two tackles for loss (a stat that doesn't come easily, by the way) and two sacks, including a strip-sack by Chandler Jones that netted the Pats seven points. Part of a defense that held former NFL rushing champ Chris Johnson to just four yards on 11 carries. Helped hold the Titans to just 20 yards rushing overall on 16 carries. Sounds like a good day to me.
Not quite as statistically impressive as the defensive line. Obviously were also heavily involved in stopping the Titans' run game. Dont'a Hightower scores a touchdown in his first NFL game by picking up a fumble and trotting in for the score, though it really could have been just about anyone on the defense that picked up the ball.
Reason for the lower grade is the passing game of the Titans. I'll get into the specifics more in the next paragraph.
Defensive Backs: B-
The Pats let Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker, a second-year NFL player making his first pro start, combine for 272 total yards of passing offense. They can get away with that against Tennessee, but what are they going to do against Larry Fitzgerald? And in week five, Peyton Manning comes to town. Their performance isn't going to cut it against better teams.
They didn't play as well as the rest of the defense, so they get a B- for this week.
Special Teams: A-
Everyone showed up and did their job. Julian Edelman got the team a few extra yards on his punt returns. Stephen Gostowski was perfect in extra points and field goals, and also helped pin the Titans deep with good kickoffs. Gostowski was assisted by Tennessee return men that kept taking the ball out of their own end zone and were tackled before they hit the 20 yard line.
Good idea by Belichick balancing the rushing attack with the passing game. It worked out well to balance the offense since Ridley made it up to 100 yards.
Also good call by Belichick drafting Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower. That paid big dividends not just with the defensive scoring play, but with Jones' making other plays defensively as well.
Why isn't Belichick's grade higher? The defensive backs. They were a liability last season, and it looks like they're still a liability this season. With a whole offseason to address what might have been the team's biggest weakness last season, there was very little improvement of the defensive backs as a unit. It all eventually comes down to the head coach, which is why Belichick gets a B+ for this week.