by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff
Settle down, class. I’ll be subbing for Prof. Gottlieb this week. After the Cleveland debacle, we wondered which version of New England would travel to Pittsburgh, and we got the one we wanted in a 39-26 win: tough on defense, efficient on offense, hard to beat overall.
So, this is the 2010 Patriots. Much like the NFL season itself, it has been difficult to determine what teams will show up from week to week. A quick review: Pittsburgh beat Cleveland, who beat New England, who beat Pittsburgh. We’re sure with a little more time and research, we could do a “win chain” involving most, if not all, of the league. (And if any of you make the effort to do so, email us at Patriots Daily University so we can post it online.)
Because the professor is out this week, letter grades will not be given. Unlike last week, enjoy.
OFFENSE: Overall Grade: Honors
In a hostile environment, against a historically fierce defense, New England racked up 458 yards and won the time of possession battle (31:28 to 28:32), scoring 29 points on offense that should have been 31 if not for a missed extra point. Not sure where this high-scoring group has been hiding, but they appeared poised and prepared for almost anything the Steelers threw at them.
Quarterbacks: High Honors
Positives: Tom Brady threw for 350 yards, completing 30 of 43 passes and three TDs. He made use of all available receivers (eight players caught a pass), at times seeming to toy with Pittsburgh’s defensive backs (his first touchdown to Rob Gronkowski allowed no room for error). He also made a great call on the third quarter QB sneak, a perfect read of the home team’s defense that allowed him to slice ahead three yards for six.
Negatives: Hung up a pass to Brandon Tate in the end zone that got knocked down; called for intentional grounding; needs a haircut.
Comments: Works hard. Tireless effort. Shows enthusiasm. Best student in class.
Running Backs: Honors
Positives: BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 18 rushes for 87 yards (just under 5 per). Watching diminutive Danny Woodhead block linebackers is like watching a tugboat stop a barge: small, yet surprisingly effective. Even Sammy Morris had a nice move after a catch for a first down. Extra credit to Woodhead and Morris for their special teams work.
Negatives: Sometimes Green-Ellis catches the ball as if it’s a sea urchin – it just looks uncomfortable. Woodhead got stopped on a third-down draw play where he seemed to take the wrong angle.
Comments: Position plays well with others, needs to continue effort for rest of year.
Wide Receivers: Satisfactory
Positives: Wes Welker (eight catches, 89 yards) and Deion Branch (seven for 71) seem like their old selves, getting open and making first downs. Brandon Tate took advantage of Brady’s time in the pocket on a big 45-yarder down the middle.
Negatives: While Welker gathered a few YAC (yards after catch), Branch continues to fall to the ground more often than a Spanish soccer player. Tate and Welker both dropped passes. The Patriots used to have a promising young guy named Julian Edelman, who’s had fewer catches than a Little League left fielder.
Comments: Improved effort, needs more consistency.
Tight Ends: Satisfactory
Positives: A career day for rookie Rob Gronkowski (five catches, 72 yards, three TDs). Veteran Alge Crumpler lived up to his last name, crumpling opposing linebackers throughout the contest.
Negatives: Brady got so exasperated at Aaron Hernandez (dropped pass, seemingly out of position) that the latter looked like an insane person you’d see on the street (again, that might be the hair.) Gronkowski had an offensive pass interference and an offsides penalty called against him.
Comments: Most improved on team, must learn from mistakes, shows great potential.
Offensive Line: Honors
Positives: Welcome back, Logan Mankins. The line paved the way for 103 yards rushing against the best rush defense in the league. They also gave Brady so much time to pass that he almost looked bored waiting for receivers to break open. Zero sacks, which is about all one can ask for at Heinz Field.
Negatives: Matt Light got his weekly holding penalty. The blocking for Woodhead on the aforementioned run failed in its execution. A Pittsburgh crossing blitz got the better of them, causing Brady to get that intentional grounding penalty.
Comments: Showing improvement and better consistency. Great effort.
DEFENSE: Overall Grade: Satisfactory
Ask me to grade the defense for the first 45 minutes, they’ll get glowing reviews. It’s irksome when a 23-3 lead has trouble standing up in the fourth quarter. Overall, though, a solid job, holding Pittsburgh to 76 yards rushing (albeit at 4.8 yards a clip) and taming the home team’s passing offense for most of the game.
Defensive Line: Honors
Positives: Vince Wilfork set the tone on the line of scrimmage early, stalking center Markice Pouncy like a puma figuring out how to disembowel a porcupine. Mike Wright had 1.5 sacks and would have doubled that had the QB been anyone other than Ben “Me No Fall Down” Roethlisberger. Not a lot of stats, but solid play overall.
Negatives: On running plays, Wright and Brandon Deaderick got pushed around more than would make us comfortable.
Comments: Steady performance, great effort, shows improvement.
Positives: Gary Guyton became a whirling dervish in this one, tallying a sack, knocking down a pass and covering Heath Miller in the end zone to prevent a TD. Tully Banta-Cain had 1.5 sacks, and – as stated before – with any QB other than Ben “Me Stay Up, Me Do Good” Roethlisberger, he could have doubled that figure. Shawn Crable added half a sack (sorry: what?), while Jerod Mayo put in his expected nine total tackles. Brandon Spikes had a well-timed stop up the middle.
Negatives: Crable spun to the inside more than once, allowing Ben “Tell Me Again About The Rabbits, George” Roethlisberger to roll out and complete passes. Mayo missed his gap on the Steelers’ 2-point conversion up the middle. Jermaine Cunningham’s offsides penalty in the second quarter kept a Pittsburgh drive alive. Spikes mustered only two total tackles on the night (tying him with Woodhead) and lost Heath Miller for a long completion.
Comments: Strong effort, though uneven. Shows high potential. Needs to pay more attention in class.
Defensive Backs: Satisfactory
Positives: Any question about the impact of Patrick Chung on this defense got a firm answer Sunday night. Chung led the team with 10 total tackles and made it difficult for anyone catching a pass underneath. His tipped ball went into the hands of James Sanders, who returned it for a game-sealing TD. Sanders’ early hit on Hines Ward knocked the receiver out of the game, changing the complexion of Pittsburgh’s offense (we’ll call that a positive, though we’re sure the league front office will disagree). Rookie Devin McCourty spent most of the night in the right place, knocking down passes all over the field.
Negatives: McCourty got beat for a touchdown and had some luck with a Steeler drop or two. Brandon Meriweather’s pass interference penalty set up the home team with first and goal (resulting in a missed FG attempt). For all his stellar work, Chung got called for holding twice. After Sanders’ return, the team got penalized for a group celebration. And, seriously: 23 points in the fourth quarter? That was about as fun to watch as a vasectomy on the medical channel. (Damn you, basic cable and faulty remote batteries. Damn you both.)
Comments: Shows lack of attention to detail, inconsistent effort. Willing to put in the work to improve.
Special Teams: Unsatisfactory
Positives: Zoltan Mesko dropped three punts inside the 20. Shayne Graham hit both of his field goal attempts. We didn’t hear new long snapper Mike Katula’s name except in an introductory sense; that’s always good.
Negatives: Graham missed an extra point attempt, which led to a failed 2-point conversion, a mini-Rube-Goldberg effect that shaved two points off the final score. Those are two points the Pats will need in the future.
Comments: Must avoid past behaviors. Please see me.
Coaching: High Honors
Positives: They took a mess of a team, brought them to a site that reeks of doom (or maybe that’s just the Ohio River – ha!), and prepared them to outplay the home team in just about every facet. They gave their QB time to complete short passes and execute long scoring drives to begin each half. New England’s pass rush took advantage of a piecemeal offensive line, suppressing Pittsburgh’s scoring until it was too late to wage a full comeback. If the Patriots can play like this – excitedly and efficiently – then good things shall continue.
Negatives: We assume that the defense loosened up in the fourth to avoid big plays, but the coaches need to define what “loosen” means. For example, when you loosen your belt, you don’t take it off and throw it into an incinerator. Also, 10 penalties for 113 yards will lose a lot of games. The team is young, not dumb.
Comments: Great work overall. Looking forward to more of the same.
Email Chris Warner at email@example.com