Patriots Report Card: Week 5 vs Jets
The Patriots put together their most complete performance of the 2011 season Sunday in a 30-21 victory over the rival New York Jets. It was a game that featured a career day from Benjarvus Green-Ellis and the best showing this year by an oft criticized defense. The victory pushes New England to 4-1 and knocks the Jets down to a very precarious 2-3, setting up what is sure to be an interesting division race between the two and surprising Buffalo the rest of the way.
Quarterback: A- Tom Brady was great again, but he benefitted from the Patriots gashing the Jets on the ground all day. He put the team in a commanding position by opening the second half with a short touchdown to Deion Branch and was a huge part of the Patriots batting .500 on third down. Only a pick by Antonio Cromartie kept his stat sheet from being totally clean, but Brady also did a great job of managing the game and doing his best Peyton Manning impression at the line of scrimmage.
Running Backs: A+ This was all about Green-Ellis, and the law firm made a strong case that the Patriots should lean on him more and more as the year goes on. The numbers are great, 27 carries for 136 yard and two touchdowns, but it was about more than that. Green-Ellis picked up hard yardage after contact and was able to run effectively when it mattered most. His 64 rushing yards in the fourth quarter helped salt away the game and showed that Patriots may have found an effective way to protect leads, something they struggled to do just two weeks ago.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B+ This was less of a pass-happy attack than in weeks past, but the receivers were still able to cash in most of their opportunities. Branch had the only receiving touchdown and also grabbed seven catches for 74 yards. Wes Welker continued his remarkable start, but was actually held in check relatively well by Jets corner Darrelle Revis. But, off a play action fake, Welker was able to sneak past Revis, who was playing the run, and burn safety Eric Smith for a 74-yard gain, accounting for the majority of his 124 yards. The only slight miscue was tight end Aaron Hernandez letting a potential touchdown bounce off his finger tips, but that’s nit-picking a bit since there are almost always drops.
Offensive Line: B Physically, this unit would get an A+. When they needed to, they just pushed the Jets front around. Logan Mankins and Brian Waters overwhelmed New York’s normally solid nose tackle Sione Pouha and rookie Muhammad Wilkerson could not hold the point of attack whether he lined up against Matt Light or Nate Solder. The Patriots were able to run the ball for over five yards a carry in the fourth quarter when the Jets knew it was coming, so the line deserves a great deal of credit for that. Mentally, however, the grade is nearly failing. Three obvious mental errors allowed sacks on Brady, and Light was just straight up beaten for another. Again, they pushed the Jets around, but protecting the quarterback against a Rex Ryan defense is also about identifying where pressure is coming from and sliding protection. The line did a poor job of that, and that drops their grade in my book.
Defensive Line: B+ Vince Wilfork did what he does. The massive nose tackle demanded double-teams all day and consistently held his ground against them in the middle of the line. Mark Anderson was able to get into the Jets’ backfield with relative ease, and was able to pick up a solo sack and assist on another with linebacker Rob Ninkovich. Most importantly, the line held the point of attack on first down and did not let the Jets get into any kind of rushing rhythm. They held the Jets under 100 yards on the ground and made third-and-long situations the norm for a struggling Jets offense. Still, to get an A you need to generate more heat on the quarterback, and this was against a Jets line that had allowed 14 sacks in the first four games. It would also help if Albert Haynesworth contributed anything.
Linebackers: C+ While the line dominated the trenches, New England’s depleted linebacking corps struggled to fill gaps. In all fairness, the group was without its best player, Jerod Mayo, but his replacement Gary Guyton had the quietest 14 tackle performance I can remember, with most of his stops coming more than eight yards downfield. Mayo is going to be out a while, so they are going to need to learn to play without him. Luckily for New England, Mark Sanchez was pretty putrid in his reads, constantly forcing the ball into coverage rather than check down to his backs flaring out of the backfield or tight end Dustin Keller who seemed to be running free underneath all day. Keller finished the day with one catch for seven yards, but when the Jets coaching staff watched the film this week, I’m sure they realized they missed plenty of opportunities because none of the Patriots linebackers could run with him. The unit gets the plus because Ninkovich was at least able to hurry Sanchez on a few occasions.
Defensive Backs: B This is a group that has become known for giving up a ton of yards but also finding ways to create turnovers and big plays in key moments. Sunday, they did the opposite. The Patriots only allowed 166 yards through the air, and played well in what seemed like more zone coverage this week. Safety Patrick Chung was again a tackling machine, tying Guyton for the team lead with 14, and the secondary took advantage of the many third-and-longs the Jets faced, holding them to 3-11 on third down. But, they also never made the big plays we’ve come to expect. Only Leigh Bodden was able to even deflect a pass, and nobody came close to picking one off. In fact, for as well as they played most of the day, when they were forced into press coverage, New England’s corners were actually beaten pretty easily by Santonio Holmes, regardless of who was covering him. Of course, the problem for the Jets was that Sanchez struggled to capitalize on nearly any of New England’s blown coverages, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.
Special Teams: D This was the one dark spot for New England, and it started with kick coverage. The Patriots made Joe McKnight look like Devin Hester returning kicks as he averaged over 40 yards a return and nearly took one to the house. The normally sure-handed Welker muffed a punt while trying to make a sliding catch and the return unit had numerous holding calls against them. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Zoltan Mesko were their usually reliable selves, but everything else was a disaster.
Coaching: A We all know that Bill Belichick and his staff usually make great adjustments, but I am surprised they have been running the ball this much. It seems to be the right call, especially against a Jets defense that boasts two of the best cover corners in the league, and it is helping the Patriots defense stay on the sideline, where it is nearly impossible to blow a coverage. The offensive game plan was sound, staying away from Revis and running the ball right at Wilkerson on the Jets front, and that helped the defense stay fresh and keep the Jets in check. The only reason there is no plus for a convincing win against a division rival is all of the special teams snafus, those need to be cleaned up. Other than that, nice job Bill!