The Pats kicked off their title defense with a 28-21 W over the Pittsburgh Steelers back on Thursday, and for all things considered, it was a solid all-around performance from Bill Belichick and Co.
Quarterback Tom Brady was surgical, Rob Gronkowski was a monster and the defense was a mixed bag.
There are A's on the board on the offensive side of the ball, but it was on the defensive side of the ball were the grades are average, but for their own extenuating circumstances.
Quarterback - A+
Coming off the banishment of his four-game suspension, Tom Brady was near-perfect on the night, going 25-for-32 for 288 yards, throwing four touchdowns and finishing with a 143.8 QB rating. If not for three key overthrows on the night (one to Dion Lewis out of the backfield and two downfield, one to Danny Amendola and another to Julian Edelman) Brady would've missed only a couple of passes all night. He tore up the suspect Steelers defense by spreading the ball around to seven different receivers while also smashing their goal line defense by tossing all four TD passes to tight ends. Overall, an awesome start for TB12 in 2015.
Running Backs - B
With LaGarrette Blount suspended, Dion Lewis stepped up and put in a great performance in his first-career start. Lewis ran the ball 15 times for 69 yards, caught five balls for 51 yards and used his agility and quickness to dip and duck out of tackles in tight spaces. The only other back to carry the ball was Brandon Bolden, who did so five times for just one yard.
Wide Receivers - B-
Save for another trademarked Julian Edelman performance - 11 catches on 12 targets for 97 yards - the Pats didn't get much else from the position. Danny Amendola caught a pair of balls for 24 yards, while Aaron Dobson caught the only ball thrown his way for a nine-yard pickup. The damage was done elsewhere on the field, namely through the...
Tight Ends - A+
Ron Gronkowski was a monster, catching five balls for 94 yards and three touchdowns. His counterpart in Scott Chandler caught the only pass thrown at him for a one-yard touchdown. Just the basic look of Gronkowski and Chandler lining up next to each other was ridiculous, never mind the times the team threw out four tight ends on the line.
Offensive Line - B
With three rookies starting in the interior of the line, the line played pretty well for all things considered. Brady was firing the ball out so fast that the line didn't have to protect as long in pass protection. The run game didn't take off as much as it could've, as the team averaged just 3.3 yards per carry. There were a couple of slip ups through the game, including a few missed assignments on blitz pickup that resulted in clean shots on Brady. Yet David Andrews took every snap at center in place of Bryan Stork and held the position seamlessly.
Defensive Line - C
DeAngelo Williams put up 127 yards on the ground, averaging six yards per carry, but that was partly by design. The Pats didn't load up on the line to stop the run game (Malcolm Brown - 26 of 73 snaps, Alan Branch - 12, Sealver Siliga - 22) basically baiting the Steelers into running the ball, similar to the game two years ago against the Broncos when Knowshown Moreno rushed for a billion yards. Brown sacked Antonio Brown on that ridiculous double-pass play early in the game, while Jabaal Sheard picked one up later in the contest. Other than that, the line didn't put much pressure on Ben Roethlisberger. They did a good job of keeping Big Ben in the pocket and didn't allow him to make many plays with his feet. Even still, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard could've done more to assist in the run game and crash on #7.
Linebackers - B -
The bulk of the work came down to Jamie Collins (all 73 snaps) and Dont'a Hightower (61 snaps), while the returning Jerod Mayo played only 11 snaps, again pointing to Belichick's desire to goat the Steelers into running the ball. Hightower led the team with eight total tackles, while Collins had six. Both were good in the cover game but were caught out of position in a handful of spots through the game.
Defensive Backs - C
Malcolm Butler yielded over 100 yards to All-Pro Antonio Brown, but it wasn't for a lack of effort. Butler was there on a handful of plays, missing the ball by inches. Butler played him close on almost every play, sticking to Brown throughout the contest. Brown is one of the best receivers in the game, and he showed it on four or five balls when he juked Butler out of his cleats with stutter steps, double moves and bursts of lightning in tight spaces. Bradley Fletcher saw four balls completed on him for 65 yards, and on the whole Roethlisberger did pretty much whatever he wanted to on the night.
Special teams - C
The Pats didn't get anything in the punt game, as a 15-yard return from Danny Amendola was called back due to a block in the back from Matt Slater, while two 60-yard-plus punts were wiped out by penalties. Stephen Gostkowski wasn't needed for kicks on the night.
Coaching - A
Headsetgate? Not a chance. The defensive line with an illegal shift? Nope. As they've always done, TB12 and Belichick spread out the Steeler defense and attacked them with short routes and quick movement. The four tight end formation on the goal line was brilliant and likely had the defense thinking run the whole way. Baiting Mike Tomlin to continue to run the ball while their down a pair of scores worked against Pittsburgh's efforts to get back into the game.
Photo Credit: CSNNE