Rob Gronkowski had a very good game. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
The Patriots held on to a win against the Chargers out in San Diego. Any other year, this would be great news and it would mean the Patriots played great football. This year, however, is different. Much different. The Chargers did everything they could to hand the Patriots the game and the Patriots did everything the could to give the game back. Luckily for Patriots fans everywhere, the Patriots weren't able to give away the victory.
Here are my thoughts from the game.
Pass Protection - The Patriots could not keep Brady clean the entire game. The Chargers managed to sack him 4 times, with countless pressures and hits. The Patriots had to replace Dan Connolly at left guard at half time with Ryan Wendell because of how inefficient the Patriots offense performed in the first half- any noise from Logan Mankins' corner? Matt Light couldn't stop Antwan Barnes, an OLB, and Dan Koppen couldn't stop Antonio Garay, NT. Connolly falls in between Koppen and Light, which means that it's his job to help them out if he's not covering anyone. He didn't. The entirety of the offensive line looked pathetic and will have to have a stern talking to with offensive line coach Dante Scarneccia. Brady has been sacked 12 times this season, which is only 4 fewer than all of last season. This unit is struggling.
Underneath Coverage on Defense - The Chargers were able to slice the Patriots underneath the entire game due to the poor transitional coverage of the inside linebackers, Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton. The Chargers ran the ball twice in the entirety of the second half. TWICE. That's Bill O'Brien status. Darren Sproles had 1 run for a 6 yard gain and Mike Tolbert had his 1 yard touchdown run. Two runs. They weren't setting up the run, which means that the Patriots have little excuse for setting their linebacker zone so far back. The Chargers had over 10 passes underneath for over 100 yards. Sproles, Tolbert and Patrick Crayton took advantage underneath for big gains and easy first downs.
Brandon Spikes was on the bench for most of the second half because of how frequently the Chargers threw the ball. Guyton and Mayo were often 7 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and the Chargers receivers would run crossing patterns only 3 yards beyond, creating distance away from the tacklers and getting yards after the catch. Mayo would cover the receiver on the right side of the defense and Guyton would take the receiver on the left side. The only issue- who covers in the middle? The receivers would catch the ball in the middle with no one covering them and squeeze the defense for more yards.
Now I would rather the Patriots give up yardage between the 20s and not in the Red Zone, which is what this defense produces, but I would rather the Patriots not give up yardage in the first place. When a team is fielding their #3 and #4 receivers on the field and a hobbled #1 tight end, there's no business sitting back in coverage. I wasn't a fan of the play calling, nor was I happy with how the inside linebackers played in the box.
Jake Ingram - Ingram has had a pretty rough season, with lots of low/high/to the side snaps. He's been extremely inconsistent. This game, for the whole first half, Ingram had no control over where the ball would go. It ended up in the dirt more than it did in Mesko's hands on punting snaps. He was called for a penalty. Not a good showing for a player who plays a completely un-guaranteed position. Look for the Patriots to try out some long snappers this week- Ingram will stay on the roster, but another game like today and he may be looking for a new job.
First Half Offense - The Chargers gave the Patriots 4 turnovers in the first half, off which the Patriots scored 10 points.
1st TO: Touch Down
2nd TO: 3 Yards, Punt
3rd TO: -14 Yards (yes, negative), Field Goal
4th TO: 6 Yards, Punt
That's pitiful. Tom Brady was throwing at feet, the offensive line was not giving Brady any time, nor were they opening any lanes for the running backs. With no time for plays to develop, the entire offense flopped. Surprisingly, the team scored more first half points than second half points, but at least the second half offense was able to sustain a drive.
See the Bad and the Good after the jump!
4th Quarter Awareness - There is a little over 7 minutes left in the whole game and the Chargers are down two scores. The Patriots have scored on their past three drives. The Chargers don't want to give the Patriots the ball back and an opportunity to score. What happens? The Chargers recover an onside kick and make the score closer than it had any business of being. The Patriots did not play smart 4th quarter football and it almost cost them the game.
Running Game - BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead combined for 19 carries and 48 yards. That's 2.5 yards/carry. They could not be counted on to pick up any yards at any point in the game. Yeah, BJGE got a touchdown. Yeah, Woodhead helps in the passing game. Both of these players are solid complimentary players. Neither of them are the answer. Oh, yeah, 4th and 1.
Tom Brady - He got a touchdown and didn't throw an interception. He completed a shade under 60% of his passes and picked up 159 yards. So why is Brady under the bad? Watching the game, it was clear that Brady was uncomfortable under pressure. He was unable to get out of the pocket once it collapsed (not entirely his fault), nor was he able to get rid of the ball before he was taken to the field. He was throwing the ball into the dirt. He was extremely inaccurate with the deep ball. He still won, but he needs to work on creating a rapport with his Moss-less receiving core.
The Refs - A lot of the calls were suspect, for both the Patriots and the Chargers. The bump on Deion Branch that gave the Patriots a first down was marginal at best. The non-overturned challenge on Rivers-Hester somehow backwards pass (reverse Music City Miracle?) where Rivers' threw the ball sideways, but his body position and Hester's body position made it look like a backwards pass. I'm sure there were a bunch more that shouldn't have been called, or that should have been called. The Patriots were lucky there were mental mistakes on the Chargers offense (dropping the ball without being touched, not falling on a potentially live ball), or else the game might have shifted to the Chargers' favor.
There were still some good calls (false start at the very end to push the Chargers back 5 yards before the field goal, illegal hands to the face against both teams) that keeps me from putting the refs in the "ugly" category. The Patriots walk away with the win, and I believe they're the better team, but there will still be some question marks from Chargers fans and other rival fans.
Pat Chung - This isn't Chung's fault, but he had to leave the game very early in the second quarter with a knee injury. With Chung sitting out with an injury, and with Jarrad Page out with a calf injury, that left undrafted free agent safety Sergio Brown as the only strong safety on the roster. The Patriots had to match Brown up against an injured tight end in Antonio Gates. A hobbled Gates wins that match-up against an undrafted rookie every time. Gates had 4 catches for 50 yards and a touchdown, all in the 4th quarter.
Defensive Awareness - The defense took advantage of some mental lapses of the Chargers to help the team win. Not much else to say. James Sanders did a great job on the fumble recovery and Rob Ninkovich made a smart play of covering the potential backwards pass.
Rob Gronkowski - This tight end is extremely efficient on the field. He picked up 2 catches and a touchdown on 2 targets. He should emerge as a red zone threat and should have had a bigger game, except the Patriots couldn't get into the red zone. He's a great blocker.
Devin McCourty - McCourty is a boss. The Patriots secondary would be unreal with Bodden and McCourty in the secondary, but that won't happen this season. Instead, McCourty has emerged as a fantastic #1 corner. Yes, he was matched up against #3 and #4 receivers, but he prevent big throws. He had a break-up, an interception and was great against the run. He has so much potential and I'm excited to see his growth for the rest of the season.
Brandon Deaderick - 7th Rounder who has passed 2009 2nd rounder Ron Brace on the depth chart. Deaderick started and picked up a sack and was fantastic against the run. The Chargers had 19 carries for 38 yards and a 2.0 yards/carry average. Deaderick wasn't alone and Vince Wilfork and Gerard Warren both had solid games, but I'll give the nod to Deaderick. There wasn't enough pressure on Phillip Rivers, but at least Deaderick had a positive impact.
Stephen Gostkowski - This kicker was great. He nailed all three of his field goals. He only had one touchback in a game where it would have been nice to get the ball out of Darren Sproles' hands, but he put the team in position to win.
Zoltan Mesko - We must look beyond the numbers for this. He had 4 punts for a 38.3 average, but he placed two punts in the 20 and only 1 was returnable (Sproles for 12 yards). His biggest value, though, was making up for long snapper Jake Ingram's terrible play. He had to pick up a couple snaps out of the dirt and had to snag a couple other passes out from the side. He had a very solid game.
Sergio Brown - The Rookie did more than should have been expected from him in his first NFL game. He had to cover the best tight end in the league (even though he was injured) and he had to spy the running game for the whole second half (even though it was only 2 carries in the 2nd half, one on the goal line). He had a solid first game in the NFL and should be a solid contributor down the road.
Victory - The Chargers had OVER twice as many total yards as the Patriots (363 vs 179). The Patriots had more first downs from penalties (4) than from running (3). The Chargers almost had the ball 10 more minutes than the Patriots (34:25 vs 25:35). The Patriots were in San Diego, where the Chargers were 2-0 on the season. The Patriots completed 25% of their 3rd downs (3/12), while the Chargers nearly completed 50% (7/15).
Oh, and the Patriots still won.
Big win for the Patriots. On to Week 8 and the Minnesota Vikings!