I know I share stats and rankings from Pro Football Focus (PFF) every week, but when they offer up analysis it’s worth reading it and seeing how it aligns with your own opinions and reviews.
They just published some season superlatives that we’ll cover later in the article, but I needed to share a grade from week 6 that will knock your socks off.
Marcus Cannon was the highest-rated right tackle in the entire NFL this past week.
Oh yeah. We knew that TE Rob Gronkowski had an amazing day with a career-high 162 receiving yards. We knew that CB Malcolm Butler was a lock down corner against the Bengals #2 target (apart from a Brandon LaFell touchdown, and a nice pass break-up in the end zone against A.J. Green). We knew that LB Dont’a Hightower was incredible, making tackles all over the field and picking up a safety.
PFF notes that Tom Brady was barely edged out by Saints QB Drew Brees and his 69.4% completion rate, 465 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, and 1 interception.
“With Carlos Dunlap on the other side of the line of scrimmage, Marcus Cannon deserves special mention for not just playing well, but doing so against excellent opposition,” PFF writes. “He consigned Dunlap to the worst day of the DE’s season, allowing just two total pressures on 41 pass-blocking snaps and run blocking well against a tough defender.”
NESN’s Doug Kyed tracks pressure stats after games and he has Cannon down for allowing a quarterback hit and three additional pressures, although the difference might have come against other pass rushers.
“Cannon led the team in pressures allowed but wasn’t bad,” Kyed noted. “He’s been much better this season after slimming down.”
Cannon had a great game, regardless of whether you thought he was best in the league, and that’s just a great sign for the offensive line and coach Dante Scarnecchia. LT Nate Solder is having his best season in a long time, while it seems like the Patriots can’t go wrong with Cannon or Cameron Fleming at the other tackle spot.
The Patriots offensive line is finally average, which is a huge step forward after the past two seasons. We’ll take it.
And now for the superlatives that I promised. PFF tracks some pretty unique statistics, like the number of slant routes run by an offense or the playing percentage at the 3-technique versus the 4-technique, that I think are extremely valuable.
Best Blitzer: LB Dont’a Hightower
“The Patriots like to blitz their inside linebackers, but practically no other players,” PFF writes. “Despite knowing it's coming, teams are unable to stop Hightower from racking up pressure on the blitz. A season ago, he notched 24 total pressures on 116 blitzes and this season his rate is even better, having recorded a dozen total pressures on only 41 blitzes.”
Hightower has forced a safety in two straight weeks and the Patriots failed to generate any pressure against the Bengals unless Hightower crashed the pocket. He’s so important to this Patriots defense.
Best tackling Safety: FS Devin McCourty
“McCourty may not hit like Kam Chancellor or Earl Thomas, but as a byproduct of that, he doesn't miss tackles like they do, either,” PFF writes. “He has whiffed on just one tackle in the first six weeks of the season, having notched 30 solo tackles.”
McCourty might not be making impact interceptions- Patriots 4 team interceptions through 6 games is tied for second-fewest in the Bill Belichick era- but he’s playing everywhere on defense, matching up against tight ends and wide receivers and he’s not making any mistakes.
PFF also noted which quarterbacks are the best on each receiver route- Brady came up as the second-best quarterback in the NFL at throwing out routes and hitch/comeback routes. That’s a testament to his ball placement, but also to the Patriots wide receivers that run these routes, despite their low level production.