The Patriots had a strong effort from the usual suspects against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tom Brady had a strong game, the offensive line opened up holes, and Gronkowski was an animal when given the ball. CB Malcolm Butler is continuing to get better and after a Pro Bowl caliber season has played his best two games as a starting CB. The rest of the PFF grades can be found here:
Tom Brady put up another strong game, with a season-best 85.9 grade. While Brady's counting stats were fairly average, the Patriots offense focused more on the running game. Brady had 7 incompetions, 3 drops, and only 2 were poor decisions. Brady had a perfect passer rating when targeting TE Rob Gronkowski (4 for 4, 93 yards, TD). Gronk earned a grade of 89.1 for the game and has been the Patriots best weapon the last two three weeks with 364 yards and 2 TD. Brady responded well when pressured, as he completed 6 of 11 passes for 114 yards and a TD pass to Gronk for a passer rating of 121.0. The passer rating when pressured was better than the 118.3 mark when not pressured.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots OL struggled with pass protection, with RT Marcus Cannon being the only Patriot lineman to not get flagged for a penalty or surrender a pressure. Cannon earned a grade of 85.9 and earned a positive pass blocking grade. FB James Develin and LG Joe Thuney were the other Top 5 grades on the offense, as they were able to create lanes for LeGarrette Blount to victimize the Steelers defense for 127 yards and 2 TD. The Patriots best runs came around the edges where blocking by the WRs, the TEs, and pulling guards gave Blount space to operate with. Gronkowski picked up a 82.3 run block grade.
On the defensive side of the ball, CB Malcolm Butler drew the difficult assignment of covering the league's best WR in Antonio Brown. Butler was up for the challenge again, earning a grade of 92.0 for his 2nd consecutive 90+ grade week. Butler defended 3 passes and intercepted a pass in the end zone, and nearly came up with a 2nd at the end of the first half. The defense played great as they forced the Steelers to throw the ball 50 times against 22 rushing attempts. The defense took away the downfield throws for Landry Jones, who completed only 43% of passes of 10+ yards. Jamie Collins had a solid game back from injury, getting the #2 grade of 87.6. Safety Patrick Chung had a solid game that included some nice plays against Le'Veon Bell in both run support and a pass breakup in the end zone. Safety Duron Harmon and LB Dont'a Hightower rounded out the top 5.
PFF game ball went to CB Malcolm Butler, who has had two consecutive games of 92 or better. Butler was a top 25 CB in the 2015 season in his first year as the primary starter and has gotten even better in his second year. Butler is setting himself up for a massive payday two years down the road.