Patriots report card: A dismal debut
The good news is they’ll get better, because if they get worse they’re the Jets.
What you saw Thursday night against the Chiefs was an ill-prepared team with too many untested faces being shoved into action without a full grasp of how to do their jobs. What resulted, as Strother Martin once said to Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke,” was “what we got here is failure to communicate.’’
If you can’t hold the edge in today’s NFL and you can’t consistently cover backs out of the backfield (6-for-6 for 102 yards and a touchdown), you can’t win even if your opponent does commit 15 penalties for 139 lost yards and countless poor field position. Add to that an offense that had a 33 percent conversion rate on third down, zero percent on fourth (0-for-2), and 50 percent in the red zone, and you’ve got a Red Alert!
That’s what the Chiefs gave the Patriots on opening night. Sunday against the Saints we’ll find out if the bulk of the problems were communication issues, talent issues or maybe both.
Forced to throw deep and to the edges because the Chiefs took away the short crossing routes and jammed the middle in the second half, Tom Brady struggled. He was 7-of-19 after halftime and wavered with the long ball. Brady completed only 44 percent of his passes (he completed 67 percent last year). He completed just 2-of-10 over 20 yards and, to make a larger point, he threw 20 yards or longer only 49 times all last season. He was out of his element and it showed. The Chiefs forced him to take shots downfield and he got little out of it because it’s not his game. He missed wide-open Dwayne Allen up the sideline early and overthrew Rob Gronkowski on a seam route. KC often rushed only three, dropping eight in coverage and leaving Brady nowhere to go with the ball even though he had ample time. Early in the game Brady was killing the Chiefs’ beleaguered young corners Terrance Mitchell and Phillip Gaines in man coverage, but when they went to zone and flooded the field the windows were tighter and often closed on his fingers. He especially struggled on first down, where he was 5-of-15 with two sacks. He was without his security blanket, Julian Edelman, and didn’t use the tight end with his normal ease. He missed what should have been one scoring throw to Brandin Cooks and seemed to force several others into tight coverages, an unusual night of obstinancy and impatience. He lofted one perfect deep ball to Cooks for a 54-yard reception, putting it right in his hands from 60 yards away, and he found James White for a 26-yard catch-and-run when he read a safety blitz and threw right into the vacated zone, but as the night progressed he struggled to find open receivers, often because there were none. Life without Edelman is a work in progress. Thursday night Tom Brady didn’t make much progress getting used to it.
RUNNING BACKS: C-minus
It was an odd night for the runners. Together they piled up 124 yards, but averaged only 3.5 yards per carry. Mike Gillislee, who is supposed to replace LeGarrette Blount’s blunt force trauma attack, scored three short-yardage touchdowns but was stopped cold twice on fourth-and-1. James White also was stopped on third-and-2, coming up a yard short with a swing pass. According to Pro Football Focus, neither those two nor Rex Burkhead made a single tackler miss in 28 carries, meaning they gained yards until someone showed up and then down they went. Not good. Fullback James Develin made some crushing lead blocks, but he also was stuffed in the hole by LB Ramik Wilson on 4th-and-1, leaving Gillislee with nowhere to run. White also was bowled over by LB Justin Houston on a failed flea flicker call that showed the growing desperation of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Kind of early in the year for that and it went nowhere. The Chiefs defense drove White backwards and to the ground at Brady’s feet after he’d lateraled the ball back to his quarterback, breaking down the entire play. It was a night of breakdowns, and those three failed short yardage plays were a microcosm of it all.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B
Until he was carted off, Danny Amendola had a strong night with six catches for 100 yards. But it was evident he’s neither as shifty nor as durable in the slot as Julian Edelman and that could become a problem. Case in point was when he got 5 yards on a third-and-6 out of the slot. When’s the last time Edelman was a yard short of the sticks? But he also had catches of 19, 22 and a 27-yarder out of the slot when he toasted Ron Parker and made a 22-yard catch on a third down in which he faked inside and turned out so quickly he left poor CB Terrance Mitchell wondering what just happened. He also was his usual scrappy self when blocking until a head injury sent him to the sidelines. Brandin Cooks averaged 29.3 yards on three catches but did more than that. He forced two holding calls (one in the end zone) and two interference calls — one in the end zone and one at the 2-yard-line. On the down side, he got himself in position to make a 9-yard reception on 3rd-and-10, which showed a lack of presence of mind, but it didn’t matter because he was out of bounds any way. Overall, it was a good debut for the dangerous weapon. Chris Hogan was a non-factor. Brady targeted him five times but only found him once for 8 yards and he was not open when Brady tried to reach him deep. He had some early success running the sweep, but it later was smelled out for no gain. They are now down three receivers to injury one game into the season. Not good.
TIGHT END: D-plus
Brady was 2-for-8 targeting tight ends, finding Rob Gronkowski twice and Dwayne Allen not at all. Gronk didn’t look like he had much pep in his step, and his best play was nullified when the ball touched the ground in the end zone as he was bobbling it on a post route. Gronk beat CB Terrance Mitchell on that, which was a physical mismatch, and made a great catch. Except it wasn’t a catch. He and All-Pro S Eric Berry battled hard all night, mostly 1-on-1, and it was no more than a stalemate. Berry actually probably got the better of it. Berry was all over him on a failed seam route and a deep turn out but Gronk got him on a deep cross for 16 even though Berry was all over him. Allen was overthrown early on a route in which he had a little separation but wasn’t on the same page with Brady. He made a good edge block on LB Dee Ford, creating a crease for Gillislee’s 16-yard run. Gronk did not have a good blocking night, the worst moment coming when he couldn’t hold his block on LB Justin Houston on a failed flea flicker in which Houston pressured Brady into an incompletion.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C-minus
Unlike on defense, this is a veteran group so communication should not be a problem. Until late in the game they protected Brady well enough but lost control of the line of scrimmage in the second half and were physically beaten too many times. Marcus Cannon allowed two sacks and two pressures, twice being beaten to his outside shoulder by Justin Houston. He also gave up a pressure when Houston ran right by him. The good news is he allowed only two sacks last season and both were in the season opener, too. Maybe he just has a hard time re-adjusting to the end of summer break? They were able to get enough push for Gillislee to score three times in short yardage, but they were stuffed twice on fourth-and short and once on third-and-short, which was troubling. On one tackle Nate Solder, playing as a tight end, couldn’t stop Houston from splitting the gap. Houston knocked him back on a fourth-and-1, resulting in no gain. The whole right side got knocked back on another short-yardage failure. Solder was also called for holding Houston on the KC 2, costing a TD run. He also pulled out but failed to block CB Terrance Mitchell when he was the only man left to block, allowing him to run by him and make the tackle. Odd. Center David Andrews and guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason were mostly solid, but Andrews was unable to get out on LB Derrick Johnson on a James White sweep, the problem being he was held up by DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches and couldn’t get to the second level fast enough, resulting in a 6-yard loss. Andrews also allowed a sack and a pressure. Not good for that kind of leakage in the middle. Thuney perfectly executed a difficult reach block on one of Gillislee’s 2-yard TD runs, pancaking DT Roy Miller.
DEFENSIVE LINE: D
Defensive tackle Kony Ealy couldn’t make this team? The off-season acquisition the team tried to sell as “technically” its “second round pick” in a press release was a total bust, and the proof was he couldn’t find a place among a group that was repeatedly knocked off the line of scrimmage in the second half and struggled without success to hold the edge. When your opponent’s run game averages 6.9 yards a carry, and their pedestrian QB leaves with a 148.6 QB rating and four touchdown passes, the problems start up front. Defensive end Trey Flowers did what he does best, rush the passer — well enough to get four pressures and two sacks. One was on a nifty inside stunt, but the other resulted from Deatrich Wise flushing Alex Smith from the pocket. Wise did the heavy lifting on that one. Wise had two pressures and a sack and Adam Butler had two hurries and forced a hold, good production for young guys who often seemingly had no clue what they were doing. Don’t’a Hightower looked mostly lost at end, which figures because he’s an inside linebacker. To think otherwise hurts you in two places. He couldn’t hold the edge consistently and was literally buried by a double team block on one play that turned the edge into a thoroughfare. Of course no one else held it either, particularly in the second half when the Chiefs ran for 118 of their 185 rushing yards. Wise was knocked off the edge by TE Demetrius Harris on Kareem Hunt’s 58-yard run late in the fourth quarter that effectively finished off the Pats. Harris took Wise inside, safety Patrick Chung was leveled by tight end Ross Travis and linebacker Elandon Roberts was upended by tackle Eric Fisher. That stove in the entire right side. That play was no accident. Flowers and safety-turned-linebacker Jordan Richards had the same thing happen earlier. Lawrence Guy was stiff-armed away by Hunt on a 7-yard off-tackle run like he was a palm frond on one play. Normally effective run stuffer Alan Branch was not much of a factor, although the inside play of Branch and Malcolm Brown was far less a problem than what occurred on the edge.
Kyle Van Noy played a lot. You could tell because most of the time you could read his name on the back of his jersey as he went tumbling over. Early on he got caught in a bad matchup with Tyreek Hill, a criminal mismatch for which defensive coordinator Matt Patricia should have been forced to wear a clown nose himself. No way Van Noy had the speed to cover Hill and a 14-yard gain resulted. But that was nowhere near as bad as when newly acquired Cassius Marsh, a defensive end in Seattle, ended up in coverage on Kareem Hunt swinging out of the backfield. Hunt ran an out-and-up and left Marsh so far behind he needed an international operator to reach Hunt. That was good for a 78-yard TD and a 28-27 lead from which the Pats never recovered. Marsh and Van Noy left Albert Wilson wide open for a 9-yard catch, neither wiling to move off their own spot to get him because they were uncertain what their assignments were. They were co-conspirators on Hunt’s 4-yard TD run too, both being bowled over trying to maintain the left edge. Van Noy was instrumental in Charcandrick West’s 21-yard TD up the middle when he was leveled by left guard Bryan Witzmann, opening up a massive hole. Hightower’s departure with a knee injury in the second half hurt, but he was mostly playing out of position so he wasn’t effective and neither were his often lost linebacking counterparts.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: D
Cornerback Stephen Gilmore’s debut was much like his time in Buffalo — many good moments but with a grave error sandwiched between them. Gilmore was in single coverage much of the game and all over Chris Conley on several throws, but he inexplicably let Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs’ most dangerous receiver, go deep on a play in which safety Devin McCourty had been pulled to the middle of the field by tight end Travis Kelce. Gilmore should have known he had no help when Hill ran an out-and-up from a stack formation. He had the outside receiver and McCourty broke to the middle with Kelce, his back to Gilmore, only to have Gilmore suddenly release Hill to no one. The result was an uncontested 75-yard TD catch. Other than that, Gilmore was solid. Same was not so for Malcolm Butler, who was targeted four times and allowed four receptions. Worse, he committed interference in the end zone just before halftime when he didn’t turn his head back to the ball while blocking off Demarcus Robinson. That’s a fundamental mistake that cost six points. He made a good tackle on Hill later in space to save a first down, but Conley beat him on a shallow cross for 18 yards to the Pats’ 9. Overall subpar day. It’s hard to say McCourty had a bad day because he led the team with 10 tackles and recovered a fumble, but he also allowed four receptions on six targets, including tight end Demetrius Harris overpowering him on a 7-yard hook route for a score. Kelce also beat him for 14 yards on a deep cross, but he was all over Kelce on several other routes. We saw too much of Jordan Richards at dime LB, but he did force a fumble. Patrick Chung struggled when trying to help on the edge and was unlucky when a pass went off his fingers and was caught. Eric Rowe was generally sound until late in the game when he was badly beaten off the line by Kelce and then out of the slot by Conley for a critical 25-yard gain to the Pats’ 15. You can’t give up 368 passing yards and four touchdowns with no picks and conclude this was anything but a humbling performance.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus
As usual the return game did little, but when they took back-to-back penalties for running into the punter it was a new negative. Ryan Allen’s 38.7 net punting average was misleading because he dropped two of six punts inside the 20 and the four that were returned netted only 2.5 yards on average. Stephen Gostkowski was 2-for-2 on short field goals and his kickoffs led to some poor field position for the Chiefs, who stubbornly kept trying to return deep balls and were either smoked in coverage or committed penalties on the returns. Jonathan Jones blew up De’Anthony Thomas on one kick return, dumping him at the KC 13. Brandon King was flagged for trying to rip Thomas’ helmet off on another, giving KC the ball at its 45. Late in the game, Dion Lewis tried to make something happen on a kick return and was blasted by unblocked Ukeme Eligwe at New England’s 14. However, they did the most important thing in keeping Tyreek Hill in check on punt returns.
The Patriots coaches had no answers to the questions Andy Reid and Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton asked of them in the second half. Sutton took away the middle of the field from Brady and switched from ill-conceived man coverage in the first half to zone coverage in the second. With the middle clogged, Brady was forced to throw more to the offensive edges with poor results (7-of-19 in second half). KC’s defensive line took over the scrimmage line like an invading force in the second half and the Pats had no counter. Offensively, Reid attacked the weak edges of New England’s defense, forcing linebackers and DE Cassius Marsh into bad coverage matchups, the latter resulting in a huge touchdown. Difficult as it was to fathom, Kansas City was also more physical, a sign that one team was far more ready to play than the other. That’s on the coaching staff. So were the communication breakdowns on defense. When your opening remarks at a postgame press conference are, “Bad defense, bad coaching, bad plan, bad football,” that’s a bad night for the Genius Squad.
HEAD OF THE CLASS
Danny Amendola: He did the best he could coming out of the slot until he got hurt. Again.
Brandin Cooks: He averaged 29.3 yards per catch and forced a pass interference call, which is why they brought him here.
Trey Flowers: Two sacks was a good start on a front that otherwise never got out of reverse.
BACK OF THE PACK
Bill Belichick: When your quarterback and most dominant player says your team needs an attitude change that starts with you.
Rob Gronkowski: Eric Berry won this battle, taking the Pats’ most dominant player out of the game.
Matt Patricia: That was a game plan deserving of a clown nose.