Phil Perry's Report Card: Patriots secondary aces the test vs Bills


FOXBORO -- The Patriots did what they should've done against the Bills in many respects. 

They stopped the run. They kept Buffalo's athletic-but-scattershot quarterback in the pocket and forced him to try to win with accuracy. They created turnovers. They won field position with their kicking game. They ran the ball for an average of almost six yards every time they handed off. 

They established on Sunday that -- despite an abysmal day from their passing game -- they were the tougher and more physical team. Not to mention more prepared. 

It's all -- good and bad -- reflected in this week's grades. Let's get to them . . . 


It's not necessarily the two interceptions that cratered Tom Brady's grade this week -- though you can quibble with how much blame he deserved on those targets to Rex Burkhead and Rob Gronkowski. Nor was it his quarterback rating (48.3), which was one of the lowest of his career. It was the throws Brady made when he wasn't pressured that made this an un-Brady-like performance. His first throw of the game was dropped by Julian Edelman but thrown behind. He threw inaccurately to an open James White over the middle and he missed an open Edelman entirely in the intermediate middle portion of the field. He bailed out of throws to Cordarrelle Patterson and Gronkowski, and even one completion to Edelman was off the mark, forcing Edelman to jump and get drilled as he came down. 


This grade should be higher given the totals the Patriots rushed for. The 273 yards they carved out were the most in over a decade for the franchise. Sony Michel and James White both had strong days. Michel according to Pro Football Focus had 69 of his 124 yards rushing come after contact, and he forced a whopping five missed tackles. White, meanwhile, had a key touchdown run from just outside of the red zone, taking advantage of an opening in the middle of the field when the Bills were concerned with a Patterson end-around. The reason the grade isn't higher is that Burkhead lost a fumble and appeared to wrong the wrong way on an apparent option route that led to Brady's first pick. Both Michel and White also had rough snaps in pass-protection so it was far from perfect from this group despite their gaudy rush totals. 


You may be looking at this grade as the polar opposite of the running back grade, which upon first glance may not have looked high enough. How were Patriots receivers capable of being in the "B" range when Chris Hogan wasn't targeted and Phillip Dorsett barely played in Josh Gordon's absence? Patterson's ability to create in the run game helped make the Patriots relatively explosive at a time when they are devoid of explosive options. Edelman's touchdown catch-and-run on fourth down ended up being a key play in the game and illustrated perfectly what he is at the moment: Still Brady's most dependable option in critical situations and a grinder. Patriots wideouts also had a nice day blocking. Hogan and Edelman were key in opening some of those end-around runs, whether with blocks or by running routes to occupy defenders. And Edelman got a two-for-one on White's touchdown when the Bills lost leverage by widening when Patterson began his "missile" motion. Edelman picked up a penalty, though, and the receivers were so minimally impactful as pass-catchers that this grade can't rise above where it was. Edelman also had a drop, continuing a bad stretch in that regard for him.


This grade was close to being one mark lower and entering the "D" range. Gronkowski and James Develin did make impactful blocks in the run game, though, so it wasn't a completely forgettable performance. It was just close. The Bills entered the game with among the best pass defenses in football, but for Gronkowski to be held catchless -- even given his recent performances -- is eye-opening. With Gordon gone, Gronkowski may be the team's best vertical threat, which speaks volumes as to where the offense is at the moment. If they can't get more from him in the passing game, it's going to be hard for them to move the ball if they're ever playing from behind or going against a defense that is better on first down than the Bills were. Gronkowski also picked up a penalty in this one.


The Patriots offensive line always knew they could run the ball the way they did Sunday. They just needed more opportunities. As David Andrews explained it after the game, if you're picking up penalties and putting yourself behind the sticks (as was the case in Pittsburgh), or if you're playing from behind on the scoreboard, you're not going to be given a chance to run the football. The Patriots did neither against Buffalo, picking up only three flags offensively. Trent Brown had a tough time in pass protection, allowing five quarterback pressures in all -- including one that led to a sack -- but Brady was just sacked once and hit twice more. Against an impressive front, it was an impressive day for the big fellas. 


Ryan Allen had himself a day once again, nailing three of his six punts inside the 20 and placing them in such a way, and with enough hang time, that Matthew Slater was able to camp underneath to down them easily. Slater also blocked a punt -- that unit's third in three weeks -- thanks to some trickery at the line of scrimmage between him and Nate Ebner that confused Buffalo's protection. Edelman had a 25-yard punt return, Keion Crossen had two special-teams tackles on kick coverage, and Stephen Gostkowski made all four of his kicks on a windy day at Gillette Stadium. If not for a couple of questionable returns by Patterson, this might've been a straight "A" effort. 


They had one job, and they did it well. Josh Allen ran just five times for 30 yards. He was forced to throw a season-high 41 times, something that surely neither he nor his coaching staff wanted to see. The front, for the most part, played with solid rush-lane integrity and crush-rushed their way into the Bills backfield occasionally. Even if pressure was a side benefit to keeping Allen stationary, they were able to get plenty. The rookie was hurried 14 times and hit five more. Trey Flowers was a handful all afternoon, and Deatrich Wise stepped up with one of his better games of the season. 


Not much here to knock. They were part of that front for large swaths of the game and played a role in making Allen uncomfortable. They appeared to leave some space for Allen to hit his tight end for a gain of 19 on a play-action throw, and in total the group allowed seven of eight passes to be completed in their area for 83 of Allen's 217 yards. Kyle Van Noy combined with Flowers for a hit on Allen early in the second half, continuing a solid stretch of pass-rush production for him. He also stopped Robert Foster for no gain on a screen, and Elandon Roberts helped keep Allen from breaking for a long one when he stepped up and made a tackle on Buffalo's second drive of the game to limit the quarterback to a gain of five.


Was this group helped by Allen's ineptitude at times? Sure. Were they helped by the sun once when Foster broke away from Stephon Gilmore and then couldn't find the football? Yep. But this was exactly the kind of day that one of the more talented and experienced secondaries in football should have against a quarterback like Allen. They broke on two poorly thrown balls and high-pointed them beautifully for picks by Jason McCourty and JC Jackson. They broke up two more passes, and even when Buffalo was driving, they snuffed that out quickly when McCourty forced a fumble down the field. McCourty's game was particularly interesting because he gave way to JC Jackson on the outside and Jon Jones on the inside to start. He played just 33 snaps -- his snap total was down in Miami as well (31) -- but made plays when he was on the field. Patrick Chung's performance was also worth noting as what he did against tight ends and in terms of being part of the group asked to shadow Allen -- he made one key third-down open-field tackle on Allen that forced a punt in the first -- helped make this one of his better games of the year. Jackson's pick bumped his quarterback rating against number down to 31.3 for the season, which is the best mark in the NFL. He now has three picks on the year. 

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