Moments after New England’s 35-21 victory against the Chargers on Sunday, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was asked to characterize the defense through two games this season.
“Well, we?re 2-0,” Belichick responded. “We did some good things; there are some things we?ve got to do better, things we need to work on. I?d characterize the whole team that way — offensively, defensively, special teams. We?ve done enough to win two games. We beat two good football teams, but we?ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Though the answer lacked specific details, Belichick spoke the truth. Let’s assess things a little more closely here.
Jeff Howe: A-
Aside from stalling in the third quarter, the Patriots did a number on San Diego’s impressive defense. And now that Tom Brady is connecting with Deion Branch, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski on the same type of level as Wes Welker, there’s no reason to believe they’ll slow down.
What grade would you give the Patriots offense against the Chargers?
Jeff Howe: B-
It wasn’t as good of a performance as they had in Miami, but the Chargers offense is nothing to shake a stick at. The Patriots get high marks for eliminating tight end Antonio Gates, serving up another goal-line stand and forcing four turnovers. The concerning aspect came with the Chargers’ 10-for-12 ratio on third down. This was reminiscent of a 2010 defensive performance when the Patriots were strong in the red zone and played opportunistic enough to make sure big chunks of yardage didn’t turn into points.
What grade would you give the Patriots defense against the Chargers?
Jeff Howe: A-
Nothing really stuck out here aside from Stephen Gostkowski‘s 47-yard field goal before the half that put the staple on Vince Wilfork‘s interception. Matthew Slater also had a great open-field tackle on the punt that sidelined Zoltan Mesko.
What grade would you give the Patriots special teams against the Chargers?
Jeff Howe: B
Obviously, Belichick wanted Gates out of the picture, and that was executed. But there will need to be a better strategy in play for a team’s second weapon, showcased by Vincent Jackson‘s career day. The Patriots also stalled on fourth-and-4 from the San Diego 49, but Belichick said the decision to go for it rested on Mesko’s injury.
What grade would you give the Patriots coaching against the Chargers?
Jeff Howe: C
There’s a ton of talent in San Diego, but it’s the same old story. The Chargers can’t finish.
What grade do you give the Chargers?
Jeff Howe: Tom Brady
Only Brady can make 423 yards look like a drop in the bucket after throwing for 517.
Jeff Howe: Patrick Chung
This could have been Nate Solder, Rob Ninkovich or Branch, but Chung played the most vital role on Gates and also got bonus points for returning to the game with a hard cast that covered an apparently broken thumb.