BOSTON (CBS) — It’s easy to look at figures like 42-27 and 537 total yards and see that the Patriots defense was bad and the offense didn’t execute well enough in their season-opening loss to the Chiefs. But it gets a little harder when trying to figure out the root of those problems. That’s where the folks at Pro Football Focus can be helpful.
PFF’s analysis tends to surprise people with their “grades” that they hand out to each individual player after games, in which they essentially determine how well everyone played in their specific roles. They can help when determining the difference between a bad throw and a bad catch attempt when a quarterback throws an interception – or, in the case of the Patriots, the difference between a bad run and a bad offensive line on a failed fourth-down play.
That’s why PFF’s grades often appear almost contrarian in nature. They show some level of disregard for basic stats like yards and touchdowns, instead skewing more toward the “eye test” when evaluating players’ individual performances and whether they did their proverbial jobs.
So in light of that, here are some PFF grades from last night’s Patriots-Chiefs game that may surprise you:
Strong game for Patriots offensive line
Considering the Patriots’ offensive struggles in the fourth quarter and failure to convert on two separate fourth-down plays, you’d think that the offensive line would earn relatively low marks for their performance against the Chiefs. That’s not how PFF saw it.
The Pats’ three interior offensive linemen earned three of the team’s top-five grades, as center David Andrews got a team-high 87.9, which rates as “high-quality”. A grade of 90 or above would rate as “elite”. Guards Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney collected grades of 87.2 and 83.3, respectively, while left tackle Nate Solder scored an 81.2. They did a good job keeping Brady upright for much of the game, but right tackle Marcus Cannon was the only lineman to get a “poor” grade with 55.3 as PFF credited him with allowing two of Tom Brady’s three sacks – all of which happened in the fourth quarter.
The offensive line all received good grades in the run-blocking department, despite the Patriots’ subpar 3.5 yards per carry on the night (just 124 yards on 35 carries). PFF pinned their struggles in the run game almost entirely on the performance of the actual runners, including …
An abysmal grade for Mike Gillislee
PFF’s shockingly poor 49.5 grade for Gillislee shows how little value they place on getting into the end zone. Yes, the newcomer went full LeGarrette Blount with three touchdowns punched in at the goal line, but overall he ran for just 45 yards on 15 carries and got stuffed on both fourth down opportunities. James White was no better, rushing for 38 yards on 10 carries (he got a “below average” 63.9 grade).
According to PFF (via the Boston Sports Journal), Gillislee, White, and Rex Burkhead didn’t break a single tackle on 28 combined carries. Burkhead earned a 64 grade on 10 total snaps.
The Patriots were considered to have a deep stable of running backs entering the season – Dion Lewis barely even played, lining up for just six snaps – but they sure didn’t play like an impressive bunch all-around, despite Gillislee’s three scores.
Good marks for Patriots secondary
The secondary was also considered one of the Patriots’ biggest strengths entering the season, and they certainly boast some legit talent with Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, and Devin McCourty. It didn’t seem that way against the Chiefs, who burned them for several big plays including a 75-yard touchdown for Tyreek Hill.
Despite the handful of costly defensive breakdowns, PFF was actually impressed with the play of the secondary on Thursday night. Gilmore earned an “above average” 83.5 grade and was absolved of blamed for the coverage breakdown on the Hill touchdown. He was targeted three times and allowed just one catch for four yards.
PFF actually blamed safety Devin McCourty for Hill’s big play, yet still graded him an 83.9. It does make sense, as McCourty at times looked like the only defender capable of making plays. Malcolm Butler earned an “average” 76 grade despite the fact that his effort felt worse than that; he committed a costly pass interference penalty that helped set up the Chiefs’ touchdown late in the second quarter.