1. LeGarrette Blount — The horse is kicking in the barnyard and nobody can do a thing to settle him down. Running with great lean right now. Pounding folks. Another one who is having fun. You can tell.
2. Logan Mankins — Giddy like a little boy when the Pats start to run the game. If I had John Hannah in his prime and Mankins in his, I think I’d take Mankins. It does not get any better.
3. Jamie Collins — They allowed him to do things mainly moving forward on Saturday and the kid exploded. I have no issues with him rushing Peyton Manning from one edge and Chandler Jones attacking from the other this week. His athletic ability is special.
1. Danny Aiken — One bad long snap is all it takes. Let’s hope he is renting.
2. Alfonzo Dennard — When someone named LaVon Brazill -- he of the 23-career catch Brazills -- has burnt you for a pair of long TDs, there is no need to talk smack or celebrate on the field if you actually make a play.
3. Kenbrell Thompkins — Officially has slid into the abyss after opening the year at the “S” (for savior) receiver. Three targets, no catches and he left early with yet another injury.
GRADING THE GROUPS
Line (A) ... Road-graders, steam-rollers and they moved in concert like the Pops’ string section. Huge holes allowed the Pats three lead backs to average 5.5 yards per try. They were mean and nasty. Old school stuff. A great effort to send NBC announcing relic Dan Dierdorf to pasture.
Running Backs (A+) ... LeGarrette Blount’s attitude and pad level make Corey Dillon’s work here look soft.
Tight Ends (C) ... They blocked, and Mike Hoomanawanui had a 6-yard grab, but they are clearly after-thoughts in this offense.
Wide Receivers (B-) ... This group scares me more than any other in Denver. Will Edelman, Amendola and Collie find a way to get open?
Quarterback (A-) ... Bump him up a half grade for stepping in as the holder on PATs. Courageous move for a starter when punter Ryan Allen got shmuckled. Only 13 of 25, but you must love the 7.9 yards per attempt. That’s vintage playoff Brady. So are the no interceptions.
Line (B) ... Decent pressure with a four-man rush all night. With little effort, they took Donald Brown and Trent Richardson out of the game. Again, this is the Jones boys, Sealver Siliga, Joe Vellano and Rob Ninkovich -- hardly a bunch of household names.
Linebackers (B+) ... Jamie Collins made plays. Finally, a Patriots linebacker with impact! Yes, he still struggles in space. But for the most part Matt Patricia had him attacking, and Collins does that well. Don’t buy the Dont’a Hightower revival that some Boston types would lead you to believe in. But hey, he doesn’t make that interception Saturday night if he’s not three steps behind the play when the Colts’ Stanley Havili bump sets a Luck offering into the air. Dane Fletcher tries, God bless him.
Secondary (A-) ... Some truly bad safety play and couple blown coverages by Alfonzo Dennard gave Andrew Luck his moments. But the rest of the night, they did a nice job, especially outside. The secondary is as healthy as it’s been, and yes, they made things happen. There was no bend-don’t-break. They made plays.
WHY BELICHICK IS BETTER
It’s only in the last few weeks that the Patriots have cranked up this amazing running attack. They kind of stumbled onto it, because of injuries, right?
Call me suspicious, but I wouldn’t put this past Bill Belichick as one of his grand schemes for the season.
Don’t believe it? Bear with me for a second. Former Masconomet Regional baseball coach and current E-T guest columnist Pete Delani turned me onto this theory back in March of 2013.
First, Belichick is and always has been a trail-blazer. The entire league pounced on his hurry-up and his spread attacks. This guy is known to make defenses try to do things they’re not used to. So why not go back to get big and ground and pound.
Look at the subtle moves he made. He let a little back like Danny Woodhead leave and stacked his deck with bigger, more durable types in LeGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden and even Shane Vereen.
Somehow, he carried an injured Jake Ballard, a tight end known first for his blocking, over a season to try and get him in the lineup. He kept a career blocking tight end like Mike Hoomanawanui around. There was no overbidding for receivers, he waited and drafted them later.
And, of course, we got bigger with the Danny Amendola for Wes Welker free-agency exchange.
As far back as the 2013 draft, Belichick looked to bulk up.
Now remember, Super Bowl XLVIII is a bad-weather, outdoor Super Bowl.
Would you doubt this theory? Not with Bill Belichick pulling the strings.
Genius. Sheer genius.
SORRY ABOUT THE CONDENSED DRILL THIS WEEK
Deadlines simply didn’t set up for the “Two-Minute Drill” on Saturday night, so with this news being somewhat late, you are getting a streamlined version this week.
My apologies, but I poured out most of my thoughts this week on the defense Saturday night for Sunday’s column.