Patriots

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Patriots

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick called his team a group of "hard-working, tough guys" on Sunday night. In his mind, they'd proven it to him. 

How? Going off the same metrics Belichick has used for a long time -- run the ball, stop the run, cover kicks -- his locker room's latest win over the Dolphins would qualify as its most comprehensive show of toughness of the 2018 season. 

The Patriots ran the ball for 175 yards on 40 carries and held the Dolphins to 56 yards on 18 carries. They prevented Miami from any explosive returns, allowing dangerous return man Jakeem Grant one 25-yard return and one 11-yard punt return. 

There was a lot to like, especially for a coach who preaches toughness, and that's reflected in this week's Report Card. 

QUARTERBACK: B

For all the points the Patriots put on the board, for as dominant as they were on both sides of the ball, this was far from Tom Brady's best game. Even on his first completion of the day, a throw to James White that went for five yards, he robbed his target of yards after the catch by nearly throwing it outside White's catch radius. His high throw to the front of the goal line could've easily been picked after it was deflected -- an odd throw from him since he typically goes low to the front of the end zone to avoid that exact type of tip that could've robbed the team of points. Brady was shocked to see how the Dolphins played his first pick, but his second was a bad decision. Brady sailed a throw to Cordarrelle Patterson behind the line and he inexplicably threw to Dwayne Allen on a screen -- which may have been Josh McDaniels' mistake for calling the play, but Brady still went to him. Head-scratchers, all of 'em. That said, Brady's touchdown throw to James White was a dime. His third-down comeback to Phillip Dorsett was reminiscent of Super Bowl LI with an added degree of difficulty because he had to buy himself time. His touchdown throw to Dorsett was well done, and he might've had another had Dorsett not dropped a well-placed deep-ball. 

 

RUNNING BACK: A-

Sony Michel (pictured) needed some time. I spoke to him at length after the game and the majority of our conversation was based on game speed and how it differs from practice speed. It's obvious, but it's worth pointing out in his case since he missed all of preseason. To go from practices -- where he thought he was playing well -- to regular-season games are two different worlds. After two games, he made more of an adjustment in his third, running for 112 yards on 25 carries. He benefitted from better line play, and some good blocking from tight ends and fullback James Develin, but he created his own yardage as well. He broke a tackle at the second level to pick up an extra chunk of yardage in the second quarter. He had a nine-yard run in the third, when he waited for a moment at the line to allow a hole to develop, that I thought showed how far he'd come since just a week prior. He admitted he was pressing some of his runs to the line too quickly against the Lions and Jaguars. He had seven runs that went for two yards or less Sunday, but he was better. James White continues to be Mr. Reliable. He broke Robert Quinn's ankles on a slippery 22-yard touchdown run. His legal pick opened up Patterson's touchdown, and he ran a good route to beat Kiko Alonso and be on the receiving end of Brady's third-quarter touchdown pass sent in his direction. Brady wanted more White, got more White, and White responded. He matched Michel's 112 total yards on the afternoon. 

 

RECEIVER: B+

The Patriots got contributions up and down the depth chart from this group. Patterson (pictured) tripped over his own feet for the second time in three weeks, but his touchdown showed his special ability in the open field, and he had an end-around run for 11 yards that showed a unique blend of speed and power as he made a tackle-for-loss miss in the backfield. Chris Hogan didn't do much as a receiver until late, but he blocked a pair of Dolphins to help Sony Michel convert a third-and-short attempt and he drew a pass-interference penalty to convert another third down. Phillip Dorsett dropped a would-be explosive play, but his acrobatic touchdown was eye-opening, and he helped clear space for White to convert a third down in the flat by running a slant that helped cause some traffic. Then there was Josh Gordon. He played just 18 snaps but didn't look lost. His targets mostly came on slants (three) though he did appear to have decent timing on his back-shoulder target from Brady that drew a Miami penalty. He ran hard, breaking two tackles on his 19-yard catch and run, and he made a strong block on James White's 22-yard touchdown run. He also helped stretch the Dolphins defense on a third-and-seven in the second quarter, when Brady found Rob Gronkowski in one-on-one coverage in the middle of the field. The Dolphins were playing Cover 3, and they had to keep themselves honest on the outside with Gordon there, which opened up space in the middle.

TIGHT END: B-

Rob Gronkowski (pictured) must've felt some relief that he wasn't constantly double-teamed by the Dolphins, catching four of seven targets for 44 yards before leaving with an ankle injury. The Patriots were expecting doubles early, though, and they got them. How'd they cope? On the first third down of the game, they kept Gronkowski in to block. Not ideal to have your best pass-catcher at the line of scrimmage, but if it's going to waste a pair of defenders, it's a smart play. The Patriots also were able to play from ahead, which meant more runs, which meant more opportunity to run behind Gronkowski, who cleared space at least twice on crack-toss plays that Miami ends didn't see coming. Allen's work as a receiver continues to be a non-factor, but his devastating block on a crack-toss play (with Gronkowski out) helped get Michel into the end zone. James Develin wasn't perfect on the day as he played a role on a couple of Michel's stuffed runs, but when there were large holes for Michel or White to exploit, Develin was often right in the mix. His 33 snaps were more than what he saw in the previous two Patriots games combined.

 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B

To run the ball as well as the Patriots did has to be a credit in part to what Dante Scarnecchia's group was able to do up front. The combination of Marcus Cannon, Shaq Mason and Develin worked swimmingly on multiple occasions, including Michel's longest run of the day -- a 23-yarder. Trent Brown caved in the right side of the Dolphins line on one early zone run that went for good yardage. Still, every starting lineman was responsible for at least one run-stuff, as was LaAdrian Waddle who played just five snaps. On one play Brown was called for a hold and Mason got flagged for tripping (which was accepted). A Joe Thuney hold -- a questionable call, seemingly -- brought back a long screen completion. In pass-protection, the Patriots didn't allow a sack, but Brady was hit five times (four of those appeared to be on Brown) and he was hurried nine more. When Belichick says there are plenty of things to clean up from Sunday, even if it looked good, he might want to start here offensively. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

Cyrus Jones had a 24-yard return at the start of the second quarter that looked for an instant like it might have a chance to go for even more. Stephen Gostkowski (pictured) made all his point-after attempts and a field goal, and the Patriots prevented any game-changing returns themselves. There were some penalties here to bring this grade down -- a delay of game call before a Ryan Allen punt, and a blocking-out-of-bounds penalty on rookie JC Jackson. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: A-

 

From the jump, this looked like a different group than the one that took the field in Detroit. Malcom Brown made the first big play by fighting through a hold to stuff a Dolphins run on their third play of the game. Lawrence Guy (two quarterback hits, including one that eventually drew a personal foul penalty from an angry Dolphin) continues to be this unit's top player as Trey Flowers rounds back into form. But Flowers was solid in his first action back since the first quarter of Week 2. He had a pressure on Miami's second drive and destroyed Laremy Tunsil to help blow up a run play on their third series. Danny Shelton wisely read a tick head-bob before center Daniel Kilgore's snap to blow up one pass play and force a near-interception. Adam Butler picked up a sack, and John Simon made his presence felt early in his Patriots career with a sack and two hurries to go along with a run stuff late. One qualm? The Patriots might've liked to see more from Deatrich Wise and Adrian Clayborn as pass-rushers in a game where the Dolphins were chucking. They each recorded one pressure.

LINEBACKER: A

What's odd about this one is that the Patriots lost arguably their best player at this spot through the first three weeks of the season and then went out and played their best game. Dont'a Hightower is incredibly valuable in the middle of the field because of his ability to move front-seven pieces around, but he also looked aggressive and moved well as he racked up a run stuff and a quarterback hit on Miami's second drive of the game. Kyle Van Noy (pictured) had his best game of the season, flying around the field to make plays in multiple facets of the game. He had a hit and two hurries as a rusher -- coming off the edge at times and up the middle others -- and he fell on Miami's botched snap to give the Patriots tremendous field position early in the second quarter. Elandon Roberts was injured at the end of the game, but he also played well, notching a pass breakup and a run-stuff in the first quarter. 

SECONDARY: A-

This group played well enough that even when they committed penalties, it was hard to blame them. Jonathan Jones (pictured) was called for a hold on third down that seemed questionable at best. He had a solid game, finishing with seven tackles and allowing just 4.7 yards per catch on the six passes completed in his vicinity. Jones did, however, drop an easy interception. Stephon Gilmore later committed a smart penalty when he aggressively bit on a hitch that turned into a stop-and-go by running back Kenyan Drake. Instead of letting his assignment run by him for an explosive gain, he held him, took the flag and the defense lived to play another down. JC Jackson has to be feeling good on this short week after he picked off the only pass thrown in his direction -- his first as a pro. Thanks to tight coverage across the board, the Patriots allowed just 4.3 yards per attempt and against an offense with some explosive weapons, they didn't allow a pass longer than 22 yards, which happened to be Miami's first completion of the day.  

 

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