Perry's Report Card: Patriots vs Dolphins
Perry's Report Card: Patriots vs Dolphins
The Patriots will move on from this one. And they'll do so quickly. They really have no choice. They struggled both offensively and defensively against Miami in prime time, and now Bill Belichick's club has just four days to prep for a Steelers team that in all phases is superior to the Dolphins.
Day off for players Tuesday. Correct the film early Wednesday. Then . . . on to Pittsburgh.
Before we fully transition to what is expected to be the game of the year, let's hand out some grades.
Were the eight hits he took in Foxboro two weeks prior still fresh in his mind? Without Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady was jumpy from the start. He went 24-for-43 for 233 yards, a touchdown and two picks, and he missed multiple throws even when he had time in the pocket. His 59.5 passer rating was his worst regular-season rating in the last in four years, and it's worth wondering if his assorted bumps and bruises -- Achilles? hand? -- hampered his accuracy.
RUNNING BACK: C+
The damage done by this group was more through the air than it was on the ground. Dion Lewis had five catches for 50 yards -- including a ridiculous one-handed grab that set up the first Patriots touchdown -- while Rex Burkhead reeled in five passes of his own for 45 yards. James White had three grabs for 11 yards and Brady's lone touchdown pass of the night. But the Patriots couldn't screen the Dolphins to death. The 2.5 yards-per-carry average (10 attempts, 25 yards) for the Patriots wasn't all on the backs, but according to Pro Football Focus they didn't break a single tackle in the run game and averaged only 1.8 yards after contact.
WIDE RECEIVER: D
This unit was a non-factor for the vast majority of the game. Brady leaned on Danny Amendola (six catches, 76 yards) late and found some success. But with Rob Gronkowski out, the Patriots needed more. Brandin Cooks was held without a catch until the fourth quarter, and Chris Hogan -- playing in his first game since Week 8 -- caught one of five targets for one yard. Miami's Cover 1 scheme crowded the short-to-intermediate areas Brady likes, and when Cooks tried to go deep, he was smothered. Both of Brady's picks were underthrown, but both were heaves to Cooks in a desperate attempt to get something, anything, going. Didn't happen.
TIGHT END: C
How is this grade possibly so high, you ask? We'll include James Develin here because he meets with the tight ends on a daily basis, and I consider him more tight end than running back. He was one of the few bright areas for the Patriots in the game. Blocking for Lewis, he helped the diminutive back pick up 21 yards on four carries out of "regular" personnel. Develin also helped lead the way on Burkhead's three-yard score. With the game getting away from them in the second half, the Patriots essentially abandoned the run (and Develin's role in it) altogether. As for Dwayne Allen (56 snaps) and Jacob Hollister (2), neither provided a spark with Gronkowski out. Allen appeared to be the culprit when there was a missed block on Lawrence Timmons coming off of the right side on Brady's first dropback.
OFFENSIVE LINE: D
After the game, Nate Solder agreed with the assessment that the Patriots offense was simply unsettled -- offensive line included -- throughout. Shaq Mason acknowledged that Miami played with more energy than the Patriots. Against a Dolphins front that is one of the most talented (if not most motivated) in the league, an absence of energy and poise along the offensive line can be devastating. And it was. Brady was hit six times, including two sacks, and he seemed rushed even when he didn't need to be because he knew the power and athleticism the Dolphins possessed up front would be hard for his blockers to handle. Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh each had four total pressures, while Jordan Phillips and Andre Branch had three each. In the running game, this unit fared no better. Per PFF, backs were hit on average less than a yard from the line of scrimmage. There was nowhere for them to go.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Ryan Allen was busy. He punted seven times and recorded a net average of 46.4 yards, second only to the 47.5 net he had at altitude in Mexico City against the Raiders. Three punts landed inside the 20, and the coverage team allowed only nine total punt-return yards to the dangerous combo of Jarvis Landry and Jakeem Grant. Stephen Gostkowski made all four of his kicks (two extra points), including a 46-yarder. Bernard Reedy (three returns) and Amendola (two) split the punt-return duties, with Amendola seemingly taking the higher-leverage boots. They combined for 37 yards on five returns. The onside kick at the end was . . . unique. Give it that. If it works, there are a dozen 500-word sidebars detailing its every appearance in recent practices. But it didn't. Belichick and the Patriots have other weird onside looks up their collective sleeve, so maybe another one or two will avail themselves before the season is over.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C-
The final numbers against the run looked okay. The Patriots allowed 4.0 yards per carry on 30 attempts. But late into the game, the Dolphins were closer to 5.0 per attempt until they tried to salt away the clock with the Patriots stacking the box. When it came to the pass rush, there were issues as well. The defense as a whole mustered just three quarterback hits, and only two of those came from linemen -- Adam Butler had a sack and Eric Lee got a shot on Jay Cutler to help force an incompletion in the first quarter. No Trey Flowers, an injured Deatrich Wise (foot, played 16 snaps) and an injured Alan Branch (who left the game with a knee injury) meant relying on reserves and the results were relatively predictable. Lawrence Guy was one of the few bright spots to boost this grade. He was everywhere, notching two tackles for a loss and a pass breakup that was very nearly a pick-six.
Kyle Van Noy's absence may have been the most impactful for the Patriots defense. Who would've guessed those words would ever be written before the start of the season? Marquis Flowers was trusted with green-dot responsibilities, and Elandon Roberts found himself in precarious positions in pass coverage for much of the evening. Good as he can be against the run, Roberts versus a pass-catching back like Kenyan Drake is a mismatch . . . and the Dolphins exploited it. Roberts also appeared to vacate his area when the Patriots played zone against Miami's bunch formation, which helped lead to Jarvis Landry's second touchdown of the evening. If Van Noy (calf) can't get back for the Steelers game, it'll could mean more Roberts, Flowers and Trevor Reilly in certain situations.
DEFENSIVE BACK: C
Malcolm Butler was beaten twice by a Jakeem Grant, and he lucked out in that only one of the plays resulted in a Dolphins score. Grant can fly and is a capable return man, but that's not the type of matchup Butler should be losing. Stephon Gilmore didn't fare much better. He picked up a pass-interference call and had a hard time chasing DeVante Parker across formations. Wonder if Parker remembered Gilmore reveling in how he locked up Gilmore two weeks prior? Jonathan Jones got Landry for the second time in three weeks and had a down day (pass interference, missed tackle in the open field, broken tackle that led to Landry's first touchdown). Jones was eventually replaced by Eric Rowe, who recorded a pressure on a corner blitz and generally played with some aggression. Missed tackles plagued this typically-dependable group, indicating what an outside-the-norm kind of night it was for the entire team. Patrick Chung missed a tackle at the line of scrimmage when Drake broke out a nifty spin move that led to a 31-yard gain. Jordan Richards missed a sack when he broke through the middle of the line unblocked, which led to a third-down conversion by Jay Cutler. Moments later, the Dolphins were in the end zone. Devin McCourty had a sack and a nice tackle on Drake in the third quarter that saved a longer gain, but the good plays for this unit were relatively few and far between. Duron Harmon's fiery speech on the sidelines was uncharacteristic for a Patriots team that doesn't usually feature many of those, but it seemed to work. The Patriots didn't allow a point for more than a quarter following the captain's plea.