Perry's Report Card: Patriots vs. Dolphins
As far as 18-point victories go, the Patriots submitted a sloppy one against Miami. They turned it over. They weren't sharp in the kicking game. They more than doubled their number of penalties from the previous two games combined.
But they should be given credit for not ratcheting up the ugly to another level. The Dolphins hoped they would, trying to bait the Patriots into mucking it up. They wanted to fight. They wanted to grab face masks. They shoved Joe Thuney over a pile of bodies after two separate plays during the same third-quarter drive. Cameron Wake hit Tom Brady with a sort of leg-whip on one play. Ndamukong Suh grabbed him and drove his right side into the ground on another.
But the Patriots managed to keep their cool.
"I think they are trying to win and it’s just the style of play," Brady told WEEI this week. "Some people play the whistle, some people play the echo of the whistle, some people play a little bit beyond that . . .
"I think Coach Belichick actually does a great job of talking to us about those things. He says, ‘Look, this is what tomorrow is going to be like.’ And he will show a lot of plays from the team that we’re playing and he’ll show a lot of things that are happening after the whistle. He’ll say, ‘Look, this is exactly what it is going to be. We can choose to fight back and get a bunch of penalties and hurt the team, or we can keep our poise and swallow our pride and let them get the penalties.'
"I think when you go into the game knowing that is the approach, it’s easier to keep your poise."
Whether the credit should go to the players who held it together in those moments or the coaches who prepped them, give them a slight bump to their overall grade for not stooping on Sunday.
It was a four-touchdown day for Tom Brady, but it wasn't perfect. He allowed himself to get drilled by Charles Harris on a wide-receiver screen that was completed but lost two yards. Harris was unblocked and probably should've been accounted for by the quarterback. Then on his team's next drive, Brady forced a throw to Danny Amendola over the middle that had very little chance of being completed. Pressure had gotten to Brady on a handful of occasions, and it looked like he was a little jumpy on that throw as the pocket collapsed around him again. He also missed Amendola in the third quarter for what would have been a big gain by trying to drill a pass to the slot man rather than floating it over the coverage in the passing lane. And in the fourth he was sacked by Cameron Wake when he dropped a well-placed Ted Karras snap. Brady's overall day, however, was solid. The mobility was there, as he showed during a 21-yard scramble-drill completion to Rob Gronkowski in the first quarter. He also helped draw a holding call in the secondary in the second quarter by eluding pressure and extending one pass play. His touchdown throws to Gronkowski (with Kiko Alonso trailing in coverage) and Rex Burkhead were pinpoint.
RUNNING BACK: A
This group, led by Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead, continues to give the Patriots offense a weekly shot in the arm. Early on they split the "thunder" and "lightning" roles when Lewis helped set up Burkhead's bruising touchdown run with a fancy pirouette that got the Patriots down to the 2. Lewis leaped a Dolphins lineman and powered through an arm tackle for a 22-yard run in the first, and he made a stout blitz-pickup on Kiko Alonso early in the second quarter, sending the linebacker head over heels and allowing Tom Brady to find Brandin Cooks on a stop route. In the fourth, Lewis had one of his best runs, getting hit three yards behind the line and still turning it into a three-yard gain. Burkhead was explosive and finished with strength at the end of an end-around run to get the Patriots deep in Dolphins territory. He finished the drive with a nifty out-route touchdown that left rookie linebacker Chase Allen stuck in place. Though James White is still one of the team's most dependable receiving backs, he has seen his opportunities dwindle with the emergence of Lewis and Burkhead. White ran three times for 13 yards and was targeted twice, once drawing a holding penalty.
WIDE RECEIVER: B+
Patriots pass catchers benefited from some poor play in the Miami secondary -- like when rookie Cordrea Tankersley was playing man and the rest of his defense was playing zone on Phillip Dorsett's wide-open 39-yard catch on the game's opening drive -- but they made some things happen on their own. Danny Amendola's only catch, a 15-yarder for a first down, featured him doing what he does best: Working the middle of a zone, beating a linebacker and making a tackle miss to get to the sticks on third down. Later he was able to keep from fighting Bobby McCain, who was hounding Amendola for several plays after he took exception to an Amendola late-play shove, which got one of Miami's top corners ejected. Brandin Cooks was electric at times yet again. He flashed elite stop-start ability on a 20-yard end-around run in the second quarter, and he did the smart thing by getting down on an eight-yard grab over the middle later in the quarter. Dorsett was targeted just once in 43 snaps, but he did show up with a solid block at the end of Dion Lewis' first-quarter 22-yard run. One has to wonder what his role will be when Chris Hogan (or potentially Malcolm Mitchell, who is still on IR) returns.
TIGHT END: A
Rob Gronkowski was the star of the show at this spot, but even with Martellus Bennett out he wasn't the only contributor. Gronkowski's five-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter highlighted his agility to make a move to the outside, get leverage on a safety, and make a diving snare. Not many players his size who can do that. Gronkowski also did well to fake a receiver screen block in the second quarter and then cut loose up the field for a 21-yard pickup. His second score came in the third when he beat Kiko Alonso easily on an out-route. Alonso, for some reason, hesitated as Gronkowski made his break. He was cooked then and there. Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen were both dominant blockers. Allen made an effective "wham" block on defensive tackle Jordan Phillips to help get the Patriots near the goal line on their first scoring drive. Allen was also the lead blocker on Rex Burkhead's long end-around run midway through the second. And when he and Gronkowski went to work together on the outside, as they did on Brandin Cooks' 20-yard reverse and again on Cooks' touchdown? They were a force.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C
You could tell it might be a long day for the Patriots offensive line when, on the first snap from scrimmage, Ndamukong Suh walked Joe Thuney backwards into Tom Brady to help force an incompletion. They were simply overpowered at times. Brady was sacked only once but hit eight times -- five of which came courtesy of Cam Wake, who primarily worked off of LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming on the right side -- and they had multiple mental lapses along the way. Waddle and Nate Solder were both flagged for false starts, and Ted Karras snapped one that scooted past Brady and resulted in Miami's first touchdown. That the Patriots were able to run for 200 yards gives this grade a boost to the C-range, but they weren't flawless in that area, either. They had seven runs of one yard or fewer and they turned it over on a failed fourth-and-one play at the start of the fourth quarter. Karras did a good job to pick up a stunt on Brady's 22-yard completion to Brandin Cooks, all three interior linemen made picture-perfect blocks on Dion Lewis' 25-yard run in the third, and Nate Solder made a tremendously athletic block to get Reshad Jones turned on Lewis' 25-yard run in the fourth. Still, plenty to get cleaned up here moving forward.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Danny Amendola muffed a punt when he was trying to tell his teammates -- or maybe he was faking? -- to stay the heck away. Jonathan Jones was there for the recovery, but that was a near-disaster to start the second half. Ryan Allen booted one into the end zone for only his third touchback of the season, but with the Patriots on the Dolphins 39-yard line, it seemed as though Joe Judge thought his punter missed a good opportunity to pin the opponent deep in their own territory. Dwayne Allen seemed to miss a block on a fourth-quarter kick-return that limited Dion Lewis to just 15 yards, and the Patriots somehow picked up a delay-of-game penalty following their final touchdown of the day, making Stephen Gostkowski boot a 38-yard extra point. Again, we don't know why the delay of game was called, but if you're wondering why Bill Belichick doesn't like elaborate touchdown celebrations . . . that's why. Get off the field. Gostkowski's five PATs and Nate Ebner's fake punt execution -- helped by blocks he got from Brandon Bolden and Jacob Hollister -- were the two kicking-game bright spots for the Patriots in this one.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A-
The big bodies up front weren't responsible for all seven sacks that the Patriots recorded Sunday, but they were a pain in both the running game and the passing game for much of the afternoon. Trey Flowers was a force before getting hurt in the third quarter. He recorded two sacks, two pressures, two run-stuffs and a forced fumble before exiting. Box score . . . filled. Bill Belichick went out of his way to praise Lawrence Guy for his work, and he was a factor early on, pressuring Matt Moore late in the first quarter and then taking on a double-team to help stuff a run two plays later. The rookies were largely quiet, but Deatrich Wise had a run stuff in the second quarter and Adam Butler pressured Matt Moore into a third-down incompletion on the same drive. Butler later helped set up Eric Lee's first-career sack --- just days after Lee arrived to New England -- by taking out two blockers to free up Lee on the stunt. Lee had a solid overall day, helping Flowers get his first sack by moving his blocker back into Moore as Moore attempted an escape. Lee was also in on a third-down run-stuff (along with Guy and Malcom Brown) that helped force a third-quarter punt.
This was one of this group's best efforts of the season. Elandon Roberts came up with two sacks while also serving in his typical run-stuffer role. On the first, he dipped his shoulder and beat Mike Pouncey, chased Matt Moore from the pocket, and finally tracked him down from behind. On his second, he was completely unchecked as he rushed from the second level and finished the play in a blink. Kyle Van Noy also got to Moore twice, one of which resulted in a sack, before he left the game with a leg injury. Van Noy was equally effective out in space. He stopped a Moore bootleg run short in the first quarter, and then snuffed out a Jarvis Landry end-around run in the second. Really difficult play that he made look easy. Van Noy also helped assist on the fumble forced by Trey Flowers as he was his first to get his hands on the ball-carrier near the line of scrimmage. Other than one missed tackle each from Roberts and David Harris, it's hard to find much to nitpick about this group's performance. Even the lone offensive touchdown the Patriots allowed, a wide-open completion to Kenyan Drake, can't be completely shouldered by this unit. Roberts was very obviously picked down field by slanting receiver Kenny Stills.
DEFENSIVE BACK: B+
Stephon Gilmore was an eraser in this one as DeVante Parker was targeted just three times and caught one for five yards. The other two? They resulted in picks. Gilmore's, which came at the end of the first half, was arguably the biggest play of the game for New England. And he nearly had another, but Duron Harmon ripped it from him. On the other side, Malcolm Butler had a mixed bag of a day. In the second quarter, he allowed a 15-yard reception to Jarvis Landry and got burned on a flea-flicker that resulted in a long pass-interference penalty. On the other hand, Butler had two pass-breakups, the second of which came when Kenny Stills had a sure reception on a slant until Butler punched it loose. He also played a pick route to perfection during Miami's first drive, helping force an incompletion when he took Trevor Reilly's man as his matchup set a clear pick. Very good recognition there. Jonathan Jones had a busy day in coverage as he was targeted seven times, but he was up to the task despite being given the difficult assignment of chasing Landry for most of the afternoon. On five catches he only allowed 13 yards after contact to one of the best YAC receivers int he league. He also recorded a pass-breakup and a sack when he screamed in off the right edge, didn't overrun Moore, and finished the play. Bunch formations got the Patriots on a couple of occasions -- including on a fourth-down, fourth-quarter 28-yard pass play to Stills when Devin McCourty got turned around -- but overall this group was solid.