Patriots 27 Dolphins 24: Grading the Defense

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 24: Matt Moore #8 of the Miami Dolphins is sacked by Shaun Ellis #94 of the New England Patriots and teammate Brandon Deaderick #71 in the second half at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Grading the Patriots' defensive performance from the team's 27-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins:

Passing Defense:

The Patriots weren't as bad as you might have thought in the first half against the Dolphins on Saturday. They held Miami to 3/8 on third down, and quarterback Matt Moore completed just 52.6% of his throws.

In fact, while Moore did throw for 294 yards and three touchdowns, a lot of his completions came on deep throws to Brandon Marshall with Devin McCourty in coverage. They were great throws, but a lot of the issues in the Patriots secondary could be pinpointed to McCourty's inability to defend the deep ball.

Usually, teams have had tremendous success on the Patriots by throwing those 15-20 yards plays in the middle of the Patriots zone. The team actually tightened its pass defense on Sunday, and kept Moore and the Dolphins passing attack from establishing any real rhythm in the second half. The unit held Moore to 7/14 and just 115 yards passing in the second half (Moore was 17/33 for the game). Devin McCourty also intercepted a deep throw intended for Brian Hartline.

The defense also came up with five total sacks, with two coming from linebacker Jerod Mayo, and Rob Ninkovich, Shaun Ellis, and Brandon Deaderick each coming up with one apiece.

Grade: B

Rushing Defense

The Patriots hadn't allowed a single 100 yard rusher since week nine of the 2010 season prior to last week's 41-23 victory over the Broncos. They have allowed two in the past two weeks, with Reggie Bush of the Miami Dolphins being the latest to victimize the Patriots' run defense.

To stop the run, the Patriots played a "heavy" 4-3 base with Shaun Ellis and Brandon Deaderick starting at end, and Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love starting at defensive tackle. In the first half, Reggie Bush picked up 81 yards on 16 carries. The Patriots defense didn't fare much better in the second half, allowing six carries for 31 more yards.

If there was a bright spot to the Patriots' run defense, it was that it didn't allow a run for more than 12 yards and gave up just 4 running first downs (and no touchdowns). Still, the Patriots run defense is going to need to step it up in future weeks, as a good running team could really make the unit pay if the Pats fall behind early again.

Grade: C-

OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE: B-

As I said earlier, the Patriots pass defense wasn't as bad as the first half numbers would suggest. The run defense and tackling were once again suspect, but it was nice to see the defensive line continue to generate pressure without the presence of Andre Carter. I gave the Patriots the B- grade because while the offense came to life in the second half, if it wasn't for the defense holding Miami to key three and outs and forcing two turnovers, the Patriots likely wouldn't have completed the comeback.

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