Week 16 Patriots vs Dolphins: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Word of the Week:

Houdini

Definition:

Verb; To make something where there was once nothing.

Use in a sentence:

The Patriots managed to Houdini a win against the Dolphins

Don't be confused- the Patriots managed to beat the Dolphins with a ridiculous second half. The Dolphins didn't lose the game. The Patriots just made adjustments after a disastrous first half in order to come out guns blazing in the second half. Still, the Patriots have been making magic happen in this final stretch of the season and, hopefully, that leads to a fruitful postseason.

There was lots of Ugly on the Patriots side during the game. Let's take a look at the game:

The Ugly

The Patriots First Half - This one's easy enough. There was nothing good about the first half of the game, unless you are looking at a couple of pass break-ups by Devin McCourty on passes to Brandon Marshall. The Patriots couldn't get anything going on either side of the ball.

Injuries - It was bad enough that the Patriots lost tackle Matt Light during warm-ups, but the trouble went to the next level when guard Logan Mankins stepped up to play tackle and suffered a knee sprain early in the game. The Patriots cannot afford injuries on an already injury-decimated roster.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis - Benny shows up for a second time as Stevan Ridley starts getting more touches. BJGE whiffed on a block on an early sack on Tom Brady and was generally ineffective in the run game (although he only received 3 touches). Still, the Patriots found fullback Lousaka Polite in order to bolster the running game, which means that the Patriots brass were unhappy with the current state of the running game. That starts with BJGE.

Defending the Deep Ball - The strength of the "Bend-Don't-Break" defense is that it's not allowed to give up back-breaking plays. That's why I'm always surprised when the Patriots don't play the safeties more conservatively and, instead, play them closer to the line. Every single Patriots defender who allowed a completion (McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Nate Jones, Jerod Mayo, James Ihedigbo) allowed a play of 14+ yards, which is not acceptable. While some of that is on the safeties, this wasn't the case in every long pass against the Dolphins. McCourty didn't turn his head around on one play. Mayo was lined up across from Brandon Marshall on another. Sergio Brown was a step too late to help Arrington cover Marshall. The Patriots need to make the necessary adjustments to stop the deep ball.

The Bad

James Ihedigbo - For another week, Ihedigbo is the week link the secondary. Ihedigbo was the lesser of the Patriots two safeties on the field, which is never a good sign. He continues to struggle in coverage of the outlet receiver and struggles to read the play as it unfolds. He is fantastic against the run, which is a positive, but he's such a liability in the passing game.

First Half Wes Welker - Welker was dropping balls left and right and was unable to generate consistent separation from his coverage. Welker admitted that he had some issues and it was clear that he was angry at himself on a few plays. Brady was definitely throwing some balls into the dirt by Welker's feet, but that's usually a sign that the coverage is strong and Brady doesn't want to risk an interception. First half Welker was pretty bad.

Tom Brady's Connection With Receivers - This was pretty much the whole game, until Welker found his groove in the second half. Still, Brady was extremely inaccurate on his quick throws to his receivers (specifically Welker and Deion Branch). This is most likely a combination of the weak offensive line (in the first half) and a potential bruise on his throwing arm that he suffered through earlier in the season. Still, Brady found his groove in the second half, but it was clear some things were off.

Erratic Referees - When Dane Fletcher gunned through the offensive line and Matt Moore slung the ball out of bounds, that should have been intentional grounding. He hit the wall behind the sideline. He didn't look before he chucked the ball. No call. When Devin McCourty attacked the receiver and was flagged for pass interference, the ball was way too high for the receiver to catch (ie: it was uncatchable). Still, McCourty hit the receiver before and deserved to be flagged- for illegal contact. Nope. Pass Interference. The referees seemed a little off all game for both sides (I'll admit I only noted when they were against the Patriots. I'm sure some went against the Dolphins). Hope that the offices took note.

The Good

Donald Thomas, Marcus Cannon, and Nate Solder - No, they weren't phenomenal. They were average. Still, when those three were tapped on the shoulder and asked to step up in the game, they played as well as two rookies and a journeyman could have been expected to play. Cannon had the unenviable task of slowing Cameron Wake and did a good job of keeping Brady clean. Solder and Thomas had to hold down Brady's blind side and also did fairly well once they settled down. All three seemed jumpy and out of place in the first half, but they were able to establish themselves in the second half and helped hold down the fort during the comeback. Cannon needs to improve his run blocking, but he looks like a late round steal.

Sergio Brown - Yep, Brown was absolutely average. Nothing great of note; more importantly, nothing excessively negative of note. He has plenty to improve upon, but he wasn't a liability at the safety position and could have just had the necessary good game to turn around his season. If he can play at this average level and Pat Chung returns, the Patriots could have a secondary that's only average- and that's a huge bonus for this team.

Devin McCourty - Hear me out; McCourty allowed a few bad plays. Still, the Patriots trusted McCourty to coverage of Marshall and held him to 3 receptions on 8 attempts for 91 yards and no touchdowns. Yes, McCourty was beaten by Marshall on those two bad plays- but those were the only two times Marshall beat him and the Patriots were sliding Marshall around to get him away from McCourty. McCourty was in position for all completions, other than Brian Hartline's early in the game, and the Patriots didn't give him safety help. Oh, and he swatted down three passes and nabbed an interception. I think he's turning it around just in time for the playoffs.

Stephen Gostkowski and Zoltan Mesko - These two make up the core of the Patriots solid special teams. Mesko is 3rd in the league in net yards per punt and is 5th in percentage of punts inside the 20. Gostkowski had a great day on kickoffs and pitched in with two 40+ yard field goals and a special teams tackle. Very good day for these two Patriots.

Second Half Wes Welker - That was the Wes we all know and love. After being shut down for a lot of the first half, Welker broke out for a huge second half. Hopefully he realized what was slowing him in the first half and can take that into the future when making adjustments against playoff defenses.

Stevan Ridley - Ridley is providing one of the only bright spots in the Patriots run game. He continues to break for extra yards and brings a spark to the offense that BenJarvus Green-Ellis can't bring. I think Danny Woodhead can bring that same spark, but in a different way- Ridley is able to bring it as a road grader and slasher. Ridley had another solid day and should see a fair amount of snaps in Week 17.

Dane Fletcher - Fletcher had a huge day at linebacker and did everything well. He was a force against the run. He was a great pass rusher. He was targeted in coverage twice and didn't allow a completion. A fantastic day for Fletcher who, if he keeps this up, could entirely alleviate the loss of Brandon Spikes. Fletcher is on a huge upwards trajectory.

---

Basically, the Patriots played two entirely different halves. Hopefully they don't need to Houdini homefield advantage throughout the playoffs and can put the Bills away.

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