Word of the Game: "Control"
1. Patriots Defense vs Miami's Running Game - The Patriots were tasked with stopping the Dolphins' potentially potent running game. All of their running backs have the ability to be a game changer at any time and Reggie Bush was asked to pace the game. On the opening drive, it appeared as if the Patriots couldn't stop the Dolphins from moving the ball as Reggie Bush picked up yards at his own leisure. Add the fact that Chad Henne waltzed into the end zone and it seemed as if the night was going to be a long one.
Well, as soon as Gary Guyton was replaced by Dane Fletcher, the Dolphins couldn't run the ball. At all. They gained a total of 98 yards on the ground, which doesn't sound like a shut out. However, quarterback Chad Henne was the team's leading rusher with 59 yards. When their lead running back is held to under 40 yards and under a 3.5 yards/carry rate, it usually means the defense is stopping the run. Consider this battle won by the Patriots.
On the other hand, I also stated:
Hopefully, the Patriots can stop the Dolphins' run game and force them to take to the air.
And we all know how that turned out...
2. Patriots' Third Down Defense - Another success! The Patriots held the Dolphins to a 2/14 conversion rate on 3rd down. That's enormous. Due to the large Patriots' leads, the Dolphins went for it on 4th down a considerable amount and converted on 4/5 attempts, but that still means the Patriots were 6/19 on "Last Stand" downs. That's 31.5% for those doing the math, which is years ahead of the 47% conversion rate of last year's defense, and is right in line with their preseason conversion rate. Hopefully, the Patriots can keep opposing offenses around (or below) the 30% mark for the rest of the season.
3. Patriots' Offensive Line - The offensive line was one of the biggest surprises for me. Tom Brady had so much time in the pocket that he wasn't even stepping up into the pocket to throw around the pass rushers; he had so much space he was a statue. While Matt Light was pushed to the ground a couple times, he managed to keep Tom Brady clean the entire night. Logan Mankins looked like himself. The Dolphins wanted to test rookie Nate Solder against Cameron Wake and Solder definitely held his own against one of the league's elite pass rushers. Brian Waters was awesome and looked much better than Dan Connolly at guard.
And while we're speaking of Dan, he did a great job replacing the injured Dan Koppen at center. Connolly is much better off at center instead of guard because it allows him to be a complementary blocker, which is how he thrives. Koppen will definitely be missed, but I don't believe the offensive line will miss a beat. It's unfortunate that Koppen's in a contract season, but don't be surprised if this is one of his final seasons with the Patriots.
However, if Light plays well (he normally chooses to deteriorate at the end of the season), Logan Mankins is his usual self, Koppen helps Waters to the right and Solder plays out of his mind, then the offensive line might not miss a beat. However, it's unlikely for all of those cards to fall into place at the same time so watch for Brady to get hit a couple times.
Well, it seems as if Belichick stacked the deck in the Patriots' favor. Win for the Patriots.
4. Tom Brady's Accuracy - Brady had an okay day passing the ball. I guess. Preseason ended and he was no longer trying to force chemistry with the receivers and he stuck the ball where the players he could trust could catch it. Aaron Hernandez. Wes Welker. Rob Gronkowski. Deion Branch. Those four were key parts of the receiving game. Even Matthew Slater made an appearance. Chad Ochocinco remains a mystery, but he will be a valuable piece of the offense as the season grows older and he has more time in the system (although that line-up penalty was awful).
Brady also threw a ricochet interception that was a bad throw, but the interception was just a bad bounce. At least that streak is over and he can focus on scoring points. He looks like he hasn't missed a regular season beat. Win for the Patriots.
5. Patriots' Run Offense - The Patriots only posted 106 yards on the ground, but they averaged over 4.8 yards/carry and were moving the ball at will. When the Dolphins dropped players into the secondary, Danny Woodhead was there to take the free yardage. It definitely seems as if the run game was complementing the passing game (duh), but it also seemed like the Patriots never forgot about the run game, which is an improvement over last season. It seemed as if BenJarvus Green-Ellis or Danny Woodhead would get the ball right when the Dolphins were cheating backwards into coverage. Great balance, in my opinion. Slight win for the Patriots.
Overall, I'd give the Patriots around 9.5/10 on completing these tasks, with half a point missing from the run offense (it worked, but it wasn't as dominant as the other facets of their game). Great work Patriots and hopefully there will be continued improvement heading into the Chargers game.