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Patriots 20, Dolphins 10: Comment and Analysis

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Pats Do 'Enough' in Another 'Ugly' Win
Team Has Two Weeks to Sort Out Problems

The important thing, of course, is that the game is won. The manner in which, of course, is another story.

Once again, like in the good ol' days (before we recognized them as good ol' days), the New England Patriots earned an "E" grade for their performance Sunday in a 20-10 win over the Miami Dolphins.

"E" is for "Enough."

I suppose you could award them a "U" for "Ugly." Pretty much amounts to the same thing. You know, "a win's a win" and all.

Speaking of ugly, how about that field at Gillette Stadium? Looked like they were playing sandlot football out there. I've played no-pads tackle football (no equipment, except the football, actually) on better patches of grass in several neighborhoods in eastern Massachusetts.

Turns out maybe Stephen Gostkowski isn't so bad a placekicker after seeing him connect on a 31- and a 35-yard field goal, while Miami kicker Olindo Mare badly missed a 40-yarder and had another attempt blocked when his plant foot slid on the subpar surface. We'll know more when the rookie is tested on other fields and under worse weather conditions. But remember, he is a rookie.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has a discussion with
cornerback Asante Samuel during a break in the action of
Sunday's 20-10 win over Miami.

Photos Courtesy: NFL.com

So, the game. The Patriots are among just a handful of undefeated teams or teams with just one win. Their performances over the first five weeks of the season might not convince you so. Take Sunday, for instance. New England trailed Miami in total yardage, 283-213, time of possession 30:17-29:43 (and that is deceiving, since the Patriots held the ball for the final 5:59; otherwise, that's 30:17 to 23:44), and nearly in number of offensive plays, where New England held a 64-63 lead, thanks to a 13-play drive in that aforementioned 5:59.

But there are a couple even more important stats in which the Patriots led. The first, obviously, is the score. The second is forced turnovers, and New England led there 3-1, and even that is deceiving, because in addition to the two interceptions and fumble recovery, the Pats smothered Dolphins punter Donnie Jones and there were the two previously mentioned field-goal miscues.

Turnovers is an area where the Patriots defense has been worse than normal early in the season. They've improved greatly the last two weeks. As important as the turnovers themselves is where they occurred on the field. All the turnovers gave New England a short field, and the Pats were able to capitalize on all of them.

There's one other pretty important stat in which New England edged Miami: penalties. Miami had 10 for 81 yards; New England, 7 for 59. Perhaps the most important of those was the 21-yard pass interference call against Will Allen on a 3rd-and-8 that ultimately left the Pats on the Dolphins 1 yard line. Without that penalty, New England kicks a field goal and is up 16-10 with just under 10 minutes left in the game.

There were 19 penalties called in all. Two were declined. Pretty insane. Expected, but insane.

Let's talk about Brady, the topic of endless debate regarding lack of receivers, body language, and not playing up to his set standards. Brady has had two pretty poor games, not that the statistics bear it out, but we mostly all know the difference between "vintage" Brady and "not vintage" Brady, which is still better than most of the other quarterbacks in the league.

Those two "poor" games were Sunday and the Denver game. What do those games have in common? Those are games the running game gained less than 100 yards: 79 yesterday and 50 against the Broncos. Otherwise: 147 against the Jets, 183 against the Bills, and 236 against the Bengals. OK, so there's a nice set of numbers we can pin an argument to.

Does that indicate something more? Clearly, these are two games where the opponents' defensive lines outplayed the Patriots offensive line. The Broncos and Dolphins not only stuffed (for the most part) the Patriots running game, but they offered substantially more pressure on Brady. All those passes deflected at the line? The Dolphins defensive linemen and blitzers were right in front of Brady all day. All those "bad" passes that were overthrown and underthrown? Few quarterbacks can throw accurately when the middle of the field is clogged with 300-pounders.

In many other games when Brady is credited with sliding in the pocket and finding the open space, it's because there is space into which Brady could slide. The problem Sunday was there was no room. Brady had a wall in front of him, and he took a couple really good shots when he just got a few passes off.

That's not to make excuses for Brady. This isn't about him. It's about the team, and how every player must do his part. Just as Bill Belichick talks about the three phases of the game (offense, defense and special teams) and includes coaching as a fourth, each of those phases can be broken down further. Offense into quarterback, line, running backs and receivers. Every one must do his part. The linemen, and sometimes the running backs and tight ends, have to block. The quarterback has to get the ball to the receivers (on passing plays). The receivers have to run their routes, get open, catch the ball. There have been a lot of breakdowns in the whole process, from the blocks to the throws to the routes and catches.

But the line had a bad game, and so the running backs had a bad game, and Brady had a bad game. There's not much way around it.

Still, in the three games the line has played even moderately well and the running game has thrived, Brady and the passing game have struggled. I still say that will work itself out when Brady is more comfortable with all the new faces and when the new faces are more comfortable with the system. There's another new face in Jabar Gaffney, and his presense give the Pats just five receivers. That means Brady has done it to this point with just four most of the time. And now Gaffney must learn the system, and he and Brady must learn to communicate.

The inconsistent line play not only led to subpar performances by the running backs and Brady, but it had a larger, if more nebulous, impact. The Patriots were unable to get into a rhythm, and with the exception of the two long drive I mentioned earlier, New England's next longest drive was eight plays, and the Pats had six drives of five plays or less.

Granted, a couple of those "drives" ended in touchdowns, but while they added points, they didn't allow the defense time to rest. That goes back to the time-of-possession discussion. The offense couldn't sustain drives, the defense had to try to stop the opponent, the defense gets tired and can't get off the field, the offense is cold and can't get into a thythm, the opposing defense is fresh and stops the good guys, the opponent sustains drives against a tired defense, etc., etc.

And now you can see how football, unlike baseball, isn't just "about the numbers," how individual statistics are great for fantasy leagues, but don't translate into wins and losses or overall team performance. That "situational football" generally feeds the ensuing situation and how it all ties together.

One another Brady note, I heard a couple of commentators -- I think they were on the national recap shows -- say on Brady's touchdown toss to Troy Brown that Brady was looking for receivers on his left and finally found one. It looked to me that Brady was looking to his left to "look off" defenders to that side of the field and then went to Brown in the middle where he was open. He does that often, and it's one of the things that makes Brady the quarterback he is.

Despite everything I've written to this point, it's not all bad. The offense didn't give the defense the necessary breathers, but the defense played well enough to keep themselves off the field for a while, and they started forcing the all-important turnovers. And Gostkowski hit a couple field goals on that tough turf to go with his solid kickoffs. And the coaches called a pretty good game, overall.

And, well, it was a win.

Poll

The Patriots biggest problem has been ...

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Tom Brady
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Stephen Gostkowski
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    The offensive line
    (0 votes)
  • 20%
    The defenses lack of turnovers
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    The running game
    (0 votes)
  • 60%
    The receivers (or lack thereof)
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Coaching
    (0 votes)
  • 20%
    General execution
    (1 vote)
5 votes total Vote Now