This week’s narrow victory over the Miami Dolphins might be the most difficult one to grade, because there are several ways to go with this. The New England Patriots defense played a great game all-around, but there were some aspects of the offense that struggled and other aspects that did well.
New England Patriots Pass Offense C+
Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker were the lone true bright spots for this unit, but this grade is more of a reflection of the poor play of the offensive line in this game. Sebastian Vollmer clearly did not look healthy, and that’s the worst possible thing when going up against a dominant pass rusher like Cameron Wake. One of the sacks he had on Tom Brady came on a three-man rush in which he blew by Vollmer and just pummeled Brady to the turf. Man, that was scary.
Brady didn’t have a poor game, but he was only “decent” which is pretty much the same thing as “poor” by his lofty standards. He didn’t have much time in the pocket and had to resort to quick passes to Wes Welker, which is why he didn’t target Brandon Lloyd much. It’s more obvious than some people are making it out to be. Brady loves throwing it to his favorite slot receiver when under pressure, and he’s not going to throw it to the outside in Sean Smith territory when he barely has enough time to actually see that part of the field. Brady doesn’t want to turn the ball over- that’s the ultimate goal- which is why he threads low, short passes to Welker most of the time.
Speaking of turnovers, his pick to Reshad Jones was all Jones. That was an amazing, one-handed pick. Brady does not deserve blame for that one.
Hernandez, Welker, and Brady were all clutch in this game but they had their poor moments (Welker and Herny dropped some gimme passes). But both receivers combined for 200 yards in the middle of the field, and they carried this unit.
Patriots Run Offense C+
I thought Stevan Ridley did an excellent job on the game’s final drive, but he had a mediocre game and this grade is reflective of that. The Patriots running game was inconsistent, and I blame that on Josh McDaniels (not all of it, but he gets partial blame) for inconsistent play-calling with regards to running the football. He seemingly gave up on rushing the football until the fourth quarter, which is when things started to heat up for the Ridley and the Pats against a tough Dolphins run defense. Ridley had a 40.9% success rate, and that’s not good enough in my book.
Pats Pass Defense A+
It’s pretty obvious to me that the pass defense deserves high marks, because the combination of three sacks and a 45% completion percentage allowed is an incredible one. Ryan Tannehill is normally good against the pass rush, but that’s mainly when opposing teams are blitzing and give him a gimme throw to Davone Bess.
There were no gimme throws to Bess for Tannehill in this game, and his slot receiver came away with just one reception on six targets. Kyle Arrington absolutely shut down Bess in this game, and that’s no easy task given Bess’s 55 catches and solid history against New England. Arrington also came up big when blitzing, which is something he’s always done will. I also want to mention Jerod Mayo as a player who has been efficient as a pass rusher when given the chance, and not even an athletic QB like Tannehill can take advantage of pressure when it comes that fast. Credit to Bill Belichick and the staff for doing a great job in scheming the pass rush.
And, of course, how could I forget mentioning Trevor Scott in this space. Sure he had some struggles against the run, but he was excellent as a pass rusher and provided two very clutch sacks on Tannehill. He deserves a larger role as a sub-package pass rusher, and he showed off his athleticism when covering TE Anthony Fasano. Scott had a big game, and he has strung together three strong performances now.
Run Defense B+
Reggie Bush had some success rushing the football with a 4.3 yard per carry average, but that’s actually a bit below his season average. The Dolphins didn’t get much going on the ground, and the Patriots completely shutdown incompetent No. 2 back Daniel Thomas and made him look worse than he really is. Vince Wilfork, as expected, feasted on the weaker opponent on the inside, and Mayo and Spikes cleaned up shop as well. Mayo fully deserves a Pro Bowl berth for his work this season in run defense, and he’s been the best Pats LB in coverage this year. That isn’t much of an honor, but, to be fair, Brandon Spikes has improved in this regard (two PDs in this game as well). And oh yeah, Mayo’s also a good pass rusher when given the opportunity (another sack in this game).
Overall, the Pats gave up just 3.7 yards per carry. That deserves a high B in my book.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.