Well, it’s no surprise that the grades are stellar for the New England Patriots after taking care of business in Gillette and locking up a bye and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs with a 28-0 shutout victory over the rival Miami Dolphins. The Patriots finish the season an undefeated 6-0 in AFC East play for just the second time in franchise history.
New England Patriots Pass Offense A
It wasn’t perfect, but I would be nit-picking if I gave the Patriots less than an “A” after Tom Brady posted a 104.4 QB Rating on the Miami Dolphins defense. Sean Smith seems to always have Brandon Lloyd‘s number and held the Pats wideout to just one catch, but Wes Welker more than made up for that with another big game. My game ball winner for yesterday’s game, Welker continues to play some of his best ball against his former team with eight receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown.
Danny Woodhead also deserves a shoutout for making a big impact as a pass-catcher in addition to having a few solid runs in this one. Woodhead caught all five passes thrown at him for a grand total of 79 yards, which means that he averaged nearly 16 yards per target, That’s just ridiculously good.
Aaron Hernandez wasn’t as good as he could have been, but he was solid in the short-range game and continues to work that part of the field well. In four of the past five games, Hernandez has been excellent on check-down passes (the game that doesn’t count was last week’s awful performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars). He finished with five receptions for 44 yards and 8.8 yards per reception, with all of his receptions being successful plays. He did a solid job moving the chains for the Patriots.
Rob Gronkowski made his return and made his impact known with two receptions for 42 yards and a TD in just 25 snaps. Now that’s solid stuff from the star TE.
Patriots Run Offense A-
You have to love a steady, all-around rushing attack. I upgraded the “B+” to an “A-”, because the Miami Dolphins strength is on run defense due to a hard-nosed front seven. Those guys looked anything but hard-noshed against the Patriots running backs, because all four of them had some success. Stevan Ridley broke plenty of tackles in workman-like performance, as he found the end zone twice and was much better than his 3.7 YPC average indicates.
Shane Vereen led the Pats with an average of 4.8 yards per carry on eight attempts, and Brandon Bolden also chipped in a solid effort. Danny Woodhead had three great runs and continues to make the most out of each an every opportunity he gets.
Pats Pass Defense A+
Man, that pass rush was just filthy, and it’s the reason why I’m giving the New England Patriots pass defense a perfect “A+” for this game even though the Miami Dolphins passing attack is subpar. Ryan Tannehill looked awful with a 65.8 QB Rating and a sub-20 TQBR, as Bill Belichick and the Pats defense continues to look good against rookie quarterbacks. Rob Ninkovich was out for most of the game, but the Pats didn’t miss a beat with a ridiculous seven sacks and eight total quarterback hits.
Justin Francis led the charge, as the rookie UDFA DE put up three sacks on Tannehill and showed which rookie was the boss in Foxboro. Brandon Deaderick, Trevor Scott, Vince Wilfork (he played terrific, by the way), and even defensive back Derrick Martin also got into the act with sacks.
The secondary was also solid in this game, and Kyle Arrington played a great game making plays in the center of the field. He led the team with eight tackles and also defended a pass. Steve Gregory had a safety and was solid in coverage all-around, and Patrick Chung also had a nice game in the Pats defensive backfield. Chandler Jones, by the way, batted down two passes in this game, and I’ll be heaping some more praise on him shortly.
Run Defense A+
I’d like to think that the reason why the Miami Dolphins only ran the ball 15 times this game is the combination of them being down and the fact that they just couldn’t get anything going against one of the best run defenses in the NFL. It wasn’t just the front seven either, as Arrington and Chung were terrific in run defense in this game. The Dolphins averaged just 3.1 yards per carry, with backup Lamar Miller being held to just 2.6 YPC. That 3.1 average is counting the eight rushing yards on two rushes by quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
The Dolphins had no success running the football, and that’s because the Patriots run defense was just so dominant. They were the best unit on the field in this game, and they flat-out dominate the opposition. Jones, Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Brandon Spikes (in that order of effectiveness) were standouts against an overwhelmed Dolphins rushing attack.
Francis may have had the high sack numbers, but Jones was at least as good as him. The Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate had eight “successful” plays in this game and seven tackles in total to go with the aforementioned pair of batted passes. Jones is going to be one of the best defensive ends in this league against the run for a long time, and performances like the one on Sunday show why. He is back to his best and looks fully recovered from the ankle injury he sustained weeks ago against the Indianapolis Colts. Jones has been terrific these past two games against the Jags and ‘Fins in all facets of the game.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.