PATRIOTS REPORT CARD VS. DOLPHINS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus -- Tom Brady found some open receivers at key moments during the game but overall, this passing attack is still struggling. It's going to be difficult to beat the better teams in the league with 140 yards passing. Troy Brown had a good game, catching five passes for 58 yards and a touchdown. Doug Gabriel couldn't build on last week's performance and where is Chad Jackson? For a guy who was supposed to come in and make a difference, Jackson hasn't done much of anything so far this year.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- The Patriots didn't find the same kind of running lanes against the Dolphins that they saw in Cincinnati. After rolling over the Bengals for 236 yards on the ground, New England only recorded 79 yards on 34 carries versus Miami. Like Denver, the Dolphins were able to fill lanes quickly so Laurence Maroney and Corey Dillon couldn't get a head of steam and run freely in the open field. Maroney only had 38 yards on 18 carries, as the Patriots ran for a 2.3 yards per carry average. New England seems to be having trouble blocking the smaller, quick defensive fronts, so that's something to keep an eye on as the season moves forward.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- Head coach Nick Saban made the switch from Daunte Culpepper to Joey Harrington in this game but the results were the same. Harrington threw for 232 yards and two interceptions. The Dolphins had some success finding open receivers in the first half but the Patriots coaching staff made some nice adjustments at halftime. The two disappointing things to come out of this game was the lack of pressure applied to Harrington and the play of Ellis Hobbs. New England only recorded one sack and Hobbs was abused by Wes Welker for most of the game. Welker had nine catches for 77 yards and almost all of them were on Hobbs, who was playing in the slot. The Patriots pass defense has performed well the past two weeks but there are still some holes that need to be fixed in the coming weeks.
RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus -- The New England front seven totally smothered the Dolphins ground game. Ronnie Brown was usually met in the backfield and in the rare instances when he did get past the line of scrimmage, he didn't go very far. The Patriots held Brown to 39 yards on 17 carries and only allowed 62 yards overall to Miami on the ground. When a defense has the ability to make opposing offenses one dimensional like Miami was on Sunday, it makes it difficult for teams to move the ball on a consistent basis.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Kevin Faulk fumbled a punt but he did average 14 yards on returns. Stephen Gostkowski had probably the best game of his young career by hitting two field goals, despite the poor field conditions. The rookie slipped on an attempt in his last home game against the Broncos but said he was going to shorten up his stride and it appears to be working. Josh Miller didn't have a great day punting the football by his standards. He averaged 36.4 yards per kick, while netting 32.8 yards. Those are low numbers for a punter of Miller's caliber. The kickoff returns continue to be non-existent.
COACHING: B-minus -- The offense continues to lack imagination. The Dolphins started blitzing more in the second half, yet the Patriots didn't do anything to slow down the rush. Dean Pees is showing why he was promoted to defensive coordinator. Wes Welker was killing the Patriots in the first half, beating Ellis Hobbs when the two were matched up one-on-one. New England made some nice defensive adjustments at halftime, as they started to double-team Welker more in the second half and they were much more effective. The defensive has shown they can make adjustments on the fly but the offense seems to be running the same plays whether they work or not. If the Patriots can't just line up and run the football, they're in trouble. Some of the blame has to be put on Josh McDaniels and the offensive coaches for lack of imagination in their play calling.
DOLPHINS REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS
PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Joey Harrington showed a command of the offense that an immobile Daunte Harrington hadn't displayed in the first four games, as the former Lions quarterback skillfully utilized a quick, short-passing game plan of offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. Harrington was 17 of 22 for 176 yards in the first half before faltering in the second half. Unfortunately, Harrington threw two critical interceptions that basically handed the Patriots 14 points. Once again the most reliable receiver was diminutive Wes Welker, who had a career-high nine catches for 77 yards. Tight end Randy McMichael (six catches for 84 yards) had his best game of 2006. A holding penalty by tight end Justin Peelle negated a 23-yard catch by wide receiver Marty Booker that would've given the Dolphins a first down on the Patriots 1 and a potential 7-3 lead in the first quarter. Instead Olindo Mare missed the field goal, and the Dolphins would soon be trailing 13-0.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D-minus -- Running back Ronnie Brown had a fumble on his second carry of the game that cost the Dolphins three points. He only averaged 2.3 yards on 17 carries and just one catch for minus-3 yards for his worst game of the season. The Patriots' rugged front seven, led by nose tackle Vince Wilfork (six tackles) and linebacker Tedy Bruschi (10 tackles) held the Dolphins to 62 rushing yards, with 18 of those coming on a Mularkey special, a reverse run by receiver Chris Chambers. A rusty Sammy Morris had a meaningless 5 yards on two carries.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- Patriots Pro Bowl quarterback Tom Brady, who saves his clunkers for the Dolphins, gained a season-low 140 yards on 16 of 29 with his longest completion a 15-yarder. But as usual when the game is on the line, Brady rarely misses his target, particularly veteran receiver Troy Brown, who had five clutch catches for 58 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown. With tight end Daniel Graham (ankle) out, Brady hooked up with tight end Ben Watson for four catches for 33 yards, including a 15-yarder on a fourth-and-3 that helped the Patriots run out the clock. The Dolphins front four effectively pushed back the pocket, batting down several Brady passes. The only sack was notched by Brady nemesis defensive end Jason Taylor, who also stripped the ball, but Brady was able to fall on it. Cornerback Will Allen drew his second costly pass interference penalty this season, albeit a controversial one, a 21-yard infraction that put New England on the Dolphins 1-yard line and set up a Brady touchdown pass to fullback Heath Evans for the game-sealing score. A knee injury to cornerback Travis Daniels didn't help the secondary in the second half.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- By allowing just 79 yards on 34 carries for a 2.3-yard average, the Dolphins limited the NFL's third-ranked rushing attack to almost half of its 154-yard average and 4.3 average per carry. The Dolphins were especially effective against rookie Laurence Maroney, who was limited to 38 yards on 11 carries. Middle linebacker Zach Thomas returned to his Pro Bowl form with a team-leading 12 tackles. The Dolphins finished with a slight time-of-possession advantage of 30:17 to 29:43.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- The horrible field conditions at Gillette Stadium contributed to a poor afternoon by kicker Olindo Mare, who should be used to slippery dirt fields. Mare slipped and missed a 40-yarder in the first quarter, and even with different cleats booted a 50-yarder wide in the fourth quarter when the Dolphins desperately needed to cut into a 10-point deficit for any chance to come back. Punter Donnie Jones dropped John Denney's high but manageable snap to help the Patriots obtain a field-position edge in the scoreless third quarter. Peelle and linebacker Keith Adams committed illegal-block-in-the-back penalties on the same third-quarter play to nullify a nice Welker return. Defensive end David Bowens recovered a Kevin Faulk fumble forced by safety Yeremiah Bell at the Patriots 37 in the third quarter, but the Dolphins failed to score.
COACHING: B-minus -- Mularkey put together an effective game plan for Harrington on short notice, and the offense seemed to click for the first time this season. Miami put together an 80-yard touchdown drive, a successful two-minute scoring drive at the end of the first half (Mare field goal), and an 8:14 drive that came up empty in the first half. Lining up Chambers behind Brown on his 2-yard touchdown run was a nice touch. Saban and Dom Capers' defense stopped the Patriots' third-ranked rushing attack and made Brady look ordinary. However, a season-high 10 penalties for 81 yards, including several pre-snap penalties, has to reflect negatively on the coaching staff.