1. After performing very well last week, the Miami defensive line crashed back down to earth against a much better New England offensive line. In particular, it was thought that Mario Williams, after performing very well against Seattle, would be a difference maker in this game if he recovered from a concussion in time.
But in the end, Williams disappeared and looked much more like the player that we saw during the preseason and during the season before that in 2015. If Williams got close to the quarterback in the first half, I didn’t see it. And he wasn’t alone by a long shot. Cameron Wake was nowhere to be seen most of the time and Jordan Phillips was Jordan Phillips.
Having said all of that, in fairness the Patriots did a very nice job, particularly in the first half, of limiting the Miami pass rush with quick passes that made it very hard to get to Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. But there were also ample opportunities where the Patriots threw deep and when they came, the defensive line had a very difficult time getting there.
It’s a long season and some ups and downs might be expected. But it’s reasonable to doubt that this unit is going to be better than it was last year, even with the presence of Ndamukong Suh.
2. Of interest to me was the Miami run defense which, statistically, wasn’t bad (4.2 yds per carry). However, the statistics are deceiving. The Patriots were frequently running on second and third and short and they had a disturbing habit of getting just enough for a first down, thus extending drives.
And LeGarrette Blount seemed to have an awful lot of nice carries while Brissett was adjusting to the game in the second and third quarter. Also somewhat concerning was the fact that Miami was once again unable to finish by stopping the Patriots from running off quite a bit of clock with six minutes left in the game and a difference of only seven points.
In any case, it’s no wonder that the first half time of possession was so lopsided with Miami having the ball only nine minutes to New England’s 21. The Patriots did a marvelous job of controlling the ball and the Dolphins defense is going to have to stiffen in such situations if they are going to get off the field while the game is still in hand.
3. Having said all of that, the biggest problems for the defense were in the backfield. They threw every type of coverage at the Patriots, who simply handled whatever came their way with aplomb. They found mismatches in man coverage (e.g. Kiko Alonso covering Martellus Bennett on the second Patriots touchdown) and it was evident that the Dolphins were under manned. When they blitzed, it got picked up and they got burned. When they dropped into zone, the receivers found every seam and soft spot.
Not a single defensive back played well, including, unfortunately, Xavien Howard, who at least has the excuse of being a rookie. Howard also had a hands to the face penalty that negated a Cameron Wake sack.
This seems to me to be the spot where the Dolphins must improve the most to compete with the NFL’s best. They need to be able to cover the Julian Edelman’s of the league or they’re simply going to struggle.
4. I’m going to cut the offense a break here. They really didn’t have much of a chance to get going in the first half in part because the defense simply couldn’t get off the field. It’s true that they didn’t take much advantage of the chances they got to do something with the ball and they flat out didn’t execute for most of the half. But their opportunities, especially in the first quarter, really were limited.
Arian Foster shared snaps with both Kenyan Drake and Jay Ajayi. We may see more and more of Drake as they get him work to try to develop him. I’ll give Ajayi credit, he looks to me like he’s trying to be more patient at times when he runs. He also managed to catch four passes (to my great surprise, Arian Foster had no receptions). Ajayi didn’t have much success in the end but who did?
It was somewhat surprising that last week’s second running back off the bench, Damien Williams, didn’t see the field.
Ryan Tannehill had a rough first half as well and wasn’t particularly accurate.
One positive was the offensive line, which I thought wasn’t bad in protection for most of the day. Unfortunately, they were the only thing that was really positive until the Patriots went to a much more conservative offense with a big lead and a rookie quarterback in the second half.
To their credit, the offense took advantage of that and Jarvis Landry (10 rec, 137 yds) in particular made a good day of it. The much maligned Jordan Cameron (5 rec, 49 yds, 1 TD) ended up having a reasonably good day as well (despite another drop). And DeVante Parker made some nice plays. But it was too little too late in the end.
5. There is, however, one negative aspect of the offensive performance that has to be emphasized. Again.
The Dolphins were concerned last week about their poor third down efficiency (three conversions of 13 attempts) and they claimed that one goal this week was to solve this issue. It looked to me like they had limited success.
The Dolphins were only 1 of 5 on third down in the first half as they fell behind big. I hesitate to suggest that they solved it in the second half (they finished with 5 of 10) because the Patriots held a big lead and though they showed some aggressive looks, the coverage was looser in the second half defensively.
This is an issue that will continue to be watched closely.
6. Another huge issue, was it so often is, was the Miami turnovers. The Dolphins lost the ball an unacceptable four times to the Patriots one. Fumbles by Jay Ajayi and Jarvis Landry hurt the Dolphins badly as did a Ryan Tannehill interception, the second might be forgiven as it came when Tannehill was trying to make a play to tie the game in the final minute.
Particularly damaging was the Landry fumble which came right after the Dolphins only recovery and, therefore, kept a desperate offense from taking advantage.
You aren’t going to win many games against good teams, especially good teams like the Patriots, if you don’t win the turnover battle.
7. Both teams should be upset over the number of penalties in this game. Miami’s statistics in this respect weren’t horrible (5 for 49 yds) but they can do better. New England head coach Bill Belichick, on the other hand, is likely to be more unhappy with his team’s stats. Seven penalties for 65 yds were unacceptable and were enough to be the potential difference between winning and losing in games where they are down to their third string quarterback.
I’m sure the Patriots will be spending some of the very precise time they have in this short week emphasizing that this needs to be cleaned up.
8. You had to figure that Martellus Bennett wasn’t going to be down with the Patriots offense for long. Bennett barely got the ball last week against Arizona and was used mostly to block. But he came alive on Sunday with 5 rec for 114 yds.
He’s not Rob Gronkowski, but he’s a tough match up nevertheless. When the Patriots get both of them on the field they’re going to be a nightmare.
9. Adam Gase has already faced a number of challenges as Dolphins head coach. He’s got a talented receiver in DeVante Parker who apparently doesn’t like to practice. Though I’ve frequently labeled him “Adam Sunshine” for his blindly positive comments to the media in the face of less than positive play from some of his players, Gase took the right track with Parker by calling him out publicly. Parker has responded well (verbally) to the jabs.
"Everything he said publicly he told me privately,'' Parker said. "It was good. He's showing he cares. He's telling me what I need to do to be better. I love it."
Similarly, when running back Jay Ajayi apparently responded poorly to losing the top running back job in the last preseason game - and deservedly I might add. He “did something in the building — away from the football field — that made a lot of people upset.” Gase left him behind rather than take him to Seattle.
“I think he has been really good,” Gase said about the player’s work this week. “He has been really engaged in meetings. I know he has done a great job … He has done a very good job at practice. We’re heading in the right direction in that area.”
Whether these moves translate to improved action on the part of these players will only be seen over time but they were probably the right moves.
I made the point repeatedly in the offseason that Gase is a first time head coach with a first time defensive coordinator (Vance Joseph). That’s a lot of things being done for the first time by the two most important coaches on the staff.
I won’t call Gase a good head coach, yet. There’s a lot more that goes into it and he really hasn’t faced much adversity yet. He’s still in his honeymoon period and isn’t being criticized too harshly for field decisions yet. We also still can’t say much about the coaching staff he hired. We will really only be able to judge him over a long period of time. But having said that, at least as far as it goes, so far so good.
10a. There are probably an awful lot of general managers out there right now that need a “Jimmy Garoppolo tracker.” That’s why I was surprised by the suggestion this week that the Patriots made a mistake in drafting him. For instance, the Dolphins took wide receiver Jarvis Landry right behind the Patriots choice of Garoppolo and Landry has, indeed been a good, productive player while Garoppolo has been sitting the bench. Nevertheless, the view that the Patriots would be better off with Landry is short sighted. The Patriots might very possibly get multiple first round picks in a trade after Garoppolo performed extremely well the first two games of the season.
If he returns from his shoulder injury to play well in the next two games, they almost certainly will. Meanwhile Jacoby Brissett may be on his way to developing into a quarterback who is just as good.
Personally, I think teams should draft a quarterback every year. I’ve heard a lot of nonsense from teams that refuse to draft quarterbacks when they get the opportunity about not reaching to get one. Well, tell that to the Patriots. They invested a second round pick in a quarterback they didn’t need and spent a couple years developing him. It’s now paying off, just as it did when the Packers drafted Aaron Rogers when they didn’t need him. It’s an investment that ultimately will pay off fivefold (at least) if you manage to develop one.
Bottom line, the value for the player and the position is set by the market. If you are consistently evaluating players below that value, you are the one who is undervaluing the position because you are the one who refuses to pay the going rate.
10b. The (relative to the rest of the NFL) poor TV ratings for last week’s Miami game against the Seattle Seahawks very much surprised me. The game drew a disappointing 14.9 rating in Miami-Fort Lauderdale, meaning that 14.9 percent of local homes with TV sets (about 244,000 homes). This was a very favorable 4 P.M. match up against one of the league’s best franchises. Indeed, most of the nation saw it.
Last season, Dolphins averaged a 16.9 rating, worst among the 28 markets with only one NFL team. But that’s more understandable. They weren’t good and most people believed the coaching situation made the teams prospects somewhat hopeless, particularly in the last half of the season.
This year is different with a young, dynamic head coach in Adam Gase and more than a few promising young players that should be fun to watch as they develop. The team has gone out and signed the best defensive lineman in the game in Ndamukong Suh and appears determined to do what it takes to win.
A team with the Dolphins’ storied history and promising prospects - in the long-term if not the short-term - shouldn’t be near the bottom of the league in television ratings.
10c. The Miami offense will have a prime opportunity to recover next week against the Cleveland Browns, possibly the worst defensive unit in the league. The Browns went up 20-0 on the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday before surrendering 25 straight points to lose the game.
To make matters worse, the Browns already lost their starting quarterback in the first game of the season and back up Josh McCown stayed in the game against Baltimore despite an injured left shoulder.
The dreadful Browns were also hurt by a missed field goal and three costly penalties in the fourth quarter.
This is the kind of game teams with competitive aspirations have to win. Look for the Dolphins to get very healthy at home next week against this team. If they don’t, it could be a sign that bad trouble is ahead for them.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
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