A Tale of Two Halves: Grades From the Dolphins’ 31-24 Loss to the Patriots

The Miami Dolphins’ 8th straight loss in Foxborough was a tale of two halves. The Dolphins were thoroughly and embarrassingly outplayed at every level throughout the majority of the first half. However, in the last few minutes of the 2nd Quarter, Adam Gase gave Ryan Tannehill the reigns to the no-huddle offense. From that point in the game, the Dolphins finally started looking like a semblance of an NFL offense.

After the red-hot Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a shoulder injury, the Miami Dolphins’ defense was able to stack the box against LeGarrette Blount and dare 3rd string rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett to beat them with his arm. The Dolphins used this game plan with some success, limiting the Patriots to just 7 points in the second half. Though the offense played well late with 21 unanswered points, they could not dig themselves out of the 28 point hole that they’d put themselves in early on. Ultimately, this game was extremely frustrating to watch as the Dolphins are now 0-2 after their 31-24 loss at the hands of a Patriots team that was missing both Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

Ryan Tannehill: C+

If you look purely at the numbers (32/45 passing, 389 yards, and 2 TDs) Ryan Tannehill had an incredible day in New England. But, his agonizingly slow start coupled with his 2 interceptions bring his overall grade down. Tannehill and the offense struggled mightily in the first 25 minutes, contributing to the team’s 21-0 deficit early. It took far too long for Tannehill to get comfortable, and his multiple three and outs left the Dolphins’ tired defense vulnerable to the Patriots’ assault.

Though it was not enough for a victory, I have to give credit where it’s due. Ryan Tannehill looked to be a man reborn in the second half. He got nearly every receiver heavily involved and had a number of beautiful arcing throws to go along with Adam Gase’s classic death-by-a-thousand paper cuts approach. For one stretch during the 3rd and 4th quarters, he actually completed 14 straight passes.

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However, all of his positive progress ended as the Dolphins were in position to force the game into overtime. While I admit that driving down the field 70 yards and scoring a touchdown with a minute left is a tall order, it was Ryan Tannehill’s opportunity to show the world whether or not he can be a clutch quarterback. Instead of building on his own momentum, he struggled with the time constraints and threw an interception in the final seconds.

Overall, this game just reeked of Ryan Tannehill’s frustrating lack of development from slow start to poor finish. As it stands now, Ryan Tannehill is an athletic, above average quarterback. However, until he proves that he can start strong and play better in the face of adversity, he will continue to draw ire from much of the Miami Dolphins’ fanbase.

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Running Backs: D+

It was somewhat difficult to grade the running backs simply due to the fact that they really didn’t have any opportunities with Miami’s early deficit. Arian Foster went down with an injury early in the game after compiling 9 yards on 3 carries. With Arian Foster down, Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake were the next men up.

Jay Ajayi was unspectacular as a runner (5 carries for 14 yards), solid as a pass-catcher (4 receptions for 31 yards), and had a frustrating fumble that New England recovered in early 3rd quarter. Kenyan Drake played well in his limited debut, logging his first career touchdown. Neither running back was particularly helpful overall, as Ryan Tannehill actually had more rushing yards than the two combined. Ajayi’s costly fumble brings the unit’s overall grade very low considering how little positive impact they had during the course of the game.

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Wide Receivers: A

The Miami Dolphins’ receiver corps was as good as any in the league on Sunday. For the first time, the young unit played to its sky-high potential. Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker both had 100+ yard performances while Kenny Stills was on the receiving end of a crucial touchdown.

Jarvis Landry was Ryan Tannehill’s safety blanket once again, as he was routinely Tannehill’s go-to checkdown receiver where he did his damage after the catch. Had the Pro Bowl slot receiver not fumbled, it may have been one of his absolute best games. Veteran Kenny Stills also helped build the team’s confidence with a solid performance in the wake of a dismal Week 1 showing in Seattle.

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If DeVante Parker was injured, he certainly didn’t show it on Sunday. After missing opening weekend, Parker took the Patriots’ lunch money as the team’s primary deep threat, especially on this beautiful one-handed catch. After an 8-catch 106-yard performance, Parker looks to be everything the Dolphins wanted him to be and then some. At this point we can only hope that he remains healthy throughout the rest of the season.

Jordan Cameron: B+

What we saw against the Patriots on Sunday out of Jordan Cameron (5 catches for 49 yards and a TD) was all we really wanted from him: competent tight end play. Cameron was solid as a secondary checkdown option and secured a touchdown from Ryan Tannehill in the red zone. Overall, it was a strong showing from the former Cleveland Browns Pro Bowler, especially after last week’s miserable performance against Seattle.

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Offensive Line: B+

For what seemed like the first time ever, the offensive line did not give up a single sack on any of Ryan Tannehill’s 45 pass attempts. While the pressure from the Patriots’ front seven certainly existed, the fact that Tannehill actually had a clean pocket for much of the game was a welcome sight. Mike Pouncey has been missed, but this current lineup looks like it could be at least competent this year.

The offensive line still seems to struggle opening up running lanes, particularly on the inside. Jay Ajayi and Arian Foster were absolutely stonewalled in their limited carries, and it’s clear that the team needs their mauling Pro Bowl center if they want to maintain any semblance of an NFL running game.

At any rate, the offensive line’s ability to keep Ryan Tannehill’s jersey clean was a noticeable step up from their typical level of play. Considering the improvement, the offensive line receives what is could end up as their highest grade of the season.

Defensive Line: C

The entirety of the Miami Dolphins’ defense was putrid, but the defensive line’s play was uncharacteristically neutralized for much of the game. Jimmy Garoppolo’s quick release essentially left the defensive line powerless against New England’s slot receiver onslaught. The unit performed miles better after Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a shoulder injury, as Jacoby Brissett wasn’t nearly as adept a passer as Garoppolo is.

Once Garoppolo went down, the Patriots’ offensive gameplan predictably became centered on LeGarrette Blount and the running game. From there the performance was better as the Patriots’ offense slowed down. The D-line had the edge over Blount on some drives, but for the most part they were slowly grinded down by the bruising back to the tune of 123 yards rushing and a TD on 29 carries.

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Now, had Garoppolo been injured halfway through the game, the defensive line’s grade would have undoubtedly been worse. But it is noteworthy that they remain the strongest unit on the Miami Dolphins’ defense.

Linebackers: D-

Can the Miami Dolphins’ linebackers make a tackle? Will Trent Richardson be a Hall of Fame running back? I’m honestly not sure which question got a quicker “no.” The Dolphins’ linebacker corps looked fresh out of high school in the first half. They missed tackles on the Patriots’ shifty wide receivers and running backs and often looked too scared to even go after LeGarrette Blount.

As if poor tackling weren’t enough to put a bad taste in my mouth, there has been no improvement in coverage by the unit whatsoever. Martellus Bennett bullied the covering linebackers (and safeties in all fairness) for 114 yards and a TD on 5 receptions. Kiko Alonso had stretches of competent play as evidenced by his team-leading 11 tackles, but the unit as a whole was dismal.

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Defensive Backs: F

The secondary’s shocking 3 forced fumbles were the only saving grace for what was a performance that likely gave Dolphins fans everywhere a headache. Byron Maxwell, Xavien Howard, and Bobby McCain were simply outmatched by the Patriots’ slot receiver trio. Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, and Chris Hogan combined for 185 yards and 2 TDs on 15 receptions. Their inability in coverage was easily exploited by Jimmy Garoppolo, who could’ve easily buried the Dolphins had he not went down to injury late in the 2nd quarter.

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This secondary is ugly, plain and simple. The safety play of Isa Abdul-Quddus and Pro Bowler Reshad Jones in fine, but these cornerbacks need to improve in a hurry. Maxwell and Howard looked silly for most of the game and are far too reliant on the defensive line’s play. If the defensive line isn’t creating pressure, this group of defensive backs tends to be exploited quickly.

Special Teams: B

The Dolphins avoided any major mistakes in the return game, which was good. Andrew Franks made all three of his PATs and put the team on the board with a 27 yard field goal. Matt Darr was solid as a punter, averaging 41.5 net yards on his four punts. The special teams played much better than it did last week and should remain a team strength throughout the season.

Coaching: D+

I love Adam Gase as a coach, I really do. However, he really failed big time in this one. His conservative play calling led to the Dolphins’ slow start. By the time he let Tannehill run the no huddle, the deficit was already nearly insurmountable. Additionally, his call for a Ryan Tannehill QB sneak on 3rd down and 1 hoping to catch the Patriots’ defense off guard was laughable. Any coach that thinks they are going to beat Bill Belichick in matters of the mind are bound to be disappointed. I’m not even going to rehash how poorly the defense played under Vance Joseph this week.

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At the end of the day, Gase’s early play-calling and Joseph’s ill-prepared defensive game plan put their team in a three touchdown hole early. Had Jimmy Garoppolo played a full four quarters, we might have been talking about the Miami Dolphins as the NFL’s bona fide worst team this week.

Overall: C-

This game was brutal to watch. The offense did perform very well for much of the second half of the game, but it wasn’t enough to pull out a victory. After digging themselves into a 31-3 hole at one point, I think that it’s fair to question the coaching staff and their game plans. The slow start offensively, lack of a running game, and embarrassing defensive effort are enough to beg the question: If the Dolphins can’t go on the road and beat the Patriots without Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Jimmy Garoppolo for a half, then when can they beat the Patriots in Foxborough?

 

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