Patriot Pummeling: Grades and Analysis from Miami’s 35-14 Loss to New England
Miami came into its season finale against New England flying high after clinching an elusive playoff berth on Christmas night. What took place on New Year’s Day was a harsh reality check for the Dolphins. The Patriots led by Tom Brady, snapped the Dolphins’ three game win streak in emphatic fashion. While after a 25-yard touchdown pass from Matt Moore to Kenny Stills made it a one score game early in third quarter, New England answered on its following drive and never looked back. The score may suggest the game’s grades are all of the failing variety. However, in a day full of harsh wake up calls, there were some positives for the Dolphins to take from their season finale loss.
Matt Moore: C
While Moore got out of the gates slowly, much like his entire offense, the Dolphins’ QB settled into the game as the action went on. However, the truth of the matter is this was the type of game in which the ‘Phins missed their starting signal caller, Ryan Tannehill. One of the qualities that seems to surprise many who don’t follow the Patriots closely is just how stingy their defense is, especially their run defense. The Patriots third-ranked run defense, which allows under 90 yards per game, forced Adam Gase to be more dependent on the air attack during the afternoon. While the Dolphins managed to muster up two impressive scoring drives—one to end the first-half and one to begin the second-half—everything else seemed rather moot. Perhaps Moore’s grade would have been higher if his hideous 1st quarter interception was easier to erase from the mind.
Running Backs: C
The Dolphins’ tailbacks struggled against the Patriots stout run defense. Jay Ajayi, coming off his 206-yard performance against the Buffalo Bills was held to a mere 59 yards on the ground. Ajayi rushed for 3.7 yards a carry, as Matt Patricia’s defense lived up to its billing. Both Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams didn’t feature much on the ground, as the duo combined for only six carries between them. However, what really affected the group’s overall grade was Damien Williams’ game-ending fumble. The Dolphins found themselves inside the Patriots’ red zone with a chance to make it a one score game. Instead, Williams coughed the football up after a short completion. The Patriots recovered and returned the ball all the way inside the Dolphins’ 30-yard line.
Wide Receivers: A
Miami’s most dynamic unit once again showed why it’s just that. The Dolphins’ three top receivers all had their moments under the Miami sun. Jarvis Landry was his usual yard-creating- self. Landry even made sure to provide us with another of his signature types of plays: On the Dolphins’ final drive of the first half, Landry ran a dig route across the middle of the field which lead to his one touchdown reception. Most players would have been stopped short of the goal- line but, once again, Landry uses his uncanny ability to extend plays; he maintains his balance after the contact and dives into the end zone for the score. As mentioned earlier, Kenny Stills showed his deep ball prowess against the Pats. Stills hurled in a 25-yard strike from Moore early in the third quarter. At this point, Stills has earned the attention he’s sure to receive in free agency and he should be one of the Dolphins’ top offseason priorities. While DeVante Parker didn’t get in on the scoring, the Louisville product had an impressive red zone catch in traffic. The ‘Phins will need their top pass catchers on form against the Steelers if they are to have any shot in pulling off the upset.
Offensive Line: C+
While Matt Moore wasn’t sacked once on the afternoon, that doesn’t mean the offensive line’s performance was anywhere near to being immaculate. The run blocking was simply non-existent. Dolphins’ tailbacks consistently struggled to find running lanes and creases to create yardage. On some of the more positive runs of the day, it was typically Jay Ajayi using his innate ability to create yards after contact to extend plays. As mentioned previously, Matt Moore might not have been brought down by the Patriots’ defense, but Moore’s interception was a product of a collapsed pocket. The Dolphins’ offensive line allowed the Patriots’ defensive line their fair share of quarterback hurries.
Defensive Line: B
Neither of Miami’s two Pro Bowl defensive linemen were able to get to Tom Brady once on the afternoon. However, that doesn’t mean the likes of Ndamukung Suh and Cameron Wake necessarily had bad outings against New England. Suh did what he usually does and what he has become known for doing: eat up blockers. LeGarrette Blount was held to only 51 yards on 14 carries. The run defense gave up a total of 120 yards on the ground, but the job they were able to do on Blount was admirable. You would be making a big mistake in thinking the Dolphins’ Pro Bowl defensive tackle didn’t have a huge part in the team’s success against Blount. Miami’s other Pro Bowler, Cameron Wake, failed to add to his impressive sack tally against the Patriots; it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Wake looked fast and dangerous coming off the edge at times. However, few can maneuver in the pocket like Tom Brady. The Patriots’ future Hall of Fame quarterback is great for a lot of reasons, his habitual pocket presence is just one of them.
The Dolphins’ shortcomings at the linebacker position is no secret. Once again, the unit reared its ugly head against the Pats. While they were average at best in terms of their containment on run plays, the unit was picked on all day long by the Patriots’ superior pass catchers. Whether it was Edelman, Bennett or even the newly acquired Michael Floyd, the ‘Phins were consistently picked on in the middle of the field. A team coached as well the New England Patriots is sure to not only pinpoint your weaknesses, but also exploit them. By calling on several routes that attacked the middle of the field, the Patriots did just that.
Defensive Backs: D+
If you recall, during the offseason when the Dolphins’ acquired Byron Maxwell and drafted Xavien Howard, the team harped on the corners’ physical attributes. After a 2015 season in which the Dolphins struggled against physical receivers such as Brandon Marshall and Sammy Watkins, the front office had made it one of its priorities to add bigger and stronger corners. While the goal was accomplished, Miami’s defensive personnel still does not match up well with the Patriots; healthy or not healthy. This was on display today; receivers such as Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan seemed to be able to get open at will. For most of the game it seemed Miami’s secondary players were a step behind.
Special Teams: B+
Miami’s special teams had a practically flawless day. The only reason the unit doesn’t grade out with an “A” is because in a game that the Dolphins badly needed an impact type of play, Darren Rizzi’s group failed to provide it. Andrew Franks hit both of his extra point tries but didn’t attempt a field goal on the afternoon. Truthfully speaking there wasn’t much to see today in terms of the Dolphins’ special teams’ performance.
This goes without saying, but today should be no indictment on Adam Gase as well as the rest of the Dolphins’ coaching staff. This is what can happen when you face a razor sharp Super Bowl contender that possesses possibly the best head coach and quarterback pairing of all time. While Gase was outcoached on the afternoon, it is moments such as these that will only help the 38-year-old grow as a head coach. Adam Gase was able to solve the Patriot riddle while at Denver as offensive coordinator, and he’ll surely use this season’s defeats to New England as references in future meetings.
On the day, the Dolphins were severely outclassed. New England had not won in Miami since 2012 and they made sure their losing streak in South Florida didn’t reach four. Despite the harsh reality check, it is imperative that the Dolphins remain focus and do not let their confidence waver; as next week won’t get any easier at Heinz Field.