Monday, October 20, 2003

Patriots 19, Dolphins 13 (10/19/2003)

Well, last week I wasn't too excited about beating a bad Giants team, so you might expect I'm a lot more revved up about beating a solid Miami team. And you would be right.

The Patriots first ever win in Miami during Sept/Oct was a great combination of game plan and player performance. The Pats knew Miami ran the ball on first down 65% of the time, so they lined up with five Defensive Lineman on every Dolphin first down of the game -- holding Ricky Williams to about 70 yards in regulation. They stopped him from controlling the clock and the game and left it up to Jay Fiedler.

This game plan was reminiscent of the AFC Championship game in 2001 against Pittsburgh, when they loaded up to stop Jerome "The Bus" Bettis and dared Kordell Stewart to beat them. Fiedler had about as much luck as Stewart did that day (if you recall, the Patriots went on to the Super Bowl and Stewart went on to Chicago). And I have to say that Fiedler's mechanics and defensive reads seem to break down quickly when he gets hit a few times. Just a little pressure and a few hits, and he was underthrowing everyone or throwing it away or throwing it into tight coverage. Should be interesting to see how the Dolphins react to other teams loading up to stop the run and putting the pressure on Fiedler to perform -- because you know the rest of the league gets the film from this game and they will try to duplicate it.

The Pats D-line played a monster game. They stopped Ricky for less than two yards half the time he ran (and many of those times were for a loss), and when he didn't run, they got enough pressure on the QB to keep him out of rhythm. Richard Seymour looks more and more like a perennial Pro-Bowler (his blocked field goal was an absolute must if the Pats were to win), and Ty Warren, Dan Klecko, and especially Jarvis Green continue to make plays like veterans.

And with all those D-linemen in the game, the pressure was on the Pats defensive backfield, and they came through the challenge with flying colors. Sure, Randy McMichael caught a career high 8 passes for over 100 yards. But what did the rest of the receivers do? They were invisible, cloaked by Patriot defenders ready to make them pay if they wanted to catch the ball. Tyrone Poole and Rodney Harrison played big games, and you can assume that Asante Samuel did as well because you never heard his name (which means they didn't throw his way).

The Pats O-line played well on pass protection, with a lot fewer penalties than last week and a good job pushing the Dolphin speed rushers past Tom Brady. You could see their frustration when Jason Taylor took a stupid roughing-the-passer penalty that allowed the Pats to squeak out three points just before the half. The Pats didn't run the ball particularly well, but I credit the Miami defense on that one. On some of the plays that looked like they might go somewhere, some defender would blast through and slow up or stop the play before it got started. The Pats ran the ball well some of the time, but not consistently enough.

I liked the way the Pats mixed in the short screens and fake reverses to keep the over-pursuing Dolphins at home, and the receivers did a good job getting the yards they could after the catch. In fact, I just liked the way the kept everything in balance. Aside from the blocked field goal, there weren't any huge, game-turning plays, and the Pats just kept plugging away until Miami cracked under the pressure (okay, Fiedler and Olindo Mare cracked under the pressure).

It was a hard-hitting game, and either team might have won. But the Patriots showed a lot of guts to hang in there on the road and pull out an important divisional win.

5-2 and if they take care of business next Sunday against Cleveland, they'll be right on schedule at 6-2 heading into a showdown in Denver the following Monday.

Keep the faith,

- Scott

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