Monday, November 9, 2009

Patriots 27, Dolphins 17 (11/8/2009)

The Dolphins unveiled the Pistol offense yesterday, but it wasn't as impressive as last year's debut of the Wildcat. The Patriots held them to two touchdowns (after getting scorched for five last year), and earned a hard-fought 27-17 victory in sunny Foxboro. The win puts the Pats in control of the AFC East, two full games ahead of the Jets and three ahead of the Dolphins and Bills. It also sets up yet another "Game of the Year" against the undefeated Colts in Indianapolis this Sunday night.

Brady started the game with another jump-ball to Moss that was intercepted, but was in total control after that. He finished with 65% completions and even though the stat sheet says he was sacked twice, it's difficult to remember those plays. The O-line kept him very clean, using quick feet to control the outside pass rush and power to run right over the Dolphins defense (quick trivia: name the only Miami defensive starter who had no tackles in the game). Sebastian Vollmer continues to impress in place of the injured Matt Light, protecting Brady's blind side and doing a great job blocking on screens and tackle pulls. Special mention goes to Dan Connolly, who stepped in for center Dan Koppen and held his own blocking and didn't mess up a single snap.

Even though there was that early interception, Brady targeted Moss a lot. And Randy delivered, with 6 catches for 147 yards, among which were the following: a pair of important third-down conversions; a spectacular one-handed grab to set up a touchdown; an exciting 71-yard catch and run touchdown; and a critical catch on a two-point conversion. The only thing he didn't do was play in the defensive backfield. Maybe next week. Wes Welker was Mr. Dependable (9 for 84 yards) and Ben Watson played one of his best games of the year, finishing with 4 for 49 yards and some excellent blocking. He was called for an illegal "pick" play, but that penalty is rarely called in the NFL, so he just needs to disguise it better to avoid the negative play.

With only three running backs on the roster and a pass heavy offense, there isn't usually much to say about this group. But Laurence Maroney looked good about 75% of the time yesterday, hitting the hole and getting great downhill blocking to end the day with 82 yards. It was important to be effective running, because it slowed down the pass rush and wore down the defenders. And they actually got some yardage from running formations, which has been tough for them this year. So progress is progress, and the running attack has improved the past three games.

The defense was a different story. They controlled the Miami offense for most of the game, giving up just the two touchdown drives. So it wasn't that they stunk up the joint; but they gave up too many third-down conversions, especially on short passes against soft coverage. And there were a lot of missed plays against the Wildcat/Pistol offense, with Tully Banta-Cain whiffing once and the entire left side collapsing on Ricky Williams touchdown run (untouched into the end zone). Now that they've seen the new wrinkles, they will do better in Miami in four weeks. But given the extra time they practiced against the Wildcat, the 16-play 66-yard drive to open the second half was disappointing.

It was not a good day for the secondary. Rookie Darius Butler was in due to injury and Leigh Bodden gimped in and out a few times. The Pats didn't rotate a safety to Butler's side so it looked like his assignment was "don't get beaten deep." He didn't give up any long passes, but instead let up quite a few short pass completions, though he was a sure tackler, getting 7 on the day. Same went for the rest of the secondary; Brandon Meriweather gave a third-down conversion early, Bodden gave up a few, and even Brandon McGowan got caught for a few over the middle, though he did make 11 tackles on the day.

The rest of the defense played pretty well, save for the two touchdown drives. Ty Warren was the star on the D-line, and the rotation of Myron Pryor and Mike Wright did a good job spelling Vince Wilfork on a hot day.

Jerod Mayo continues to round into post-injury form, notching 12 tackles to lead the team and becoming much more active and vocal. Adalius Thomas made a huge play on a double-reverse option-pass, but Banta-Cain was hot-and-cold against the different offensive looks, thought he was around the QB all day.

Stephen Gostkowski had his best day as a pro, with four field goals, consistently deep kicks to neutralize the Dolphins return game, and even one special teams tackle. The Dolphins beat the Jets with two kickoff returns for touchdowns, so there's no overstating how important it was to get touchbacks and mostly short returns. The punting game was mediocre, no huge mistakes, but Chris Hanson should have pinned the Dolphins deeper at least twice.

The coaches did an excellent job preparing for the Wildcat and a very good job adjusting to the Pistol during the game. They helped limit Miami's offensive success to two touchdown drives and once they had the game in hand they properly ran the clock, knowing they had nothing to fear from an anemic Dolphins passing attack. A very sound game plan and well executed.

So where does that leave us? As stated before, 6-2 with a two game lead in the division sounds pretty good. The Colts game will test the young secondary, and I expect they will do better than they did this week because the team will concentrate on stopping the pass, whereas with Miami they had to stop the run first. Should be a great game, carve out the three hours if you can.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: The Patriots failed to force a turnover for the first time this year.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "The Pats could have won by more, but they went conservative in the fourth quarter. They knew they were in control of the game and the Dolphins were out of tricks."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 6-2!

PPS. Thank you to the Weather God, my friend Al, for a yet another great weather day at Foxboro.

PPPS. Trivia answer: Loud mouth Joey Porter :)

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