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Patriots Report Card: Bottom line is passing grade

September 20, 2016

PATRIOTS 31, DOLPHINS 24

For the second straight Sunday, one team was ready to play at the opening whistle and the other was not. That speaks to preparation and focus, neither of which the Dolphins seemed to have until the score was 31-3.

It was alarming Miami was allowed to make a game of it and take it down to the final possession, but after all was said and done, the Patriots held on, 31-24. They are 2-0, the Dolphins are winless, and in the NFL, that’s the bottom line.

Losing Jimmy Garoppolo is a major blow, especially in a short week, but the defense is overdue to play a full four quarters. Sunday it played two and watched two, same as the week before in Arizona. That best not continue.

QUARTERBACK: A-minus

Until he went down, Jimmy Garoppolo displayed poise, accuracy, a quick mind and nimble footwork that led to a passer rating of 130.8 (234 yards, three touchdowns). He recognized Miami was playing off coverage and hit Julian Edelman for 13 yards against a six-man rush to open the game. He stepped up in the pocket to buy time on several occasions, including his 12-yard TD to Danny Amendola that capped the opening drive. He did overthrow a wide-open Matthew Slater on a deep post, but nobody’s perfect. Garoppolo recognized Amendola in one-on-one coverage with no safety help and went to him quickly for his third TD pass of the first half. On the down side, he made a near-disastrous throw on an out pattern that nearly was a pick-six. After Garoppolo departed with a shoulder injury, Jacoby Brissett came in and struggled. He was sacked and fumbled at one point but later made a smart incompletion to avoid a second sack. He scrambled effectively, made a nice play fake on his 37-yard throw to Bennett and found him again on the final drive in zone coverage for a 16-yard gain and made a great one-handed catch of a high snap and handed it off in one motion.

RUNNING BACK: A-minus

LeGarrette Blount had a lot of running room and made use of it, gaining 123 yards, including 35 to grind the clock on the final drive. He ran with his usual power and made yards after contact several times. His 26-yard sweep was highlighted by hurdling linebacker Kiko Alonso in an athletic move. James White didn’t get a chance to do much, but his scrambling recovery of Jacoby Brissett’s fumble was the kind of alert play that wins games. Fullback James Develin buried linebacker Jelani Jenkins on a 9-yard Blount run early in the final drive to set up a third-and-1. Without that block, it’s third-and-longer. Blount did miss a pass block on Alonso that flushed Jimmy Garoppolo, but he had quite a day.

WIDE RECEIVER: B-plus

Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan took advantage of Miami playing soft coverage that allowed them free releases. In a quick-throwing passing game, that is unwise, but the Dolphins insisted and were repeatedly beaten. Hogan and Edelman made key downfield blocks on Martellus Bennett’s 26-yard catch in the first quarter. Edelman cut the legs out from Jelani Jenkins and Hogan held up cornerback Xavien Howard to give Bennett room. Danny Amendola adjusted perfectly to Jimmy Garoppolo moving in the pocket to get beyond Jenkins into open space, then ran hard into the end zone for his first touchdown. He did fumble on a 14-yard seam route, and Edelman had two drops on throws from Brissett, so it wasn’t perfect. Edelman was his usual pest, drawing a penalty on corner Bobby McCain by pushing his head into the ground as they fell. When McCain reacted, he was flagged. He’s the Brad Marchand of the Patriots.

TIGHT END: A-minus

A week ago, Martellus Bennett blocked like a road grader. This time, he played an effective role in the passing game. He still blocked well, but his 114 receiving yards (22.8 per catch) made him a weapon. Bennett broke wide-open coming in motion when Miami bit badly on a play-action fake for a 26-yard catch in the first quarter and later drew triple coverage on a similar play, leaving the field open for Chris Hogan’s 19-yard reception. On his 20-yard TD, Bennett beat Kiko Alonso and put his hand up immediately to alert Jimmy Garoppolo. And on second-and-9 on the final drive, he hooked into open space for 16 yards. Clay Harbor had a strong block on LeGarrette Blount’s 6-yard run on the final drive as well. Bennett’s not Rob Gronkowski, but the way he played Sunday reduces Gronk Envy.

OFFENSIVE LINE: B-plus

Marcus Cannon continues to baffle. He missed a blitz pickup on Kiko Alonso on the first play and got Jimmy Garoppolo hit. He was beaten by defensive end Cameron Wake, who got up-field leverage and ducked under his shoulder for a sack, and later was called for holding. Is he secretly related to Dante Scarnecchia? Rookie guard Joe Thuney had an up-and-down day. He twice was flagged for holding but generally blocked well. He and tackle Nate Solder led the sweep effectively on LeGarrette Blount’s 26-yard run and were strong in the run game. Trouble arose once Garoppolo went out and Jacoby Brissett hesitated getting the ball out quickly, leading to two sacks. Center David Andrews still has problems with big tackles, was knocked back into Blount and allowed a quarterback hit, but he held his own. Guard Shaq Mason totally whiffed at Ndamukong Suh on a run and was beaten for a sack, but this group made holes and had consistent protection.

DEFENSIVE LINE: C

End Chris Long had a strong day with a sack, fumble recovery and four hits on the quarterback, including a pressure that forced Ryan Tannehill into an interception. He also leapt up and tipped a pass, causing an incompletion with 42 seconds to play. End Jabaal Sheard made a diving tackle early on Arian Foster and put one hit on Tannehill but often disappeared. Alan Branch plugged up running lanes inside as did fellow tackle Malcolm Brown, but they had to be introduced to the quarterback. Miami only ran the ball 10 times (excluding Tannehill scrambles) so this was far from a complicated game in the trenches, but in the second half, the line applied little or no pressure. That made life more difficult for the secondary, which isn’t exactly the Great Wall of China to begin with. Tannehill’s 273 second-half passing yards were as much on the line as the secondary.

LINEBACKER: C

Dont’a Hightower’s absence had a negative effect, but that doesn’t account for a second-half defensive collapse that nearly cost the Pats the game. The defense gave up 310 yards and three scores in the final 30 minutes as well as 16 first downs. Jamie Collins called signals in Hightower’s absence, and maybe that took away from his aggressiveness. He was beaten on and out-and-up by running back Jay Ajayi and missed a tackle when he was late arriving on a Jarvis Landry catch. Collins did intercept a pass, but Ryan Tannehill threw it right to him under pressure from Chris Long. Collins often seemed a half-step slow to the ball and in his drops for some reason. Jonathan Freeny forced a fumble but was called for an obvious defensive hold on tight end Jordan Cameron and late in the game. Shea McClellin’s only impact was negative when he was too late and not deep enough dropping into coverage, allowing Landry to make a 15-yard catch. It wasn’t an impactful afternoon by this group.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: C-

When the Pats led 31-3, everyone in the stadium knew the Dolphins would pass, and the secondary let them do it. The defense

has allowed five touchdowns in nine second-half drives this season, and much of the problem has been on the back end. Miami went after cornerback Malcolm Butler in the second half and had consistent success. Same was true for nickel corner Justin Coleman. Butler was run over for an extra 8 yards after the catch by Jarvis Landry after being beaten on a slant and was late in coverage on a 25-yard completion to him just before halftime. Coleman was beaten for a TD on a double move by receiver Kenny Stills. Corner Logan Ryan was flagged for interference on receiver DeVante Parker late in the game and was scorched deep by him early on a drop. It’s seldom good news when your top two corners — Butler and Ryan — are the leading tacklers. Safety Patrick Chung was third on a day when Miami’s backs only had 10 carries, so there were too many receivers roaming free. Chung also was run over by Tannehill on a 17-yard run. On Miami’s final score, safety Devin McCourty was knocked back by the block of tight end Dion Sims, opening up the edge for Kenyan Drake’s 7-yard TD. Safety Duron Harmon’s pick ended things in the end zone on a Hail Mary, but by then, both sides were praying for a happy ending.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D

A week ago, Stephen Gostkowski was a key part of the victory. Sunday he nearly cost the Patriots the game when he missed a 39-yard field goal that should have made it a two-score margin. He missed by a mile. He also was not as effective on kickoffs. Five were touchbacks, not shorter kicks Miami would be forced to return. Punter Ryan Allen wasn’t as bad as his numbers. He did have a 32-yard net, but he dropped two inside the 20, including one at the 6 that bounced back to the 14 and cost him yardage. Miami was unable to return any of them, fair catching one and seeing three downed. Once again, the Pats got next to nothing in the return game. Punt coverage was good. Kick coverage was mostly an afterthought with 5-of-6 kickoffs being touchbacks.

COACHING: B

Bill Belichick again had his team more ready to play than his opponent and thus dominated the first half, but neither he nor his staff could come up with any defensive adjustments to slow the Dolphins offense once it got rolling. Miami even drove to the Pats 29-yard line on the final series with a chance to tie the game. Offensively, Josh McDaniels let Jimmy Garoppolo loose at the start of the game then wisely went conservative when Jacoby Brissett had to take snaps. He got the screen game going late and made the right call by putting the ball in LeGarrette Blount’s hands, especially since Miami’s defense seemed uninterested in tackling him. Overall, it was a good coaching day on offense and a subpar one on defense. When an opponent turns the ball over four times and snaps it over the quarterback’s head for a 19-yard loss and you are still life-and-death at the end, you didn’t do enough right when it counted most.

HEAD OF THE CLASS

LeGarrette Blount: Pounded out 35 key yards on the game’s final drive.

Jimmy Garoppolo: Maybe it never was Tom Brady and always the system.

Chris Long: He was the only rusher pressuring Ryan Tannehill all day.

BACK OF THE CLASS

Justin Coleman: Struggled all day to maintain position and leverage.

Stephen Gostkowski: Critical miss of chip-shot FG could have cost his team the game.

Jamie Collins: Playmakers have to make plays to be called playmakers.