Dolphins vs. Patriots: Full Roster Report Card Grades for Miami
The New England Patriots stormed back from a 17-3 halftime deficit to beat the Miami Dolphins in front of the home crowd during Week 8. The Patriots finished the game with a 10-point lead, beating Miami, 27-17, after scoring 27 unanswered points.
The Dolphins walk away from the game devastated, wondering how the game could turn around so quickly after nearly everything went according to plan in the first half. Though there is an inclination among fans to blame controversial officiating, the details of the game show that the Dolphins players and coaches are to blame for this loss.
Here you will find full position grades for the Dolphins, focusing on the good and bad plays made by individual players at each position.
For a little more than three quarters of the football game, quarterback Ryan Tannehill was near flawless. Most will be tempted to say that Tannehill began cracking immediately after halftime. The tape does not support that conclusion.
Tannehill executed a long drive at the beginning of the third quarter that should have netted the Dolphins a touchdown. On 2nd-and-2, he threw a perfect pass to the outside shoulder of wide receiver Mike Wallace, who lined up in the slot and ran vertically while drifting to the outside above the perimeter corner’s short zone. Wallace dropped the ball, which would have given the offense a 1st-and-goal from the 3-yard line.
On the following 3rd-and-2, the Patriots sent double A-gap pressure up the middle with their linebackers. The Dolphins had a bunch formation to Tannehill’s right with receiver Rishard Matthews set to break into the flat for a potential first down.
Instead of staying in to block the extra pressure, tailback Lamar Miller released out on a quick pass pattern. The line adjusted to block the two blitzing linebackers, which meant left defensive end Rob Ninkovich would come into the backfield untouched.
Tannehill looked for Matthews to recognize the blitz and break into the flat early, but Matthews appeared not to adjust his route. This left Tannehill to contend with an unblocked Ninkovich on his own, which he did beautifully by making him miss.
However, right guard John Jerry failed to engage the linebacker who stunted over top of him. That linebacker took advantage of Tannehill’s vulnerability while making Ninkovich miss, taking him down for a sack.
One play later, the Dolphins missed a field goal. Many believe that missed field goal was the beginning of the end for Miami.
The Dolphins had several opportunities to punch back between that point and the point at which they went down by 10 points with only seven minutes remaining. During this stretch, Tannehill threw several balls on the mark only to find them falling incomplete.
Two throws went incomplete due to poor chemistry with Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline on back-shoulder fades. Another throw fell incomplete due to poor awareness by rookie tight end Dion Sims. There was also a tough no-catch by receiver Rishard Matthews, who could not quite get both feet inbounds after a beautiful third-down hookup.
On the third-quarter sack-fumble, the television analysts did a good job explaining that the lack of blocking chemistry on the left side likely resulted in a blitzer being allowed to take a free shot at Tannehill’s blind side. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie was most likely expected to fan out to the blitzer and get in his way, but his inexperience with Miami’s playbook resulted in the sack.
The interception in the fourth quarter that directly preceded Miami’s falling behind by 10 points was the first big mistake Tannehill made during the game. Tannehill attempted to use his eyes to freeze the deep safety to the middle of the field.
However, it did not work as there was no threat to the middle of the field among Miami’s route-runners. Instead of noticing that the safety had squatted over top of Wallace, Tannehill threw an ill-fated deep ball that was intercepted.
The following drive, Tannehill was placed in a situation no quarterback succeeds in consistently, down two scores with only seven minutes remaining in the game. The situation was not impossible, but the offense was, once again, plagued by mistakes.
Hartline popped up a football on first down, which could have been intercepted. McKinnie was too athletically limited to get out to a free blitzer to his side which put pressure on Tannehill and forced a bad throw to Rishard Matthews.
Left guard Richie Incognito let rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones beat him quickly off the snap on first down, causing a sack. On 3rd-and-3, Ninkovich was, once again, allowed to come into the backfield untouched while none of the receivers broke off their routes to serve as an early outlet for Tannehill.
The most concerning development in the game for Tannehill was the fumble in the third quarter. The sack was not necessarily his fault, as McKinnie most likely needed to fan out to the blitzer and delay him long enough for Tannehill to throw the football. The blitzer came on Tannehill’s blind side at full speed, so the concept of “feeling the pressure” does not apply. Yet, not every quarterback fumbles the ball so often while being sacked.
They say football is a “game of inches.” Perhaps, no area of the sport is more truer than personnel evaluation, where inches can represent the difference between a superstar and a backup.
In Tannehill’s case, critics pointed to his nine-inch hands being suboptimal for a quarterback, making him prone to fumbles. The evidence of him being a fumbler in college was not strong, but in the pros, he has fumbled the football 17 times in 23 games, losing nine of them.
Position Grade: B-
Running Backs: B+
For the most part, tailback Lamar Miller played a stupendous game. The Dolphins featured him nicely both on the ground and in the air, and he rewarded the team with 89 yards on 18 carries, with another 23 yards on three catches.
There was one occasion, near the goal line, when Miller should have been able to recognize an aggressive linebacker early enough in his handoff to make the player miss. However, that could be nitpicking.
On a 3rd-and-short play, Miller showed his limitations in power situations by not being able to convert the first down. There were a pair of plays during which Miller could have gained a few more yards by being more elusive or physical.
However, there were far more plays in which Miller’s speed and cutting ability drove the Patriots defense crazy. Miller was able to bounce several runs to the outside, taking advantage of the Patriots’ lack of speed. He also made good-sized gains inside. He caught the football well and even blocked well.
Daniel Thomas played a very strong game as Miller’s backup. He also showed his limitations in short-yardage situations during the game, as he barely scraped out a first down by the nose of the football on 3rd-and-1.
However, on a 4th-and-short later in the game, Thomas went off-schedule after seeing a hole open up to the inside, cutting into it rather than following his lead blocker to the outside. He did that on at least one other run during the game, showing instincts for cutting back to daylight that he has rarely shown in his career.
Thomas showed his limitations on several other plays in which his final gain did not nearly match the blocking. One such example happened in the second quarter just before his touchdown catch, as Thomas tripped over his own feet while running through a protected bubble of blockers en route to the end zone.
However, the important point to note is he made up for these negative plays with positive ones. A play later, Tannehill threw Thomas the ball, and Thomas made a great catch and cut up the field to plow into the end zone.
The problem with the Dolphins' ground game was not that the running backs did not perform. They performed admirably. The problem was that the game begged for more of their involvement, especially in the second half.
The Dolphins ran return specialist Marcus Thigpen out of the pistol formation on the first drive of the game. This may have been Thigpen’s first legitimate carry of his NFL career, other than end-around plays from a receiver position. The blocking on the play developed well enough, but when left guard Richie Incognito slightly overshot a linebacker, Thigpen could not play off his blockers and make the linebacker miss.
The Dolphins never went back to this approach for the remainder of the game. That seems a shame. Given it may have been Thigpen’s first legitimate carry as a running back in his entire NFL career, nerves should have been expected. The potential payoff for plays like that, on the other hand, seemed significant. The Dolphins should give more thought to running and passing the football out of the pistol formation.
Another example of the Dolphins needing to show more commitment to the tailbacks comes with an examination of the run-pass splits. The Dolphins ran the football very nicely in the first half, calling 22 run plays to only 18 pass plays during the first two quarters. However, the Dolphins then called only seven run plays to 16 total pass plays in the third and fourth quarters, prior to falling behind by 10 points.
Once the team fell behind by 10 points with only seven minutes remaining, passing the football became a necessity. However, the team reverted back to a 70 percent pass-caller before that even happened. This seems pure stubbornness on the part of the Miami coaches.
The Dolphins' passing game is too prone to costly mistakes.
As demonstrated in the previous slide grading quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the sources of those mistakes are widely varied. Between drops by receivers, poor routes, poor blitz pickups, the lack of chemistry between Wallace and Tannehill, mental mistakes from players who do not yet fully grasp the playbook and poor pass protection, the Dolphins end up failing in the passing game for a large number of reasons.
The coaches need to minimize the potential cost of those mistakes until the passing offense can iron them out. They can do this by running the football consistently and sticking to it as the game progresses.
Position Grade: B+
Wide Receivers: D
Wide receiver Brandon Gibson had a strong start but finished the game in the training room with what looks like a season-ending knee injury, according to Albert Breer of NFL.com. Gibson only caught one pass during the game, but he made it count by getting open in the end zone as quarterback Ryan Tannehill scrambled to his right.
Brian Hartline will always have a place in this offense because he can consistently get open against man coverage. However, he continued to show the strength-related limitations that make him a poor player running with the football after the catch, and that also detracts from his ability to haul in the football over the middle of the field in tight physical quarters.
Rishard Matthews was asked to step up in place of the injured Gibson, and the results were up-and-down.
He made a big 20-yard catch during the game, which converted a key first down. However, he failed to get his feet inbounds on another big potential third-down catch. There were times when one could also question whether he properly recognized the blitz and adjusted his routes accordingly, as Tannehill looked for him as an early outlet and was forced to wait on two occasions.
Through it all, Matthews has shown tremendous potential if he can iron out any awareness mistakes that may exist and finish plays. The catch he almost made on the left sideline during the game was a catch that no other player on roster (injured or healthy) could have made consistently.
Matthews was able to haul the football in; he just needed to have the awareness to get both feet down. With nine games remaining in the season, he will get plenty of opportunities to clean up his game.
Receiver Mike Wallace, on the other hand, was a disappointment during the game. He has been a huge disappointment during the season in general. He was thoroughly outperformed by Brandon Gibson this season, despite the fact that Gibson’s contract pays him annually about a quarter of Wallace’s contract.
The Dolphins missed several opportunities during the game simply because Wallace cannot run routes, create separation, stay on the same page with his quarterback and catch the football.
The most egregious example came on a 2nd-and-2 play deep in Patriots territory during the third quarter. Wallace ran vertically from the slot, steering to the outside in order to get into the vacant zone above the perimeter corner’s flat coverage.
Tannehill threw the ball to Wallace perfectly, but Wallace failed to adjust to the ball cleanly and dropped it. The play would have given the Dolphins a 1st-and-goal on the 3-yard line. Instead, the Dolphins took a third-down sack and missed the ensuing field goal.
For many, that missed field goal was the beginning of the end for Miami in this game. Wallace had a chance to step up and be the player he was paid to be, and he failed.
Position Grade: D
Tight Ends: C-
Tight end Charles Clay became the Dolphins’ most consistent receiving threat during the game, hauling in five catches for 37 yards on eight total targets.
However, Clay continues to take steps forward and backward during football games. While his five catches were valuable, it was the catch that Clay did not make during the second quarter that was most memorable. During the play, Clay ran out and up with safety Devin McCourty, creating separation. Tannehill lofted the football perfectly over Clay’s outside shoulder, but Clay could not cradle the football into his body to finish the catch.
That play likely would have resulted in a touchdown. That touchdown may have put the game out of reach with a 21-3 halftime score. The Dolphins settled for a field goal instead, and as a result, the Patriots were able to tie the game on two quick possessions in the third quarter.
Dion Sims and Michael Egnew had a presence during the game as blockers and pass-catchers. Sims caught a four-yard pass on 2nd-and-6 but did not get his head turned around to look for the football early enough during a blitz adjustment on a 3rd-and-2 play. The play nearly resulted in an interception. Sims made a strong block on one run to the outside during the game but had blocking miscues at other times.
Egnew was more consistent during the game. His 11-yard catch on 1st-and-10 gave the Dolphins a new set of downs, and his blocks were generally well executed.
Position Grade: C-
Offensive Line: C
Generally speaking, the offensive line did a great job establishing the line of scrimmage. Tailbacks Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas were able to combine for 136 rushing yards on 27 carries.
Tailback Marcus Thigpen had good enough blocking on his lone carry to create a big gain but failed to stay patient and use his blockers properly. There were runs by Thomas that did not fully take advantage of the strong run blocking up front.
Despite this, some of the offensive linemen did have issues. Right guard John Jerry, right tackle Jonathan Martin and left tackle Bryant McKinnie all had blown blocks which destroyed run plays before they could get going. McKinnie’s run blocks during the game had the look of laziness at times. Martin was caught thinking at times instead of acting instinctively.
Though Martin did a fantastic job on Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich, and McKinnie also did a very good job on standout defensive end Chandler Jones, the pass protection did not necessarily hold up as well as initially believed.
Most will remember the pass protection during the game as having been relatively clean, with the scoreboard and Tannehill being responsible for the Dolphins taking six sacks during the game. This is only partially true.
Two of the six sacks came on the Dolphins’ final drive and were purely the result of Tannehill attempting to keep his eyes downfield to make plays in a hopeless situation. A third sack came as a result of defensive end Rob Ninkovich running free to the quarterback due to weakness in the protection scheme.
However, Jerry blew a block on a blitzing linebacker, which contributed to one of Ryan Tannehill’s sacks. Ninkovich, again, ran free to the quarterback on the play, but Tannehill did an excellent job making him miss in the backfield.
If Jerry had been able to pick up his block on the blitzing linebacker, Tannehill would have been free to scramble for a first down. Instead, he was sacked at a point where he was vulnerable due to his making a move to make Ninkovich miss.
McKinnie blew several blocks during the game due to a combination of lack of awareness and lack of athleticism. The Patriots wanted to test his ability to get out to blitzing slot defenders. On one play, McKinnie did not even make an effort to get out to the blitzer, and this resulted in a sack-fumble. On another play, McKinnie’s effort to get to the blitzer looked athletically limited, resulting in pressure.
Left guard Richie Incognito was beaten quickly off the line by rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones on another play during the game. The stat book awarded the sack to corner Logan Ryan; however, it was Jones who put Tannehill under the sword very quickly after the play began, forcing Tannehill to tuck the football.
Position Grade: C
Defensive Tackles: B+
The defensive tackles , once again, did an admirable job rushing the passer. Jared Odrick accounted for two sacks during the game, as well as two more hits on quarterback Tom Brady.
Brady was clearly uncomfortable during the game, in large part due to the pressure coming from Odrick and teammate Randy Starks up the middle.
On the other hand, the defensive tackles must take their share of the blame for the Patriots amassing 147 rushing yards on 33 carries during the game.
The weakness against the run, particularly along the middle of the defensive line, culminated in the fourth quarter, as the Patriots were able to put away the game with an 82-yard drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock.
New England’s tailbacks ran nine times for 46 yards on the drive, most of it coming between the tackles. The Patriots were also assisted on the drive by defensive tackle Paul Soliai’s illegal-use-of-hands penalty.
Position Grade: B+
Defensive Ends: D
Miami’s defensive ends let the team down in this game.
Cameron Wake is clearly still hindered by a knee issue and was not able to produce a single hit on quarterback Tom Brady, according to the official stat book. The same was true of defensive ends Derrick Shelby and Dion Jordan.
Much was made early in the game of Dion Jordan’s running down the field with tight end Rob Gronkowski in coverage. This was an interesting wrinkle installed by the Dolphins coaches, however it did not have a great impact. Jordan only covered Gronkowski in this manner the one time during the game, and the play involved double-team help.
On the one occasion Brady threw the football to Gronkowski with Jordan in coverage, Jordan did a poor job looking back for the football. The play could easily have resulted in a back-shoulder catch (or pass-interference penalty) if Brady had thrown the football on target.
Defensive end Olivier Vernon played a terrible game, despite him being the only end to show up on the stat sheet with a sack and a hit on quarterback Tom Brady. Though Vernon consistently showed weakness in run defense, it was his costly decision-making in the fourth quarter that resulted in New England being able to continue on for a game-sealing touchdown.
There has been much controversy among the fans about whether the officials ruled correctly when they called Vernon for illegally batting the football down the field. Vernon clearly gave an open-handed swiped at the football from the side rather than attempting to come over top of the ball to trap and recover it.
The bottom line is the officials make that ruling a very high percentage of the time when they see a player swipe the football in an open-handed manner as Vernon did, and it was his job to eliminate the potential for the officials to call that penalty. He made a bad decision at a key moment in the game.
Position Grade: D
Miami’s defensive tackles were not the lone culprit in allowing the Patriots tailbacks to amass 147 yards on 33 carries. The linebackers must also take their share of blame.
Prior to the game, Philip Wheeler had been doing a good job blitzing as well as making plays against the run. He had not been covering very well. This should have been expected, based on his film history in Indianapolis and Oakland.
However, Wheeler struggled defending the run during the game, as he lost containment and failed to get off the blocks several times. He continued to blitz well, notching a hit on quarterback Tom Brady. His coverage was not especially good or bad.
Though Dannell Ellerbe had a combined nine tackles on New England tailbacks during the game, the runners gained 39 yards on those nine plays. He was not the run-stopping force the Dolphins envisioned when they gave him a big contract during the offseason.
Position Grade: C
Brent Grimes, once again, showed his value as a free-agent acquisition, as he virtually locked down his side of the field. He also made some very physical plays against the run and screen game.
Dimitri Patterson looked good for much of the day but did not play a very controlled football game. He impressed with an early interception against quarterback Tom Brady. He covered tight end Rob Gronkowski from the slot on the play, undercutting Gronkowski’s out route and stealing the football.
However, later in the game, Patterson would be flagged for a key defensive-holding penalty. Fans may lament the call, but Patterson has to be more controlled in how he chucks players at the line of scrimmage when jamming them.
Officials are prone to flagging corners for defensive holding when they see them be physically aggressive at the line of scrimmage, causing the receiver to fall down to the ground. It may seem unfair, but it goes with the territory.
Patterson let up on a big catch to rookie receiver Aaron Dobson on a back-shoulder pass. He accused Dobson of pushing off on the play, which caused Patterson to keep moving downfield as Dobson was able to stop short for the back-shoulder catch.
Earlier in the game, Patterson was extremely unselfish in his successful defense of a screen pass. He gave up his body and suffered a nasty hit to the back of the head as a result. When Patterson was forced to come out, replacement Nolan Carroll came in the game cold and gave up a touchdown off a double move to rookie receiver Aaron Dobson.
On the play, quarterback Tom Brady did a good job standing tall and holding the football to the last possible moment, absorbing a big hit from a Dolphins blitzer for his trouble. The time allowed Dobson to cut back to the outside on Carroll after faking the slant.
Slot corner Jimmy Wilson had a solid day, despite being flagged for pass interference on a deep pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski. Replay suggested very strongly that the officials made a bad call on the play.
Position Grade: C+
Miami’s safeties may have played their best game of the season. They played the largest role in holding tight end Rob Gronkowski to only two catches for a total of 27 yards. Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons swarmed Gronkowski on targets down the field, preventing him from being able to catch the football cleanly.
They were not perfect, of course. Chris Clemons came very close to giving up a 35-yard touchdown to Gronkowski in the third quarter. The play was called back due to a holding call on offensive tackle Nate Solder. The Patriots were forced to settle for a field goal instead.
The safeties did their job against the Patriots’ run game. They were not the reason the Patriots were able to run the ball consistently. Chris Clemons’ pure speed was, once again, a limiting factor on the damage that could be done against Miami’s defense when tailbacks broke through to the second level. Clemons amassed 10 total tackles on the day.
Position Grade: B
Special Teams: D+
Rookie place-kicker Caleb Sturgis hit a 52-yard field goal during the game but also missed a 46-yard field goal. He had two touchbacks on kickoffs but could only reach the opponent’s 10-yard line on another kickoff.
Reserve offensive lineman Nate Garner was bowled over by Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones on a blocked 39-yard field-goal attempt late in the fourth quarter. A made field goal would have given Miami hope for a final-drive comeback.
Punter Brandon Fields’ net average of 37.0 yards was below-average for him. However, the coverage unit held Patriots' return man Julian Edelman to only 13 yards on three punt returns.
Patriots kick returner LeGarrette Blount averaged 23.0 yards per kick return on his two returns, while Miami return man Marcus Thigpen averaged only 17.3 yards per kick return.
Overall, between the missed field goal and field-goal block, the Dolphins’ special teams had a below-average day.
Position Grade: D+