New England Patriots: Defense a Success in Week 1 Win over Miami Dolphins

Drew BonifantAnalyst IISeptember 14, 2011

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 12:  Chad Henne #7 of the Miami Dolphins rushes for a touchdown during a game  against the New England Patriots at Sun Life Stadium on September 12, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Chad Henne threw for 416 yards. Brandon Marshall had over 100 receiving yards. The Miami Dolphins converted four of five fourth downs. And despite their best efforts, the New England Patriots struggled to slam the door on their AFC East rivals all night long in their season opener.

Those stats are just a few concerning ones for New England. There were a lot of troubling numbers from the Patriots' 38-24 victory. The defense, without question, has to be better. A lot better.

And if I had to give the defense a grade on the night, I give the Patriots a B-plus. Maybe an A-minus. I'll explain.

An appeal of football is that it breaks down so neatly into "little picture" and "big picture" components. The little picture concerns the minutiae, the specific drives and plays that can add up into one larger statement. The big picture concerns, well, the bigger things. Who won? Was anybody hurt? Where do the teams go from here?

The Patriots can look at this game both big picture and little picture. Either way, they've got to be happy with what the defense was able to do.

The little picture successes came early. After Miami went 84 yards for a score on the first drive of the game, the D stiffened. The Dolphins had no points the rest of the half, and were held to three-and-outs that allowed the Patriots to dictate field position and game rhythm, which is made all the more important when it's 85 degrees out and every second a defense can spend on the bench is vital.

In fact, while the defense was keeping Miami off the board, the prolific New England offense crossed into Miami territory three straight times at the end of the second quarter and during the first drive of the third and scored zero points. There was a point when it looked like the offense would fail to hold up the defense, not the other way around.

But even with the successes during the game, the big picture approach is the important one. This was a difficult game for New England to win. It almost always is in Miami. The Patriots were given a significant test in their first game, and they passed. They won. There are no bad wins over the Dolphins in Miami.

This is a defense in transition, a defense still trying to figure out its identity with new players and new formats. This is going to take some time to progress, and there were few worse places for the project to get underway than in Miami.

Playing defense in South Florida in September is hard. Players lose their stamina, they lose their patience and they lose their focus. That's when players start cramping. That's when they start missing tackles. To expect a new, adapting defense to shut down the opponent down there was too much. It wasn't going to happen.

Instead, the defense did what it had to do. It got off the field on third down and swapped itself with Tom Brady. It won the game. That was enough. It was plenty.

These stats have to get better, though. The defense has to improve. The Patriots can't look like this as the season goes on. They can't get carved up like that as we move on through the fall and into the winter.

But they could do it Monday. They just had to win. The effort would be a disappointment weeks from now. But for Week 1, it was more than enough.